Sen. Bob Packwood lost his last hope of shielding his private diaries from the Senate's Ethics Committee Wednesday when Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court emphatically rejected the senator's plea to keep the diaries secret until a court battle over it is resolved.
The chief justice's order means that large parts of Packwood's diaries, now in the hands of a court-appointed special master, will be turned over to investigators for the ethics panel as soon as preparations to review them are complete. Senate officials declined to say Wednesday when that might be.
The ethics panel is investigating evidence that Packwood may have engaged in sexual and financial misconduct, intimidated witnesses and tried to block the inquiry by altering the diaries. The Justice Department is also conducting a criminal inquiry into some of the same charges.
Packwood has been battling an ethics committee subpoena for the diaries in federal courts in Washington since November, but his arguments so far have been rejected.
He appealed a U.S. District Court ruling to turn the diaries over to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will take up the case this spring.
Last month, that court denied a request from Packwood to withhold the diaries from the ethics committee until the case was decided. After that rebuff, Packwood took his request to Rehnquist.
Packwood, an Oregon Republican who has fought since September to keep the full diaries out of the Senate's hands, allowed in a statement that Rehnquist's order was "the final word."
"However," he added, "a precedent has now been set that will not protect the private thoughts and property of American citizens from government snooping. No one's private papers are safe."
With his legal defeat now effectively complete, the senator has begun a public relations campaign to mend what is, by any measure, a tattered political image.
In an interview on the ABC News program 20/20 to be broadcast Friday, Packwood said he was receiving psychological counseling on sexual matters in Oregon in the wake of charges by some two dozen women that he forced unwanted attentions on them.
Packwood said in the interview that he had been a "binge drinker," that alcohol had probably played a role in his behavior toward women and that he had not taken a drink in 15 months. Indeed, he added, he was "kind of shy about girls" as a youth.
The senator also denied suggestions raised by ethics committee investigators who had seen some passages in his diary, that he had traded legislative favors to lobbyists in the late 1980s in return for their efforts to secure a job for his ex-wife.
At the time, Packwood was obtaining a divorce and his alimony payments would have been reduced if his wife had obtained a job.
Packwood has consistently argued that the ethics panel's subpoena for his diaries is unconstitutionally broad because it would permit investigators to pursue any evidence they might find in the documents, regardless of whether they had anticipated finding it.
With Rehnquist's order, three levels of federal courts have rejected that argument.
The chief justice and other judges also have rejected Packwood's complaints that the subpoena violated his Fifth Amendment protection against forced self-incrimination and his Fourth Amendment right to privacy.