A Hastings-Harman Primer
by maconblue, Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 05:56:06 AM EST
Wearied from the Pelosi-Hoyer-Murtha blood-letting? Well now it looks like we may well have a reprise of precisely the same imperfect storm of the personal vindictiveness and possible ethical improprieties in the selection of the intelligence committee chair. The personalities here are even less familiar than in the majority leader race, but from what I've read, the Alcee Hastings-Jane Harman controversy looks like a yet worse nightmare for both Pelosi and the Democrats. Primer and observations follow. . .
1. AVOID INVERTED `FOX'-THINK: This is a purely philosophical/strategic point that I'd like to make outside of the Hastings debate. To want ANY liberal, even a corrupt one, over a blue-dog Democrat or conservative or moderate Democrat, is to engage in the sort of counter-democratic group-think that Republicans used to ruinous effects for the last six years. This is the sort of thinking that bought Delay and Foley and Burns complicity with the conservative Republican leadership. Progressives should not pursue power, even for good goals, if that power comes at the expense of honest government. I'd encourage all of us to both work for progressive victories in governance AND to avoid supporting corruption, even "our" corrupt politicians who might be liberal or progressive or anti-war. You can vote in all the right ways and still do more harm than good to the progressive cause, just as Foley and Burns and Abramoff ultimately did more harm than good to the conservative cause. We have to promote Democratic leaders who have unimpeachable ethics records. . . if there are any out there.
2. PUBLICITY HELL: I'm not an expert in the Hastings case, and I'm absolutely willing to be corrected on it, but appointing Hastings at the very least is a lose-lose proposition on the publicity front: on the one hand, we'll have to hear allegations that Hastings took bribes from racketeering suspects in exchange for a reduced verdict back in 1981--an awful "could-be" narrative which, coupled with grainy Abscam tapes of Murtha, will remind voters that Dems can't be trusted any more than Republicans when it comes to ethics. But on the other hand, and this is important, Pelosi will be seen as vindictively settling personal scores in her leadership role, a narrative already given plenty of play, probably correctly, in the Murtha-Hoyer showdown. So this is bad publicity on at least two fronts. And please, don't tell me Pelosi is skipping over Harman because of her political views. There are many to the right of Harman in leadership positions; this is personal for Pelosi.
3. HARMAN IS NOT A "BUSH-STOOGE": I'm not a Harman apologist: before reading about the intelligence committee decision, I'd never heard her name before. But after digging around some, she seems like a more left-moderate member of the DLC and Blue Dog coalitions, with very progressive/liberal stances on a woman's right to choose, net neutrality, the environment, education, immigration, gay rights, among other subjects, and a more conservative record when it comes to business (bankruptcy laws), some, though not all, security issues, and especially the death penalty. I might well be wrong on this, but it doesn't seem from her statements over the years that she was a lap-dog to the Bush administration (viz. Lieberman), and she has often been quite tough on Bush in her rhetoric and in her voting. Bush publicly rebuked her for saying that, ''The president says that fighting them there makes it less likely we'll have to fight them here. The opposite is true.'' Catch Lieberman saying that. She called for the White House to declassify the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism, and she saw the Specter-White House NSA agreement as an ''end run'' around the FISA law requiring the approval of individual wiretapping warrants and a violation of a core Fourth Amendment protection. She added: ''This is the lawless White House, out of control with respect to a program like this." She supported the Iraq war, but then many, many Democrats lacked the courage to vote their conscience on this issue, and many more were genuinely duped by the administration (viz. Murtha). This is a blot on her record, but a blot that much of the Democratic party shares. She is decidedly left of Murtha, for instance, in her voting record on most issues. Anyone who thinks Harman is a "stooge" for the Bush administration, or any more a stooge than most Dems between 2001 and 2003, please see point #1.
Regarding allegations about her possible dealings with a pro-Israel lobby in exchange for their support of her chairing the intelligence committee, an investigation has been shut down with no known evidence on the case, though "she was the focus of a year-old F.B.I. inquiry related to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee." If evidence comes to light, then Harman ought to be out of consideration, indictment or no indictment, and, of course, criminally charged. In the meantime, though she's not a perfect appointment and she may well be proven a swamp thing, she's not aberrant either in her political views or, as of yet, in her ethics (though that she was the focus of an investigation ain't good).
4. THE HASTINGS CASE IS COMPLICATED, BUT UGLY: Right. So this one is tough. Yes, Alcee Hastings WAS impeached and barred from the bench by the Senate in 1989, and yes the vote was lopsided and included many Democrats in a Democratic Congress. The original case is a bit murky. Here's the timeline, and feel free to correct me if I've gone astray (Terry and Skeptic especially!):
1981: Hastings allegedly conspires with a lawyer to lessen the sentence for two FBI-agents posing as drug racketeers, allowing them to escape jail time in exchange for a $150,000 bribe.
1983: Hastings is acquitted of the bribery charges at a criminal trial. William Borders, the lawyer with whom Hastings allegedly collaborated, his co-defendant at the trial, is convicted of bribery conspiracy and sentenced to five years in prison. There has never been another criminal trial convicting Hastings of wrong-doing, a fact that Hastings cites repeatedly in his defense.
1985: The Justice Department alleges that Hastings in 1985 gave Mayor Steve Clark of Dade County confidential information on a Federal undercover corruption investigation. Mayor Clark has said Judge Hastings warned him ''to stay away from'' a former Miami building code enforcement chief whose telephone was being wiretapped by Federal agents on the judge's authorization. As a result, according to Leon Kellner, the United States Attorney here, ''we had to shut down two investigations.'' Hastings calls the allegations ''pure bunk'' and said he will comment on them in the ''proper forum.'' Hastings is never found guilty of these allegations, and the Senate voted 95-0 to clear Hastings of these charges in the 1989 impeachment proceedings.
1987: A federal judicial panel concludes that there was sufficient evidence that Hastings did conspire to obtain the bribe, finding also that Hastings presented false evidence at his trial. The two Federal judges who originated the impeachment charges against Judge Hastings described his conduct at his 1983 trial as ''odious, unethical and possibly unlawful.'' "In a long secret report. . . the judges contended that Judge Hastings fabricated the testimony he delivered in his own defense." Federal judges are able to recommend impeachment of other federal judges thanks to a 1980 law passed in Congress.
1988: The House judiciary committee headed by Representative John Conyers of Michigan unanimously votes to recommend impeachment for Hastings. Reacting to Hastings' charges of racism in the impeachment proceedings, Conyers, an African American champion of Civil Rights, explains: ''We did not wage that civil rights struggle merely to replace one form of judicial corruption with another. . . In order to be true to our principles, we must demand that all persons live up to the same high standards."
1989: The Senate votes 69 to 26 to impeach Hastings and remove him from the bench. The voting, says the New York Times, crossed "ideological, regional and party lines." The Washington Post reported: "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.)." The voting came after the chairman and co-chairman of the special Senate committee that investigated the charges said they would not vote to convict." Patrick Leahy called most of the evidence "circumstantial" and Arlen Specter agreed, adding his concern that "impeachment proceedings had been brought against an official who had been tried by a jury and acquitted."
So this is a difficult, complex, tortuous case to follow, and you can be sure that most Americans won't bother to follow it. But there are facts:
Hastings was acquitted of wrong-doing by a criminal court;
a federal judicial panel concluded that he did take the bribe and raised suspicions about his conduct at the trial;
The House Judiciary committee unanimously voted to recommend impeachment for Hastings;
the Senate voted to impeach him and bar him from the bench.
QUESTIONS: Is it fair to keep a man from leadership positions based upon no formal criminal charge? Isn't a man innocent until proven guilty? Though acquitted by a criminal jury, does Hastings have to wear a scarlet letter owing to Senate impeachment based upon evidence never found beyond reasonable suspicion by a criminal court? And even if Hastings was guilty of the bribe-scheme, and even if he did deserve impeachment, if his ethics have been sound since 1981, why should he be held any more accountable for ethical lapses twenty-five years later any more than John McCain or George Bush or Joe Biden or John Murtha, for that matter? Is there a double-standard here when it comes to African American representatives? On the other hand, isn't becoming one of only five federal judges to be impeached by Congress EVER enough to raise red flags when granting Hastings a leadership position after an anti-corruption election when another member of his committee has seniority over him?
I'm sure there are many more questions, but the bottom line is this: Hastings hasn't been proven to be as corrupt as his detractors say and Harman isn't as much a Bush sympathizer as her detractors say. But this much seems certain: this complex narrative cannot be given in a sound bite without Hastings coming off as less than ethical and without Pelosi coming off as someone who values loyalty before ethics. And when Americans voted in strong numbers against corruption in Congress, Democratic leaders have to be held to a higher standard. The ethics of Democratic leaders have to be unimpeachable. . . and Hastings has already been impeached. . . by a Democratic Senate.
Does Hastings have to forego leadership positions in the future? No. Does Hastings have to give up his seat? Of course not. But is this a good time for a protracted and messy battle starring a possibly ethically challenged Hastings, a vindictive Pelosi, and a moderate Democrat with possible ethical flaws of her own? Clearly not. Is this the time to re-try Hastings in the press? Please, no. Let Hastings earn seniority and committee leadership as is normally the case and without the attendant publicity; promote him as a matter of course when he is the senior member of a committee; let Harman's seniority rule the day in the intel committee assignments, barring any revelations of ethical misconduct with the pro-Israel lobby. And let Democratic in-fighting and ethical challenges stay off of the front pages for a few weeks!
Though the Hastings case is complicated, actively bumping Hastings above Harman would be a minor disaster for the party in a time when it needs to stay focused on its legislative agenda.
What do you think? What have I omitted here that folks ought to know?