Who's Worse Snoop: George W. Bush or Bill Moyers?

January 10th, 2006 10:00 AM

Amid all the media-fueled angst over the Bush administration’s “domestic spying” program — a word formula chosen to make the National Security Agency’s monitoring of terrorist communications seem as if ordinary Americans were the target, not the beneficiary — today’s Wall Street Journal reminds us that real domestic spying took place not that long ago, during liberals’ Golden Age, the 1960s.

As federal judge Laurence Silberman revealed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last July, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover “had allowed — even offered — the bureau to be used by presidents for nakedly political purposes. I have always thought that the most heinous act in which a democratic government can engage is to use its law enforcement machinery for political ends.”

As a deputy attorney general in 1974, Silberman had discovered the late Hoover’s “secret and confidential files,” and reported their contents to the House Judiciary Committee. Silberman found that Lyndon Johnson was the “most demanding” of the presidents who had used the FBI for political purposes.

One anecdote Silberman related involved Bill Moyers — who spent much of the past decades moralizing on CBS, NBC and PBS, but who in the 1960s was one of LBJ’s White House press secretaries. Silberman found a memo from Moyers to Hoover asking that the FBI dig up dirt on Republican Barry Goldwater’s campaign aides during the 1964 campaign:

Only a few weeks before the 1964 election, a powerful presidential assistant, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a men’s room in Washington. Evidently, the president was concerned that Barry Goldwater would use that against him in the election. Another assistant, Bill Moyers, was tasked to direct Hoover to do an investigation of Goldwater’s staff to find similar evidence of homosexual activity. Mr. Moyers’ memo to the FBI was in one of the files.
When the press reported this [in 1975], I received a call in my office from Mr. Moyers. Several of my assistants were with me. He was outraged; he claimed that this was another example of the Bureau salting its files with phony CIA memos. I was taken aback. I offered to conduct an investigation, which if his contention was correct, would lead me to publicly exonerate him. There was a pause on the line and then he said, “I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?" And then he rang off. I thought to myself that a number of the Watergate figures, some of whom the department was prosecuting, were very young, too.
Other presidents, according to those files, misused the bureau, although never Truman and Eisenhower. But Johnson clearly was the most demanding. This discovery was particularly painful for me. Although I was a life-long Republican, I had not only voted for LBJ, I had signed an ad supporting him, which got me ejected from the Hawaii Young Republicans.

As today’s Journal editorial concluded: “If Congress wants to demonstrate its concern about the potential misuse of surveillance power, it can rename the FBI building and put would-be lawbreakers on notice that they will not be remembered fondly. But Congress should also leave honest Presidents alone to perform their Constitutional duty to defend the homeland.”