“There are several reasons why it should not,” Hastings writes. The first and most important is that Hastings, while convicted in the Senate in 1989, was acquitted in a criminal trial on similar charges several years earlier. “It is amazing how little importance is given to this fact,” Hastings writes. “It is also baffling.”
In his letter, Hastings argues that the difference between his criminal acquittal, on the one hand, and his House impeachment and Senate conviction on the other, is crucial to understanding his case. The criminal acquittal was based on a jury’s careful examination of the evidence, Hastings says, while the impeachment proceedings against him were a purely political process. “In a jury trial, the evidence is the only consideration,” Hastings writes. “In an impeachment, politics is central.”
“Obviously, I could write a book or two about the politics of my impeachment.”
But a review of the record of Hastings’s impeachment suggests that members of the House Judiciary Committee quite consciously tried to approach the matter with the thoroughness and fairness of a criminal trial — in spite of efforts by Hastings himself to stop, slow, and undermine the process.
The procedures of the impeachment were discussed extensively at a July 26, 1988, meeting of the committee in which members unanimously voted in favor of articles of impeachment. At the meeting, Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, who chaired the subcommittee which investigated Hastings, addressed the political issue head-on.
“It was said at times during the course of the subcommittee’s inquiry that impeachment is a political process, and that may be true, but it is also misleading,” Conyers said. “Impeachment is political in the sense that it is committed to the House of Representatives, a popularly elected and, therefore, political body. Impeachment, however, is not, nor should it be, treated in the way that we treat a piece of legislation.”
“An impeachment decision must be based upon the facts. It would be inappropriate, in my opinion, for any member of Congress to make factual determinations based upon polls or letters received or calls coming into one’s office or from any other secondary matter. “We must weigh the evidence and reach conclusions based upon what that evidence discloses, and not upon anything else.”
Conyers, who at the beginning of the proceeding said he had initially doubted the charges against Hastings case and therefore took particular pains to make sure Hastings received fair treatment, then went on to list what the committee had done. He did not want to “rubberstamp” any previous investigation, Conyers said, so he and his investigators re-reviewed everything. “We reconstructed all of the hearings, trial materials, [and] grand jury information concerning the allegations,” Conyers said.
“We obtained complete records of the proceedings involving Judge Hastings before the Eleventh Circuit Judicial Council, the transcript of Judge Hastings’ criminal trial, and the transcript of the criminal trial of [Hastings’s alleged co-conspirator] William Borders. Independent interviews of numerous persons were conducted.”
All that would have been a time-consuming process under any circumstances. But Conyers told the committee that the investigators’ work was made more difficult by Hastings. “During the course of the inquiry, the subcommittee sought certain records from the courts,” Conyers continued. “Judge Hastings, despite his assertions that he was interested in a full and complete disclosure of the facts, resisted these efforts. The matters were litigated and ultimately the committee prevailed. The delay occasioned by the litigation, however, has probably doubled the amount of time spent conducting the inquiry.”
None of what Conyers said in 1988 is consistent with Hastings’s contention that he, Hastings, was the victim of an unfair political process. Just the opposite: Conyers explained several times during the process that, because of the nature of the case, he tried to be particularly careful. “From the outset, as many on my subcommittee will attest, I did not hide my skepticism about the attempt to bring to this forum an outspoken black public official, charismatic and progressive, who appeared to be targeted based on conduct that had been heard in another arena,” Conyers explained at the meeting. “So I was more than determined in this matter to conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”
Conyers played a key role — perhaps the key role — in the House impeachment. Because Hastings was black, and because Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, had a great interest in issues of race and justice — at one point in the committee hearing, Conyers explained that he joined the Judiciary Committee “because of my concern for the impact of racism on the judicial system” — many lawmakers looked to Conyers’s opinion as the final word on whether the charges against Hastings were valid. “Conyers was the decider,” says Terence Anderson, the University of Miami law professor who has defended Hastings for decades. “If Conyers had said no, I think the House would not have proceeded.”
But Conyers said yes. And as chairman of the investigating subcommittee, he had the authority to conduct a long and detailed inquiry into the case — an inquiry that Hastings tried to stop back in the 80s and is still trying to discredit today.
— Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.