The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions

By Eugene J. McCarthy | Go to book overview
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6
A Kind Word for the Bureaucrats

Whereas the public and telling showdown on Watergate and related activities came in the courts, with some support from the Watergate Committee of the Senate and the Judi CIAry Committee of the House, the first challenges came within the federal agencies and bureaus.

It is not clear from the record whether personal integrity, respect for the law, loyalty to the agency, protection of self within the context of the agency, or some combination of the above was the compelling motivation for resistance. Nonetheless, it is reassuring to know that there was a line at which presidential power was challenged, its thrust blunted and even turned back by civil servants and political appointees.

One might have expected the Federal Bureau of Investigation to have resisted presidential intervention more quickly and more strongly than other agencies. It has a tradition of independence. It is a part of the Justice Department, where integrity against political pressure has some standing.

If J. Edgar Hoover had been alive and in charge of the FBI during the Watergate months, the response of the Bureau would certainly have been different, although not necessarily better. A recent report shows that from the early 1960s until April 1971 the FBI conducted programs of disruption and harassment against such groups as the So CIAlist Workers Party, black-nationalist organizations, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Perhaps J. Edgar Hoover could have been convinced that the Democratic party in 1972 was radical enough to deserve the attention of his Bureau.

In any case, the FBI under the direction of L. Patrick Gray came off rather badly in the face of the first White House pressure. Gray lacked experience, security, or backbone to resist White House pressures. How else could one explain his taking personal custody of the

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The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions
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