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 Democratic leadership since 1962. He 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 gave a floor speech denouncing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its powerful director, J. Edgar Hoover. A New York Times report noted he compared the FBI’s methods to ‘‘the tactics of the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Gestapo,” and Boggs called upon Attorney General John Mitchell to demand Hoover’s resignation. Boggs specifically charged the FBI had wiretapped congressional offices and stationed agents on college campuses to spy on students.
According to media reports, political observers were shocked when Boggs publicly attacked Hoover, long considered the most powerful man in Washington. In a recorded 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 defended Hoover on the floor, while the attorney general said Boggs should apologize. Nixon had the majority leader 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 the state government did not share Boggs’ views.
Boggs doubled down on his charges against Hoover. Days after his floor speech, he told CBS News, “The country cannot survive under a man who in his declining years has violated the Bill of Rights of the United States.”
While he never backed away from the charges, the controversy eventually ended when he mysteriously disappeared in October 1972 while campaigning for a Democratic congressional candidate in Alaska.
Documents declassified since Hoover’s death have since proven that Boggs’ accusations against the FBI were, in fact, true.