William Borders was a prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer when, in 1981, he was charged with conspiring with his good friend, federal judge Alcee Hastings, to solicit bribes from defendants seeking lenient treatment in Hastings’s courtroom. Hastings was charged, too, though the men were tried separately. When it was all over, Borders was convicted, disbarred, and sentenced to five years in jail. Hastings was acquitted, but later impeached and removed from office.
#ad#In addition to his sentence, Borders went to jail two other times as a result of the Hastings matter, both times when he refused to testify against his friend. In the first instance, after his sentencing in 1982, Borders was ordered to cooperate with the continuing grand jury investigation into Hastings’s conduct. Borders refused to talk, was cited with contempt, and sent to jail. He served about six weeks before being released at the end of the grand jury’s term.
Later, in 1989, after the House passed articles of impeachment against Hastings, Borders was called to testify at the Senate trial. He was given immunity for his testimony but again refused to talk. The Senate threatened him with contempt. Borders would not budge. Finally, the Senate referred the matter to a federal judge, who ordered Borders to testify. Borders again refused, and the judge sent him to jail.
“Borders has refused to testify in this impeachment proceeding as well as in all other proceedings in which, if Judge Hastings’ version of the facts is true, Borders could have established Judge Hastings’ innocence,” House impeachment manager Rep. John Bryant told the Senate on October 18, 1989. “Borders is in jail today at this moment and will be until this body votes, and he is in jail for refusing to testify before the impeachment trial committee despite a grant of immunity. I ask you, on behalf of the House managers, why would he go to jail, again, if by his testimony he could honestly vindicate his close friend of so many years?”
The answer to that question, Bryant concluded, was that Hastings was guilty, and Borders knew it. “The fact is that Borders will not talk, because if he tells the truth he must acknowledge Judge Hastings’ role in the conspiracy, and if he does not tell the truth he risks placing himself in violation of the law again,” Bryant argued. “And that is why he refused to testify, and that is why the judge did not call Borders to testify at his own trial.”
Borders never talked. He was behind bars for about eight weeks, and was released when the trial ended, after the Senate had voted to remove Hastings from office.
At various times over the years, Borders has tried to have his license to practice law in the District of Columbia restored. But his episodes of contempt, in addition to his original conviction for bribery, led the legal bodies involved to conclude that, even though he had done his time, he did not feel remorse for his actions nor a respect for the law under which he was punished. He remains disbarred today.
None of that, however, stopped President Bill Clinton from granting Borders a full and unconditional pardon as part of the flurry of controversial pardons Clinton issued during his last hours in office. The pardon documents listed Borders’s crime this way: “Conspiracy to corruptly solicit and accept money in return for influencing the official acts of a federal district court judge (Alcee L. Hastings), and to defraud the United States in connection with the performance of lawful government functions; corruptly influencing, obstructing, impeding and endeavoring to influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice, and aiding and abetting therein; traveling interstate with intent to commit bribery.” The document did not mention Borders’s contempt. (That same day, Clinton also pardoned another contemnor, Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, who went to jail rather than reveal whether the president testified truthfully at her trial.)
Borders’s pardon surprised some of those who were most familiar with the Hastings case. “Some [names on the pardon list] will raise eyebrows,” Reid Weingarten, who as a Justice Department attorney prosecuted Hastings and Borders, told the Washington Post. “For example, I was Bill Borders’ prosecutor and, while I have sympathy for the man, I thought his crimes were unpardonable.”
The entire Borders/Hastings issue would not be coming up now but for the fact that Hastings, who ran for and won a seat in Congress in 1992, is in line to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the most sensitive posts on Capitol Hill. Republicans who would like to see Hastings passed over, and nervous Democrats who would like to see the same thing, are poring through old records of the impeachment, trying to reconstruct what happened in the case and how it might reflect on Hastings’s fitness for the chairmanship.
The issue is so sensitive that some observers have questioned whether Hastings, given his impeachment and removal from office for conspiring to take bribes, would qualify for the security clearances needed to serve as chairman. The answer, according to sources on the Hill, is yes.
According to those sources, if you’re a member of the House of Representatives, you’ve already got the clearance you need. “The best way to understand it is that, by virtue of having been elected by their constituents, members are already granted the privilege of access to classified government information,” says Jamal Ware, a spokesman for the Intelligence Committee. “Members are given access to the classified information they need to carry out their job.”
Ware explains that members of Congress sign an oath pledging not to reveal classified information, and that members who join the Intelligence Committee sign a second oath specific to work on the committee. The first, more general, oath is not mandatory — indeed, there are a few members who refuse to sign — but it, along with the second oath, is required for service on the Intelligence Committee. In any event, Hastings, despite his record, would not be barred from becoming chairman.