Senate Removes Hastings
By Ruth Marcus
In a solemn and tense session, the Senate voted 69 to 26 -- five votes more than needed for conviction -- to find Hastings guilty of the major charge against him and strip the 53-year-old jurist of his lifetime, $89,500-a-year position.
Hastings, Florida's first black federal trial judge, sat facing the senators as the lawmakers rose, one by one, to render their verdicts on the charge that he conspired with disbarred Washington lawyer William A. Borders Jr. to obtain the bribe.
The outcome of the proceeding -- eight years after Hastings was first accused and five years after a jury found him not guilty -- was unclear until nearly the end of the first roll call. Both the chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), and the vice chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), of the 12-member panel that heard the evidence in the case voted for acquittal. The 12 members of the panel voted 7 to 5 for conviction.
When he left the Senate after the vote on the second article of impeachment, Hastings, besieged by reporters on the Capitol steps, said, "I have no choice but to accept their judgment." But, he said, "I'm in thorough disagreement with their decision and that's all."
He said his conviction violates the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. And he criticized the process under which only 12 of the 100 senators heard the witnesses against him. Hastings also announced his plans to open a private law practice and to run as a Democratic candidate for governor of Florida next year.
"My momma had a man," Hastings, who was named to the bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, said of his plans to remain in the public eye. "She did not have anybody that was afraid of the system."
The Senate, in two hours of roll calls, voted on 11 of the 17 articles of impeachment. It convicted Hastings of eight of the 11 articles, finding that he engaged in the bribery conspiracy and repeatedly lied under oath at his trial and forged letters in order to win acquittal.
Hastings was acquitted on one of the perjury charges and an umbrella count that accused him of "bringing disrepute on the federal courts" through his actions. He was unanimously cleared, by 95 to 0, of a separate charge of leaking confidential information from a wiretap that he had authorized as a judge. The Senate did not vote on six of the 17 articles because it had already decided to remove Hastings from office.
Four senators did not vote yesterday because they were members of the House when it voted 413 to 3 in August 1988 to impeach Hastings. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) was not present. Under the Constitution, conviction required the votes of two-thirds of the senators present, or at least 64 in this case.
Shortly after noon yesterday, Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) announced the result. With Hastings convicted of eight high crimes and misdemeanors, Byrd said, "it is therefore ordered and adjudged that said Alcee L. Hastings be and he is hereby removed from office."
The vote on Hastings did not break down along ideological, regional, or other identifiable lines.
The 26 senators -- 21 Democrats and five Republicans -- who voted to acquit him of the major charge included some of the Senate's most conservative members -- William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) -- and some of its most liberal -- Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and Alan Cranston (D-Calif.).
Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), a former prosecutor on the trial committee, voted for conviction and Specter, another former prosecutor on the panel, voted to acquit.
Hastings is the sixth federal official, all judges, impeached by the House and removed from office after conviction by the Senate. The case proved a particularly anguishing decision for the senators, who deliberated behind closed doors for 7 1/2 hours Thursday, because of the circumstantial nature of the evidence, the earlier jury verdict to acquit and the charges of racism.
In an eloquent plea for acquittal on the floor Wednesday, Hastings said that he did not think race was a factor in the case, and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), a member of the House prosecution team, agreed. However, a number of Hastings supporters have cast the case in those terms.
The Senate found that Hastings had arranged with Borders, his close friend and a prominent Washington lawyer, to solicit a bribe from an FBI undercover agent posing as one of two brothers who were defendants in a racketeering case before Hastings. In return for the $150,000 -- $25,000 of which was given to Borders as a down payment -- Hastings was to sentence the Romano brothers to probation rather than prison and to return $845,000 in forfeited property.
There was circumstantial evidence that Hastings was part of the scheme, including a pattern of telephone calls between Hastings and Borders at key junctures in the Romano case, Borders's successful promise to an FBI agent to have Hastings turn up for dinner at the Fontainebleau Hotel at a specified time and a key, cryptic telephone conversation between Borders and Hastings that prosecutors contended was a coded discussion of the bribe arrangements.
But Hastings's lawyers argued that these actions, while seemingly suspicious, had other, innocuous explanations, and portrayed Hastings as the innocent victim of a scam perpetrated by Borders. There was no direct evidence of Hastings's participation in the conspiracy because the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Borders before money could be traced to Hastings.
Borders, who was convicted of the bribery conspiracy charges in a separate trial in 1982, refused to testify -- despite a grant of immunity -- before the grand jury or the House and Senate panels. He was jailed on contempt charges from Aug. 22 until yesterday for refusing to testify before the Senate committee.
Some senators said after the verdict that they found the evidence insufficient and were troubled by the earlier jury acquittal, while others took the opposite view. Senators could choose whatever standard of proof -- beyond a reasonable doubt, clear and convincing, or another measure -- they deemed appropriate.
"The facts simply led me to the inference that Judge Hastings quite clearly was involved in a scheme with Bill Borders," said Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), a member of the trial panel.
But committee Chairman Bingaman said that "the evidence, although furnishing grounds for investigation and trial, does not provide a sound basis upon which I can vote for conviction."
© Copyright 1989 The Washington Post Company