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From J-Edgar To J-Com: The Wild World Of FBI Directors And Their Presidents

From J-Edgar To J-Com: The Wild World Of FBI Directors And Their Presidents

What timing. One of only seven men confirmed by Congress to run the FBI gets fired one day before Russia’s top envoy happens to be meeting with President Donald Trump.

“Was he fired? You’re kidding, you’re kidding,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, responding Wednesday to media shouts at the U.S State Department about the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

No, seriously. The man running point on the big investigation of Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign — and its purported attempts to derail the candidacy of Democrat Hillary Clinton — got the Apprentice-style “You’re fired” treatment just days after he reportedly asked for more resources to probe Kremlin/Trump ties.

And the firing came down the day before Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s chief envoy had his first state visit with the new administration, during which he and Trump promised to strengthen their ties.

So the long, colorful and often weird history of the relationships between American presidents and FBI chiefs is still being written. Here’s a look at the other men who have worn the mantle of director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Acting directors and domestic intelligence chiefs who served before the FBI got its name are excluded, with one notable exception at the end.

Related Link: Trump Fires Comey: It Looked Bad Right Away

J. Edgar Hoover

Bureau of Investigation: May 5,1924–June 30, 1935

FBI July 1, 1935–May 2, 1972

The Big Kahuna that some historians considered more powerful than some of the presidents he served under. Hoover was appointed chief of the FBI’s predecessor organization by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 (the FBI name came 11 years later) and ran the bureau like a private intelligence empire for nearly 48 years.

His biographers say he had inside dirt, particularly of the peccadillo variety, on several of the presidents he served under, which include former Presidents Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Nixon, who would soon be embroiled in the Watergate scandal, thought of firing Hoover in 1971 but feared the ramifications, according to White House tape recordings. "We may have on our hands here a man who will pull down the temple with him, including me," Nixon said.

Hoover had the last laugh on Nixon, dying of a heart attack in his home on May 2, 1972, while still holding his title. Congress subsequently decided that never again would one person serve for more than 10 years as the nation’s top cop.

William S. Sessions

November 2, 1987–July 19, 1993

The first and only FBI director to get fired until Comey was shown the door. He was a Republican appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 — while Reagan was embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal — and fired by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993 after defiantly refusing to step down for six months.

He took internal heat for his absentee management style and frequently unimportant trips. He went down railing at the system.

"Because of the scurrilous attacks on me and my wife of 42 years, it has been decided by others that I can no longer be as forceful as I need to be in leading the F.B.I. and carrying out my responsibilities to the bureau and the nation," he said. "It is because I believe in the principle of an independent F.B.I. that I have refused to voluntarily resign."

Clarence Kelley

July 9, 1973–February 15, 1978

The anti-Hoover, the calm career agent sent in to clean up. He cooperated with the U.S. Justice Department to end the institutional embezzlement and corruption of the Hoover fiefdom and opened up relations with other intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, that had been shut out by Hoover.

Louis Freh

September 1, 1993–June 25, 2001

The Jersey City, New Jersey, native went from FBI agent to federal prosecutor to federal judge before he took over the FBI, during which he oversaw some of the most sensational and controversial cases in bureau history. This included the Unabomber serial killer, the siege of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, and the FBI sniper death of the wife of a militia leader at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which gave rise to the militia movement.

Freh has said he was most proud of the prosecution of planners of the deadly Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen in 1996. On his last day in office in June 2001, a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, returned a 46-count indictment against 14 defendants charged with the Khobar Towers attack. He later maintained that the Clinton Administration blocked attempts to prosecute Saudi nationals because of political considerations.

He also feuded with the National Transportation Safety Board over the 1996 crash in the Atlantic Ocean that killed 230 people aboard TWA Flight 800t, even blocking the NTSB from interviewing witnesses.

William H. Webster

February 23, 1978–May 25, 1987

A U.S. Navy lieutenant during World War II, Webster knew how to get along with commanders-in-chief. He was a federal judge when then-President Jimmy Carter appointed him to head the FBI in 1978, and former President Ronald Reagan subsequently named him director of the CIA in 1987 — the only person to hold both posts. He is currently chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which answers to the president and was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Robert Mueller

September 4, 2001–September 4, 2013

A Marine who led a rifle platoon during the Vietnam War (he won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among others), Mueller was a U.S. attorney for many years and, as an assistant attorney general, oversaw prosecutions that included Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, the Pan Am Flight 103 crash case, and the Gambino crime family boss, John Gotti.

As FBI director, he is perhaps best known for offering to resign — along with, coincidentally, then-Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey — if the White House overruled a Department of Justice finding that domestic wiretapping without a court warrant was unconstitutional. Former President George W. Bush made unspecified changes to the eavesdropping rules to Mueller’s satisfaction.

Mueller, who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate just three days before undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, took over the bureau just one week before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. When his term was up in 2011, then-President Barack Obama asked him to stay on for two more years and Congress concurred. He became the only FBI director since Hoover to hold the post for more than a decade.

James Comey

September 4, 2013–May 9, 2017

A former U.S. attorney and the lead prosecutor on the Khobar Towers bombing, Comey also headed up the 2003 prosecution of Martha Stewart on securities fraud. He led prosecutions in investment practices at Credit Suisse First Boston.

Obama nominated Comey to succeed Mueller. Before getting sacked by Trump, Comey is perhaps best known for his investigation — and the re-opening of that investigation just before the November presidential election — into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

*William Ruckelshaus

April 30, 1973–July 9, 1973

Ruckelshaus served a variety of roles in the Nixon Administration, including as the very first administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when it was formed in 1970. But it was the job he quit that solidifies his place in history.

The Watergate break-in allegations and cover-up were consuming the presidency, which was hit by top-level resignations, when Nixon chose the squeaky clean Ruckelshaus to serve as FBI chief for a mere 70 days, then take over as the deputy attorney general.

Then, in October 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, but the No. 2 man also refused. Back then, it seemed very heroic.


Image Credit: Images derived from "J. Edgar Hoover, head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1961" By Marion S. Trikosko [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons and "James Comey's official portrait as the 7th Director of the FBI" By Federal Bureau of Investigation -, [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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