Having unsuccessfully supported Representative Jack Murtha for the No. 2 slot in the House of Representatives, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi moves on to her next hard decision: whether to name Representative Alcee Hastings as chairman of the House intelligence committee.
This is a tough call for Pelosi. The current senior Democrat on the committee is Representative Jane Harman from California, and Pelosi wants her out. There has long been bad blood between Harman and Pelosi, who preceded Harman as the top Democrat on the panel. Pelosi, according to several Capitol Hill sources, has been upset with Harman’s performance on the committee and has faulted Harman for not sufficiently confronting the Republicans and the White House. Next in line for the Democrats on the committee is Hastings. But he, too, poses a problem. In the late 1980s, Hastings, then a federal judge, was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House on bribery and perjury charges and removed from office by the Democratic-led Senate. He was later elected to the House and subsequently joined the intelligence committee.
Can Pelosi pick a fellow impeached and convicted on corruption charges to run a committee handling the most sensitive secrets of the government? But can she bypass Hastings, an African-American, and alienate the Congressional Black Caucus? Should she choose the third-ranking Democrat, Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas? That would upset the CBC but win plaudits from the Hispanic Caucus. To duck the whole knotty issue, should she simply let Harman have the job for a short spell?
In a closer to perfect world than this one, the answer would be obvious: do none of above and name Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat on the committee, to lead the panel. (More on Holt in a moment.) But since the House is far from perfect, this is not likely to happen.
Hastings has come a long way since being impeached by the House Democrats. He is currently the senior Democrat on the intelligence panel’s subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security. He also serves ably as a Democratic whip. But now that he is close to taking over the intelligence committee, his past has become an item of renewed controversy. Prior to the congressional elections, conservatives and Republicans started raising the obvious question about Hastings: Should a person kicked off the federal bench for conspiring to receive a $150,000 bribe be placed in charge of the intelligence committee? The attack on Hastings was part of the GOP’s campaign to frighten voters into not electing Democrats. (Charlie Rangel will be in charge of the tax-writing committee!) But it was a justifiable query; the Republicans had a point. History is not on the side of Hastings or his present-day supporters.
On August 3, 1988, the House voted to impeach Hastings by a vote of 413 to 4. The floor manager of the impeachment resolution was Representative John Conyers, a CBC stalwart to this day, who declared that there was “damning evidence” that Hastings had plotted with another lawyer to obtain a payoff in exchange for reducing the sentences of an undercover FBI agent posing as a convicted racketeer. Five years earlier, Hastings, appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, had been acquitted of these charges by a Miami jury. But Conyers maintained that Hastings had lied at his trial. (A post-trial investigation conducted for the U.S. Court of Appeals had concluded that Hastings had sought the bribe and then faked evidence and testified falsely.)