Did Lyndon Step Down So Bobby Could Be Killed?


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“That evening, Johnson repeatedly phoned the Secret Service to ask if [Robert] Kennedy had died. He paced the floor for hours, phone in hand, muttering: ‘I've got to know. Is he dead? Is he dead yet?’ '' (David M. Oshinsky, New York Times, Oct. 26, 1997)


President Lyndon Johnson’s behavior in this instance is very reminiscent of his call to Parkland Hospital in Dallas after Lee Harvey Oswald was shot.  Quite suspiciously, once you give it just a little bit of thought, the man made president by his predecessor’s violent death wanted very badly for one lone gunman to take the blame for the murder.  LBJ’s choice of words as he inquired repeatedly about Robert Kennedy’s condition suggests very strongly that there was something else that he wanted very badly.  That was the death of the younger Kennedy brother.


Such a suggestion as this latter one would have been almost unthinkable before the recent arrival upon the scene of five books that place the blame for the JFK assassination squarely upon the shoulders of our 36th president.  They are LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination by Phillip F. Nelson, The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case against LBJ by Roger Stone, Blood, Money, & Power: How LBJ Killed JFK by Barr McClellan, LBJ and the Conspiracy to Kill Kennedy: A Coalescence of Interests by Joseph P. Farrell, and LBJ and the Kennedy Killing by James T. Tague.


The Lyndon Baines Johnson of those books was an extraordinarily crude, but also extraordinarily shrewd megalomaniac who would stop at absolutely nothing to advance himself politically.  He had his own favored hit man in the person of Malcolm “Mac” Wallace, and working through Wallace and others Johnson had ordered a number of murders in Texas that had become necessary to cover up his wide-ranging corrupt activities. 


Once he had attained his lifelong goal, no one ever reveled in—indeed wallowed in—the power of the office more than did Johnson.  He was also an extraordinarily stubborn man, as best evidenced by his Vietnam War policy.  That’s why it came as such a shock to almost everyone when he announced at the end of a speech on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek reelection that fall.  That is also why, right up to the present day, there are almost as many explanations for it as there are people offering them.  This comes from Wikipedia:


Historians have debated the factors that led to Johnson's surprise decision.  [Jeff] Shesol says Johnson wanted out of the White House but also wanted vindication; when the indicators turned negative he decided to leave.  [Lewis] Gould says that Johnson had neglected the party, was hurting it by his Vietnam policies, and underestimated McCarthy strength until the very last minute, when it was too late for Johnson to recover.  [Randall Bennett] Woods said Johnson realized he needed to leave in order for the nation to heal.  [Robert] Dallek says that Johnson had no further domestic goals, and realized that his personality had eroded his popularity. His health was not good, and he was preoccupied with the Kennedy campaign; his wife was pressing for his retirement and his base of support continued to shrink. Leaving the race would allow him to pose as a peacemaker.   [Anthony J.] Bennett, however, says Johnson, "had been forced out of a reelection race in 1968 by outrage over his policy in Southeast Asia.”


James R. Jones, Johnson’s chief of staff in 1968, spoke for most of us when he wrote some 20 years later in The New York Times, “Most Americans couldn't believe that this larger-than-life figure could voluntarily relinquish the reins of power. Scholars and politicians still argue over what really motivated his decision to step down.”  Jones then proceeds to offer a whopper of an explanation that is Johnson-like in its proportions.  This most selfish, self-centered user and abuser of people, concludes Jones, stepped down so he could work to end the war that he inherited and never quite believed in, free of politics.


We see how well that worked out, as the war continued through another presidential term and then some, but that is the explanation that the historian Dallek also settles upon, citing Jones, as the one best fitting the facts.


When this is the best that they can do, you just know there has to be another explanation.  Jones, near the end of his article, inadvertently points us toward that explanation when, as an eyewitness, he recounts the reaction of Vice President Hubert Humphrey when he is told by Johnson that he is determined not to seek reelection and that Humphrey is now the man to step up.


“Mr. Humphrey's facial expression was pathetic at that moment. Shoulders hunched, he said softly, 'There's no way I can beat the Kennedys.' “


There you have it.  Just two weeks before, in the wake of the surprisingly strong showing of insurgent antiwar candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, Senator Robert Kennedy had announced his own candidacy for president.  The Kennedy juggernaut was out of port and ready for battle.  If Humphrey thought that he had little chance against it, one may readily conclude that Johnson’s chances wouldn’t have been all that good, either.


Forestalling the Counter-coup


Now reflect for a minute on the implications of the primary thesis of those five books on the JFK assassination.  What it means is that there was a coup d’état whose purpose was as much to install Lyndon Johnson and the policies that he represented in the presidency as it was to remove John Kennedy and the policies he represented from the office.  A Robert Kennedy presidency would have constituted an undoing of that coup.  Worse yet, it would have seriously endangered the very powerful people who had carried it out. 


It could not be permitted.  Robert Kennedy had to be stopped, and the only way to do it with finality was the same way that his brother had been stopped.


But how would it have looked, no matter how hard the government and the press sold the notion that it was just the work of another lone, crazed gunman, for another Johnson rival for power to be removed by assassination?  It might have been out of the question at the time for anyone to state publicly any suspicions about LBJs guilt in the JFK murder, the reality was that it was in the back of almost everyone’s mind.  This latest outrage would have surely brought it to the front. Whether it was Johnson’s decision or he was made an offer that he could not refuse by his handlers, he had to disavow any further interest in retention of power so that the serious threat that RFK represented could be removed.  Put bluntly, for the November 22, 1963, coup to stick, keeping Bobby out—permanently—trumped keeping Lyndon in for another four years.


As it happens, there were some people in the RFK camp who could already see which way the wind was blowing.  The following quote is from Sons and Brothers: The Life and Times of Jack and Bobby Kennedy by Richard D. Mahoney:


...some around Bobby began to talk openly about the inevitable. French novelist Romain Gary, then living in Los Angeles, told Pierre Salinger, “Your candidate is going to get killed.” When Jimmy Breslin asked several reporters around a table whether they thought Bobby had the stuff to go all the way, John J. Lindsay replied, “Yes, of course, he has the stuff to go all the way, but he's not going to go all the way. The reason is that somebody is going to shoot him. I know it and you know it, just as sure as we're sitting here. He's out there waiting for him.”


The only thing wrong with Lindsay’s prediction, as it turned out, was that it was not a “he” but a “they,” the official story notwithstanding.


To anyone inclined to offer the objection that the RFK murder, unlike that of his brother, was, indeed, the work of one man, I would call his attention to my 2001 essay “JFK and RFK, a Tale of Two Assassinations.”  The case for conspiracy in Bobby’s June 5, 1968, murder is at least as strong as in that of his brother.  The main reason why people might think otherwise is that the facts of the case have received so much less publicity. 


My 2001 article on the two Kennedy assassinations concludes with this paragraph:


Like the relative silence about President Lyndon Johnson's personal and political corruption compared to what we hear about Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Clinton, the relative silence about Robert Kennedy's murder, I believe, is telling. Explaining either would carry us a long way toward understanding how, by whom, and toward what end we are currently ruled.


The relative silence with respect to LBJ has now been resoundingly broken by the recent spate of books on the subject (though certainly not as far as the mainstream press is concerned).  We may anticipate that Nelson’s forthcoming book LBJ: From Mastermind to “The Colossuswill carry us further down the road toward unraveling the mystery of what it all means.


David Martin

September 22, 2014




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