Easley lecture

Dr. Douglas M. Charles speaks last week as he presented the keynote portion of the third annual Sid Easley Lecture at the Curris Center Ballroom on the Murray State University campus.

MURRAY – While Sid Easley was most known for his law career in Murray, the late attorney and judge had a deep love for history.

Chances are, he would have enjoyed the lecture that is named for him last week at his alma mater, Murray State University. Not only did it deal with history, but it also covered law for good measure.

This year’s lecture was presented by Dr. Douglas Charles, professor of history at Penn State University-Greater Allegheny, who has a particular interest in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He has written three scholarly works on the subject with his latest work focused on longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called “Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s ‘Sex Deviates’ Program.” Not surprisingly, Hoover, the longest-tenured FBI director, had a large part in last Tuesday’s presentation, “The FBI in Time and Place: Then and Now.”

Charles said a big reason for the FBI having experienced several chapters of difficulty, from Hoover to more recent times with directors Robert Mueller and James Comey, stem from one thing.

“It was founded without a charter, without a Congressional charter that could define what the FBI could and could not do,” Charles said in the opening moments of his presentation at the university’s Curris Center Ballroom. “Therefore, it has been subjected to the whims of various directors over the decades.”

In other words, whatever causes the directors have chosen to champion, whatever the subject, would have a way of coming to the forefront, and no one demonstrated this more than Hoover, Charles said. It starts with how long Hoover was FBI director – 50 years – a subject that was not addressed until 1976. That was when, under the leadership of President Gerald Ford, not only were term limits imposed, but other guidelines to govern the FBI’s operations were also put in place.

Charles said it was under President Theodore Roosevelt that the FBI was created, but this was by executive mandate, as he felt an organization was needed to deal with antitrust issues of big business with the nation’s fledgling industrial economy. Still, when he needed financial support for this investigative arm, Roosevelt did go to Congress for authorization, though no charter was drafted.

It was in 1924, in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution that resulted in communism taking over Russia, that Hoover’s tenure began. Charles said Hoover was known for what many would regard as positive developments for the FBI, including changing it from only being an investigative organization to have arrest powers, as well as its transformation to using science in solving crimes. However, Hoover also had a way for getting close to presidents, particularly Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, which Charles said proved dangerous because the lines of the job and friendship tended to be crossed.

“That is why the guidelines were put in place in ‘76,” Charles said. “They protected the presidency from the FBI and protected the FBI from the White House.”

Charles also touched on the most recent chapters of the FBI, the tenures of directors Mueller and Comey. One thing he noted was that Mueller’s tenure of 12 years violated the terms of the ‘76 guidelines, but this was for an emergency as President George W. Bush had determined that Mueller was needed due to the obvious threat of terrorism to the United States, namely the Al-Quada terrorism network that was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington.

Charles said Mueller, being a former prosecutor, was not one to publicly advertise his activities, which is the opposite of Comey, who has been quite public about his side of his relations with current President Donald Trump.

“Comey long established a policy of not talking about FBI investigations. Yet, then (as the 2016 election approaches), he comes out and he recommends that no charges come from (an investigation into Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton). No FBI director ever made public recommendations, even Hoover,” Charles said. “Then Trump refuses to adhere to the guidelines governing communications between the White House and the FBI. So Comey only speaks to (President) Barack Obama twice during his tenure, but he has nine interactions with Trump in his first two months in office (including a dinner at the White House in which Charles said Trump asked Comey for loyalty). So what does Comey do? He starts to keep notes.”

Trump eventually fired Comey.

This was the third year for the Easley Lecture, which is hosted by the university’s Department of HIstory. Previous lecturers included Mayfield native and bestselling author Bobbie Ann Mason and Andrew Maraniss, another author, who studied the path taken by former Vanderbilt basketball star Perry Wallace, the first black athlete to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference.

Recommended for you