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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The end of the Epic Harman-Hastings Drama

One last time (hopefully and thankfully) on the issue of the all-important Harman-Hastings "scandal," in response to some comments left to last night's post by a couple of Harman/Lieberman-supporting Republican bloggers:

It was obvious all along that (a) Hastings wanted the job, (b) the Congressional Black Caucus voiced mild and obligatory support for him, and (c) Pelosi had to proceed carefully so as not to trample on the sensibilities of her caucus when navigating the ambitions of various long-serving members.

Thus, Hastings' name was repeatedly floated by anonymous sources as a leading candidate -- likely by some who wanted to help Hastings get the job, likely from Harman's camp wanting to paint the impeached judge as her only real competition, likely from others with even less noble intentions wanting to harm Pelosi -- which, in turn, led to garden-variety Washington speculation and gossip about who would get this position. Idle chatter of this sort happens every day in Washington.

What transformed this mundane event from standard Washington chatter into a matter of virtual national obsession was that the media -- not followed by, but rather, as usual, led by, the right-wing propaganda machine -- concocted a towering scandal where none existed, based on a whole set of false and unsupported premises.

It was all based on the false claim that Pelosi had to choose between ranking-member Harman and "next-in-line" Hastings (which was false and based on a misunderstanding of how the Intelligence Committee operates), and that by rejecting Harman, it necessarily meant that Pelosi was going to appoint Hastings (which was also false and never supported by anything other than rank speculation, including in newspapers).

All of that, in turn, led to a tidal wave of vicious anti-Pelosi articles all based on the completely unsupported assumption that she was going to appoint Hastings to this position. She was repeatedly condemned as though she had already done so. Timothy Noah at Slate called her appointment of Hastings the "second strike" and based his demand that she be on "probation" upon her supposed support for Murtha and Hastings. And all of the depictions of Pelosi as a vindictive, inept, weakened leader (before she has ever started as Speaker) were based upon her "decision" to appoint Hastings as House Intelligence Chair.

This "story" was never anything more than an attempt to demonize and weaken Pelosi, as is readily apparent by simply observing who was fueling the whole drama. It was all invented by Bush followers who suddenly developed such an acute and earnest interest in which Democrat will lead that Committee, and then, as always, echoed by the Beltway media, which used one another's speculation as further "justification" to "report" this story.

Quite transparently, none of this ever had anything to do with "concern" over who will lead the House Intelligence Committee (which is why one searches in futility for all the in-depth media debates and analysis over the all-powerful Pete Hoekstra), but instead was all driven by the increasingly intense commitment to destroy Nancy Pelosi's ability to lead the House. It was all based on imaginary "facts" and assumptions that were completely unwarranted by the evidence, and fueled by the caricature that Pelosi is both inept and intent on destroying the Democratic Party. The entire Hastings-vs.-Harman contest was an illusory media drama from start to finish.

It's true that Hastings' name has been bandied about in many circles for some time as Harman's likely "replacement." And, sure, Pelosi and her staff are saying nice things about Hastings today (she would have loved to be able to appoint Hastings if not for that little impeachment problem) because Pelosi obviously has no interest in publicly humiliating him or offending him. Why would she? But she was never bound to appoint Hastings and there was never any evidence that she was committed to doing so.

This was simply designed as another lose-lose situation for Pelosi - either she appoints Hastings and shows she is unserious, or she does not appoint Hastings which shows, again, that she is so weak that she cannot even appoint the Chairmen that she wants. Anyone who even threatens to oppose prevailing Washington wisdom is subjected to this treatment, and there is going to be much more of this, and worse, once she actually starts.

UPDATE: Not that any more are required, but one should add to the pile of myths and falsehoods fueling this story the notion that Pelosi was "denying" Harman her natural and rightful place as Chair, or "demoting" her or pushing her aside. In fact, the House Intelligence Committee -- in addition to having unique non-seniority rules -- also has unique term-limit rules, limiting members to no more than four terms in a six term period.

Harman had met the term limits, and thus, rather than having some entitlement to become Chair, Harman was hoping that Pelosi would, in essence, break or waive the rules in order to appoint her. Pelosi did not go out of her way to "deny" Harman what would have been her rightful place, the central assumption of most of the anti-Pelosi commentary. The opposite is true: Pelosi would have had to invoke unusual steps in order to appoint Harman as Chair.

* * * * * *

The Democracy Now segment I was scheduled to do this morning regarding the House Intelligence Committee Chair position has been moved to tomorrow, to begin at the same time (roughly 8:20 a.m. EST).

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