Impeachment as Cache

If there's anyone who can feel Bill Clinton's pain, it's ousted-judge-turned-congressman Alcee Hastings

"The most important thing of all is getting vindication of his name," said Anderson, a University of Miami law professor who represented Hastings through his impeachment and continues to call for the congressman's complete absolution, which is as likely as the President's impeachment after last week's nationwide Democratic rally.

If part of that road to exoneration is seeing Clinton cleared from impeachment and Starr lambasted as an insidious zealot trying at all costs to topple the President, Hastings is doing what he can to divert the public's attention from sexual misadventures to prosecutorial misconduct. In September the congressman, who's championed as a comeback kid in the black community, went on the attack. He proposed a House resolution to impeach Starr for "intimidating witnesses," misusing his office to embarrass the President, leaking grand jury material, and "wasting more than $40 million in an investigation that he knew he could not justify." It was swiftly voted down 340-71. More recently Hastings sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno requesting she investigate Starr. Also, he and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) proposed another resolution, this time calling for an inquiry into impeaching the independent counsel.

While much of the maneuvering might amount to little more than political ballyhoo, even one of Hastings' old foes -- someone he once denounced as a "bitch" and a "racist" -- believes his motives rise above simple attention-mongering. "He has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and he is not shy about continuing those claims," says Lois Frankel, who challenged Hastings in the 1992 Democratic primaries and now serves as a state representative for West Palm Beach. "I don't think there's anything inappropriate about him stepping into the spotlight."

Jack Moss, a former Broward County commissioner, says: "He has never been a shrinking violet, and whenever anyone of high profile does something as outlandish as trying to impeach Ken Starr, it's bound to call attention to the individual. Alcee likes to hold a high profile. He has not mellowed with age."

Last Tuesday Hastings' cache of credibility ratcheted up a notch. He was elected to his fourth term after running unopposed. While his anti-impeachment efforts still spark criticism -- a Republican House staff member sent him an e-mail after he introduced the Starr impeachment resolution saying, "Impeach yourself you idiot" -- the former judge says he's just trying to prevent his own fate from befalling the President.

As the Miami-Dade forum on dethroning Starr wound up, the short and stocky congressman gloated among well-wishers in the way only a politician can. His smile again gleamed as a gaggle of supporters reached to shake his hand or impart some praise. Balancing a portion of the remaining hors d'oeuvres, Hastings promised new petitions against the independent counsel and further resolutions. Then, fingering his grizzled beard, he wondered: "How can you remove someone from office for personal misconduct?

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