By Jonathan Weisman and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decided against naming either Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, or Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), the panel's No. 2 Democrat, to chair the pivotal committee next year.
The decisions came despite lobbying by conservative Democrats on Harman's behalf and a full-throttled campaign by Hastings to overcome the stigma of the 1988 impeachment that drove him from his federal judgeship.
The fight over the top spot on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has exposed the kind of factional politics that bedeviled House Democrats before they were swept from control in 1994. Harman, a moderate, strong-on-defense "Blue Dog" Democrat, had angered liberals with her reluctance to challenge the Bush administration's use of intelligence. Hastings, an African American, was strongly backed by the Congressional Black Caucus but was ardently opposed by the Blue Dogs, who said his removal from the bench disqualifies him from such a sensitive post.
Complicating the matter was Pelosi's relationship with black Democrats. Earlier this year, she enraged the Black Caucus by removing one of its members, Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), from the Ways and Means Committee after court documents revealed that federal investigators looking into allegations of bribery had found $90,000 in cash neatly bundled in his freezer.
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.
In announcing her decision, Pelosi praised Hastings. "Alcee Hastings has always placed national security as his highest priority," she said. "He has served our country well, and I have full confidence that he will continue to do so."
Hastings took a shot at conservatives and media voices who have come out strongly against his appointment. "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet," he wrote.
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.
Likewise, Pelosi was not willing to bend the committee's unique term-limit rules for Harman, who she believes had violated a promise to step aside, according to Democrats. Harman had angered some Democrats with a tough management style that helped drive away longtime Democratic staffers.
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.
Staff researcher Rena Kirsch contributed to this report.