The late Democratic U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye had a long and fascinating career in national public service, spanning the birth of Hawaii’s statehood in 1959 to his death, at age 88, in late 2012. Given that, it’s only natural that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would also have long and fascinating files on him.
On Sept. 16, in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from multiple news organizations (including MauiTime), the FBI declassified the Inouye files and posted them online (you can find them at Vault.fbi.gov/daniel-inouye). They include hundreds of pages of documents, some dating back to the 1950s. Much of the material is repetitive, even banal. Other portions are eye-opening.
Like this: In the summer of 1989, agents from the FBI’s Honolulu office briefly investigated an allegation that Inouye had taken a “suitcase full of cash” from Matson Navigation Company. The files show that though the agents did carry out a minor investigation into the allegation–which came from an anonymous caller whose identity the bureau was apparently never able to determine–the U.S. Attorney’s office ultimately decided against prosecution and the case was closed in early 1990.
That’s just one of many nuggets of history found in the treasure trove of files the FBI released this morning on their webpage. There are other sections detailing other allegations of corruption against Senator Inouye (again, allegations that were never substantiated to the point of prosecution) as well various threats that were levied against Inouye through the years.
But the Matson/bribery allegation file, which runs well over a hundred pages, is the most fascinating discovery in the file. And it all started on Aug. 29, 1989, when someone who refused to identify himself called the Honolulu FBI office. “The caller indicated that he had heard for years discussions among officials in the maritime industry in Honolulu that MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY has paid off and continues to make cash payoffs to US Senator DANIEL INOUYE to prevent competition in Honolulu,” stated a Sept. 11, 1989 FBI memo included in the file. “The caller advised that [NAME REDACTED], HAWAII PACIFIC MARITIME, Aloha Tower, Honolulu, observed a MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY representative deliver a suitcase full of cash (amount unknown) to U.S. Senator INOUYE a few years ago to ensure that MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY received favorable consideration in Washington on maritime issues.”
That caller, who only identified himself as a “fifth generation Hawaiian” who was tied to an also unnamed former “Republican congressman from Hawaii” (the exact relation is redacted from the FBI files), made his explosive allegation at a critical time for Matson. Then, American President Lines (APL) was attempting to gain approval from the federal Maritime Administration to start shipping goods between Hawaii and Oakland, California. Matson and SeaLand Service Inc., which at that time both controlled the shipping route APL wanted, vehemently opposed allowing APL access to Hawaii. With just one phone call, the FBI had involved itself in the very lucrative, very insular Hawaii shipping industry.
The files show the Washington FBI office kept the Honolulu agents on a very short leash. “FBIHQ authority is not granted at this time to conduct interviews, subpoena records, or review financial records of Senator INOUYE and the MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY based upon information provided by the anonymous caller,” stated a Sept. 21, 1989 FBI memo. Instead, Washington instructed the Honolulu agents to conduct an “appropriate, discreet” investigation into the caller’s identity, as well as search the relevant indices for information on the individuals and companies the caller mentioned and “conduct a discreet examination of public source records concerning Hawaii’s maritime industry.”
And search they did. The files show agents read news articles, photocopied Matson magazine ads and even pulled Dun & Bradstreet records on Hawaii’s “Big Five” companies in an attempt to understand our state’s shipping politics. The files also show they reached out to one of their local contacts.
“On October 13. 1989, [NAME REDACTED] advised Special Agent [NAME REDACTED] that United States Senator DANIEL K. INOUYE had attended a luncheon at the PACIFIC CLUB in Honolulu, Hawaii during 1987,” stated a Nov. 16, 1989 FBI memo. “INOUYE made a statement at his table that ‘AMERICAN PRESIDENT’S [sic] LINE (APL) will come in over my dead body.’ This statement was made during a discussion of APL’s bid to enter the Hawaii-California shipping business in competition with MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY.”
Inouye’s close relationship to Matson (and its parent company Alexander & Baldwin) was both long and well-documented (a Matson spokesperson did not comment on the FBI files by press time). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, from 1989 (the earliest year for which the center has records) to his death in 2012, Inouye accepted $84,700 in campaign contributions from A&B. Of that total, $46,500 came from individuals at the company and $38,200 came from political action committees.
But the relationship seemed to transcend money. In 1969, Inouye’s wife Margaret christened Matson’s container ship SS Hawaiian Enterprise, which was later renamed the Manukai, according to an Oct. 6 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article. Thirty-four years later, she christened another Matson ship, which the company also named Manukai.
Walter A. Dods, Matson’s Chairman of the Board, was especially close to Inouye, and remembered him fondly in a Pacific Business News article published shortly after the senator’s December 2012 death.
“We have been personal friends for more than 40 years and I was honored to serve as his campaign manager for three decades,” Dods said in the PBN story. It wasn’t hard to persuade people to vote for Dan. He was a man of intellect, character and strong beliefs. Both as a heroic young soldier in World War II, and in his 53 years of service in Washington, he brought energy and idealism that never wavered. Hawaii has never seen his like and never will again. Perhaps only now that he is gone will it become clear how much his presence in our nation’s capital meant to Hawaii.”
In the end, the FBI files show the agents were never able to determine who had called with the bribery allegation. The files also show that though the agents contacted the two individuals the caller had recommended (FBI headquarters had forbid the agents from mentioning either Inouye’s or Matson’s names during the interviews) on January 17, 1990, neither claimed to know anything about bribes–though both on their own brought up Inouye’s close ties to Matson. With the U.S. Attorney’s office refusing to prosecute any case, the files show that just weeks later the FBI closed the matter entirely.
As for APL, Inouye turned out to be right after all–in August 1990 the Maritime Administration rejected that company’s bid to enter the Hawaii shipping market.
A version of this story first appeared on MauiTime’s Mauifeed.com blog on Sept. 16.