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Homer Thornberry

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Homer Thornberry was born in Austin, Texas, on 9th January, 1909. His parents were teachers in the State School for the Deaf. Thornberry himself attended Austin High School. After graduating from the University of Texas in 1932 he attended law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1936 and began working as a lawyer in Austin. Later that year he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

Thornberry became district attorney of the fifty-third judicial district of Texas in 1941. The following year he resigned to serve in the United States Navy. He served during the Second World War and by the time he left the service in February, 1946, he had reached the rank of lieutenant commander.

Thornberry was a member of Suite 8F Group. Members of the group included George Brown and Herman Brown (Brown & Root), Jesse H. Jones (multi-millionaire investor in a large number of organizations and chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation), Gus Wortham (American General Insurance Company), James Abercrombie (Cameron Iron Works), Hugh R. Cullen (Quintana Petroleum), William Hobby (Governor of Texas and owner of the Houston Post), William Vinson (Great Southern Life Insurance), James Elkins (American General Insurance and Pure Oil Pipe Line), Morgan J. Davis (Humble Oil), Albert Thomas (chairman of the House Appropriations Committee), Lyndon B. Johnson and John Connally. Homer Thornberry, Alvin Wirtz, Thomas Corcoran and Edward Clark, were four lawyers who also worked closely with the Suite 8F Group.

A member of the Democratic Party Thornberry was elected to Congress and served from January 3, 1949 until his resignation fourteen years later. According to Dick Russell (The Man Who Knew Too Much), Lyndon Johnson described Thornberry as "my congressman". Thornberry is quoted in the book as saying: "It's just unbelievable how many things he (Johnson) and Mrs. Johnson did to help us when we went to Washington".

On 5th June, 1963, Thornberry attended a meeting with John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, Fred Korth and Clifton Carter at the Cortez Hotel in El Paso, to discuss the president's forthcoming trip to Dallas. Thornberry was in the presidential motorcade with Johnson when Kennedy was assassinated.

A few days after the assassination Johnson phoned Homer Thornberry and invited him to "come down and have a drink with me". The two men had two meetings in December, 1963. In a taped White House conversation on 17th December, 1963, Lyndon Johnson admitted that he went to parties held at the house of Bobby Baker with Homer Thornberry and Walter Jenkins. On 20th December, Thornberry resigned his congressional seat. The following day Johnson appointed Thornberry as U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Texas. This enabled him to replace R. E. Thompson as the judge in the case of Richard Case Nagell.

Nagell admitted that he was working for the Central Intelligence Agency as a double agent. This involved becoming an activist in the American Communist Party. Nagell also claimed he was involved in monitoring a group of Cuban exiles plotting against Fidel Castro. In 1963 Nagell discovered that this group was planning to assassinating John F. Kennedy while making it appear that it had been ordered by Castro. When he told the KGB they ordered him to warn Lee Harvey Oswald about what was happening. Nagell also claimed he told the FBI and CIA about the plot. In September, 1963, Nagell walked into a bank in El Paso, Texas, and fired two shots into the ceiling and then waited to be arrested. Nagell claimed he did this to isolate himself from the assassination plot.

Three days after being appointed as District Court Judge, Thornberry presided over Nagell's first hearing. When Nagel mentioned the name of Oswald, Thornberry cut him off by saying that he ruled that he was "competent to stand trial" and announced that the "court is now adjourned".

At the next hearing on 10th April, 1964, Nagel asked if "all FBI reports and data which is pertinent to the charge against me for attempted bank robbery be subpoenaed for my trial". Thornberry immediately denied the request and the trial began on 4th May. Found guilty, Nagel was sentenced to ten years in prison.

In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Abe Fortas as a member of the Supreme Court. In June 1968, Earl Warren retired as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Johnson had no hesitation in appointing Fortas as his replacement. Johnson also suggested Thornberry should replace Fortas. The Senate had doubts about the wisdom of Fortas becoming Chief Justice. It was later discovered that Fortas had lied when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In October, Fortas asked for his nomination to be withdrawn. Johnson was also forced to withdraw the name of Thornberry.

Thornberry remained as Judge of US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit (1965-78). Thornberry died on 12th December, 1995.

Homer Thornberry, Samuel Rayburn, George Brown and Frank Oltorf


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I have just been reading Alfred Steinberg's Sam Johnson's Boy. He points out that Thornberry became friends with Lyndon Johnson when they were young boys in 1921 (page 27).

Steinberg also points out that Thornberry helped Johnson in the disputed 1948 Senate election. Thornberry actually got Johnson's seat in the House of Representatives.

When John F. Kennedy offered Lyndon Johnson the post of Vice President, one of the first people he contacted was Homer Thornberry. He replied: "I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. Tell Jack (Kennedy) anything you want, but don't take it." However, soon afterwards he phoned Johnson back to say he changed his mind and that he should accept the post (page 529).

Thornberry was also with Johnson when Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson turned to Thornberry and said, "This is a time for prayer if there ever was one, Homer" (page 606). I suppose he meant that they needed to pray that they would never get caught.

Interestingly, despite their close friendship, Thornberry is only mentioned once in Robert Caro's three volume biography of LBJ. The one reference is to Thornberry replacing Johnson in the House of Representatives in 1948. Nothing is said about the two men knowing each other.

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Interestingly, despite their close friendship, Thornberry is only mentioned once in Robert Caro's three volume biography of LBJ. The one reference is to Thornberry replacing Johnson in the House of Representatives in 1948. Nothing is said about the two men knowing each other. (John Simkin)

That is strange. The Johnsons and the Thornberrys even took holidays together including a 1960 vacation to Mexico.

This image below shows a grinning LBJ stepping from a White House elevator after just arriving back from Dallas. That is Thornberry behind him with Cliff Carter in the background.



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