Victor Lasky was born in Liberty in 1918. Raised in New York City he graduated from Brooklyn College in 1940. He joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and wrote for Stars & Stripes during the Second World War.
After the war Lasky joined The New York World-Telegram and assisted Frederick Woltman in writing a series of articles on communist infiltration of American institutions. Lasky also reported on the Alger Hiss case. He co-wrote Seeds of Treason: The Strange Case of Alger Hiss (1950) with Ralph De Toledano.
Lasky was a public relations executive for Radio Liberty (1956-1960), one of the CIA's largest propaganda operations. He was also co-founder and first vice president of The Council Against Communist Aggression and the writer of the 1952 MGM documentary, The Hoaxters. Lasky was an important figure in the CIA's Operation Mockingbird.
Lasky wrote a syndicated column for the North American Newspaper Alliance (1962-1980) and lectured for Accuracy in Media. Lasky also wrote several books including JFK, the Man and the Myth (1963), Robert F. Kennedy: The Myth & the Man (1971), It Didn't Start With Watergate (1977), Jimmy Carter the Man and the Myth (1979) and Never Complain Never Explain: The Story of Henry Ford II (1983).
Victor Lasky died of cancer on 22nd February, 1990, at Georgetown University Hospital.
Kennedy's denial of wiretapping in the Hoffa case was not bought by all newsmen. Walter Trohan, the veteran Chicago Tribune correspondent who had close ties to both Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, stated flatly that Kennedy "set up an extensive wiretap group under his own command in the Department of Justice. The group was headed by three men. One of these was given a job in the Justice Department, a second was placed on the White House payroll of his brother, the late John F. Kennedy, and the third was put on the payroll of the Immigration and Naturalization Service."
In addition to wiretaping, a great deal of "bugging"that is, eavesdropping with microphone-type listening devices-also occurred during the Kennedy years. Some of it came to light after Robert Kennedy had won election as senator. The revelations were to prove intensely embarrassing to Kennedy who, in seeking eventually to become his party's presidential standard bearer, was busily cultivating the liberal community which, for the most part, had a decided distaste for electronic surveillance.
Probably the most sensational case involved Fred B. Black, Jr., a former next-door neighbor of Lyndon Johnson and business associate of LBJ's former "right-hand man" in the Senate, Bobby Baker. Black had been convicted in a tax evasion case. Things looked pretty black for Black, he told me, until one day the maid who was cleaning a hospitality suite he kept at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel told him that several "repairmen" had come in and installed something near a lamp. Sure enough, it was a "bug." Black called his attorney.
This forced the Justice Department to move. On May 24, 1966, Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall filed a memorandum with the Supreme Court which disclosed that early in 1963, at about the time a Missouri grand jury was listening to evidence against Black, the FBI had "bugged" his hotel suite. Accounts of Black's conversations with his lawyers, among other things, were passed on to Justice officials. Other references in the taped conversations had to do with Lyndon Johnson. These too were passed on to Justice and presumably to Bobby himself; at least Johnson thought so. Eventually the Supreme Court vacated Black's conviction and ordered a new trial.
Kennedy's office issued a statement asserting that the senator had no knowledge of the "bugging" of Black's suite. In effect he placed the onus on the FBI.
So sensitive was he about discussions of his finances that he sought to head off publication by Life of an article on the subject. Despite a personal appeal by the President, the editors went ahead with the piece, entitled "How LBJ's Family Amassed Its Fortune."
Written by investigative reporters Keith Wheeler and William Lambert, the article made clear their gut feeling that the public record did not necessarily reveal the entire story. Thus, in analyzing the family's numerous real estate deals, Wheeler and Lambert had this to say: "Following the trail of some of these transactions resembles the action in a Western movie, where the cowboys ride off in a cloud of dust to the south, the herd stampedes northeastward, the Indians start to westward but, once out of sight, circle toward the north, the rustlers drift eastward and the cavalry, coming to the rescue, gets lost entirely-all over stony ground leaving little trace."
Needless to say, the article was written without the cooperation of the White House; nevertheless its authors placed the Johnson assets at about $14 million. Several days later the White House released an audit which put the figure at $3.5 million. Again there was deception. For the lower figure was based on the purchase price of the family's holdings and not the contemporary market value.
Except for Life, the Wall Street Journal, and a few other publications, the media generally remained mum about the unseemly growth of Johnson's wealth while in office. There was no spree of digging or moralizing, with scores of bloodhound reporters on the case, as there was to be when Nixon's finances-trifling as compared with his predecessor's-became an issue.
The role of Bobby Baker in the building of the Johnson fortune was never fully cleared up. The main reason, of course, was the refusal of Senate Democrats to permit any probing of that curious relationship. Even President Kennedy had often wondered out loud about how LBJ made his money. But Kennedy, as he told Bradlee on October 22, 1963, was fairly certain Johnson had not been "on the take since he was elected." Before that, Kennedy told his friend, "I'm not so sure." At the same time, on that day, Kennedy indirectly acknowledged that LBJ, while serving one heartbeat away from the presidency, had been improperly tooling around the country in Grumman corporate jets. Exactly one month later John Kennedy's heart stopped beating, and the nation had a new President.
Also misused on White House orders was the IRS. Full field investigations of Reynolds's friends and business associates were launched by chief counsel Sheldon Cohen, formerly a young law associate of Fortas. Don Reynolds himself, warned that his life might be in danger, later fled the country.
Meanwhile LBJ sought to divorce himself completely from Baker. He let the word get out that he was abandoning him. And, as was reported by Evans and Novak, "This irritation with his former protégé was heightened by the President's deep concern over whether Attorney General Kennedy would use the Baker case against him in some way."
LBJ had good reason to be concerned. He well knew that Bobby was no friend of his and, in fact, resented that he had succeeded to the office won at the polls by his beloved brother. To the Kennedyites LBJ was a "usurper." Moreover Johnson did not know how much Bobby knew about him and what he intended to do with that information. As an Attorney General not beholden to him, Kennedy might proceed on certain investigations that could prove damaging to the new President.
Also giving LBJ nightmares was the fear that Baker, who knew so much, might spill the beans. And Baker was indeed indicating that he might do just that unless he were bailed out of his difficulties. The word went out to Democratic leaders that LBJ wanted a lid placed on the Senate probe of Baker's affairs then under way.
Of course there was still Senator Williams who, despite all sorts of threats and obstacles being hurled in his path, refused to lay off. But the threats had their effect on potential witnesses who had promised to tell all they knew about Baker. One important businessman, who previously had said he would provide evidence, told the senator, "I don't know what you're talking about, Senator. I never talked to you before in my life. I'm sorry, but I'm sure you understand."
The senator himself began to feel the heat of an angered LBJ. What he did not know was that the very night LBJ assumed the presidency, he had spoken to Abe Fortas about Williams. On that occasion the new President vowed to punish Williams. There was talk about turning the IRS loose on the Delaware maverick, perhaps getting enough on him to send the "bastard" to jail on an income tax rap. And if that wasn't feasible, the Democrats would flood the state with money to try to defeat the "sonofabitch" when he came up for reelection the next year. All of which was done.
Also in the works was a campaign of character assassination. Williams was called a "crackpot" by Democratic members of the Rules Committee. Others said he just hated Democratic presidents, recalling his earlier relentless attacks on the Truman administration. Drew Pearson wanted to know why Williams had not been outraged by Eisenhower's acceptance of expensive gifts while serving in office. The Washington Post helped the LBJ cause by publishing a false, unchecked story alleging that the senator had been using hidden microphones in his office to record interviews.