Hastings says he’s fit to lead intelligence panel

Times Staff Writer

Competition for the post of chairman of the House Intelligence Committee intensified Wednesday with the release of a letter by Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), who says he deserves the job despite the fact that as a federal judge he was convicted by the Senate and removed from the bench after being impeached for involvement in a bribery plot.

In a rambling letter sent to Democratic members of the House, Hastings lashed out at his critics, saying they were bent on “denying me a position I have certainly earned and am completely competent to perform.”

Hastings is, by seniority, the second-ranking Democrat on the committee, after Rep. Jane Harman of Venice. But Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the House’s incoming speaker, has indicated that when the Democrats take control in January, she plans to take Harman off the committee in favor of someone more critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq war policies.


With Harman gone, Hastings would be in line to become chairman of the panel, formally known as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His past legal troubles, however, have raised questions about his fitness for the position, which involves safeguarding many of the nation’s most closely held spy secrets.

A mix of internal politics and concern over public perceptions has made the question of whom to name as the panel’s chairman one of the thorniest issues facing Pelosi. She had planned to elevate Hastings, helping her settle a debt to the Congressional Black Caucus over the removal of another black lawmaker from the panel after Harman returned to Congress -- and to the intelligence committee -- after a failed gubernatorial run.

More recently, there have been indications that Pelosi might bypass Hastings out of concern that his background might give ammunition to critics of the House’s Democratic leadership. Next in line is Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).

Hastings, 70, has largely stayed on the sidelines during this fight, refusing repeated requests for comment.

He ended that silence Wednesday, but it is unclear whether the meandering five-page missive will help his case or hurt it.

In the letter, Hastings decries “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 stresses that he was removed from the bench even though he had been acquitted in a 1983 criminal trial stemming from allegations that he had conspired to accept a $150,000 bribe in return for granting a lenient sentence to two defendants convicted in his court of racketeering.

Despite that acquittal, a federal judicial panel referred the case to Congress; in 1988, Hastings was impeached by the House. The following year, by a vote of 69 to 26, the Senate convicted him on eight of 17 articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench. He was elected to Congress in 1992, and has been repeatedly reelected.

In his letter, Hastings singles out conservative commentators who have attacked his candidacy for the chairmanship, as well as “anonymous bloggers and other assorted misinformed fools.”

He argues that his impeachment proceedings were tainted by politics and accuses the FBI of falsifying evidence in the case, including tampering with “a man-purse of mine (they were popular in the ‘70s).”

In his seven years on the intelligence panel, Hastings said, he has been a careful steward of intelligence secrets. “I have never violated that trust,” he wrote.