You won’t find me crying about any particular insult to the institution of the FBI.
The FBI: With great power comes great scandal
Douglas M. Charles, Salon
When the FBI was established, its purpose was to help enforce federal anti-monopoly and interstate commerce laws by scouring corporate financial records for wrongdoing, while Justice Department attorneys prosecuted. This mission was at the behest of President Roosevelt, whose interests involved regulating abusive aspects of corporate capitalism. Over time, however, the FBI and its directors assumed increased responsibilities and became more independent. But balancing this authority and independence was sometimes a struggle, resulting in scandals.
(Chief Examiner Stanley) Finch was obsessed with prostitution, calling it “evil” and writing widely about its threat. He avidly pursued it as head of the FBI.
His efforts were based on passage in 1910 of the White Slave Traffic Act, a law banning the transportation of women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” The bureau’s investigative responsibilities quickly expanded to include targeting prostitution rings. The law’s wording, however, was vague — resulting in FBI agents enforcing their ideas about morality and the proper roles of women and men.
During World War I, the FBI’s responsibilities expanded again. This time it entered the field of domestic security. Fears of external influences abounded — immigrants, so-called “hyphenated Americans” like Italian-Americans and concerns over German espionage and sabotage. The FBI independently enforced new laws covering espionage, sedition, the draft and immigration.
A. Bruce Bielaski was head of the bureau at the time. He was a former subordinate of Finch, a lawyer, son of a minister and member of the Justice Department baseball team. During his tenure, Congress investigated mass federal enforcement of the Selective Service Act. The FBI rounded up and illegally detained Americans until those who were detained could prove they had registered for the draft. Ultimately, Bielaski was forced to resign in February 1919 for his handling of the raids.
FBI improprieties did not end as the U.S. entered the 1920s. Under the leadership of William J. Burns, the first FBI head to use the title “director,” the country experienced what until Watergate was the granddaddy of American political scandals: the Teapot Dome scandal.
President Warren Harding’s financially strapped interior secretary, Albert Fall, had allowed oil companies to tap U.S. Navy emergency oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming, in return for kickbacks. Eventually Sen. Burton K. Wheeler and others discovered and began investigating the improprieties.
FBI Director Burns, at the request of Attorney General Harry Daugherty, tried to end the Senate probe. Burns was the owner of a private detective agency, and a man apt to believe investigative ends justified the means. He was not afraid to target powerful men. So, he dispatched agents to dig up dirt on Sen. Wheeler. Not finding any, he and Daugherty concocted baseless corruption charges against Wheeler that only backfired. The attorney general was fired and replaced with a reformer, who promptly forced the resignation of the corrupted Bureau Director Burns in 1924. The FBI was placed under the tutelage of J. Edgar Hoover.
The cross-dressing (not that there’s anything wrong with that), blackmailing anti-Communist.
So spare me the outrage over impugning their integrity, I’m not questioning it, it is what it is.
What is outrageous in this particular instance is that Donald John Trump is working, just as Richard Milhouse Nixon before him (both Republicans in case you missed it), to bend the surveillance power of our Domestic Spy Agency to thwart and imprison his political enemies, or at least take his political allies, friends, and family beyond the reach of the law.
Yeah, that’s some Fascist stuff right there.
And has the Misadministration’s pressure made it worse on themselves? Well, things could hardly get any worse.
Featuring our friend emptywheel.