For Pelosi and Dems, No Good Choice for Intel Chair

November 21, 2006 12:56 pm

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.)As the prime alternative, Harman doesn’t put one immediately at ease: TIME Magazine reported last month that she was under FBI investigation for cutting deals with the Zionist American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in order to secure the group’s support of her chairwomanship. But the Washington Post later pooh-poohed the report, saying no new evidence had surfaced in over a year.

Harman also enjoys the backing of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats, as well as a swath of Clinton-era national security officials, some of whom are said to have lobbied Pelosi directly — and may have angered the House speaker-elect with their pressure.

Hastings enjoys the support not only of the CBC but also other black organizations. CQ’s Tim Starks reports (sub. req.) that top officials at the NAACP have made unusual personal appeals to Pelosi, and the Black Leadership Forum coalition has weighed in on his behalf.

Amid the flying letters, appeals, phone calls and grumbling, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) has popped up as what some call a “compromise” candidate for the intel panel chair. Backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, he appears to be a compromise only in that he’s neither Hastings nor Harman.

With investigations into corruption extending from recent congressional bribery scandals into the deepest recesses of the intelligence community, one could forgive the American public for expecting a distinguished and scandal-free candidate to oversee the cleanup effort. Will Americans forgive the Democrats if they don’t get one?

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