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40 Years of FOIAs for the FBI: Durham Lawyer Alex Charns Is Still Searching for the Truth
Episode 2428th March 2024 • Voices of NCAJ • North Carolina Advocates for Justice
00:00:00 00:29:43

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“When someone lies to me . . . there's a reason they're lying. And for me, I think it's part of my ethical responsibility as a lawyer to expose someone.”

In this episode of Voices of NCAJ, host Amber Nimocks interviews Alex Charns, a criminal defense attorney in Durham who has written a book about the FBI's secret tapes on the Supreme Court of the 1960s and his decades-long battles to access them. After being inspired by David Garrow's book on FBI tactics against Martin Luther King Jr., Charns has embarked on a career-spanning pursuit of uncovering hidden truths through FOIA requests and litigation against the FBI. His latest book, FBI Snitches, Blackmail, and Obscene Ethics at the Supreme Court, sheds light on his 13-year legal battle to release secret FBI files, revealing shocking revelations about unethical behavior and blackmail involving a Supreme Court justice. 

🎙️ Featured Guest 🎙️

Name: Alex Charns

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💡 Episode Highlights 💡

[01:20] Getting Inspired: In 1983, Alex was inspired to begin researching the possibility of an FBI investigation into the Warren Court after reading David Garrow’s account of the FBI’s attempts to take down Martin Luther King, Jr. through wiretaps, bugs, and threats.

[05:33] Determined for Answers: After the FBI called him paranoid for his FOIA request, Alex, undeterred, requested his own FBI file, where he discovered that the FBI was concealing the existence of a 2000-page file on the Supreme Court, so he sued them.

[08:45] Sincerely, SCOTUS: As he built his case and continued the research for his book, he interviewed ex-FBI agents and SCOTUS law clerks, wrote letters to the Court, and even got some interesting responses from a few justices themselves.

[10:48] Informer on the Court: In his first book, Cloak and Gavel: FBI Wiretaps, Bugs, Informers, and the Supreme Court, Alex made the shocking revelation that Justice Abe Fortas, who had become well-known for his role in ensuring the right to counsel for indigent defendants, was an FBI informer.

[14:40] What Did They Have on Abe?: Using wiretapping and other warrantless searches, Hoover and the FBI would obtain incriminating information about government officials–such as Justice Fortas’s close, unethical alliance with the President–to blackmail them into serving as informants.

[19:33] Secret Files: As part of the litigation, Alex was able to access Fortas’s informant files that even the FBI had hidden from the Senate during its Watergate investigation.

[21:10] Reading Between Redactions: Alex asked the FBI for their blackmail files, which they claimed didn’t exist, but through some clever reading between the lines of the file index, Alex and his lawyer learned that the FBI had been hiding them for years.

[27:48] Is History Repeating Itself?: Charns’s search for answers continues as he commits himself to learning whether FBI espionage targeted at public officials, blackmail, and the use of informants is still being employed.

[32:46] A Grudge or a Mission?: All these years later, Charns, the leading FOIA requester, is still mad at what happened to him in 1983, so he’s going to continue holding the Supreme Court accountable for their actions. His research remains more relevant than ever.

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Voices of NCAJ features members of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice talking about what it means to be a trial lawyer, what it takes to be great at the practice of law and how being a part of NCAJ enriches their lives and their careers.

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