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Monday, September 12, 2016

The Case Against James Comey

With hard, hooded eyes and a pugilistic bearing, J. Edgar Hoover’s official portrait glowers—face fixed in a bulldog scowl—down the hallways of the FBI’s Washington headquarters. Even the building itself—a crumbling brutalist cathedral, windowless at street level and wreathed in security cameras—seems to evoke something of the man, its namesake, who bent the bureau to his will during the terms of eight presidents, from Coolidge to Nixon.

Hoover never so much as crossed the threshold of the office where his latest successor, James Comey, now works. Yet the edifice and the institution remain haunted by Hoover’s legacy of unchecked power, which rendered him judge, jury and executioner of anyone who came into his sights.

The FBI’s history is divided into two distinct epochs: Hoover and post-Hoover. After Hoover’s death in office in 1972, Congress enacted laws designed to curtail the abuses—from illegal wiretaps and “black bag” jobs to campaigns of intimidation and blackmail—that defined his 48-year reign. Of the six directors who have followed, all but one have projected far lower profiles, eschewing the dramatic assertions of power that made 
Hoover so dangerous. Only James Comey, the seventh and current FBI director, has strayed from this well-worn path.

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