From TIME's Archives: The Truth About J. Edgar Hoover

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Johnson even directed Hoover to tap the phone of Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate Spiro Agnew in 1968 on the vague suspicion that Agnew was sending word to the South Vietnamese that they would get a better peace arrangement through Nixon if he was elected President than through L.B.J.

Such practices dated back to Franklin Roosevelt, who sought FBI name checks on U.S. isolationists in 1940 and began the practice of asking the FBI to wiretap some of his own top advisers, including Harry Hopkins and Tommy ("The Cork") Corcoran.

Truman, by contrast, wanted nothing to do directly with Hoover, who had to deal with the President's military aide, Brigadier General Harry Vaughan. When Vaughan showed Truman an FBI transcript of the tap on Corcoran, Truman was unimpressed. It was about Mrs. Corcoran making appointments with her hairdresser. "Well, I don't give a goddam whether Mrs. Corcoran gets her hair fixed or doesn't get her hair fixed. What the hell is that crap?" Vaughan: "It's a wiretap." Truman: "Cut them all off. Tell the FBI we haven't got any time for that kind of shit."

Hoover seems to have had little more success in foisting political intelligence on Dwight Eisenhower. Although Jack Kennedy and his brother Robert, as Attorney General, went along with some of the Hoover wiretapping, the brothers posed new difficulty for the Director. For the first time Hoover found it impossible to bypass the Attorney General. Matters were not helped when Hoover visited Bobby for the first time at the Justice Department and the shirtsleeved young Attorney General threw darts throughout their conversation. The Director was outraged at what he considered disrespect. Bobby, moreover, often missed the dartboard and ripped the wall; to Hoover this was "a desecration of Government property."

Bobby was the only Attorney General who dared summon Hoover by buzzer to his office. Kennedy, in fact, ordered a direct line placed in the Director's office after discovering that this phone had been moved to the desk of Helen Gandy, Hoover's secretary.

Out of fear, or respect, or both, many associates of Hoover have long refused to discuss publicly the personal side of the Director's life. Even now, his posthumous grip is so firm in the minds of many that details of it are scarce. Yet some are dribbling out.

The man's ample ego, for example, was shown by the way he furnished his $160,000 home, a red brick house in Washington's Rock Creek Park. The foyer always greeted visitors with a photo of Hoover chatting with the incumbent President. A large portrait of Hoover graced the first landing of the stairs toward the second floor. A bronze bust of him stood for years at the top of the stairs. All four walls of the lower recreation room were papered with pictures of Hoover with various celebrities.

Given Hoover's almost obsessive condemnation of illicit sexual activities of public figures, as well as the quick disciplining of any agents indiscreet enough to get caught in similar affairs, some visitors were surprised at the display of female nudity in Hoover's house. There were numerous pieces of such sculpture, paintings, and even the celebrated nude photo of Marilyn Monroe.

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