Pants on fire
You’ve got to admire the FBI’s chutzpah. Eight years after the bureau promised Congress it would never, ever, pull another Whitey Bulger, it has been caught red-handed pulling another Whitey Bulger, this time with a reputed gangster and suspected murderer named Mark Rossetti.
Rossetti, a suspect in at least six homicides, was used as an FBI informant for two decades, ostensibly because he was a reputed capo regime in the Mafia in Boston, though, given the state of that fine fraternal organization, that’s like being the captain of a sinking ship.
In the two months that have passed since the Globe revealed that the FBI was using Rossetti as an informant despite his violent record and the fact that he had lied to the State Police about his informant status, the bureau has done nothing to answer the myriad questions raised by its actions. They just say no comment, hoping we’ll all grow bored and go away.
Stephen Lynch, the congressman from South Boston, took part in those hearings eight years ago at which the FBI promised, cross-their-hearts-hope-to-die, that they wouldn’t pull another Whitey Bulger. Lynch has asked his colleagues on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold a hearing on the FBI-Rossetti axis. This, after he met three weeks ago with three FBI officials at his Washington office. They told Lynch they were about to launch a review of the Rossetti case, then told Lynch they had spoken too soon: They hadn’t received the go-ahead from above.
The foot dragging surprised Lynch.
“You would think the FBI would be hypersensitive to this sort of stuff, given what happened with Bulger,’’ said Lynch.
You would think.
Lynch also filed a bill last week that would increase congressional oversight of informants. And he’s hoping New York’s congressional delegation might piggyback on it after recent revelations that members of the Colombo crime family were killing people while working as FBI informants.
FBI stonewalling makes the need for congressional intervention beyond Boston and New England imperative, which is why Senator Chuck Grassley’s intervention is so welcome. Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He comes from Iowa and is a plain-speaking, get-to-the-point kind of guy.
Yesterday, he sent a letter to Robert Mueller, the FBI’s director, asking some very reasonable questions: When did Rossetti become an informant? How much was he paid? When did the FBI become aware of Rossetti’s criminal activity? What crimes were the FBI aware of? Was murder one of them? Did the FBI or the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility conduct a review? If the FBI lied to the State Police about Rossetti being an informant, were any agents disciplined?
Grassley says he will wait for answers and, like Lynch, he’s not going away until he gets some. As it reviews its options, the FBI might want to consider the prospect of a repeat performance of those congressional hearings eight years ago and what that did to its reputation and credibility.
The FBI employed similar tactics of delay and denial when the Bulger fiasco was first exposed in these pages in 1988. For a decade, it lied about using a reputed killer like Bulger as an informant until a federal judge named Mark Wolf made the bureau tell the truth.
The FBI can try the same thing with Mark Rossetti. It will ultimately prove futile, and the truth will come out.
And the FBI will find that, as with Bulger, putting off the inevitable only makes the final reckoning worse.