Longtime U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida has passed away, his office confirmed on April 6. Hastings was the first African American Representative elected to Congress in Florida since the Reconstruction period and was serving his fifteenth term in the House. Before he became a Congressman, Hastings was a civil rights lawyer and then a federal judge. In 1989, Hastings was impeached and removed from judgeship over bribery allegations. Hasting’s impeachment was not the end of his life in public service, however. During his nearly three decades in Congress he championed civil rights in speaking up for members of the LGBTQ+, immigrants, and women and the elderly. He also advocated for better access to health care and higher wages.
While the obituaries written about Hastings have all touched upon his impeachment, most have obscured an important aspect of the story: FBI whistleblower Dr. Frederic Whitehurst proved that the FBI’s testimony and evidence in the impeachment trial were fraudulent. Whitehurst’s allegations about the FBI’s patterns of misconduct led to serious reforms in the agency, a presidential order on whistleblower rights, and the release of numerous wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
After working as a civil rights attorney for many years, Hastings was appointed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida by President Carter in 1979, becoming the first African American federal judge in Florida history. But in 1981, Hastings was indicted on charges of conspiracy for soliciting a $150,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent, who was pretending to be the brother of two men convicted of racketeering. In exchange for the bribe, Hastings was to reduce the sentence of the men and return nearly $1 million in forfeited property.
In 1983, Hastings was acquitted of the charges in a criminal trial. However, following a lengthy ethics investigation into the manner, Hastings faced an impeachment trial in 1989 after the U.S. House of Representatives determined he lied during his criminal trial. The U.S. Senate convicted him on eight of eleven articles and removed him from the bench.
Throughout both the criminal trial and impeachment trial, Hastings maintained his innocence and claimed he was the victim of a set-up by the government. Hastings did not let the impeachment keep him down for long, however, and soon after launched a campaign for Congress in Florida’s District 20. In 1992, Hastings was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he would serve until his death.
But years after his impeachment, the details of the proceedings came under both public and government scrutiny. In 1993, distinguished FBI Laboratory Supervisor Dr. Frederic Whitehurst blew the whistle on misconduct within the FBI Crime Lab. Whitehurst alleged that Crime Lab employees were manufacturing evidence to support prosecutors and providing perjured trial testimony. In response to Whitehurst’s allegations, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched an investigation into the matter.
During the OIG investigation, Whitehurst obtained and then delivered to the OIG a copy of a memo detailing an FBI agent’s false testimony in hearings for Hastings’ impeachment. The memo, written by another FBI agent, detailed numerous misleading and false statements made by FBI agent Michael Malone. This memo supported the allegations made by Whitehurst about Malone and other agents’ misconduct.
In 1997, after completing its investigation, the OIG released a report that validated Whitehurst’s allegations and cited Malone as one of fourteen Crime Lab agents that conducted inaccurate tests and made false reports. The report also substantiated allegations that Malone perjured himself and falsified evidence when testifying during the impeachment proceedings against Hastings.
According to the OIG report, Malone’s testimony “was incorrect and misleading in several respects.” He lied about personally performing a tensile test on a purse strap which was used as evidence. He further made factually incorrect statements about what the results of the tests meant. The OIG report notes that in making claims about the tensile test, Malone “testified outside his expertise and inaccurately concerning the test results.” The report also states that “[t]he FBI should assess what disciplinary action is now appropriate and should monitor his testimony in future cases to assure that Malone is accurate and testifies to matters within his knowledge and competence.”
While Whitehurst’s disclosures did not retroactively alter the outcome of Hastings’ impeachment, they had far-reaching effects. The FBI’s misconduct exposed by Whitehurst’s whistleblowing was not confined to the Hastings trial. Thousands of cases were called into question because of fraud committed by the Crime Lab, and misconduct was documented in other high-profile cases, including the Oklahoma City Bombing case and the O.J Simpson murder trial.
The 1997 OIG report included fifty reform suggestions for the FBI. The FBI agreed to implement every reform. Furthermore, President Clinton issued an order directing the U.S. Attorney General to establish whistleblower protections for all FBI employees. Lastly, Whitehurst’s disclosures led to an agreement where the DOJ OIG obtained permanent oversight responsibility for the FBI.
The Hastings impeachment proceeding was not the only case in which agent Malone provided false and misleading testimony. For example, Donald Eugene Gates, a 58-year-old African American wrongfully convicted in 1982 of the rape-murder of Caucasian college co-ed Catherine Schilling, was freed by the D.C. Superior Court in 2014 after a DNA test revealed that he could not be the culprit. The prosecution of Gates was heavily dependent on Malone’s testimony, who testified that two hairs found on Schilling’s body came from an African American male. Schilling, who was a student at Georgetown University, was murdered in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. in 1981. Gates, who has always maintained his innocence, had been imprisoned for nearly 30 years until Senior Judge Fred B. Ugast ordered his release. Ugast had overseen his trial back in 1982.
While Hastings was able to win reelection after reelection, his impeachment was held against him throughout his career. In 2006, Hastings was in line to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee, but pressure from Republicans about his past prompted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to give the chairmanship to someone else. At this point, the FBI’s false testimony in his impeachment proceedings were public knowledge.
In 2007, Hastings did become the Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Colloquially known as the Helsinki Commission, this independent U.S. agency oversees compliance with the Helsinki Acts, a landmark human rights and democracy-building treaty signed in 1975. He additionally served as the Vice-Chairman of the House Rules Committee, a powerful committee that determines how bills are presented to the House.
Rep. Alcee Hastings’ life was long and eventful, and any obituary will overlook certain aspects. While every recount of Hastings’ life includes references to his impeachment, there is not enough note of the tainted nature of the trial nor the key role the impeachment played in Whitehurst’s disclosures which forever reshaped the FBI for the better. In any case, it’s important to remember Rep. Hastings’ contributions and the groundbreaking work he did to better the world around him