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Did JFK intend to dump LBJ?

John Simkin

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After the assassination of JFK Robert Kennedy claimed that there was no attempt to dump Johnson in 1963. He told John Bartlow Martin in 1964: “There was never any intention of dropping him. There was never even any discussion about dropping him.” (1) However, Penn Jones claims that Johnson was to be replaced with George Smathers. (2) I think this is highly unlikely as by 1963 JFK and Smathers were in dispute over Cuba. Smathers had been trying to pressurize JFK into ousting the Castro government. This pressure was relentless and JFK eventually lost his temper and told him that he must never mention this subject again. The two men had been close (both privately and politically). By 1963 JFK’s views had changed dramatically. The two men had in fact fallen out during the 1960 presidential campaign. JFK was furious with Smathers for supporting LBJ during the campaign for the nomination. Smathers even refused to help JFK get the Florida vote. At the time, JFK feared that this would stop him getting the nomination. If JFK had agreed that Smathers would be his running-mate in 1964, it was as a result of extreme pressure (or blackmail) from the Southern Caucus.

Evelyn Lincoln claims that JFK told her he intended to replace Johnson. This is reported in her book Kennedy and Johnson. (3) Lincoln says that JFK was thinking of appointing Terry Sanford. If this is not true, what motive would Lincoln have for lying? In fact, we now know she was telling the truth. Lincoln’s papers were donated to the Kennedy Library. These were released to JFK researchers in 1997. It was discovered that there are contemporaneous stenography notes corroborating her 1968 claim that LBJ was going to be dumped. (4)

The real question is why did Robert Kennedy lie about this issue? The answer is contained in the RFK interview with Martin. (5) RFK is clearly uneasy when Martin returns to the issue of dumping Johnson. Martin is under the impression that JFK was considering dumping LBJ because of the Bobby Baker case. RFK replies:

There were a lot of stories that my brother and I were interested in dumping Lyndon Johnson and that I’d started the Bobby Baker case in order to give us a handle to dump Lyndon Johnson. Well, number one, there was no plan to dump Lyndon Johnson. That didn’t make any sense. Number two, I hadn’t gotten really involved in the Bobby Baker case until after a good number of newspaper stories had appeared about it.

This is again a lie. RFK had been investigating the Baker case for sometime. How do we know? Well the main figure in the Senate trying to raise the links between LBJ and the Baker scandal was John Williams, the Republican senator for Delaware. Burkett Van Kirk, who was chief counsel for the Republican minority on the Senate Rules Committee, admitted in an interview he gave in 1997 that RFK had been leaking information about Baker to Williams. Van Kirk claims that the Kennedy brothers were doing this because they were trying to dump Johnson. (6)

Unfortunately this strategy backfired. Johnson found out what the Kennedy’s were up to. He knew how to get the Kennedys to change their mind on this issue. He therefore tipped off Hoover about the brothers involvement with Ellen Rometsch. When Hoover told the Kennedys that Rometsch was a Soviet spy they knew they were in serious trouble. Especially when they heard from Baker that he had “tapes and photographs” of these sexual activities. (7) They did not only involve Rometsch. They also included JFK having sex with Maria Novotny and Suzy Chang. (8) That was a problem because these two women, both initially from communist countries, had been named as part of the spy ring that had trapped John Profumo, the British War Minister, a few months earlier. RFK became convinced that if this story got out, JFK would be forced to resign.

Notes and References

1. Edwin Guthman & Jeffrry Shulman (ed.), Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words (1988) page 336.

2. W. Penn Jones Jr, Texas Midlothian Mirror (31st July, 1969)

3. Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy and Johnson (1968)

4. Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997) page 408

5. 1. Edwin Guthman & Jeffrry Shulman (ed.), Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words (1988) page 389.

6. Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997) page 406

7. Telephone conversation between Lyndon B. Johnson and George Smathers (10th January, 1964)

8. Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997) page 391

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