Though Republican Senate leaders are calling for an official ethics inquiry on U.S. Sen. Larry Craig in his 16th year in the body, GOP leaders in Craig's early Senate years pegged him to serve on a high-profile ethics panel.
Starting in 1993 — two years after Craig was sworn in — he replaced Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens on a committee charged with evaluating whether Oregon GOP Sen. Bob Packwood made unwelcome sexual advances toward more than two dozen women over many years and blocked disclosure of the harassment charges during his 1992 re-election campaign.
Craig was among the lawmakers who voted to keep the inquiry private during the hearings, and he defended his stance in an opinion piece published in the Idaho Statesman 12 years ago.
"Incidents of sexual misconduct by politicians, both famous and obscure, have always been of great interest to the media. I fully understand and agree with the 'need to know' mentality of the press," Craig wrote then.
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But the point of his opinion was that he supported the committee's decision to hold hearings and deliberations in private.
"Upon the conclusions of our deliberations, all information will go before the public," he wrote. "This will be an appropriate time for the press and the public to judge whether justice was delivered."
After Craig joined the committee, the panel asked Packwood for his unedited personal diaries — an invasion of his privacy, Packwood claimed.
Craig said then that the argument ‘‘is not about sexual misconduct or intimidation. It’s about the facts."
‘‘This resolution is about the process and how best we get at the facts," he said. "And that is our charge and most assuredly our responsibility."
Craig said then senators from both parties were concerned that the panel would require Packwood to give up the diaries.
"The question almost all of you asked is: Is there any way out of this? It was a very sincere statement to suggest that the Senate ought not to subject itself to this kind of process, that something had gone wrong and therefore couldn’t we fix it," he said. "Nothing went wrong. In my firm opinion, the Senate Ethics Committee operated properly under the rules."
Craig did vote in the full Senate to narrow the scope of the subpoena, but that failed.
"While there may be, and there clearly is, following the debates of the last two days, innocents involved," Craig said, ‘‘somehow they went skipping by us, of no concern in our effort to get at the protection of the right of those who might be the victims.’’
Packwood, it was revealed, altered the diaries when he gave them up.
In the end, Craig joined with others in voting to expel Packwood, who resigned soon after. He said later Packwood's history of sexual misconduct wasn't enough — Packwood's greater wrongdoing was to alter his diaries to thwart the committee, Craig said.
The whole ordeal was not easy for Craig.
The day of the decision in September 1995, Los Angeles Times writer Edwin Chen wrote: "One particularly poignant moment came during an exchange between Packwood and Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Ida.), a member of the Ethics Committee. Afterward, they shook hands and hugged one another. Then Craig began sobbing and quickly strode into the GOP cloakroom, his hands covering his face."