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Hastings says he's `completely competent' to chair House committee

WASHINGTON—Vilified by editorials across the country, an embattled Rep. Alcee Hastings on Wednesday hotly defended his potential chairmanship of the House intelligence committee, saying in a five-page letter that it's a position he's "completely competent" to hold.

The impassioned defense came as Hastings' possible elevation to chair the committee has created a political firestorm and an early test for House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, who's said to favor Hastings for the post.

Though acquitted by a federal jury of bribery charges in 1983, Hastings was impeached by the House of Representatives five years later and removed from the federal bench in 1989 by the Senate. Critics from the conservative Wall Street Journal to the left-leaning New Republic have suggested that it would be a mistake for Pelosi to sidestep the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jane Harman of California, to select Hastings for the critical post.

But in his open letter to his Democratic House colleagues, which was dated Nov. 20, Hastings assailed the naysayers, at one point calling the chorus of critics "assorted misinformed fools."

He also released 1989 statements from Senate Republicans who voted against removing him from the bench.

Hastings said he's asked Pelosi, who voted for his impeachment in 1988, to meet with him and his attorney, Terence Anderson of Miami, to review the case.

A spokeswoman for Pelosi said she hadn't met with Hastings and that a decision on the post would be made by early January.

In the letter, Hastings said he had "elected not to participate" in the debate over his suitability for the intelligence post. But he said the "misleading, poorly informed, misinformed and sometimes venomous attacks" on his integrity and character required that he set the record straight.

Hastings charged that the "pundits, politicians and editors screaming the word `impeachment'" had ignored the "not guilty verdict in a court of law in a frenetic attempt to justify denying me a position I have certainly earned and am completely competent to perform."

He maintained that the federal jury's verdict should be given greater weight than the impeachment trial because the federal jurors heard and saw all of the evidence.

In the House, a committee reviewed the evidence and not every member of the committee was in attendance, Hastings wrote. The committee then made a recommendation to the House on impeachment and to the Senate on removal.

"Most of the congresspersons and senators who voted never saw the evidence," Hastings wrote. "Many of them never read the reports of the committee or reviewed the daily videos. Iraq and the budget are not the only times votes have been cast without adequate review and knowledge of the facts."

To buttress his case, Hastings included statements made during the 1989 Senate trial from Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, along with Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, all of whom voted against removal.

"Just as the jury was not convinced that Judge Hastings was guilty of committing any crime, I am not convinced that Judge Hastings is guilty of committing an impeachable offense," Hatch said.

Hastings also circulated two opinions from former U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin, who in 1992 tossed out the impeachment conviction, saying Hastings had a constitutional right to a trial before the full Senate, not just a 12-member committee.

Hastings noted that the Senate had the option to prevent him from ever holding federal office but did not.

"The ordinary meaning of that act is that impeachment is not to be a bar to my being elected to Congress and consequentially should not be a bar to my being as great a congressperson as my talents allow me to be," he said.

He noted that he's been a member of the intelligence committee since 1999, traveled to more than 30 intelligence stations and has never divulged a secret.

"I have labored hard here for 14 years," he wrote. "And I will make you proud if I am selected to chair the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence."

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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