Instead, they reveal how top federal officials abused their powers, intimidated critics and hid important information from public view for decades.
The memos involve three separate telephone conversations on the afternoon of July 30, 1986, between FBI agents and key members of the Justice Department.
That same week, the Senate Judiciary Committee had begun hearings on President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Rehnquist as chief justice.
Several people opposed to the nomination were expected to give damaging testimony about Rehnquist in the coming days. All would say that during the 1960s they witnessed Rehnquist, then a young Republican Party lawyer in Arizona and head of the party's "Ballot Security Program," trying to prevent blacks and Hispanics from voting.
Their accusations directly contradicted statements Rehnquist had given the Senate during his first confirmation hearing for the court in 1971.
"In none of those years did I personally engage in challenging the qualifications of any voters," he had said then.
In his 1986 hearing, Rehnquist was more equivocal about his Election Day activities. He had only provided legal advice to Republicans assigned to challenge Arizona voters, he said.
"I don't recall," he said several times when asked if he'd ever challenged any voter himself.
But with several individuals about to step forward to publicly question his truthfulness, top Justice Department officials were worried.
Together with South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, then the Republican chairman of the committee, they wanted the FBI to find out exactly what those witnesses were going to say.
"Thurmond will not let anyone testify without prior interview by the FBI," one memo quotes Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Carvin as telling his FBI counterparts.
But some FBI officials resisted being drafted for partisan detective work.
Carvin then put Assistant Attorney General John Bolton on the phone. Bolton, who recently resigned as UN ambassador, was in charge back then of shepherding Reagan White House appointments through Congress.
He had obtained the list of witnesses from Thurmond and forwarded them to the FBI.
Bolton ordered the agents to go ahead with the interviews and said he "would accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI," according to one memo.
Alexander Charns is the North Carolina lawyer who obtained the Rehnquist files after a long Freedom of Information battle.
"They are heavily censored, and large chunks are not visible," said Charns, who wrote a book, "Cloak and Gavel," about the Supreme Court and the FBI. "And what I received is only a small portion of the entire file."
Only now do the rest of us finally get a glimpse of how the Nixon and Reagan administrations fought to hide the secrets of their man on the Supreme Court.
Originally published on January 5, 2007
|G-men were used to quell justice's critics |
They have have nothing to do with Rehnquist's personal addiction to prescription drugs - as do most of the files the government released.