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Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Don't Nominate Alcee Hastings

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When we last saw the Democrats, they were leaving the White House in a fog of nose-thumbing pardons and alleged petty destruction of property.

Remember Mark Rich and how great his quid pro quo pardon was for Democrats? We can all relive those wonderful weeks as the tale of Clinton's pardon of William Borders sucks the air out of the Demos' program of . . . uh. . . . oh yes, ethics reform.

Borders went to jail twice rather than testify about whether Alcee Hastings knew that Borders was soliciting bribes on Hastings' behalf. Rather than testify at Hastings' impeachment trial in the Senate, Borders chose to spend eight weeks in prison for contempt. This does not speak well for Hastings' innocence, since Borders had been offered immunity and, presumably, could have testified that Hastings was not involved if that were the case.

This is not what I want to hear about for the next month. Better they should let Barney Frank take on "don't ask don't tell" and at least get back to the beginning of the Clinton Administration rather than the end.

Back in the day, Hastings did not want Borders to speak. Hastings did not seek to have Borders testify in either the House or Senate, citing his fear for Borders' safety, a concern that Borders never raised. Moreover, Hastings, who was mad at a number of people, including his fellow judges and the FBI, was not annoyed at Borders, who would have falsely involved Hastings under the only possible theory where Hastings could be innocent. Not even "Goddam bitch set me up."

Hastings was acquitted by a jury (before his impeachment, not after as Rep. Dingell said Sunday to Chris Wallace on American Pravda). He was then impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate. Hastings this week called the process "amazing" and "baffling." Not if one looks at the facts.

Records of the House and Senate proceedings are available online. There is damming evidence against Hastings, including (1) rulings that coincided with Borders' promises to an under cover FBI agent, (2) Borders' knowledge of Hastings' future actions (like that he was going to vacate most of a forfeiture on a certain day for no legitimate legal reason), (3) an obviously coded telephone conversation in which Hastings confirmed that Borders had received the money shortly before rushing out his order returning $800,000 to the supposed briber and, (4) engaging in circuitous travel and telephone arrangements for which he has offered no credible explanation.

There is too much evidence to discuss here, none of which seems to point toward Hastings' innocence. Most famously, Borders volunteered that Hastings would show up in the dining room of the Hotel Fontainebleau at 8 p.m. on September 16, 1981 to show that Hastings was actually in on the plot. Shortly before 8 p.m. on that date, FBI agents saw Hastings and a woman enter the hotel and go to the dining room.

Hastings claimed in his testimony he was there to meet Borders for dinner, but Hastings made a reservation for two and did not look for Borders or ask about him. In fact, Hastings and his friend were seated at a table for four and Hastings said nothing when the waiter immediately removed the other two place settings. Hastings did not mention Borders to his guest or indicate that they were meeting anyone. At the time, Borders was on a prescheduled trip to attend a boxing match in Las Vegas

And again, Borders did not testify, although he had immunity and although Borders testimony could have exonerated Hastings if Hastings were telling the truth.

There is much more. Byron York, who I don't recall ever agreeing with before, has a good account of the Fontainebleau incident and Hastings' mad rush back to Florida from D.C. after he heard that Borders had been arrested, not even checking out of his hotel or reclaiming his suit from the hotel cleaners.

John Conyers, who was an Impeachment Manager in the Senate, said that he had scoured the record and searched for evidence of innocence or racist motivation, but had concluded that Hastings was guilty. Conyers, Charles Rangell, Charles Schumer and John Dingell all voted to impeach Hastings. Even Henry Waxman and Barbara Boxer voted to impeach Hastings.

Conyers opening argument in the impeachment trial is an impressive discussion of the facts. He also deals eloquently with the possiblity that the situation is racially motivated:

"As a lawyer who occasionally got into courtrooms, I have been before my share of hostile judges, racist judges, in the North and the South. I found nothing more satisfying, in the course of my congressional career, than to help the development of a capable and vigorous bar of African-American lawyers, men and women, and the elevation of some of its more outstanding practitioners to the prestigious position of Federal judge where they can serve, not merely as dispensers of equal justice under the law, but as models for their community and for the Nation.

So, I am saddened to come before you today to urge the removal of one of the handful of black judges who presently occupy the Federal bench. I am not happy to come here to argue that Alcee L. Hastings has forfeited his right to one of the most honored places in this American political system. But we did not wage the civil rights struggle in order to substitute one form of judicial corruption for another."

Yes, and even Nancy Pelosi voted to impeach Hastings, meaning that she was convinced then that he had agreed to sell his judicial office for $150,000.

No one seriously disputes this evidence. Most tellingly, Hastings himself, in a meandering five page letter that he sent this week, apparently unedited, to his colleagues refuses to deal with the evidence. Instead he rails at "Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Barone, Drudge, anonymous bloggers, and other assorted misinformed fools."

They are fools, but for once they are right. And they are waiting to pounce.

In his letter, Hastings states, "[t]he noise and misleading, poorly informed, misinformed, and sometimes venomous attacks on my integrity and character by pundits, politicians, and editors screaming the word "impeachment" (ignoring a Not Guilty verdict in a court of law) in a frenetic attempt to justify denying me a position I have certainly earned and am completely competent to perform requires now that I set the record straight."

Yet, he does not set any record straight concerning the facts of his case.

He complains that he has not has "an opportunity to respond," but then he does not respond to the facts, He emphasizes his criminal acquittal and has a number of procedural objections, such as the fact that he was tried in the House by a committee (chaired by Conyers) rather than the entire body, but he does not even mention the evidence.

Hastings asks things like "how in Heaven's name" could a complaint have been filed against him for judicial misconduct before the transcript of his criminal trial had been prepared, yet he does not discuss the curious pattern of communications with Borders and Hastings coincidentally timed rulings, he does not mention the damming Fointainebleau incident, he does not discus various inexplicable pay-phone to pay-phone calls, he does not address the merits of his erratic rulings or any of the evidence in the 179 page post-trial memorandum issued by the House Managers.

Instead he believes it is sufficient to state that, "[s]o that complaint [of judicial misconduct] led to the remaining events that are so convoluted, voluminous, complex, and mundane that it would boggle the mind."

I recognize this argument. It is the one a defense attorney makes for a hopelessly guilty client.

That Hastings is in a position of trust is offensive to every attorney and judge in the country, and to everyone who depends on the basic honesty of our judicial system. Federal judges are appointed for life. They don't even have the excuse characterizing bribes as campaign contributions. The idea that a judge would sell a decision is shocking and someone who has done this should not be placed in a position of responsibility.

It is unfortunate and inexplicable that the Senate, as they could have done, did not prohibit Hastings from seeking future federal office. It is sad that the voters in Florida elected and continue to elect him. And it appears that Hastings has not been all that admirable in the House, although I have not found much on this.

But, that is no reason why Nancy Pelosi should surrender the ethical high ground by appointing Hastings Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Whether the answer is Jane Harman, Silvestre Reyes or Rush Holt, it is not disgraced former federal judge Alcee Hastings.

BTW "Bobby" is an evocative account of a day that I remember too well from real life (I was at the McCarthy wake at the Beverly Hilton rather than at the Ambassador). But, since this account will replace reality, RFK's pandering remarks that set Sirhan off should have been mentioned and if you can't get Vin Scully for the job (or at least Jon Miller doing Scully), you should not put a purported Dodger radio broadcast into the film.