Every now and then, despite my Democratic leanings, I have to admit that I don't feel comfortable about something and that the far right has a point.
And this is one of those occasions.
Apparently in the new Congress, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) is slated to become the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
This concerns me.
Part of the reason is Hastings' past. In 1989 he was removed from office as a Federal judge by the United States Congress for taking a $150,000 bribe to go light on the sentences given to two convicted mobsters.
Part of the reason is Hastings' present. According to his most recent financial disclosure statement (which you can view right here), he lists debts of at least $1,000,000 (though maybe as high as $5,000,000) to lawyer Terrance Anderson for legal fees, along with other debts which total in excess of a million dollars to other creditors (all lawyers). In contrast, Hastings lists total assets of no more $15,000.
And part of the reason is the position. I'd have no specific problem if Hastings was in line to chair almost any other committee in the House, but as chair of the Intelligence Committee he will be looking at our most secret intelligence about Iraq, al-Qaeda, North Korea, China, Iran and you name whoever else.
So let me be blunt. I am worried that given Congressman Hastings past, his present, and the nature of what he will be given access to that there is a real risk that people who have a lot of money and would love to have access to this information (you can figure out who that might be) may try to buy it from Congressman Hastings, and I worry that he will give it to them if the price is high enough. And because this could endanger everyone from our men and women in the field to everyone in America, I believe it would be a grave mistake to allow this man to serve in this position.
I also want to address (since if I don't it will be addressed for me) the whole issue of race. Hastings is supported by the Congressional black caucus (a group which I've always admired for their unwavering support of progressive values even when others in the Democratic party have sometimes been wishy washy when the winds were blowing the other way.) I am happy to see, for example, John Conyers as the incoming chair of the Judiciary committee (and no, I don't think he will follow through with his threat to impeach the President but I think you will see a very thorough investigation of how we got into Iraq, which we need badly.) I think that Charlie Rangel will be the best chair that the Ways and Means committee has perhaps ever had. And my objection to Hastings has nothing to do with the fact that he is black, but rather with the fact that his combination of past corruption, current desperate financial situation and access to what he will have access to if he becomes the chair is a dangerous mix.
I'd also like to point out to any Republicans who might think this means that I am less than elated that Democrats took over Congress, that I'd much rather be worried about this threat to our intelligence, as serious as it is, than worried that our own national leadership is taking the intel and twisting it intentionally to fit their own warmongering agenda, as happened in Iraq and now will be virtually impossible for them to do in Iran. And whatever Mr. Hasting's ethical problems, they pale compared to the ethical lapses that we saw from the Speaker on down in the Republican run Congress.
If Hastings does become chair then I hope that the FBI loudly proclaims that they may conduct a sting operation to make sure that no one (not just Mr. Hastings) who has access to this level of intelligence will sell it for any amount of money. At least then he might think twice before he accepts an offer.
As I said, every now and again I disagree with the party heirarchy and this is one of those times. This should be above politics, in fact. However, as a Democrat I would only caution that the leadership in the house might be advised to consider the devastating political consequences this could cause if nothing else gets through-- if, given the information that we already have on his past and present, Mr. Hastings accedes to this position anyway, and if Mr. Hastings does one day become desperate enough to be tempted to sell intelligence secrets, and if those secrets are used to help a 9/11 scale attack succeed against the U.S.-- a hypothetical situation to be sure, but not an implausible one-- imagine the scale of the political fallout it would cause.