US Senate seeks to subpoena member's diary

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ONCE AGAIN the United States Senate seems set to grab the nation's attention, not with earnest debate on such serious matters as free trade or health care, but rather with tawdry revelations of extra- marital sex and deception.

Two years after the spectacle of hearings into allegations by Anita Hill that she had been sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Senate members are now ensared in the case of Oregon Senator, Bob Packwood, accused nearly a year ago of making unwanted advances on two dozen women, including Senate staffers.

After months of low-profile probing by the Senate's Ethics Committee, the inquiry burst into life last week over the fate of a personal diary kept by Mr Packwood. In a sensational twist, Mr Packwood attempted to deflect an order from the committee that he hand his diaries over by intimating that they would compromise the reputations of others on Capitol Hill.

While all of Washington quivered with speculation about who might be at risk from the diaries - Mr Packwood had spoken of another senator and of an affair between a female official and a member of the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives - the committee then revealed the diaries contained evidence of criminal misconduct by Mr Packwood unrelated to the harassment allegations.

Today, the struggle between Mr Packwood, a Republican, and the committee will become the business of all the senators. At noon, members will be asked to vote on whether to accept a request from the Ethics Committee that it be allowed to go to court to seek a subpoena for Mr Packwood's diary.

It is an agonising dilemma. Many senators are troubled with the notion that the privacy of one of their colleagues could be so invaded. On the other hand, there is equal concern that the Senate should not be seen backing away from disciplining a member.

The allegation made by the Ethics Committee chairman, Richard Bryan of Nevada, that the diary may reveal criminal misconduct by Mr Packwood has also enraged many members. So far there has been no hint from Mr Bryan about what kind of misconduct he is referring to. 'Now that the question has been raised publicly, it ought to be followed up by a charge, or it ought to be retracted,' said Republican leader, Bob Dole, on Friday.

The sexual harassment allegations against Mr Packwood suggest he grabbed and kissed women uninvited. It is also alleged that he intimidated his victims from blowing the whistle by threatening to make public embarrassing details of their private lives.

The saga became more complicated when lawyers for a woman outside the Senate asked that the Packwood diaries be censored before their release to the committee. The woman, named only as Jane Doe, had an affair with Mr Packwood and is anxious that it should not be revealed.