At 935 Pennsylvania Ave, just down the street from the White House, there is a massive, block long, government building, housing 2,800,876 square feet of offices. It is the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It is the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
J. Edgar Hoover was employed at the Department of Justice in 1917, during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. In 1924, Hoover was named Director of Investigations in the Department. That office was reorganized in 1935 as the Federal Bureau of Investigation with Hoover as its founding Director. Hoover served under 10 Presidents, Democrats Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson and Republicans Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Eisenhower, and Nixon. He died in 1972 after 55 years in the Department of Justice.
Hoover was an institution in America. His name was synonymous with truth, integrity and justice. He was the poster boy for law and order.
True to the old adage about the corrupting nature of power, Hoover extended the reach of the FBI into politics.
Harry Truman had this to say about the Director, “We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him."
Hoover had a penchant for cloak and dagger politics. Under his direction the Bureau maintained extensive files on a number of people who were never implicated in any criminal activity. Martin Luther King comes immediately to mind.
In the 41 years between the death of J. Edgar Hoover and the appointment of James Comey, eleven men served as the Director of the FBI, with tenure ranging from 8 days to 12 years.
The appointment of James Comey by President Obama was hailed as a landmark. Comey’s reputation for integrity, non partisanship, and professionalism was spotless, and there was more than a little speculation that his tenure as Director would mean a new and long lasting revival of the Hooverian prestige and influence of the Bureau both in the nation’s capital and around the country.
That expectation was undercut on July 5, 2016, just five days after former President Bill Clinton met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, when Director Comey made a public statement to the effect that ‘no responsible Attorney General would seek an indictment of Hillary Clinton' despite a recitation of her many careless and questionable email practices.
Twenty days later, Mrs. Clinton was nominated for the office of President by the Democratic Party.
No surprise, the Republicans howled. Comey was summoned by Congress and grilled about his decision. He stood his ground, despite conceding that Mrs. Clinton had lied to the FBI on several points.
As Summer wore on, rumors circulated that there was discontent at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue. The workhorse agents who read emails, interviewed witnesses and asked questions were reputed to have been uncomfortable with their boss’s public statements.
Then the other shoe was dropped. Director Comey wrote members of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees informing them that emails uncovered in an investigation of former Congressman Anthony Weiner may bear on the closed Clinton investigation.
And so the FBI is taking another look.
In the blink of an eye, FBI Director Comey’s image among Democrats has morphed from hero to goat. And among Republicans, just the opposite.
My homely analogy compares Director Comey’s switcharoo to a basketball referee whose call against the Home team results in a chorus of boos and cat calls. Within minutes he whistles down a foul by the Visitors. It’s known as compensatory refereeing.
It’s a fault particularly noticeable in officials who are proud of their impartiality and sensitive to criticism.