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Carl Curtis

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I thought it is worth starting a thread on Carl Curtis. He was one of the most important members of the Senate who was investigating the corrupt activities of LBJ.

Carl Curtis was born in Kearney County, Nebraska, on 15th March, 1905. After graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan University he became a teacher in Minden. He continued to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1930. Curtis was county attorney of Kearney County (1931-1934).

A member of the Republican Party Curtis was strongly opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. He was elected to Congress in 1938 and served from January 3, 1939, until his resignation December 31,1954. Curtis was elected as Governor of Nebraska in 1955.

Curtis returned to the Senate in 1960 and over the next few years developed a reputation as a fiscal and social conservative. He was also a member of the Committee on Rules and Administration.

In 1962 John Williams began to investigate the activities of Bobby Baker. Curtis later commented: "Williams was a man beyond reproach, sincere and intelligent and dedicated. During his service in the Senate he was rightly referred to as the conscience of the Senate. He was an expert investigator, tenacious and courageous. Senator Williams became the prime mover in bringing about the investigation of Baker."

On 3rd October, 1963, John Williams went to Mike Mansfield, the majority leader, and to Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, and arranged for them to call Bobby Baker before the leadership at a closed meeting on 8th October. Baker never appeared before the Senate's leadership: the day before his scheduled appearance he resigned his post.

John Williams now introduced a resolution calling upon the Committee on Rules and Administration to conduct an investigation of the financial and business interests and possible improprieties of any Senate employee or former employee. On 10th October 10, the Senate adopted this resolution. The committee was made up of three Republican members, Carl Curtis, John Sherman Cooper and Hugh Scott and six Democrats, B. Everett Jordan, Carl Hayden, Claiborne Pell, Joseph S. Clark, Howard W. Cannon and Robert C. Byrd.

Williams then provided information about Bobby Baker's involvement with the Serv-U Corporation, the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation and the Haitian-American Meat Provision Company. He also raised the issue of Ellen Rometsch and Nancy Carole Tyler being involved in sex parties that were held at Baker's house for members of Congress. Williams also suggested that the committee should look into the transactions between Baker and Don B. Reynolds and the selling of insurance to Lyndon B. Johnson.

Throughout these hearings, the Republican members of the repeatedly tried to have Walter Jenkins called as a witness. As Carl Curtis pointed out: "Jenkins had been employed by Johnson for years. It was well established that he had handled many of Johnson's business concerns. The information given to the Committee by Reynolds clearly conflicted with the memorandum to which Jenkins had subscribed... Why did these six prominent Democratic senators, several of them leaders of their party, vote against hearing and cross-examining Jenkins?"

On 22nd November, 1963, a friend of Baker's, Don B. Reynolds told B. Everett Jordan and his Senate Rules Committee that Lyndon B. Johnson had demanded that he provided kickbacks in return for this business. This included a $585 Magnavox stereo. Reynolds also had to pay for $1,200 worth of advertising on KTBC, Johnson's television station in Austin. Reynolds had paperwork for this transaction including a delivery note that indicated the stereo had been sent to the home of Johnson.

Don B. Reynolds also told of seeing a suitcase full of money which Baker described as a "$100,000 payoff to Johnson for his role in securing the Fort Worth TFX contract". His testimony came to an end when news arrived that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

As soon as Lyndon B. Johnson became president he contacted B. Everett Jordan to see if there was any chance of stopping this information being published. Jordan replied that he would do what he could but warned Johnson that some members of the committee wanted Reynold's testimony to be released to the public. On 6th December, 1963, Jordan spoke to Johnson on the telephone and said he was doing what he could to suppress the story because " it might spread (to) a place where we don't want it spread."

Abe Fortas, a lawyer who represented both Lyndon B. Johnson and Bobby Baker, worked behind the scenes in an effort to keep this information from the public. Johnson made threats against Carl Curtis, John Williams and Hugh Scott, who were all calling for Johnson to be fully investigated for corruption. In a telephone conversation with George Smathers on 10th January, 1964, Johnson told him that there was a tape that showed that Williams and Scott were involved in some sort of corrupt activity. Johnson also asks Smathers to arrange for Richard Russell and Everett Dirksen to deal with Curtis.

Johnson also arranged for a smear campaign to be organized against Don B. Reynolds. To help him do this J. Edgar Hoover passed to Johnson the FBI file on Reynolds. Johnson then leaked this information to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. On 5th February, 1964, the Washington Post reported that Reynolds had lied about his academic success at West Point. The article also claimed that Reynolds had been a supporter of Joseph McCarthy and had accused business rivals of being secret members of the American Communist Party. It was also revealed that Reynolds had made anti-Semitic remarks while in Berlin in 1953.

A few weeks later the New York Times reported that Lyndon B. Johnson had used information from secret government documents to smear Don B. Reynolds. It also reported that Johnson's officials had been applying pressure on the editors of newspapers not to print information that had been disclosed by Reynolds in front of the Committee on Rules and Administration.

Reynolds also testified before the Rules Committee on 9th January, 1964. This time Reynolds provided little damaging evidence against Johnson. As Reynolds told John Williams after the assassination: "My God! There's a difference between testifying against a President of the United States and a Vice President. If I had known he was President, I might not have gone through with it." Maybe there were other reasons for this change of approach.

Reynolds also appeared before the Committee on Rules and Administration on 1st December, 1964. Before the hearing Reynolds supplied a statement implicating Bobby Baker and Matthew H. McCloskey (Treasurer of the National Democratic Party at the time) in financial corruption. However, the Democrats had a 6-3 majority on the Committee and Reynolds was not allowed to fully express the role that Johnson had played in this deal.

Curtis retired from the Senate in 1978 and published his autobiography, Forty Years Against the Tide. He died on 24th January, 2000.


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I stumbled across an interview with Carl Curtis one day while reading the Johnson Library's interview with Jesse Curry. Apparently it was accidentally attached at the back of the same PDF. Anyhow, here is part of his discussion of the Baker investigation. I find it quite interesting that Curtis himself brings it up.

3-10-78 oral history interview by with Carl Curtis for the Johnson Library. Interviewer: Michael Gillette

C: You haven't asked this, but I was the main spoke in the investigation of Bobby Baker, and of course that was an investigation of Lyndon Johnson. You may want to read the record of that sometime.

G : Well, let me ask you in particular. Did you see a lot of Lyndon Johnson in this, behind Bobby Baker?

C : No . Everything would appear as though Lyndon didn't know the investigation was going on. He had the ability to direct things and not be anywhere near the scene. No, he didn't get caught interfering with that investigation at all .

G : I mean in terms of what you found. Could you see Lyndon Johnson's footprints as well as Bobby Baker's?

C : Oh, very much. There was an insurance agent that became a pal of Bobby Baker's . They were in business together, and they went partying together, and they took the girls out together . But when this thing blew up, he finally told his wife that he was involved and she said, "I'll stick with you if you tell the truth ." So I always felt that this man told the truth under oath . He told about selling an insurance policy to Lyndon Johnson. It was after his heart attack. I think it was a policy that ultimately reached a hundred thousand dollars . In the course of selling that, an emissary came to the insurance agent and said, "The Senator can buy that back in Texas from an agent who takes advertising over his television station, and we think you should meet the same requirements ." The man was anxious to sell a policy to the Vice President and so he complied. He actually bought the time on the Lyndon Johnson television station. I've seen the checks in payment for it. He couldn't use the time, so he sold it to a man that sold pots and pans by direct television advertising and I've heard his testimony. He also

testified that he was to deliver a stereo or some such machine to the Johnson home. I heard his testimony. I heard the testimony of the individual who delivered it and installed it, had to go back because the installation didn't fit just right. All of these stories would lead up to the name of Walter Jenkins. We could never get Walter Jenkins' testimony, contrary to the way that things went in the Watergate investigation. There was such control by the Democrats on the Rules Committee that we never did get the testimony of Walter Jenkins . These trails, whether it was insurance contracts or something else, would lead right up to Walter Jenkins. Finally I succeeded in getting a motion passed that Walter Jenkins should be called. On the day that he was to appear, two psychiatrists appeared and testified that if Walter Jenkins appeared, it would kill him. Not that it would ruin his health; it would kill him. I cross-examined them for the entire day, and they admitted that he had been vacationing in the islands . He was playing golf. He attended all the rounds the party had in connection with the inaugural. But they stood pat and totally stonewalled it right there. At the end of the testimony of the two psychiatrists, I moved that we call Walter Jenkins anyway. It was voted down on a party-line vote. I then moved that the record of that day be made public, and it was voted down . So it's forever been sealed. Yet there was nothing in appearance or anything that Lyndon or a direct emissary ever came near the committee. There was an interesting thing happened. My minority counsel on the committee was questioning this insurance agent behind closed doors when Jack Kennedy was shot. He got the word, but he never told the witness. The insurance agent went ahead and told the whole story, not realizing he was involving the President of the United States, he thought it was the Vice President. Senator John Williams of Delaware can supply a lot of things about that situation .

G : Do you think it was the assassination that changed the nature of this investigation, though, and really slowed it down, because people were reluctant to testify?

C : No. No. It was ironclad political control.

G : Let me ask you about the one hundred thousand dollars that Baker had. Did you have any information as to where he got that money?

C : In those days there were more political campaign contributions made in cash. The reporting requirements weren't very strict and it wasn't frowned upon. Some people were giving maybe to both sides and they didn't want it known so they used cash. The person who received a contribution, if he got it in cash and hadn't reported it in his report didn't want to talk about it. Consequently, and I'm weighing my words very carefully at this point, the go-between who carried the black bag between contributor and candidate, if he skimmed off a little at the top, neither party ever dared complain about it, and the chances are they'd never know it, because they never went and talked to each other. Bobby Baker was the errand boy for the Democrats quite a lot.

Edited by Pat Speer
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C: You haven't asked this, but I was the main spoke in the investigation of Bobby Baker, and of course that was an investigation of Lyndon Johnson. You may want to read the record of that sometime.

G : Well, let me ask you in particular. Did you see a lot of Lyndon Johnson in this, behind Bobby Baker?

C : No . Everything would appear as though Lyndon didn't know the investigation was going on. He had the ability to direct things and not be anywhere near the scene. No, he didn't get caught interfering with that investigation at all .

Telephone conversation between Lyndon B. Johnson and George Smathers. They are talking about attempts by Carl Curtis, John Williams and Hugh Scott to get the Senate Rules Committee to investigate the Bobby Baker and Ellen Rometsch scandal. (10th January, 1964)

Lyndon Johnson: Have you heard about this tape recording that's out?

George Smathers: No.

Lyndon Johnson: Well, it involves you and John Williams and a number of other people.

George Smathers: You mean, some woman?

Lyndon Johnson: Yep.

George Smathers: Yeah, I've heard about it. And it involves Hugh Scott.

Lyndon Johnson: But it's a pure made-up deal, isn't it?

George Smathers: I don't know what it is. I never heard of the woman in my life... But she mentions President Kennedy in there.

Lyndon Johnson: Oh yeah, and the Attorney General (Robert Kennedy) and me and you and everybody. And I never heard of her.

George Smathers: Thank God, they've got Hugh Scott in there. He's the guy that was asking for it. But she's also mentioned him, (laughs) which is sort of a lifesaver. So I don't think that'll get too far now. (Everett) Jordan's orders.

Lyndon Johnson: Can't you talk to him? Why in the living hell does he let Curtis run him? I thought you were going to talk to Dick Russell and go talk to Curtis and make Dirksen and them behave.

George Smathers: Jordan has assured me over and over again.

Lyndon Johnson: Well, he's not strong enough though, unless someone goes and tells him now.

George Smathers: That's right. Now Dick Russell is the man that ought to do it. And I've asked Dick to do it and Dick has told me that he would....

Lyndon Johnson: They had this damned fool insurance man, in and they had him in a secret session and Bobby (Baker) gave me a record player and Bobby got the record player from the insurance man (Don Reynolds). I didn't know a damned thing about it. Never heard of it till this happened. But I paid $88,000 worth of premiums and, by God, they could afford to give me a Cadillac if they'd wanted to and there'd have been not a goddamned thing wrong with it.... There's nothing wrong with it. There's not a damned thing wrong. So Walter Jenkins explained it all in his statement. This son of a bitch Curtis comes along and says, well, he wouldn't take any statements not sworn to. They had their counsel come down and Walter Jenkins handled it, told him exactly what was done.... A fellow said Manhattan is the only company that would write on a heart attack man.... Bobby said, "Hell now, wait, let my man handle it and he'll get a commission off of it." So we said all right... Now he said - Walter - "I'll swear to it." "No, I want a public hearing so I can put it on television." Now that oughtn't to be. Now George, I ought not to have to get into that personally.

George Smathers: Absolutely not.... And Dick Russell has got to exercise his influence. He must do this and I think you've got to talk to him about it and just say you've got to do it. I'll talk to Jordan. Jordan thinks I'm guilty of something. So he thinks I may be covering up trying to protect myself. Hubert has been really good in this and, believe it or not, Joe Clark' has finally gotten the picture and he's trying to stop it now. But Hugh Scott and Carl Curtis are going wild, and Jordan doesn't have enough experience or enough sense to gavel them down and shut them up. But if Dick will talk to him-really talk to him and say

Lyndon Johnson: I think he needs to talk to Curtis too. Why don't you tell Dick to do that?

George Smathers: I will. I've already talked to him.

Lyndon Johnson: I hate to call him.... Get Dick to go see Curtis in the morning and just say, "Now quit being so goddamn rambunctious about this, Carl."

George Smathers: Can I tell Dick this is not right and you know about it? And naturally it makes you apprehensive and you've got all these damn problems and to have this little nitpicking thing. It's just not fair.

Lyndon Johnson: It's not.

George Smathers: So I'll do it.

Lyndon Johnson: Tell him he's the only one can do it. And he can do it. And if he was involved I'd damned sure walk across the country and do it.

George Smathers: Exactly. All right, that's a damned good thought and I'll do it. I've already talked to him about it, but I

Lyndon Johnson: The FBI has got that record.' Now you know I think you ought to leak it. I don't know who you can leak it to. But I've read the goddamn tax report and I've read the FBI report and there ain't a goddamn thing in it that they can even indict him on. The only thing that they can do is that he puffed up the financial statement, which everybody's done. If he pays that off, they couldn't convict him on that....

George Smathers: They won't print that 'cause I tried to leak that the day before yesterday to ... two different sources and it hasn't been printed. They just want to print this ... ugly stuff.... That Curtis is mean as a snake. (Everett) Dirksen sat in the room the night of the day after you became President with me and Humphrey and agreed that this thing ought to stop and that he would get Curtis to stop it. ... You know, there's some statement about Dirksen and Kuchel with this German girl.' So he said, "It is just ridiculous and it ought to stop.". . . . I think we can handle everybody on our side. Howard Cannon is the smartest fellow over there, but he's a little afraid to do anything because he himself figures he was involved out in Las Vegas. So he's a little afraid to be as brave as he ought to be. ... I'll tell Dick this. I've already told him once, but

Lyndon Johnson: Tell him he ought to talk to Dirksen and Curtis both. Please do it, and also Jordan. He's just got his work cut out Monday 'cause they're going to meet Tuesday and they're going to want a public hearing.' And then that's a television hearing, and then a television hearing about my buying some insurance. And what in the goddamn hell is wrong with my buying insurance? I paid cash for it, wrote them a check for it, made my company the beneficiary, and they didn't deduct it. No tax deduction. We'll do it after we pay our taxes. We pay the premium-only reason being if I died, my wife would have to pay estate tax on me on account of she'd have to sell her stock and they want the company to have some money to buy her stock so she doesn't have to lose control of her company.

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