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He may not be a former spy, but he's got better cred on intelligence issues than the outgoing House intelligence committee chair, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI). (Hoekstra's off-kilter ramblings have included charging CIA employees are al Qaeda sympathizers, and insisting WMDs still exist in Iraq after the White House has dropped the cause.) Besides, despite having little background in the cloak-and-dagger world, Hastings is said to have boned up on the subject since joining the intelligence panel in 1999.

So why do people think Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) isn't fit to lead the House intelligence committee?

The answer lies all the way back in 1981 -- when James Watt became Secretary of the Interior, the Berlin Wall was still up, disco wasn't yet ironic, and Alcee Hastings was a federal judge in Florida.

That year, according to Congress, Hastings and a friend tried to shake down a defendant facing trial in Hastings' courtroom for $150,000. In exchange, the two promised a reduced jail sentence and the return of over $800,000 in confiscated property.

A jury acquitted Hastings of criminal charges stemming from the scandal, but in 1989 a team of lawmakers -- including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), among others -- prosecuted Hastings in Congress, and the Senate voted to strip him of his judgeship.

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Didn't the Democrats promise us an end to muck?

Yet mucked-up politicians keep surfacing as the new House majority struggles to choose its leaders. Last week, questionable corporate cozier Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) beat out Rep. John "No bribes for me -- right now" Murtha (D-PA) to be House majority leader.

Now, a battle royale is brewing over who's going to lead the House intelligence committee, and it too is hardly muck-free: one of the leading contenders for the position is a former federal judge who was impeached by Congress, while the other is under FBI investigation for improper relations with a lobby organization sporting foreign ties.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), with backing from the Congressional Black Caucus, may be the frontrunner for the position, if only because the would-be chair, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), is on the outs with the woman who gets to choose, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But Hastings has a past that seriously compromises his candidacy: In 1989, the Senate found Hastings guilty of soliciting a $150,000 bribe from defendants facing trial in his courtroom eight years earlier. Unlike some recent scandals, this was believed to have been a pretty simple scam: In exchange for the bribe, Hastings would throw the case.

Hastings' alleged accomplice, William Borders, was sent to prison for the scam. The evidence against Hastings himself was serious, but circumstantial -- a cryptic phone call, a fortuitous appearance at a restaurant on a certain date and time -- so he was acquitted of criminal charges. But a bipartisan congressional prosecution and impeachment removed him from the federal bench. (More on this later.)

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Here's your Defense Department's counterterrorism experts musing on the combustability of an antiwar protest in California:

Yup, "some type of vandalism is always a possibility."

A recent Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU uncovered a number of such reports from the Pentagon's Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database, which is supposed to be used to monitor attack threats near military installations.

As an explanation, the chief of the counterintelligence field unit told The New York Times that "those operating the database had misinterpreted their mandate."

Democrats Plan Series of Votes on Ethics Reform "Despite divisions among Democrats over how far to go in revising ethics rules, House leaders plan a major rollout of an ethics reform bill early next year to demonstrate concern about an issue that helped defeat the Republicans in the midterm elections.

"But they will do it with a twist: Instead of forwarding one big bill, Democrats will put together an ethics package on the House floor piece by piece, allowing incoming freshmen to take charge of high-profile issues and lengthening the time spent on the debate. The approach will ensure that each proposal -- including banning gifts, meals and travel from lobbyists as well as imposing new controls on the budget deficit -- is debated on its own and receives its own vote. That should garner far more media attention for the bill's components before a final vote on the entire package." (WaPo)

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Remember Larry Hanauer, the Democratic aide on the House Intelligence Committee whose clearance was yanked because he was suspected of leaking the Iraq NIE?

House Intel Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) probably hopes you don't, because, as Roll Call reports (sub. req.), Hanauer's access to classified info has been quietly reinstated, "essentially clearing the aide of accusations that he leaked a sensitive report on the Iraq War to The New York Times."

Hoekstra had stripped Hanauer of his access based on remarkably thin evidence -- that Hanauer requested a copy of the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate shortly before the Times reported on the NIE's findings. Nevermind that the Times piece clearly stated that details of the report came from a number of intelligence professionals, with whom the reporters had been speaking for weeks. In fact, as Rep. Ray Lahood (R-IL) admitted, Hanauer was demoted as payback for the Democrats having released, over Hoekstra's objections, a report on Duke Cunningham's dirty doings.

Now Hanauer's been officially (and suddenly) cleared, it seems. Yet another sign that we're in a new era.

Update: A statement from Jonathan Turley, Hanauer's lawyer:

We are grateful that this long nightmare for Larry and his family is now over. It is regrettable that it took this long given the total absence of any evidence linking Larry to the New York Times articles. As we stated at the outset of this controversy, Larry was not and could not have been the source for the New York Times story.

As a result of his name and private telephone number being leaked to the media, Larry has now been the subject of horrible and reprehensible threats.

I hope that the total vindication of Larry will now restore his good name and standing as a professional staff member.

Now the fight really gets started. Democrat Christine Jennings has filed an official contest of the election results.

As we've noted many times here before, the central dispute concerns the "undervote" in one county, where about 13% of voters didn't select a candidate in the congressional race -- a rate far above those in the other counties. The Jennings campaign faults the electronic voting machines for the problem. Republican Vern Buchanan won the race by fewer than 400 votes, according to the official tally.

The complaint, filed today, notes that "The failure to include these votes constitutes a rejection of a number of legal votes sufficient to place in doubt, and likely change, the outcome of the election."

More soon.

Update: Press release from Jennings campaign follows.

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From the AP:

Tom Noe, a prominent coin dealer accused of taking at least $2 million, was convicted last week of theft, corrupt activity, money laundering, forgery and tampering with records.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Osowik, who described the crime as an "elaborate scheme of theft on a large scale," also fined Noe $120,000.

"You continued to spend the bureau's money at what I thought was a shockingly, alarmingly large rate, and done for one purpose: to present some type of a facade that you had a bottomless cup of wealth and luxury at your disposal, when in fact it was at the state's expense," Osowik said.

Foley Checks out of Rehab "Sources tell us disgraced ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) ended his stay at a rehab facility in Arizona that treats alcohol addiction as well as sexual addiction and compulsion before he headed back to Florida to attend the funeral of his father.

"'It was more for that,' said one source, referring to sexual addiction." (Roll Call)

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A man named Warren Trepp surfaced in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago, you may recall. The paper had investigated the Nevada defense contractor for his shady dealings with then-Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV).

Today's Las Vegas Sun puts Trepp's current flap in perspective. Apparently, the man has a history of attaching himself, Zelig-like, to no fewer than four disparate scandals in the past two decades:

Perhaps Warren Trepp is always just at the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of terrible and perpetual coincidence.

By his early 30s, he was chief trader for the notorious 1980s junk bond trader Michael Milken.

Then a friend helped him sell a bundle of stock in a collectibles business in 2002, and he wound up selling it to Tom Noe, a Republican bigwig in Ohio recently convicted on multiple counts of fraud and larceny and laundering money to the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign.

Trepp formed the software company eTreppid Technologies that later sought national security contracts with the government. A woman, Letitia White, who did lobbying work for the firm is said to be under investigation in connection with the widening federal bribery probe following the conviction of a former congressman.

Finally, his friendship with Nevada Gov.-elect Jim Gibbons landed him on the front page of The Wall Street Journal in an examination of contracts that eTreppid received with help from Gibbons, the Republican congressman from Reno.

Former White House official David Safavian, sentenced to 18 months in prison for crimes related to his relationship with Jack Abramoff, isn't headed to the pokey quite yet. A federal judge has decided to let him remain free until his appeals have been heard, reports:

Appeals can take several years, so Safavian's sentence of 18 months -- if upheld -- will not begin until after that ruling.

In his opinion granting the request, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman cited the section of U.S. Code that says that if a person is not likely to flee, and the appeal raises a substantial question of law likely to result in a reversal, new trial or different sentence, then the judge can grant a request for release on bond.