Sunday, June 11, 2006

Incomprehensibly, there are reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has decided to oust fellow Rep. Jane Harman of California in January as the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Mrs. Pelosi intends to replace Mrs. Harman in her Intelligence Committee leadership role with Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, who, depending upon which party achieves majority status, would either become chairman of the House intelligence panel or its ranking member. Either result would be appalling.

Arguably the least impressive member of the House, Mr. Hastings would become one of only several members of Congress who are statutorily designated to receive the most sensitive intelligence briefings involving the nation’s most classified national security secrets.

Mr. Hastings’ past should disqualify him from such a position of trust. At the recommendation of a special investigative committee of the federal judiciary, which had concluded that Mr. Hastings, then a U.S. District Court judge, had lied and fabricated evidence to win an acquittal on bribery charges in 1983, the Democrat-controlled House voted 413 to 3 in 1988 to impeach him. Several of the 17 impeachment counts, reported Congressional Quarterly, “alleged that Hastings committed acts of perjury during his 1983 trial.” Keeping in mind that Mr. Hastings would be told the most sensitive intelligence secrets, consider the fact that another impeachment count approved by the House “alleged that Hastings leaked information about a wiretap he was supervising and thereby forced a halt to an extensive federal undercover operation in the Miami area in 1985.” In 1989, a Democratic-controlled Senate convicted Judge Hastings of accepting a $150,000 bribe in 1981 in exchange for a lenient sentence and committing numerous acts of perjury at his own trial. Once he was booted off the federal court, voters in southern Florida elected him to Congress, after which Mrs. Pelosi — the quintessential San Francisco Democrat — appointed him to the House Intelligence Committee.

By contrast, when Mrs. Pelosi became minority leader and vacated her position as ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, she elevated Mrs. Harman to take her place. Mrs. Harman’s serious interest in national defense dates to the late 1970s, when she served as special counsel in the Department of Defense. She remains the ideal candidate to lead the Democrats on the intelligence committee, where she has accumulated six years experience (including the last four as ranking member). She plays a strategically tandem role as an upper-tier minority member of the House Homeland Security Committee, where she serves on three key subcommittees.

It is evidence of Mrs. Pelosi’s irresponsibility that she would remove one of her party’s most senior legislators on a vital committee for the likes of Mr. Hastings.

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