Hastings Flap Confirms Pelosi's Problems as Leader, Analyst Says

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A growing controversy over a looming House intelligence committee chairmanship appointment is adding to the problems Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi faces as leader of the House Democrats, according to a conservative analyst.

Pelosi's promise that this would be "the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history" "made a good sound bite, but actually putting it into practice is a lot harder," Dani Doane, director of House relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service Wednesday.

She was referring to the possibility that Pelosi will name as chair of the crucial committee a lawmaker who was removed as a federal judge in 1989 due to a bribery scandal.

Four years after he was appointed a federal judge in Florida in 1979, Alcee Hastings was acquitted of charges of conspiring with a close friend, William Borders, to solicit a $150,000 bribe from defendants in a racketeering case.

Although he had been cleared legally, the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988 conducted an impeachment hearing, and Hastings the following year became the sixth federal judge to be removed from office.

In 1992, he was elected to Congress as a representative of Florida.

The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington this week posted documents pertaining to Hastings' impeachment on its website, although a spokesman told Cybercast News Service that did not mean the organization was "taking a position" on the Hastings controversy.

According to those documents, Rep. John Conyers noted during the impeachment proceedings: "There is an enormous amount of evidence that makes no sense at all unless Judge Hastings conspired with William Borders and lied at the trial.

"Justice and the integrity of our government depend on the importance of these impeachment proceedings, and they argue that the judge should be removed from the bench," the Michigan Democrat added.

On Aug. 3, 1988, the House of Representatives voted 413 to 3 to adopt articles of impeachment against the judge. One of those who voted against Hastings was a new congresswoman from California, Nancy Pelosi.

Then on Oct. 20, 1989, the Senate voted 69 to 26 to remove him from office.

Three years later, Hastings was elected to the House, where he has served as a member of the chamber's intelligence committee.

Hastings' background drew criticism from Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, who last week sent a letter to Pelosi urging her not to promote him.

The Hastings controversy comes just one week after Pelosi placed herself in what pundits called "a lose-lose situation" by supporting as the new House majority leader Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat known for his criticism of the war in Iraq and a murky ethical past.

Rep. Steny Hoyer subsequently defeated Murtha by a vote of 149 to 86, despite Pelosi's efforts, which included nominating Murtha herself during a Nov. 16 Democratic Caucus meeting.

"With the Murtha situation, I was shocked that Nancy Pelosi would put herself in the position to have a huge embarrassment coming out of the gate, and this is another indication of ethical concerns," Doane said. "But that's almost a subplot to the quick collapse of Democratic unity and goals while getting caught in infighting.

"My understanding is that Pelosi really doesn't want Hastings [as intelligence committee chair]," Doane said. "She likes him, but she understands the liability and sees that this would put a big target on her back."

Because of this, Doane said, Pelosi floated as an alternative the name of Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas "so she could have an outreach to the Hispanic caucus."

However, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) had other plans and is pushing for Hastings, who is African American, to be appointed.

"The CBC is saying they want Hastings in," Doane observed. "More than the situation as to whether or not this is an ethical Congress, this points to the problems Nancy Pelosi is going to have in being a leader."

The speaker-elect has "four or five distinct groups within the majority she's got to worry about," Doane added. "Trying to keep them all working together and in line yet maintaining their objectives is going to be interesting to watch."

Doane offered what she said was the "perfect solution" to the controversy: Pelosi should name Rep. Jane Harman of California, currently the committee's ranking Democrat, as the new chairman.

"Pelosi has said continually that she will not put Harman in because of her [moderate] stance on the Iraq war," Doane noted. "Just because she's liked by Republicans doesn't mean she should necessarily be out of the running.

"It does seem pretty suspect to me that Pelosi won't take a qualified candidate who's not going to either open the party to international scorn or anger one of the key groups within the Democratic caucus, the CBC," she said. "The perfect solution is staring her in the face, and she won't take it."

Make media inquiries or request an interview with Randy Hall.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Randy Hall.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.