Sen. Edward M. Kennedy reacted Friday to reports that he failed to talk with police about an alleged rape on the family's Palm Beach estate by saying he never knew his nephew was being accused.

A Palm Beach police affidavit released Thursday says detectives asked to interview the senator at the seaside mansion but were told that he was out, and later that he had left town. In fact, the senator did not depart until the next day, police say.Speaking at an hastily arranged news conference Friday, Kennedy did not deny that he failed to respond at least twice to police inquiries the day after the alleged rape. He said that was because he was unaware the questions concerned his nephew, William Kennedy Smith.

Smith was charged this week with second-degree sexual battery, Florida's equivalent to rape, and second-degree battery in connection with the alleged attack at the Florida estate early March 30.

"I was never, never told that weekend that there would be an alleged charge against Willie Smith that he had raped a young woman," Kennedy said. "I was never, never told that."

But Kennedy said the estate's chief of security, former FBI agent William Barry, told him "there was going to be a sexual harassment (charge) - never used the word rape, never used the word rape - against my nephew, William Smith."

Smith, a 30-year-old medical student at Georgetown University, has denied wrongdoing. On Friday, Kennedy repeated his faith in Smith's innocence.

Palm Beach police repeated Friday they were investigating possible witness tampering and obstruction of justice in the case but stopped short of implicating the senator.

"He's still a witness, not a suspect," Sgt. William Atkinson said.

It was too early to identify any potential targest of further charges, he said.

Atkinson denounced a report that stated police were planning to file charges against the senator, calling the report "statements strung together out of context."

Kennedy said after police first came to the kitchen of his family's estate, "I was told that there had been stolen property, my mother's stolen property, (and it) had been recovered. I had no knowledge that my mother's property had been stolen. I was going to take steps to have someone go down (to identify the property, an urn) the next day."

Palm Beach police said in the affidavit that Kennedy was asked to contact the department, but the senator said: "I was never told to call the police about any allegation of rape by Willie Smith."