- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

In justifying her commendable efforts to expel scandal-tarred Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson from the Ways and Means Committee even though he had never been indicted, much less convicted, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asserted recently, “This is about a higher ethical standard, and you know when it isn’t being met.” She was referring to the fact that the FBI recently revealed that it had videotaped Mr. Jefferson accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a government witness; $90,000 of that sum was later discovered in Mr. Jefferson’s freezer. Two people — one of Mr. Jefferson’s former business partners and one of his former top aides — have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe him.

On Thursday, the House Democratic caucus voted 99-58 to remove Mr. Jefferson from the committee. Denying that she was being unfairly harsh, Mrs. Pelosi explained her actions thusly: “I told all my colleagues, anybody with $90,000 in their freezer, you have a problem at that point.” On Friday, in a voice vote without dissent, the entire House officially stripped Mr. Jefferson of his position on the tax-writing committee.

Contrast the ethical standards Mrs. Pelosi has applied in the case of Mr. Jefferson, who was the ninth-ranking minority-party member of Ways and Means, with the ethical standards related to her widely reported intention to install Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings as the top Democrat next January on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. If Democrats become the majority party in the House, Mr. Hastings would become the chairman of the intelligence committee. Otherwise, he would become the ranking Democrat. In both cases, he would become one of only five House members who are designated by law to receive the most sensitive intelligence briefings involving the nation’s most classified national-security secrets.

Mr. Hastings has glaring ethical problems, which Mrs. Pelosi has known about for nearly two decades. Indeed, in 1988, she joined 412 other House members in voting 413-3 to approve 17 articles of impeachment involving then-U.S. District Court Judge Hastings. Those articles of impeachment included conspiracy to obtain a $150,000 bribe in exchange for granting leniency in the sentencing of two convicted racketeers (his alleged co-conspirator was convicted and imprisoned); 14 acts of perjury committed during his 1983 bribery trial, which ended in acquittal; undermining confidence in judicial integrity; and leaking highly confidential information he obtained in 1985 from wiretaps that he supervised as a federal judge. All of these charges resulted from a special judicial investigation conducted by a committee of judges empaneled by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That judicial committee concluded that Mr. Hastings secured his acquittal by lying and fabricating evidence. The Senate convicted Mr. Hastings on the bribery/conspiracy charge and on seven of the eight perjury charges for which a Senate vote was held. He was then removed from the federal judiciary.

Appointing the chairman or ranking member of the House intelligence committee should be, to use the words of Mrs. Pelosi, “about a higher ethical standard, and you know when it isn’t being met.” In the glaring case of Mr. Hastings, Minority Leader Pelosi, who aspires to become Speaker Pelosi, clearly knows no such thing. And that may be more frightening than a corrupt public official accepting a bribe. To paraphrase a famous quip: It’s worse than a crime. It’s a blunder — a wartime blunder, no less.

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