Maybe I ought to reconsider my opinion of Alcee Hastings…

There’s been a lot of talk about Alcee Hastings, the Representative who is likely to end up chairing the House Select Committee on Intelligence after the Democrats formally take over. Hastings is being backed by Speaker Presumptive Nancy Pelosi, who is giving in to the Congressional Black Caucus, who in turn is upset over the treatment of William Jefferson Clinton, the Louisiana Congressman who was caught with $90,000 in his freezer and commandeered a National Guard unit during Katrina to rescue possessions from his home.

A lot of people — myself included — are deeply troubled by the likely ascension of Hastings. Considering that the Democrats ran on a “end the culture of corruption” plank (among others), the notion of putting in charge of such a sensitive committee a man who was impeached and removed from his judgeship for corruption is quite disturbing.

Hastings’ defenders point out that the impeachment only removed Hastings from office; Congress could have also banned him from ever holding public office, but did not. Also, Hastings was tried and acquitted of criminal charges, when another defendant refused to testify against him.

Well, Boston-area columnist, talk-show host, and gadfly Howie Carr has been taking a look at the Hastings mess, and spotted a familiar name. It turns out that the seldom-named retired FBI agent who went undercover as a gangster in the investigation was one H. Paul Rico, and the reason he was so good at playing a gangster was that he had been one.

Rico was one of the several Boston-area FBI agents who were part of the biggest black eye the FBI has ever experienced. While telling their bosses that they had recruited James “Whitey” Bulger as an informant, they were in reality on Whitey’s payroll and helping him wipe out his enemies and maintain his iron grip on crime in Boston. They also kept Whitey out of trouble, tipping him off about investigations and even framing his rivals for crimes they didn’t commit — some even spending decades in prison.

In the big scheme of things, Rico’s involvement in Hastings’ downfall is probably little more than an ironic footnote. But regardless of Rico’s other crimes, it seems that his conduct in the Hastings matter was pretty much aboveboard, and Hastings’ removal from office was more than justified.

It’s just a damned shame that Congress (which, by the way, was Democratically-controlled, and several of the big figures in the House today voted to remove him back in 1989 didn’t take the further step of banning him from public office as well.

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