Democratic Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings is the vice chairman of the House Committee on Rules, the folks who set the guidelines for Wednesday’s impeachment vote. Unsurprisingly, they did so along a 9-4 party-line vote, refusing to allow any amendments on the floor and limiting debate time to six hours.
As for impeachment, Hastings knows a thing or two about the process. In 1989, as a Florida federal district court judge, he was impeached and removed from office for bribery, perjury and falsifying evidence.
On Tuesday, the Rules Committee set the parameters for debate on impeachment, in what CBS News called a “contentious but comparatively collegial” session.
I’m not quite sure what that even means anymore in the context of Washington, considering these were some of the comments from Hastings that passed as “comparatively collegial”:
“The president’s actions, in your words, were so wrong,” Hastings said, according to the Palm Beach Post, referring to remarks made by committee chairman Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, the previous day.
“It’s hard for me to believe that all of us here do not all understand that. But the die is pretty much cast.”
As for Republicans who didn’t see what Trump did as trying to induce a foreign leader to influence an American election: “I just can’t believe you people,” Hastings said.
He probably wasn’t the guy who should have been talking.
In the later years of the Carter administration, Hastings was appointed as a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. He was commissioned in 1979. It took him a grand total of two years to find himself enmeshed in bribery charges.
In 1981, Hastings was indicted on charges he took $150,000 from mob-connected defendants to reduce their sentences. His alleged co-conspirator, William A. Borders, was convicted. Hastings, however, was acquitted in 1983 and returned to being a federal judge.
Status quo ante, right? Well, not exactly.
“Subsequently, suspicions arose that Hastings had lied and falsified evidence during the trial in order to obtain an acquittal,” a synopsis of the case on the U.S. Senate’s website reads.
“A special committee of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals began a new probe into the Hastings case. The resulting three-year investigation ended with the panel concluding that Hastings did indeed commit perjury, tamper with evidence, and conspire to gain financially by accepting bribes. The panel recommended further action to the U.S. Judicial Conference, which, in turn, informed the House of Representatives on March 17, 1987, that Judge Alcee Hastings should be impeached and removed from office.”
Also, it wasn’t quite a party-line vote in the House. According to National Public Radio, the House voted by a margin of 413-3 to pass on 17 articles of impeachment to the Senate — “the greatest number of articles in any impeachment proceeding to date,” according to the Senate case synopsis.
The Senate sent the matter to a special committee, which found there was convincing evidence to the effect that Bowers and Hastings had conspired to receive the bribe. Hastings tried to get the matter dismissed and argued a Senate trial constituted double jeopardy. Both motions were denied.
“The trial committee presented its report on October 2, 1989. Sixteen days later, the trial began in the U.S. Senate, with prosecution and defense given two hours to summarize their cases. The Senate deliberated in closed session on October 19, 1989,” the synopsis read.
“The following day, the Senate voted on 11 of the 17 articles of impeachment, convicting Hastings, by the necessary two-thirds vote, on 8 articles (1-5, 7-9). On two articles (6, 17) the vote fell short of the required majority to convict. On article 11, the Senate voted 95 not guilty to 0 guilty. Having achieved the necessary majority vote to convict on 8 articles, the Senate’s president pro tempore (Robert C. Byrd) ordered Hastings removed from office. The Senate did not vote to disqualify him from holding future office.”
On that last part: whoops.
Hastings sued to get the case tossed out but was unsuccessful. After an unsuccessful bid to become the secretary of state of Florida, he finally made his comeback by winning a seat in the House in 1992.
To be fair, Hastings hasn’t faced any allegations of corruption during his two-and-a-half decades in the lower house, although it hasn’t been blemish-free. In the wake of the John Conyers scandal, it was revealed Congress had paid out $220,000 to settle a sexual harassment suit against Hastings in which the complainant alleged the Florida Democrat invited a woman to his hotel room, asked her questions about the undergarments she was wearing and made other gestures toward her you can probably take a guess at.
Another controversy arose in the months before the 2008 presidential election when he gave a collegial assessment of the GOP’s vice presidential candidate to the National Jewish Democratic Council: “If Sarah Palin isn’t enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention,” Hastings said. “Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through.”
He would quickly apologize, as you might expect.
So, has this given Hastings any self-awareness about the part he’s playing at the moment? Does he realize that if this were about integrity, Hastings would be out of politics and we’d have had an impeachment inquiry that was something more than a vulgarized, streamlined, made-for-TV extravaganza? Does he realize that, at the very least, he shouldn’t be the one setting the rules for impeachment when he’s been impeached and removed himself?
At least judging by his remarks Tuesday, no. However, there was an interesting bit in an interview he did with the Palm Beach Post earlier this year.
“Impeachment is as partisan as hell,” Hastings said. “I know it because I’ve lived it.”
Of course, Hastings’ impeachment was profoundly bipartisan. You don’t get a 413-3 vote in the House of Representatives on a party-line basis. Trump’s has been, and will continue to be, “partisan as hell.” Thanks for admitting that much, I guess.