Former FBI Director Freeh Focuses on Integrity
CHESTERTOWN, MD, February 22, 2013—Former FBI director Louis J. Freeh received an honorary degree today from Washington College as part of the school’s annual George Washington’s Birthday Convocation. In introducing Freeh, College president Mitchell B. Reiss quoted Washington, that “truth will ultimately prevail where there are pains taken to bring it to light,” and praised Freeh as someone who “knows well the pains and imperative of bringing truth to light. He has committed his life to that goal, whether in his role as a prosecuting attorney, a federal judge, an independent investigator or the CEO of this country’s leading investigative agency.”
“I’m delighted to have this degree,” Freeh told his audience, adding humorously, “My guidance counselor in a very small, impoverished high school in Jersey City told me I should go to trade school in my junior year, so to achieve this great academic honor far surpasses any expectations they ever had.”
In a mostly serious talk focused on character, integrity and courage, Freeh stressed the need for individuals, institutions and governments to exercise moral courage, citing as one historic example Ulysses S. Grant and his promise of amnesty to Robert E. Lee and the Confederate troops. In the dark weeks following the assassination of President Lincoln, the U.S. attorney general decided to indict Lee for treason, Freeh noted. “Grant was furious, because his word had been compromised by a political act which was taken without his permission or knowledge.” Ultimately, he threatened to resign, which forced Johnson to call off the prosecution.
“That single act of Grant overshadows most of his military victories and fame, because it was an individual act of moral courage that came at a critical time in the history of the United States,” said Freeh. “Because the terms of surrender at Appomattox were the building blocks for reunification; and if the tenor and result of that surrender had been different, it would have protracted and complicated the reunification of the United. States.”
Freeh gave examples of how, in the early years of the Nazi regime in Germany, a lack of moral courage on the part of many Western leaders and individuals increased the suffering and death toll of Europe’s Jews. “But history is laden with individuals like George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant and many whose names we will never know, who at key critical times did exercise moral courage. We have to ensure that such courage is not just a tradition, but that it is a living legacy.”
A former FBI Special Agent, Freeh led the FBI as director from September of 1993 through June of 2001. This past year the Board of Trustees of Pennsylvania State University hired his law firm, Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, to conduct an independent investigation of the child sex-abuse scandal centered on former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The result was a scathing rebuke of Penn State’s senior leadership and its failure to protect and care for Sandusky’s young victims . Freeh, 62, is now a partner at the law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP, and chairs Freeh Group International Solutions, LLC, a business-risk consulting firm.
Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The College continues its original mission of preparing students for lives of engaged citizenship, as exemplified by its namesake.