J. Edgar Hoover Expert: First FBI Director Would Have Blackmailed Petraeus

If Hoover were still head of the FBI today, the Petraeus scandal may have played out very differently.

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Would J. Edgar Hoover have forced David Petraeus to wear a dress, or would he have weakened the power of the CIA? The world will never know.
Would J. Edgar Hoover have forced David Petraeus to wear a dress, or would he have weakened the power of the CIA? The world will never know.

If J. Edgar Hoover were still director of the FBI, things might be very different for David Petraeus. The four-star general resigned as head of the CIA on Nov. 9 after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Hoover expert Ronald Kessler tells Whispers the first director of the FBI would likely have blackmailed Petraeus with the information, instead of starting a probe of the general that would lead to his resignation.

"He would make some veiled reference to the affair, and from then on that would be it. Both sides would recognize the individual would do whatever Hoover wanted," says Kessler. Hoover wielded enormous power as head of the FBI for 48 years, during which he is believed to have kept a file on hundreds of government officials and political leaders.

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Kessler cites a similar opportunity Hoover received when he discovered President John F. Kennedy was allegedly having an affair with Judith Campbell Exner. In Kessler's book, "The Secrets of the FBI," he writes that Hoover privately informed the president that the FBI had wiretapped evidence of his affair, after which JFK broke off the relationship.

Would J. Edgar Hoover have forced David Petraeus to wear a dress, or would he have weakened the power of the CIA? The world will never know.
Would J. Edgar Hoover have forced David Petraeus to wear a dress, or would he have weakened the power of the CIA? The world will never know.

Current FBI director Robert Mueller is facing questions about why the bureau's probe of Petraeus was kept secret as long as it was. The White House claims it was not notified about the probe until after Election Day, and most lawmakers found out about the affair when Petraeus resigned last Friday.

But the Petraeus scandal is now very much a public affair, something that would have been unlikely in the Hoover years, according to Kessler. Political blogger Chris Weigant wrote in The Huffington Post Wednesday that Petraeus's public exposure "was a good thing" — at least when "compared to the historical alternative."

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Kessler tells Whispers he could imagine Hoover using the information about Petraeus's dalliance to cut down the authority of the CIA.

"Hoover was very territorial and competitive with the CIA," he says, "I could imagine him saying the CIA's jurisdiction would be curtailed, and budget would be reduced... the possibilities could be very severe."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.