default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
|
||
Logout|My Dashboard

Goldwater refused to exploit a sex scandal involving a top LBJ assistant

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2007 10:00 pm

The incident involving Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and allegations that he may have solicited sex in a men's room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport bring to mind an amazing chapter in American history from the Southeast Asian War era.

In 1964, Walter Jenkins was Lyndon Johnson's top advisor and the de facto chief of staff. The two were fellow Texans with a close personal and professional relationship.

Jenkins had worked for Johnson since 1939. After Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate, Jenkins did his dirty work for him by, among other things, collecting cash campaign donations from well-heeled lobbyists.

People who wanted something from Johnson knew that going through Jenkins was the best way to get it.

But three weeks before the November presidential election, Jenkins was arrested in the basement of the YMCA a few blocks from the White House. Jenkins, charged with having gay sex in a shower stall, was fingerprinted and booked by Washington, D.C. police.

Jenkins, a devout Roman Catholic and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, was married and the father of six children. He tendered his resignation immediately.

To grasp the magnitude of this, imagine if Karl Rove were arrested under the same circumstances. The media frenzy would push Michael Vick to Page 10 of the second section.

Johnson, despite his healthy lead in the polls against Republican challenger Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, was paranoid about his re-election.

When word of Jenkins' arrest reached him, Johnson promptly hired Abe Fortas, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, to represent his aide. Fortas urged Jenkins to hospitalize himself so that the White House could claim that his behavior was the cause of a "nervous breakdown."

Johnson used his sway with the Washington Post and other leading news services to keep the Jenkins story out of the press. The president argued that it would be cruel to reveal the sordid details of Jenkins' personal life while he was hospitalized.

In those days, the press was inclined to accommodate special requests for privacy. But eventually the story broke on the UPI wire. And, as reporters dug for more, they discovered that in 1959 while Johnson was Senate majority leader and a presidential candidate, Jenkins was arrested in the very same YMCA men's room for soliciting sex from an undercover policeman.

Goldwater, despite trailing Johnson substantially in the final days of the 1964 campaign, refused to make Jenkins' arrest an issue. The libertarian Goldwater, who later became a gay rights activist, knew Jenkins from their days together in the Senate. And Goldwater was Jenkins' commanding officer in the Air Force Reserve.

Johnson administration insiders speculated that if Jenkins' had not resigned, the course of the Southeast Asian War might have taken a different turn.

George Reedy, Johnson's press secretary, told an interviewer in reference to Jenkins' influence: "All of history might have been different if it hadn't been for that episode."

And former attorney general Ramsey Clark said that Jenkins's resignation: "deprived the president of the single most effective and trusted aide that he had. The results would be enormous when the president came into his hard times. Walter's counsel on Vietnam might have been extremely helpful."

We'll never know what may have happened in Vietnam had Jenkins stayed on.

But listening to the Johnson tapes on two books by historian Michael Beschloss, "Reaching for Glory," and "Taking Charge," the president was clearly impervious to calls for early troop withdrawal from Vietnam.

So it seems unlikely that Jenkins would have had enough influence to change Johnson's mind.

During Jenkins' ordeal, Goldwater was the one person who showed true character.

Years later, in his autobiography "The Conscience of a Conservative," Goldwater explained his decision to ignore the Jenkins arrest even though it may have boosted his chances to unseat Johnson.

He wrote: "It was a sad time for Jenkins' wife and children, and I was not about to add to their private sorrow. Winning isn't everything. Some things, like loyalty to friends or lasting principle, are more important."

Joe Guzzardi is an instructor at the Lincoln Technical Academy. He is on the Advisory Board of People Assisting the Lodi Shelter. Reach him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

New Classifieds Ads

Twitter