Late Rep. Charlie Wilson faced death threats, scrutiny, says FBI file

The late Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Texas) fell under frequent FBI scrutiny, according to 458 pages of FBI documents released to The Hill under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to his FBI file, Wilson, who was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the Oscar-nominated film “Charlie Wilson’s War,” was alternately under protection by bureau agents from Sandinista rebels who had threatened him with death, and under investigation for allegedly taking personal loans from his campaign war chest.

A rebel commander said in a letter sent to syndicated columnist Jack Anderson in November 1978 that the Sandinistas “have specific orders to shoot” Wilson and former Rep. John Murphy (D-N.Y.) “on the spot if they are seen anywhere in the Nicaraguan territory.”

According to the letter obtained by the FBI and allegedly signed by a Sandinista leader, the two lawmakers “will return in plastic bags.”

The letter also said Wilson and Murphy were “two PIRATES who for money will slaughter their mothers” and are “A DISHONOR FOR THE U.S. CONGRESS.”

The FBI took the threat seriously enough to have the U.S. Embassy in Mexico contact Wilson at the Holiday Inn in Guadalajara, where he was staying after visiting Nicaragua with Murphy just a few weeks earlier, according to one FBI memo.

Agents also received the original letter from Anderson’s staff and sent it to their lab for fingerprint analysis and an examination of its paper stock and typewriter print, according to forensic experts’ reports included in Wilson’s file.

Despite the caution, an agent in the FBI’s Washington office concluded in a memo that the letter was “likely a fake” since it was written in poor English — not the Sandinistas’ preferred Spanish — and conflicted with “their philosophy” of “cultivating American opinion” by courting Western news outlets.

While the FBI responded to death threats on Wilson, it also investigated the maverick lawmaker several times for alleged political corruption. The agency's probes always ended up empty, and Wilson, best known for his role in securing funds for Afghan fighters resisting the Soviet invasion, was never charged with a crime.

In 1985, the FBI looked into allegations from a political opponent that Wilson had received non-repayable loans from banks in his congressional district, according to bureau documents in Wilson’s file. It closed the probe after the U.S. attorney in Beaumont, Texas, concluded it “did not warrant a full investigation.”

In April 1993, Wilson and his lawyers at Brand & Lowell sat down for an interview with FBI agents, according to notes taken by the agents. The interview was about $26,500 in loans from the congressman’s campaign committee that later helped pay for Wilson’s personal expenses.

Wilson loaned more to his campaign account, but the loans to and from the campaign were often not disclosed in Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports.

According to a summary of the FBI’s interview of the lawmaker, Wilson said to agents, “I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I didn’t think it was against the law. I still don’t.”

FBI agents also interviewed a Wilson aide — her name is redacted in the documents — who helped handle his finances. During the questioning, she began to cry and said, “I know I’ve made mistakes,” according to an FBI interview summary.

The IRS’s criminal division also looked into Wilson for tax-code violations, according to FBI documents.

An IRS spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny an investigation into Wilson since the agency cannot disclose taxpayers’ personal information.

Later in September 1995, the FEC assessed Wilson a $90,000 fine — at the time, the largest penalty given by the FEC to any House member — over the undisclosed personal loans from his campaign committee. That also earned Wilson an admonishment from the House ethics committee, according to press reports.

Wilson’s former lawyer defended the late congressman.

“I will leave it that the Department of Justice declines a case when it does not believe it has sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute, which it concluded it did not have. As you probably know, Congressman Wilson was thoroughly investigated and never charged with any offense. His record and legendary achievements on the pursuit of freedom are well-documented and remains unblemished,” Stan Brand, now of the Brand Law Group, told The Hill.

Wilson served in the House from 1973 to 1996, then founded his own lobbying firm, Wilson Associates. He died in February.