Pelosi Rejects Hastings for Intel Committee Chairmanship

Nancy Pelosi has told Alcee Hastings that he will not be chair of the House Intelligence Committee in the new Congress and he has dropped his bid for the office.

Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, impeached as a federal judge in 1989 on corruption charges, dropped his bid under pressure on Tuesday to chair a congressional panel designed to help protect America’s security, a party aide said. Hastings took the action after being told by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, in line to head the U.S. House of Representatives when the new Congress convenes in January, that she would not give him the coveted job, the aide said.

While Hastings has earned high marks for his service since coming to Congress, even from Republicans on the committee, this was the right move. One simply can not appoint a man who was impeached from high office for lack of integrity to be chief overseer of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. If there is such a thing as a “permanent record,” impeachment should go on it.

UPDATE: WaPo fronts speculation as to who might get the post.

Instead of picking Harman or Hastings, Pelosi will look for a compromise candidate, probably Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Tex.), but possibly Rep. Norman D. Dicks (Wash.), a hawkish member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, or Rep. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), a conservative African American with experience on the intelligence committee. To entice Harman to run in 2000 for a House seat she had vacated for an unsuccessful bid for the California governorship, the Democratic leadership shunted Bishop off the committee — another perceived slap at black lawmakers.

The story also looks at the racial politics and provides quite a bit of background into Hastings’ impeachment.

Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, voiced disappointment, saying in a statement that Hastings “would have made an outstanding Intelligence Chairman.” Privately, caucus aides said they had dismissed reports that Hastings would not get the post and were taken aback that Pelosi had cut out an ally such as Hastings. Hastings himself suggested that a decision against him would be a victory for “Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Barone, Drudge, anonymous bloggers, and other assorted misinformed fools.”

In the end, Pelosi’s pledge to clean up Congress after two years of scandal made Hastings’s appointment impossible, Democrats said.

[…]

In recent days, Hastings and his allies had launched a spirited campaign to clear his name from the stigma of his impeachment. Hastings distributed to Democratic colleagues six documents totaling 70 pages, including court testimony, letters from Republican and Democratic senators questioning his treatment, and a five-page letter from Hastings excoriating “the noise and misleading, poorly informed, misinformed, and sometimes venomous attacks on my integrity and character by pundits, politicians, and editors screaming the word ‘impeachment.’ ”

He pointed repeatedly to his 1983 acquittal by a Miami jury and wrote that it is “amazing how little importance” his critics give that verdict. The events that followed that trial, he said, “are so convoluted, voluminous, complex and mundane that it would boggle the mind.”

In fact, there is a certain simplicity in the conclusion drawn by an investigating committee of five eminent federal judges, each with strong civil rights credentials. Those judges, and later more than three dozen others, concluded that Hastings lied to the Miami jury as many as 15 times to win acquittal.

The original case against Florida’s first black federal trial judge was circumstantial. A federal grand jury charged Hastings with conspiring with Washington lawyer William A. Borders Jr. to sell a lenient sentence to two convicted Florida racketeers for $150,000. A sequence of meetings, telephone calls, judicial actions and taped conversations in 1981 convinced federal investigators that Hastings was on the take. But after 17 1/2 hours of deliberations at the end of a three-week trial, jurors voted not guilty.

Two federal judges soon filed an administrative complaint, accusing Hastings of conduct prejudicial to the courts, which led to the judicial investigation. John Doar, the chief House Watergate counsel, and a panel of judges investigating the matter said they uncovered substantial new evidence that convinced them that Hastings joined the bribery conspiracy and then fabricated a defense to hoodwink the jury.

In one example, they focused on Hastings’s testimony about telephone calls. The issue was a taped conversation with Borders that prosecutors considered coded talk about a bribe. Hastings said it was an innocent discussion about helping a friend, Hemphill Pride, regain his law license. Pride said that he knew of no such effort, that he would have rejected one and that he was not even eligible for reinstatement. He told the panel that Hastings, while under indictment, had urged him to remember details that, as far as Pride recalled, had never happened.

On the witness stand in Miami, however, Hastings showed the jury records of several telephone calls and confidently declared that he had made them to Pride. In fact, the Doar investigation revealed, the numbers called belonged to other people with no connection to Pride.

“Judge Hastings’ conduct was premeditated, deliberate and contrived,” wrote the committee, whose most prominent member was U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr., famous for rulings integrating Alabama’s public institutions.

When the Hastings case reached the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), skeptical about the evidence, investigated further. In time, Conyers, an African American, became so certain of Hastings’s guilt that he delivered an impassioned speech about race and justice — and made an opening statement during the Senate proceedings, which ended with Hastings’s conviction on 11 counts, including seven counts of making false statements. “We did not wage that civil rights battle merely to replace one form of judicial corruption for another,” Conyers said in the House, which voted 413 to 3 to impeach Hastings.

With John Conyers and Frank Johnson on the other side, it’s rather dubious to claim racial bias.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

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  4. tomas says:

    Last night on Hannity & Colmes (sp) Bob Bechtel stated that the Pelosi consideration of Alcee Hastings was a ploy to placate the Black Caucus and was never intended that the position be given to him.

    So, either Bechtel only says what he did as foolishness or its more of the Dems playing the Black Caucus along with all of its racial undertones.

    I have not seen any discussion of Bechtel’s statements. Obviously, my description above is my take – not his words.