IT WAS, BY ALL ACCOUNTS, AN INCREDIBLE story: A U.S. Senator lures a 24-year-old woman—a congressional aide who is a longtime family friend from his home state of Washington—to his District of Columbia home. Then, slipping a pink concoction into her champagne, he drugs her and she passes out, awakening several hours later to find him sprawled at her side, fondling her naked body.

Incredible—and unsupported by evidence, said prosecutors five years ago when Kari Tupper, now 29, filed just such charges against Sen. Brock Adams, 65. "No merit," concluded the investigating U.S. attorney. "None. Zip." And so the appalling allegations, denied In Adams and dismissed In the District of Columbia, became mere grist for gossip—and Tupper had to accept it. "If I didn't have the last word, she said at the time, "at least I had a word."

Today it looks as if Tupper may get the last word after all. On March 1 the Seattle Times broke the news that it had sworn statements from seven women who, while seeking anonymity, were prepared to go to court to testify that Adams was guilty of acts of sexual harassment ranging from unwanted pawing to rape. The same day, Adams, a Democrat who had served as Secretary of Transportation under Jimmy Carter and in recent years has had a strong record on women's issues, withdrew his bid for re-election, while denying the charges. "That was an article created out of whole cloth by people who hate me," he said. Added his wife, Betty: "It's a witch-hunt.""

"It's tragic that a man in power can be cloaked in deceit and protected by those close to him for so long," responded Tupper at her own packed press conference in Seattle. "This has never been about revenge," she said of her own accusations. "It's been about telling the truth."

Her account, first told to police in 1987, was a shocking one—most of all to her family, which had been friendly with the Adamses for 40 years. Indeed, Kari knew Adams not just as a Senator but, as the Tuppers put it, "our most famous friend."

So when in 1985 Kari, home after graduating from the University of Washington, told Adams of her interest in politics and he allegedly called her that night to express a sexual interest in her, she says she was stunned. "I didn't want it to be happening," she said of the lewd remarks she claims he made during the time she worked for various politicians (though never for him) over the next two years. Determined to confront him, Tupper says, she arranged to meet Adams on March 27, 1987, at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. When Adams didn't show, she telephoned him, and he asked her to meet him instead at his home. Reluctantly—she knew Adams's wife was out of town—Kari agreed. Soon after she arrived, she says, he handed her the drugged champagne and her nightmare began. Says Kari's father, Jim, a retired orthopedic surgeon: "He demeaned and humiliated her."

More painful even than the incident with Adams, Kari felt, was the fact that few believed her story. Several women called Kari (who left D.C. and returned to Seattle soon after the alleged attack) and recounted similar tales, but none would go public. "It was a very low time for her," says her mother, Sylvia. "She realized that without others [her accusation against Adams] wouldn't go anywhere."

And then finally, five years later, came the charges in the Seattle Times. A Democratic Party activist, for instance, said Adams had asked her to meet him at a local bar in the early '70s and, offering her what he claimed was vitamin C for her cold, drugged her, followed her home and raped her. In 1978, says one of Adams's former secretaries, she became suspicious of her boss when she spotted the remains of a crushed pill in a glass of wine he had given her. "I was stunned," said Tupper of these accounts. "I had no idea it was so pervasive. I felt overwhelmed."

Though Tupper has not forgiven Adams—"I believe he should resign," she said—she feels sympathy for his wife and children, who continue to back Adams. "My family and the Adams family were very close," she said. "I hate to see their anguish."

As the Adamses prepare to face their own ordeal, the worst for Kari seems over. A doctoral student in literature at the University of Washington, she is looking forward to July, when she and her husband, George Bridges, 41—a professor of sociology at the university—expect their first child, a girl. "Most of all," says Kari, breaking into tears, "I'm very glad I'll be able to look my daughter in the eyes and to tell her about the value of telling the truth."

KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
NICK GALLO in Seattle

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  • Nick Gallo.