Hoover files of­fer cau­tion­ary tale as Comey heads to Capi­tol Hill

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN

Af­ter J. Edgar Hoover’s death 45 years ago, per­sonal sec­re­tary He­len Gandy spent more than two months in the FBI direc­tor’s house on a leafy North­west Wash­ing­ton street ri­fling through his per­sonal files — the most pow­er­ful archive of black­mail ma­te­rial on pres­i­dents, politi­cians and pun­dits com­piled in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Gandy had served Hoover for the al­most five decades that he ran the bu­reau, and she ei­ther trashed or stashed the most damn­ing de­tails in places that re­main un­known to this day.

It’s a his­tor­i­cal episode that may soon have up-to-the-minute rel­e­vance in the wake of Pres­i­dent Trump’s abrupt de­ci­sion to fire FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey last month be­cause of the bu­reau’s han­dling of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged Rus­sian med­dling in Mr. Trump’s 2016 elec­tion vic­tory.

Among the most ur­gent ques­tions law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill will have for Mr. Trump’s next choice to head the bu­reau: the where­abouts of Mr. Comey’s files.

At a May 11 Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee hear­ing, act­ing FBI Direc­tor An­drew McCabe told Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris that his fired boss’ files were the “re­spon­si­bil­ity” of the FBI. The Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat then specif­i­cally asked if Mr. McCabe was cer­tain Mr. Comey’s “files and his de­vices” were se­cured in a way that would al­low Congress to ac­cess the “in­for­ma­tion or ev­i­dence he has in con­nec­tion with the [Rus­sia] in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Mr. McCabe had been act­ing FBI direc­tor less than 48 hours. He nod­ded slowly, then replied, “Yes, ma’am, I am.”

With a ca­reer like none other in the his­tory of U.S. law en­force­ment, Hoover carved out a Jekyll-and-Hyde legacy in the eyes of many his­to­ri­ans and re­searchers. He built one of the great­est and most re­spected law en­force­ment agen­cies in the world, pi­o­neer­ing the very con­cept of sys­tem­atic, sci­en­tific crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He es­tab­lished an un­ri­valed fil­ing and in­dex sys­tem and was a trail­blazer in the devel­op­ment and use of fin­ger­print and foren­sic ev­i­dence, said Ron­ald Kessler, the in­ter­na­tional best-sell­ing au­thor of more than 20 non­fic­tion books on the CIA, Se­cret Ser­vice and FBI.

In an era when po­lice were of­ten seen as bru­tal and cor­rupt, Hoover in­stilled an un­prece­dented sense of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. He was a public re­la­tions mav­er­ick who also used Hol­ly­wood to de­pict FBI spe­cial agents as cool-headed “G-men” — guardian an­gels who stuck to the facts and calmly busted bomb-toss­ing Marx­ists, bank rob­bers, gang­sters and World War II-era Ger­man sabo­teurs.

But then there were the black­mail files and Hoover’s will­ing­ness to use them against any­one — in­clud­ing pres­i­dents — who tried to curb his power.

“Com­plex man that he was, J. Edgar Hoover left noth­ing to chance,” Mr. Kessler told The Wash­ing­ton Times in a re­cent in­ter­view. “He shrewdly rec­og­nized that build­ing the world’s great­est law en­force­ment agency would not nec­es­sar­ily keep him in of­fice — so, af­ter he be­came direc­tor, he be­gan to main­tain a spe­cial ‘Of­fi­cial and Con­fi­den­tial’ file in his of­fice, known as the ‘se­cret files.’”

Un­prece­dented in Amer­i­can his­tory, the files al­lowed Hoover to stay on the job through eight pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions as he ma­nip­u­lated the White House, Capi­tol Hill, gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers and fig­ures in pop­u­lar cul­ture, in­clud­ing Hol­ly­wood and the sports world. The list was end­less — the black­mail tar­gets deep, wide and of­ten with no au­tho­riza­tion.

Mr. Trump and his aides are con­sumed these days by leaks from anony­mous sources lead­ing to em­bar­rass­ing — and, Mr. Trump con­tends, fac­tu­ally wrong — news sto­ries. In his hey­day, Hoover and top deputy Clyde Tol­son would dine at the Mayflower Ho­tel and de­cide whom to surveil.

Con­sider Eleanor Roo­sevelt, whom they nick­named “old hoot owl” and deemed a dan­ger­ous so­cial­ist af­ter she left the White House. Her FBI file was more than 400 pages long.

“To cap­ture the sounds of in­ti­macy,” as Hoover once said, FBI agents bugged ho­tel rooms across the coun­try with the era’s most ad­vanced mi­cro­phones. The bu­reau had Mafia con­tacts tip­ping agents off to con­gress­men car­ry­ing on af­fairs with star­lets in Hol­ly­wood bun­ga­lows.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s sex life was stud­ied and recorded, and the in­for­ma­tion was leaked to jour­nal­ists to smear his name.

Hoover’s ten­ta­cles stretched ev­ery­where. Ac­cord­ing to “Of­fi­cial and Con­fi­den­tial,” the 1994 bi­og­ra­phy by former BBC jour­nal­ist An­thony Sum­mers, an FBI agent in the mid-1960s found a bug­ging de­vice wired into Capi­tol Hill’s main tele­phone switch­board with a ca­ble spliced into hear­ings rooms. The ca­ble stretched all the way to a room on nearby Con­sti­tu­tion Ave. rented by the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

“We un­der­stand you were with this pros­ti­tute last night,” Hoover would in­form a cer­tain con­gress­men, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Kessler. “Of course, we will be sure to keep it to our­selves,” Hoover would add.

His high­est tar­gets were pres­i­dents. Hoover was ul­ti­mately able to force John F. Kennedy, Lyn­don John­son and Richard Nixon to keep him on as FBI direc­tor be­cause they were too scared of what he might know. One of LBJ’s most fa­mous quotes — “Bet­ter to have him in­side the tent piss­ing out than out­side the tent piss­ing in” — re­ferred to Hoover and the dan­ger of mak­ing the FBI direc­tor into an en­emy.

His­to­ri­ans say Hoover was of­ten just bluff­ing, but few wanted to call the bluff.

In­flu­ence over Congress

What the FBI has learned from its probe into pos­si­ble links be­tween the 2016 Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia gov­ern­ment agents is the dra­matic cen­ter­piece of Capi­tol Hill in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the con­tro­versy, which Mr. Trump has re­peat­edly de­nounced as “fake news.” There has al­ready been one dam­ag­ing leak that came di­rectly from Mr. Comey’s per­sonal files: mem­o­randa the ousted FBI chief kept of per­sonal con­ver­sa­tions with the pres­i­dent, in which Mr. Trump re­port­edly sug­gested the agency drop its probe of ousted Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn.

Mr. Comey’s two ap­pear­ances dur­ing re­cent weeks sent sparks fly­ing, and his up­com­ing tes­ti­mony — ex­pected in midJune — could be even more ex­plo­sive. That, at least, would be a dis­tinct break with the Hoover prece­dent.

“His re­la­tion­ship with Congress was en­tirely dif­fer­ent than the way the FBI or other ma­jor agen­cies in­ter­act with Congress to­day,” ex­plained Mr. Kessler. “He would ac­tu­ally re­hearse with Chair­man Rooney what he would say.”

Rep. John Rooney was a Demo­crat from Brook­lyn who chaired the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee that con­trolled the FBI bud­get. Hoover took such good care of him that the con­gress­man kept only one framed photo on his desk: It was of Hoover.

The FBI direc­tor had spies scat­tered all over Capi­tol Hill, ac­cord­ing to “Of­fi­cial and Con­fi­den­tial,” the 1994 bi­og­ra­phy by Mr. Sum­mers. Some were FBI agents “loaned” to con­gres­sional com­mit­tees as in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Oth­ers left the bu­reau to work for law­mak­ers but still re­ported back to Hoover.

It all changed af­ter Hoover’s death of a heart at­tack on May 2, 1972. He was 77 and still running the FBI at the time.

Mr. Kessler said the be­hav­ior of the FBI trans­formed most dra­mat­i­cally fol­low­ing the con­tro­ver­sial mid-1970s “Church Com­mit­tee” in­ves­ti­ga­tions of abuses at the bu­reau, the CIA and NSA in the wake of Water­gate and other scan­dals.

The probes, led by Sen. Frank Church, re­sulted in the es­tab­lish­ment of per­ma­nent over­sight com­mit­tees to watch Amer­ica’s in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. Those com­mit­tees are the ones that are now con­duct­ing the Rus­sian elec­tion-med­dling probes.

Black­mailed him­self?

The im­age of Hoover as the hoarder of oth­ers’ se­crets has taken on an ironic cast since some his­to­ri­ans say the FBI chief had some se­crets of his own to keep, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with his deputy, Tol­son.

Mr. Sum­mers’ book al­leged that the FBI direc­tor was a closet cross-dresser and par­took in the oc­ca­sional orgy — ac­tiv­i­ties seen by some to have ex­posed the black­mail master to black­mail him­self, es­pe­cially from the Mafia.

Ru­mors also swirled through the FBI: Hoover banned gays from join­ing the bu­reau, but agents se­cretly called him and Tol­son “J. Edna and Mother Tol­son.”

Dorothy Parker, the Amer­i­can writer and fa­mous wit, once joked that Hoover “chased men for busi­ness and plea­sure.”

Hoover’s de­fend­ers have long dis­missed such charges. They say FBI body­guards watched the head of the bu­reau 24 hours a day, so he had no time to con­duct gay af­fairs. They also ar­gue his ob­ses­sion with pro­tect­ing him­self from his many en­e­mies meant he’d never take such risks.

And some of the an­swers to the ques­tions loom­ing over Hoover’s legacy may have been lost for­ever 45 years ago when Ms. Gandy cleaned out Hoover’s house.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

THE EX-FILES: FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s black­mail files were hid­den by his own sec­re­tary when he died.

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