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Letter: A Movie Review of J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood’s movie J. Edgar may be unmatched in the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio, whose name might have also been DaVinci in an earlier life for all of the artistry that he brings to the screen. No fluke after Titanic, DiCaprio has now taken his place among Hollywood’s greats as an enduring actor. The make up artists who brought DiCaprio from youthful agent to F.B.I. director, spanning more than 50 years, have well earned the title of artists.

Eastwood showed Hoover’s paranoid obsession with communism. Hoover described McCarthy as an “opportunist” and himself as a “patriot.” He kept his homosexuality in the closet and his secret personal files about our country’s leaders under lock and key except when he needed them to blackmail presidents or attorney generals so that he could remain in office. Hoover was the ultimate snoop keeping dossiers on prominent and not so prominent Americans. He takes his place in American history alongside the criminals his bureau prosecuted including his former boss, Attorney General John Mitchell.

A few years ago I wrote to the F.B.I. to determine whether they had a file on me. At first they refused to reveal it under the Freedom of Information Act. I pursued it and later they told me that they had a single document in my files. It was a newspaper clipping from the local press where I had introduced at a Bar Association meeting John Gotti’s lawyer, Bruce Cutler. Of course it was not hard for me to believe that the culture that Hoover created at the F.B.I. could cause the bureau to keep a file on me as a dangerous subversive merely because I had introduced a defense lawyer at a Bar Association meeting but there it was. The issue then for me and other Americans is whether the F.B.I. has a legal right to collect information about us, particularly when we have not been accused of criminal activity. How does this de facto spying by the F.B.I. interfere with our Constitutional rights?

Hoover was clearly a liar and a racist but beyond these concerns which were not given full tilt in the movie, was also the absence of Hoover’s nefarious COINTELPRO, standing for his Counter Intelligence Program where the F.B.I. illegally engaged in thousands of so-called “black bag” jobs or burglaries of political dissidents, planting evidence against them and then prosecuting them for subversive, illegal activity. Unfortunately Hoover’s culture continues to this day with water boarding, torture, speedy trials, denial of counsel and the death penalty for those merely accused of terrorism.

The movie is a home run but it could have been a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, giving us lessons for the future as well as the past. Hoover, Nixon and Mitchell sponsored The Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968 providing for “no knock” laws and which attempted to override Miranda v. Arizona. Nearly 40 years later the Department of Justice and even the Solicitor General refused to prosecute the law. Justice Rheinquist, the most conservative member of the court at the time would not agree to overturn Miranda.

Thomas F. Liotti
Village Justice, Westbury
Attorney, Garden City