A few months ago (which these days upon reconsideration sometimes turns out to be a few years ago …) I heard a fascinating tape on PBS, the Public Broadcasting System. It was a recording of President Lyndon Johnson, known as LBJ, and J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. The conversation occurred in the 1960s. LBJ had called Hoover to congratulate him on the FBI finding the bodies of the three murdered civil rights workers, Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney. Here’s the backstory to the phone call.
In the 1960s when the US civil rights movement was first boiling over, there was a lot of racially motivated violence against black people in the southern US. LBJ asked Hoover what the FBI knew about the KKK (the Ku Klux Klan) and other people committing crimes in the south. It turned out that Hoover didn’t know doodley-squat about the KKK or people committing anti-black violence. He was totally focused on Communists and the Mafia. Plus Hoover didn’t much like black people, particularly Martin Luther King. And to top it off, Hoover and LBJ disliked each other. Profoundly.
As you might imagine, LBJ was double-plus unhappy to hear that nothing was known about the KKK. He told Hoover to pull his thumb out of his fundamental orifice, to take some of his best agents off of the Mafia or the Commies or whatever they were investigating, and to put them all to work posthaste finding the people who bombed the black kids in the church and other such cowardly criminals.
Now Hoover, to his credit, moved very fast. He flooded the south with FBI agents, who aggressively recruited informants. Within a very short time, he had an informant in most of the “Klaverns” of the KKK. I remember that it was a joke at the time that pretty soon, the KKK would consist of nothing but FBI informants informing on other FBI informants …
In the process, the FBI successfully found the perpetrators of a number of the crimes. The tape recording was of LBJ congratulating Hoover on the job that he’d done. LBJ was a master at that. To hear the two men talk, you’d never know that they roundly hated and despised each other.
LBJ was all Texas oil on the phone, thanking Hoover for the speed with which he’d been able to focus the FBI on a totally new area, saying it was an amazing accomplishment, all the sweet honeyed words. It was a masterpiece of flattery, and Hoover ate it up. It is a most educational recording for any aspiring politician. LBJ was famous for saying that it was better to have the camel inside the tent pissing out than to have the camel outside the tent pissing in … a lesson that President Trump would do well to consider.
Now, I’ve told this tale for a modern-day reason. Here’s my question about the story of LBJ, Hoover, and civil rights.
Did you notice the heinous crime that LBJ committed?
… no? …
Well, neither did I.
However, I ask because it seems that there are a number of people out there who think it is somehow “Obstruction Of Justice” if the US President tells the FBI Director who to investigate and who to not investigate. As LBJ showed, this is not the case at all—the FBI works for the President just like everyone else in the Executive Branch. And yes, the President can tell the FBI Director to stop investigating one individual or group and go investigate another individual or group. Ask J. Edgar if you don’t believe me.
A friend of mine used to ask “Is it a law, a regulation, a policy, or a custom”? Regarding the independence of the FBI from the President, it is a custom, and a recent one. There are neither laws, regulations, nor policies that prevent the President from even something as extreme as say pardoning someone under investigation. President Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger when he was under investigation in Iran-Contra. Was that obstruction of justice? Nope. It’s just another part of the President’s constitutional authority.
Now … is there such a thing as Presidential obstruction of justice? Sure. For example, if the President were to advise his people to lie to the FBI, that would be obstruction of justice. But there’s no evidence of any such malfeasance.
In particular, IF the President said: “I hope you can give Michael Flynn a break, he’s a good guy” (claimed by Comey, denied by the President), that is STILL not obstruction of justice. Nor did James Comey think at the time that whatever was said was obstruction of justice. We know this because if Comey did think that he was being obstructed in his duties, he was REQUIRED BY LAW to report such obstruction to his superiors … which he never did.
Nor did James Comey think at the time that whatever was said was obstruction of justice. We know this because if Comey did think that he was being obstructed in his duties, he was REQUIRED BY LAW to report such obstruction to his superiors … which he never did.
So we know that Comey was clear that he was not being obstructed, and he testified to the same lack of obstruction under oath.
As a Senator said during the hearings, nobody ever went to jail for hoping.
Midnight now. A mother fox has denned up under our kitchen again this year. It makes the cat nervous, but they seem to have established some kind of detente just like last year. I hear the foxes grumbling under the floor, like trolls under the bridge … life is good.