In life, Rep. Charlie Wilson was surrounded by legends of his high living, but it was never quite clear where the reality ended and the legend began. The feds seemingly had a similar problem figuring that out, if the late congressman’s recently disclosed FBI file is any indication, as it mentions a rumored photo of Wilson on a bed with a Mexican prostitute that the FBI was never able to confirm.
A rumor of a photo of Wilson with a Mexican woman of the night is just one of the tidbits revealed in the FBI file of the late Wilson, the bombastic politician who was immortalized in the 2007 film “Charlie Wilson’s War.” And while he was known for his wide circle of friends, his file indicates he clearly had some nasty enemies.
Wilson, the Texas Democrat known as “Good Time Charlie,” served in Congress from 1973 through 1996 and died in February at the age of 76. His involvement with Operation Cyclone, a program supporting the Afghan mujahideen in their resistance of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the 2007 film based on the book “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.”
TPM just obtained a copy of Wilson’s 463 page FBI from the bureau, which the Hill first reported it obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last week.So what’s in the file? Some standout nuggets:
1972 Campaign Opponents Targeted DUI Arrest, Possible Photos With Mexican Prostitute
Notorious for drinking and living large, Wilson was arrested for driving under the influence in 1969. A FBI report says that the unnamed officer who arrested Wilson after he crashed his ’69 Chevrolet in Austin, Texas, thought Wilson appeared to be intoxicated, smelled strongly of alcohol, slurred his speech and was unsteady on his feet. Wilson allegedly declined to take a blood test.
The charges against Wilson were soon changed to driving while under the influence of drugs. The change was made due to an affidavit furnished by Wilson’s doctor that he had prescribed him drugs during that period. Wilson later recounted that he “barely” got out of a DUI, and was made to attend a class at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings about not drinking whiskey.
But the arrest came back to haunt Wilson. His mugshots ended up in the hands of political opponents and were published widely on anonymous campaign fliers during Wilson’s 1972 campaign against Mrs. J.D. Dowd (see the flyer here).
The FBI launched an investigation to determine who leaked the photos and who printed the fliers. The Travis County Attorney who handled the DUI case told the FBI he kept the Wilson file, which included the photos, under a different name because of the sensitivity of the case and said none of his staff knew where the file was maintained.
Perhaps more worrisome for Wilson were the rumors circulating about the next flier to be released. Allegedly, there was a compromising photo of the Congressman “on a bed with a nude female sitting on the side of the bed.” Another individual interviewed by the FBI said he believed there were other fliers showing Wilson “on a bed with a Mexican female who is disrobed sitting on the bed with him.” The allegation was that this photo showed Wilson in a house of prostitution. Despite the FBI’s best attempts (and to TPM’s great disappointment) they didn’t manage to verify the existence of the photograph.
After interviewing employees of printing presses, as well as citizens found disseminating the offending fliers, the FBI concluded that the source of the fliers was likely Dowdy campaign headquarters but closed the case as it did not have “prosecutive merit.”
1976 — In Bed With Big Timber?
Also known as “Timber Charlie,” Wilson was accused of colluding with a lumber tycoon in Texas in the establishment of a national preserve. Wilson helped Congress pass the “Big Thicket National Biological Preserve” bill, which directed the purchase of 84,500 acres in Southeast Texas for a hefty $70 million. It just so happens that a large portion of that land belonged to Arthur Temple, a major player in the Texas lumber industry — and Wilson’s old employer.
In an indignant letter to the Attorney General, Richard Brown — who ran unsuccessfully against Wilson in the Democratic primary for Congressman of the Second Congressional District of Texas in 1976 — accused Wilson of a conflict of interest and asked for an investigation. He alleged that the boundaries of the preserve were drawn up to protect prime timber areas instead of environmental concerns.
Future Republican Pennsylvania Governor and Attorney General Richard Lewis “Dick” Thornburgh (then serving as Assistant Attorney General in charge of DOJ’s Criminal Division) ordered an investigation, but noted that Brown may be a political opponent of Wilson and said the possibility that Brown’s allegation was “politically motivated should not be overlooked.” The FBI investigation disclosed no evidence of a conflict of interest, and the case was dropped.
1978 Threats Against “Two PIRATES” Who Are “A DISHONOR FOR THE U.S. CONGRESS.”
Newspaper columnist Jack Anderson was in touch with the FBI’s Washington Field Office press coordinator over a threatening letter sent to him by a self-proclaimed Nicaraguan rebel commander that threatened Wilson and Rep. John M. Murphy, a nine-term Democrat who was indicted in the Abscam bribery scandal. For those who don’t recall, that was an FBI sting which ensnared government officials in talks with a mysterious Arab sheikh offering money in return for political favors.
At the time of the threats in November 1978, Wilson was in Mexico and was considering joining Murphy in Nicaragua. Murphy’s office released a press release, which an FBI special agent believed was “inflammatory towards [the unknown subject of the investigation] and could precipitate an incident in Nicaragua.” The individual claimed to be named Comandante Cuatro. The letter to Anderson said that Murphy and Wilson should return home immediately or “they will return in plastic bags.”
The FBI lab took a look at the letter and found it was postmarked in Long Island and typewritten on paper manufactured in Wisconsin with a typewriter likely manufactured by IBM. They didn’t believe the threats were legitimate.
1993 Campaign Funding Investigation
Wilson was interviewed at Justice Department headquarters in April 1993 about loans he made to his Principle Campaign Committee. He said he had loaned the PCC over $200,000 since 1980, and that he was currently owed $25,000.
The FBI interviewed a female aide to Wilson who prepared his reports to the Federal Elections Commission even though she told the FBI she had no training on how to prepare such documents. Another aide also said she wasn’t trained an cried during an interview with FBI agents, telling them “I know I’ve made mistakes” and that some financial procedures “fell through the cracks.” Wilson was known to hire good-looking female congressional aides, collectively known as “Charlie’s Angels.”
By December 1993, the investigation had been closed. The Federal Election Commission imposed a $90,000 civil penalty on the Wilson committee because their reports failed to note personal loans he had taken from the account (More on that here.)
What’s Missing: The 1980 Cocaine Investigation
One of the most memorable scenes in “Charlie Wilson’s War” features Hanks’ Wilson in a hot tub in Las Vegas in the summer of 1980 with two showgirls wearing only high heels. The movie and the book it was based on claim that federal prosecutors spend weeks trying to reconstruct what the congressman did in the Fantasy Suite of Caesar’s Palace that night and whether or not any white powder ended up in Wilson’s nasal cavity. The criminal probe into drug use on Capitol Hill was led by then-federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani.
“The Feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale and I ain’t telling,” Wilson recalled in the book.
But according to FBI records, Giuliani didn’t bring the bureau into the loop: there’s no record of such a probe in Wilson’s FBI file.
There’s also nothing in the FBI’s file about Wilson’s work with the CIA to supply the resistance in Afghanistan. Before his death, Wilson said that President Barack Obama was in a “very tough situation” in Afghanistan and recommended he “make a calculated withdrawal.”
Late Update: Wilson’s FBI file embedded below. We miss anything? E-mail me at ryan (at) talkingpointsmemo.com
Additional reporting by Melissa Jeltsen.