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Erasing Critical White House Tapes at the JFK Library in the early 1970's


Guest Robert Morrow
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Guest Robert Morrow

My subject title is a tad misleading. The JFK Library opened in 1979. The time period for this would have been around 1971 to 1973, pre-Watergate. My guess would be the year 1973.

Richard Burke, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy for 10 years (1971-1981) wrote a fabulous tell-all book called "The Senator." It addition to details on Senator Ted's drug use and epic womanizing, Burke delivers this nugget: the Kennedys were erasing critical White House tapes before they could be sent to the not-yet-opened JFK Library.

Note to Jim DiEugenio - have you ever wondered where all those tapes of John Kennedy and Judyth Exner went? Dave Powers would be a good person to ask. There are, however, plenty of phone records between the White House and Judyth Exner that survived just not the juicy and historically significant phone calls between the two.

[Richard Burke,"The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy," pp. 36-37]:

And then there was another longtime Kennedy friend whom I periodically drove to the airport. He told me that the senator's brother-in-law, Steve Smith, had asked the friend to help prepare materials for the John F. Kennedy library, which was scheduled to open in about five years. Smith, working out of a New York office, managed the business concerns of the entire Kennedy clan.

That friend loved to reminisce about the glorious days of Camelot, and his occassional work for the library, along with other Kennedy friends, gave him many opportunities to share bits of gossip. One day I was totally taken aback when he confided to me what he was doing.

"We're erasing the tapes," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

And that was how I learned well before the rest of the country about the taping system in the Oval Office. It had been installed long ago, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and upgraded by President Kennedy; everything that went on in the Oval Office was preserved on tape for the presidential archives. "There is highly sensitive security stuff that we have to erase," the friend confided. "You can never really tell anyone about this, but I'm going through the tapes and erasing anything that shouldn't be heard. There are conversations with some people that we don't want to be on the tapes."

[Richard Burke,"The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy," pp. 36-37]

Link to book: http://www.amazon.co...rds=the senator

Book description:

"In 1971 Richard Burke, a freshman at Georgetown University, volunteered his services to the offices of his political idol, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Through ability, hard work, and dedication, Burke rose in the next four years to become one of the Senator's closest staff members. In 1977 he was made Kennedy's personal assistant; after his appointment in 1978 as administrative assistant - the youngest in the Senate - he came to know Edward M. Kennedy perhaps more intimately than anyone outside the closed circle of the Senator's family. He was often the last to see the Senator at night and the first to see him in the morning. This book is the account of what Richard Burke witnessed and experienced during his decade at the Senator's right hand. It is neither a full biography nor an examination of Kennedy's long career in government. Rather, it is the history of a young man who shared the Senator's professional and personal lives during a time marked by exhilarating public achievements and tragic secret misconduct. His story is not only the chronicle of a shattered idol, but of Richard Burke's own fall from grace, and eventual recovery. Burke does not shrink from confronting his own faults, and he agrees with the Senator: It is time for him to confront his."

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Edited by Robert Morrow
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Burke was full of baloney, Robert. The taping system was changed over the years. It was never set to record EVERY phone call until Nixon had it set that way. The reason no tapes of JFK's phone calls with Exner exist is that they never were recorded. And if they were never recorded there was no need to erase them.

And why erase them anyhow? Why not just burn them? It's not as if there was a master list of every phone call made by JFK, that could be compared to tapes of every phone call he made as President. He only recorded a handful of conversations. And none of those known to have been recorded were with girlfriends.

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