Rabalais: Hale Boggs Runs Afoul of Hoover and the FBI

In the spring of 1971, Congressman Hale Boggs of New Orleans, then the House majority leader, was making moves on Capitol Hill. A well respected member of Congress, Boggs had served in the Democratic leadership since 1962. Notably, he had helped guide President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs through the House and even served on the Warren Commission.

But on April 5 of that year, Boggs rose and gave a floor speech denouncing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its powerful director, J. Edgar Hoover. Comparing the FBI’s methods to ‘'the tactics of the Soviet Union and Hitler's Gestapo," Boggs called upon Attorney General John Mitchell to demand Hoover’s resignation. In his remarks, Boggs specifically charged that the FBI had wiretapped congressional offices and stationed agents on college campuses to spy on students.

Political observers were shocked that the majority leader had chosen to publicly attack Hoover, long considered to be the most powerful man in Washington. In a phone call with President Richard Nixon, House Minority Leader Gerald Ford’s only explanation was that perhaps Boggs was "either drinking too much, or he's taking some pills that are upsetting him mentally."

Ford rose to defend Hoover on the floor, while the attorney general said that Boggs should apologize. Nixon, subsequently, had Boggs removed from high-level meetings and restricted his access to classified information.

Back in Louisiana, then-Gov. John McKeithen personally called Hoover and assured him that the state government did not share the views of the majority leader. Meanwhile, Congressman John Rarick of St. Francisville told reporters that he thought Boggs’ remarks were part of an organized, left-wing conspiracy against the FBI.

Boggs, for his part, doubled down on his charges against Hoover in press interviews and statements. Days after his floor speech, Boggs told CBS, "The country cannot survive under a man who in his declining years has violated the Bill of Rights of the United States."

While Boggs never backed away from the charges, the controversy eventually ended when he mysteriously disappeared in October 1972 while campaigning for a Democratic candidate in Alaska.

Documents declassified since Hoover’s death have since proven that Boggs’ accusations against the FBI were, in fact, true.

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