This story deserves a page of its own, because it so presciently lays out the operating methods of Mr. Freeh.
‘This case has everything—the F.B.I., the press, the violation of the Bill of Rights, from the First to the Sixth Amendment,” Watson Bryant told me in one of our first conversations. It has become common to characterize the F.B.I.’s investigation of Richard Jewell as the epitome of false accusation. The phrase “the Jewell syndrome,” a rush to judgment, has entered the language of newsrooms and First Amendment forums. On the night of Jewell’s press conference, a commentator on CNN’sCrossfire compared Jewell’s situation to “Kafka in Prague.” The case became an investigative catastrophe, which laid bare long-simmering resentments of many F.B.I. career professionals regarding the micromanagement style and imperious attitude of Louis Freeh and his inner circle of former New York prosecutors, who have worked together since their days at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District. Within the bureau, the beleaguered director now has a new nickname: J. Edgar Hoover with children. Like Freeh, those near him have also acquired a nickname: Louie’s yes-men. Two of Freeh’s closest associates, F.B.I. general counsel Howard Shapiro and former deputy director Larry Potts, have been severely criticized, respectively, for advising the White House of confidential F.B.I. material and for an alleged cover-up of the mishandling of the 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge, where F.B.I. agents killed the wife and son of Randy Weaver, a white supremacist.
In November and December, the Office of Professional Responsibility conducted an exhaustive investigation into the Jewell affair. Responding to an attempt by headquarters and certain officials to distance themselves, according to F.B.I. sources, several agents, including a senior F.B.I. supervisor in Atlanta, have provided the O.P.R. with signed statements insisting that Freeh himself was responsible for “oversight” during the crisis. These agents “shocked the investigators” because they reiterated, when asked who was in charge of the overall command of the investigation, that it was the director himself.
What happened to Richard Jewell raises an important question central to Freeh’s future tenure: in the midst of a media frenzy, does the F.B.I. have any responsibility to protect the privacy of an innocent man? Over the last year, this concept was broached with Bob Bucknam, Louis Freeh’s chief of staff. During the long Pizza Connection trial in the 1980s, it was Bucknam who handed Freeh files at the prosecutor’s table. According to highly placed sources in the bureau, Bucknam’s answer was immediate: the F.B.I. has no responsibility to correct information in the public domain.
Richard Jewell had a reverence for authority that blinded him to the paradox of his situation. He idealized the investigative skills of the F.B.I. and could not understand that he had become ensnared in a web fraught with the weaknesses of a self-protective bureaucracy. Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter has invited Jewell to Washington to testify at congressional hearings on the F.B.I.’s conduct in the Atlanta bombing. Ironically, the bungling of the investigation might lead to the reshuffling of personalities at the top of the bureau and threaten Freeh’s reputation. In October, according to The Washington Post, Freeh sent an unusual memo to all 25,000 F.B.I. personnel: He would not be abandoning his post amid reports of problems with the Jewell case and Filegate, and of a growing dissatisfaction inside the bureau. “I am proud to be the F.B.I. director,” Freeh wrote.