WASHINGTON — When the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday, Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings was among the Democrats who voted in favor.
In doing so, Hastings will become the first sitting member of Congress to vote for the impeachment of a sitting president after having himself been impeached — and removed from office.
Hastings was a federal judge when he was impeached by the House for accepting bribes in 1988. The following year, the Senate stripped him of his judgeship — but did not prevent him from seeking other federal offices. He was elected to the House on the same day in 1992 that Bill Clinton won the presidency. Hastings has been a member of Congress ever since.
Much has been historic and strange about the Trump impeachment saga: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani playing diplomat, President Trump tweeting at testifying diplomats, members of Congress storming hearing rooms. One impeached official likely to vote to impeach another safely fits into that category.
More than that, the Hastings story is testament to the fact that impeachment — and even conviction by the Senate — need hardly be the end of a political career. Much like Trump, Hastings during his impeachment cast himself as the victim of an unfair process. Also like Trump, he flatly denied any wrongdoing, even when the evidence seemed plainly against him. Hastings — like Trump — even called his impeachment a “witch hunt,” although the then judge blamed racist Southerners.
That allowed Hastings, only three years after he was disgraced by Congress, to join the chamber that had impeached him. That could bolster the hopes of Republicans who fear that in impeaching Trump, Democrats only want to harm Trump in his reelection prospects.
“Rep. Hastings is the only person in U.S. history to have been impeached, convicted, removed from office and then returned to high government position,” says Frank Bowman III, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and author of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump.”
His longevity means Hastings has participated in three other impeachments. In 1998, he voted against impeaching Bill Clinton, like himself a Democrat. This marked the first time, at least in modern American history, in which one impeached official voted in the impeachment of another.
“It’s no place I want to be,” Hastings told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel at the time. “But certainly I am in a very good position from the standpoint of having that perspective.” The same article called Hastings by the same nickname that Clinton had been given after his surprising second-place finish in the 1992 New Hampshire primary: the Comeback Kid.
And in 2009, he voted in favor of impeaching Samuel Kent, a Texas federal judge who had obstructed an investigation into allegations that he had sexually assaulted two women. The following year, he voted to impeach another judge, G. Thomas Porteus of Louisiana, who like Hastings had been accused of abusing his power for personal gain.
But this time Hastings will be impeaching a president, making for an especially stark juxtaposition. On Tuesday, some Republicans reacted adversely to the fact that Hastings sits on the Rules Committee, which on that day was laying the framework for the Senate trial, expected to take place sometime in January.
Hastings’s office declined to make him available for an interview. How he will vote on Wednesday, when the Trump impeachment comes to the full House floor, is a matter of no significant speculation. In late October, he charged that Trump “betrayed our national security and put our country at risk.” He voted in favor of opening the impeachment inquiry, as did all but two Democrats.
Earlier in the impeachment process, Hastings blasted Trump for a “disregard for the rule of law.”
But more than 30 years after his own impeachment, how much regard Hastings has for the rule of law remains in doubt. As the impeachment inquiry against Trump proceeded, Hastings found himself embroiled in an ethics investigation, one that focused on his relationship with longtime staffer Patricia Williams, who was one of his attorneys during the 1988-89 impeachment inquiry.
And in 2014, the federal government paid $200,000 to a woman who accused Hastings of inappropriate sexual conduct. The alleged behavior, which he denied, allegedly took place in 2001.
Hastings has denied all the recent allegations against him, just as he denied the allegations that led to his impeachment. Then, as now, he has been defiant and combative when it comes to his personal conduct.
Hastings was appointed to a Florida district court on Aug. 28, 1979, becoming the first African-American judge in that state.
His stay on the bench, however, would quickly prove tumultuous. In 1981, he was caught in an undercover sting by the FBI, which had been told that he took money in exchange for lighter sentences. Hastings went on trial for bribery charges in 1983. And though he was acquitted, that was hardly the end of his saga.
Two judges filed a complaint about Hastings with the 11th Circuit, which includes Florida, and that led, eventually, to the Judicial Conference of the U.S. recommending, in a 381-page report, that the House impeach him.
That impeachment inquiry began with a House subcommittee hearing in May 1988 chaired by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, a former civil rights leader who had risen to be one of the leading African-Americans in Congress. Conyers was clearly sympathetic to Hastings, calling the case against him “troubling,” in part because a jury had already acquitted Hastings. (Impeachment, however, is separate from a criminal trial, and the injunction against double jeopardy does not apply.)
Conyers also noted that Hastings was a “black leader” who might have been the victim of racism and discrimination. Conyers then went on to describe racial disparities within the criminal justice system that would hardly sound out of place coming from a progressive politician in 2019.
(In 2017, Conyers himself was the subject of sexual harassment allegations. He resigned from the House.)
In his opening statement, Hastings cast himself as a victim of a politically motivated prosecution, punctuating his 10-minute address with the refrain that he was “not guilty, but not free.”
Near the end of those remarks, he grew emotional. “I ask you in the name of decency,” he said, “in the name of justice, in the name of the jury system — the American jury system — which fundamentally has been the underpinning of the constitutional fabric that all of us are adherents of.”
Hastings then paused, and when he spoke again his tone changed. “Hell, no,” he said. “I tell you and demand of you that you set me free.”
In a memorable profile of Hastings published in the Washington Post in July 1988, he told Marjorie Williams that he had nothing to apologize about, flashing a set of American Express credit cards. “I earned the right to luxuriate,” he told her, “and I know how to protect my interests.”
Williams, who died in 2005, described Hastings as “a charmer and a born fighter — a supremely political animal.” She also said he was “unapologetically partisan.” In his interview with Williams, Hastings also called President Ronald Reagan “dumb” and “a dodo.”
The following month, the House voted 413 to 3 in favor of impeaching Hastings.
At the opening of the Senate proceedings, the manager of the impeachment trial, Rep. John Bryant of Texas, outlined the numerous ways Hastings had allegedly violated the law and obstructed the investigation into those violations, which he said amounted to 17 impeachable offenses.
“Judge Hastings’s conduct has undermined confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” Bryant said, “and it has brought disrepute on the federal courts and the administration of justice in America.”
Hastings was convicted in October 1989, with 69 senators voting in favor of removing him from the federal bench. Much as Trump has said he takes “zero” responsibility for the offenses that are about to lead to his impeachment, so did Hastings remain unrepentant, even after he was removed from office. (Trump is unlikely to face removal, since the Senate is controlled by Republicans.) The New York Times reported that Hastings “pronounced the trial unfair.” In fact, the judge was “upbeat,” claiming somewhat incredibly that “he would return to Florida to run for governor.”
Even more incredibly, he did as he promised, announcing for the Florida governorship the following week, promising to be “an inspirational leader for the people.” The people, however, did not appear to be inspired. He later switched the campaign to one for the post of secretary of state. But this too failed to gain traction.
His political prospects brightened in 1992, when Bill Clinton was at the top of the ticket. Hastings defeated state legislator Lois Frankel, whom he at one point called a “racist bitch.” Twenty years later, he would endorse her when she ran for Congress. The former rivals are now both members of the Florida delegation.
The district Hastings represents is safely Democratic, and he has served in Congress since 1993 without interruption — though not without continuing scandal. And the impeachment of 30 years ago is more than just a memory: Earlier this year, the Palm Beach Post found that he may owe as much as $7 million in lawyers’ fees stemming from his defense three decades ago.
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