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Vanity Fair Magazine on Scott and Barr McClellan

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Vanity Fair blog on Scott and Barr McClellan


June 3, 2008

David Friend | Politics and Power

By David Friend: McClellan Does a Hit Job on—L.B.J.?!

This is a story about a Texan named McClellan.

This McClellan has the good fortune to toil in the inner circle of a Texan president. His colleagues confide in him, telling him dastardly tales of dark and possibly illegal deeds. And yet he soldiers on, choosing to play along with what turns out to be an epic charade, all the while talking the tall Texan talk—and taking home a fat and handsome paycheck. Then one day he finds himself free of his former employers. He is unencumbered, unabashedly so. He decides to burn his bridges and write a scathing tell-all book, one that will finally set the record straight, forever tarnishing a president’s legacy.

In this instance, I’m not referring to Scott McClellan, George W. Bush’s former press secretary, who has just published the Texas-sized take-down of his boss, What Happened. Instead, I’m describing his father, Texas attorney and author Barr McClellan, who for years worked in Lyndon Johnson’s old law firm.

As I’ve scanned the blogs and watched the endless pundit parade, I’ve noticed that a key puzzle piece has been missing from the Scott McClellan narrative. Why would this loyal lieutenant choose to “out” his old cronies and tell the unvarnished truth? Perhaps his most overriding and deep-seated motive is that he has admired how his own father—disgruntled by the behavior of the men connected with a power-hungry president—cashed in on his own connections to power and chose to spin yarns about a nefarious administration in his 2003 book, Blood, Money and Power: How LBJ Killed JFK.

Earlier this year, while writing a piece for the April issue of Vanity Fair on a Texan named Jack Worthington—a man who claimed to have reason to believe he might be the illegitimate son of President John F. Kennedy—I was taken with Worthington’s frequent references to the writings of Barr McClellan. Among McClellans’s many controversial theses:

LBJ’s lawyer Edward Clark enlisted hitman Mac Wallace as the second JFK gunman in Dallas (largely based on a single indistinct fingerprint smudge found in the Texas Book Depository).

Big Oil had been motivated to fund JFK’s assassination because Kennedy had threatened to undermine their profits through the oil-depletion allowance, a subsidy Johnson would retain during his five years in office.

LBJ may or may not have been involved in having his own sister, Josefa Johnson, murdered.

Clark purportedly received a deferred $2 million payoff for helping maneuver LBJ into the Oval Office, a payoff McClellan believes was somehow partly filtered through the King Ranch, the Texas hideaway down the road from where, a generation later, Big Oil ally Dick Cheney—top lieutenant to Nixon, Ford, and both Bushes—would shoot and wound his friend Harry Whittington, yet another Texas lawyer, in a 2006 duck-hunting accident.

In a subsequent History Channel documentary, “The Guilty Men,” in which Barr McClellan figures prominently, a woman named Madeleine Brown (allegedly a long-time LBJ mistress) asserts that in November 1963, the vice president told her the night before JFK’s assassination: “Those blankety-blank Kennedys will never embarrass me again. That’s no threat, that’s a promise.”

In the elder McClellan’s case, the conspiratorial assertions are based on murky evidence. They relate to high crimes and misdemeanors supposedly committed decades ago by men who are, and remain, quite dead. In the younger McClellan’s case, by contrast, the conspiratorial assertions have the ring of truth. And they describe the actions of men and women who still hold the reigns of power and who have not yet been held accountable for their deeds.

As with most stories, the moral of the latest McClellan tale may best be gleaned by focusing on the family angle: The bitter lemon doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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