Tuesday, February 06, 2018
Only a few aging historians still remember Rep. John J. Rooney, but from the 1940s into the 1970s he was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's most powerful enabler. Rooney, a Brooklyn, N.Y., Democrat, led the House appropriations subcommittee that oversaw the Justice Department. He remained Hoover's steadfast ally as presidents from Truman through Nixon came and went.
John Rooney personified an era in which congressional Democrats eagerly aided and abetted the FBI's running amok, as the bureau surveilled political activists who attracted Hoover's ire. Rooney's retirement in 1974 ushered in a radically different age, featuring rigorous and aggressive congressional oversight. A new generation of Democrats, led by principled progressives like Sen. Frank Church and Rep. Otis Pike, courageously proved ready and willing to expose and eliminate the abuse of Americans' constitutional rights that had long been Hoover's political bread and butter.
The Church Committee, along with decades' worth of Freedom of Information Act releases, exposed once top-secret documents that FBI executives never imagined would see the light of day. These files detailed the scale of politically motivated misbehavior that had occurred when executive-branch controls and meaningful congressional oversight were absent. As a historian who cut his teeth on that copious record, I found it unimaginable that congressional Democrats, or American progressives generally, would ever return to championing unquestioned acceptance of FBI claims that its surveillance practices must remain hidden from the public.
Admin's note: Participants in this discussion must follow the site's moderation policy. Profanity will be filtered. Abusive conduct is not allowed.