If the Democrats win control of the House today, the next Chairman of the House Intelligence could well be Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida. As most of you know, Mr. Hastings is a former federal judge who was impeached and removed from the bench for his participation in a bribery scheme. His conviction was later overturned (on a technicality), and he won election to Congress in 1992.
In an article published earlier this year, Jacob Laskin of Front Page magazine did an excellent job of recounting Hastings' corrupt past, and the ethical issues that plague him to this day. Not only does Hastings have one of the poorest attendance records in House, he ranks #2 on the list of Congressmen who have taken taxpayer-funded trips, mostly to foreign locales. As the Miami Herald reported, when the House voted on important legislation to punish thieves of confidential phone records, Hastings was in Moscow, for a meeting with the leader of the Russian parliament. Many of his junkets are endorsed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which retains Hastings as an electoral observer in emerging democracies, a position that supports his love of travel.
But Mr. Hastings ethical problems don't end there. Opponents have charged him with attempting to settle private debts with tax dollars, through the hiring of his former attorney for his Congressional staff. Patricia Williams, who carries the title of "special assistant" (and earns a salary of more than $90,000 a year) represented Hastings as legal counsel in his 1983 bribery trial and 1989 impeachment hearings. Hastings reportedly owes Ms. Williams over $500,000 in attorney's fees; she joined his staff after being disbarred in 1992, for misuse of clients' funds. Mr. Hasting's "conduct" in other areas has prompted recent inquiries by the House Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission, and the Florida Election Commission.
Despite his questionable conduct, Hastings "serves" on several key House committees that deal with intelligence and homeland security. However, his record in these areas in equally dismal. As Jacob Laskin reported:
Hastings contribution to the state of intelligence, however, has amounted to little more than partisan provocation and relentless opposition to vital counterterrorism legislation. Beyond denouncing the war in Iraq as unjustified and irresponsibly accusing the Bush administration of Âpre-meditated fabrication of intelligence, Hastings has cast votes against the Patriot Act and the program of warrantless domestic surveillance of American citizens with suspected terrorism ties. Concerning the latter, Hastings has claimed that President Bush unilaterally authorized a secret domestic spying program, illegally ignoring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the general public's civil rights. That none of the charges is accurate--the Bush administration had consulted with Democratic legislators before enacting the program, which does not in fact violate the FISA act and has since been approved by a supervisory court established by that law--has not deterred Hastings from making them the core of his attacks on the administration. Politicizing security issues has also made Hastings a darling of the ACLU, which honored him with a special dinner last May for his votes against the Patriot Act.
And this is the man who may chair the House Intelligence Committee, if Nancy Pelosi becomes the next speaker. The thought of this man as a steward of the intelligence community is simply unthinkable, yet it may happen if the Democrats gain control of the House, and Ms. Pelosi carries out her threatened putsch against Jane Harman, the more moderate Democrat who is line for the chairmanship. From Pelosi's perspective, Ms. Harman's "sinned" by supporting the War on Terror, and refusing to "leak" the NSA surveillance program.
More recent reports have suggested that Pelosi has patched up her relationship with Ms. Harman, and might allow her to chair the intel committee. But, as Mr. Luskin reminds us, Pelosi still owes a favor to members of the House Black Caucus, which objected when she passed over one of its members for a vacancy on the intel committee. To stay in good graces with the caucus, Ms. Pelosi might be forced to appoint Hastings as the next chairman of the intel committee.
If you don't want Alcee Hastings to control the nation's intelligence budget, get to the polls today, and do the right thing. Having a corrupt, impeached former federal judge as a member of the House is bad enough. Giving him potential control of the intel committee is simply unacceptable.