Carl Curtis was born in Kearney County, Nebraska, on 15th March, 1905. After graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan University he became a teacher in Minden. He continued to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1930. Curtis was county attorney of Kearney County (1931-1934).
A member of the Republican Party Curtis was strongly opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. He was elected to Congress in 1938 and served from January 3, 1939, until his resignation December 31,1954. Curtis was elected as Governor of Nebraska in 1955.
Curtis returned to the Senate in 1960 and over the next few years developed a reputation as a fiscal and social conservative. He was also a member of the Committee on Rules and Administration.
In 1962 John Williams began to investigate the activities of Bobby Baker, a close associate of the Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Curtis later commented: "Williams was a man beyond reproach, sincere and intelligent and dedicated. During his service in the Senate he was rightly referred to as the conscience of the Senate. He was an expert investigator, tenacious and courageous. Senator Williams became the prime mover in bringing about the investigation of Baker."
On 3rd October, 1963, John Williams went to Senator Mike Mansfield, the majority leader, and to Senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, and arranged for them to call Bobby Baker before the leadership at a closed meeting on 8th October. Baker never appeared before the Senate's leadership: the day before his scheduled appearance he resigned his post.
John Williams now introduced a resolution calling upon the Committee on Rules and Administration to conduct an investigation of the financial and business interests and possible improprieties of any Senate employee or former employee. On 10th October 10, the Senate adopted this resolution. The committee was made up of three Republican members, Carl Curtis, John Sherman Cooper and Hugh Scott and six Democrats, B. Everett Jordan, Carl Hayden, Claiborne Pell, Joseph S. Clark, Howard W. Cannon and Robert C. Byrd.
Williams then provided information about Bobby Baker's involvement with the Serv-U Corporation, the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation and the Haitian-American Meat Provision Company. He also raised the issue of Ellen Rometsch and Nancy Carole Tyler being involved in sex parties that were held at Baker's house for members of Congress. Williams also suggested that the committee should look into the transactions between Baker and Don B. Reynolds and the selling of insurance to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Throughout these hearings, the Republican members of the repeatedly tried to have Walter Jenkins called as a witness. As Carl Curtis pointed out: "Jenkins had been employed by Johnson for years. It was well established that he had handled many of Johnson's business concerns. The information given to the Committee by Reynolds clearly conflicted with the memorandum to which Jenkins had subscribed... Why did these six prominent Democratic senators, several of them leaders of their party, vote against hearing and cross-examining Jenkins?"
On 22nd November, 1963, a friend of Baker's, Don B. Reynolds told B. Everett Jordan and his Senate Rules Committee that Lyndon B. Johnson had demanded that he provided kickbacks in return for this business. This included a $585 Magnavox stereo. Reynolds also had to pay for $1,200 worth of advertising on KTBC, Johnson's television station in Austin. Reynolds had paperwork for this transaction including a delivery note that indicated the stereo had been sent to the home of Johnson.
Don B. Reynolds also told of seeing a suitcase full of money which Baker described as a "$100,000 payoff to Johnson for his role in securing the Fort Worth TFX contract". His testimony came to an end when news arrived that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
As soon as Lyndon B. Johnson became president he contacted B. Everett Jordan to see if there was any chance of stopping this information being published. Jordan replied that he would do what he could but warned Johnson that some members of the committee wanted Reynold's testimony to be released to the public. On 6th December, 1963, Jordan spoke to Johnson on the telephone and said he was doing what he could to suppress the story because " it might spread (to) a place where we don't want it spread."
Abe Fortas, a lawyer who represented both Lyndon B. Johnson and Bobby Baker, worked behind the scenes in an effort to keep this information from the public. Johnson made threats against Carl Curtis, John Williams and Hugh Scott, who were all calling for Johnson to be fully investigated for corruption. In a telephone conversation with George Smathers on 10th January, 1964, Johnson told him that there was a tape that showed that Williams and Scott were involved in some sort of corrupt activity. Johnson also asks Smathers to arrange for Richard Russell and Everett Dirksen to deal with Curtis.
Lyndon B. Johnson also arranged for a smear campaign to be organized against Don B. Reynolds. To help him do this J. Edgar Hoover passed to Johnson the FBI file on Reynolds. Johnson then leaked this information to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. On 5th February, 1964, the Washington Post reported that Reynolds had lied about his academic success at West Point. The article also claimed that Reynolds had been a supporter of Joseph McCarthy and had accused business rivals of being secret members of the American Communist Party. It was also revealed that Reynolds had made anti-Semitic remarks while in Berlin in 1953.
A few weeks later the New York Times reported that Lyndon B. Johnson had used information from secret government documents to smear Don B. Reynolds. It also reported that Johnson's officials had been applying pressure on the editors of newspapers not to print information that had been disclosed by Reynolds in front of the Committee on Rules and Administration.
Don B. Reynolds also testified before the Rules Committee on 9th January, 1964. This time Reynolds provided little damaging evidence against Johnson. As Reynolds told John Williams after the assassination: "My God! There's a difference between testifying against a President of the United States and a Vice President. If I had known he was President, I might not have gone through with it." Maybe there were other reasons for this change of approach.
Reynolds also appeared before the Committee on Rules and Administration on 1st December, 1964. Before the hearing Reynolds supplied a statement implicating Bobby Baker and Matthew H. McCloskey (Treasurer of the National Democratic Party at the time) in financial corruption. However, the Democrats had a 6-3 majority on the Committee and Reynolds was not allowed to fully express the role that Johnson had played in this deal.
Curtis was a close ally of Barry Goldwater and supported his successful bid to become the Republican Party candidate in the 1964 presidential election. He voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act but opposed the Great Society social program.
Curtis retired from the Senate in 1978 and published his autobiography, Forty Years Against the Tide.
Carl Curtis died on 24th January, 2000.
During the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, probably the richest man in the Senate was the most corrupt of senators: Kerr of Oklahoma, whose devious enriching ways are candidly described by his lieutenant, Bobby Baker, in the latter scoundrel's memoirs. To perceive how deep in peculation was President Johnson himself, assisted by his agents Bobby Baker and Billy Sol Estes, one may turn to the recent memoirs of a Republican of integrity, Senator Carl Curtis, entitled Forty Years Against the Tide.
In late January (of 1964) when Republicans tried to get Walter Jenkins, Johnson's most intimate aide, to testify before a Senate subcommittee investigation, Johnson put in the fix. Two psychiatrists appeared to testify that an appearance would - literally - kill him. Carl Curtis moved to call Jenkins to the stand anyway. He lost 6-3 in a party line vote.... Curtis lost again when he moved to make the record of the session public. The investigation closed without a single Administration witness being called.
Lyndon Johnson: Have you heard about this tape recording that's out?
George Smathers: No.
Lyndon Johnson: Well, it involves you and John Williams and a number of other people.
George Smathers: You mean, some woman?
Lyndon Johnson: Yep.
George Smathers: Yeah, I've heard about it. And it involves Hugh Scott.
Lyndon Johnson: But it's a pure made-up deal, isn't it?
George Smathers: I don't know what it is. I never heard of the woman in my life... But she mentions President Kennedy in there.
Lyndon Johnson: Oh yeah, and the Attorney General (Robert Kennedy) and me and you and everybody. And I never heard of her.
George Smathers: Thank God, they've got Hugh Scott in there. He's the guy that was asking for it. But she's also mentioned him, (laughs) which is sort of a lifesaver. So I don't think that'll get too far now. (Everett) Jordan's orders.
Lyndon Johnson: Can't you talk to him? Why in the living hell does he let Curtis run him? I thought you were going to talk to Dick Russell and go talk to Curtis and make Dirksen and them behave.
George Smathers: Jordan has assured me over and over again.
Lyndon Johnson: Well, he's not strong enough though, unless someone goes and tells him now.
George Smathers: That's right. Now Dick Russell is the man that ought to do it. And I've asked Dick to do it and Dick has told me that he would....
Lyndon Johnson: They had this damned fool insurance man, in and they had him in a secret session and Bobby (Baker) gave me a record player and Bobby got the record player from the insurance man (Don Reynolds). I didn't know a damned thing about it. Never heard of it till this happened. But I paid $88,000 worth of premiums and, by God, they could afford to give me a Cadillac if they'd wanted to and there'd have been not a goddamned thing wrong with it.... There's nothing wrong with it. There's not a damned thing wrong. So Walter Jenkins explained it all in his statement. This son of a bitch Curtis comes along and says, well, he wouldn't take any statements not sworn to. They had their counsel come down and Walter Jenkins handled it, told him exactly what was done.... A fellow said Manhattan is the only company that would write on a heart attack man.... Bobby said, "Hell now, wait, let my man handle it and he'll get a commission off of it." So we said all right... Now he said - Walter - "I'll swear to it." "No, I want a public hearing so I can put it on television." Now that oughtn't to be. Now George, I ought not to have to get into that personally.
George Smathers: Absolutely not.... And Dick Russell has got to exercise his influence. He must do this and I think you've got to talk to him about it and just say you've got to do it. I'll talk to Jordan. Jordan thinks I'm guilty of something. So he thinks I may be covering up trying to protect myself. Hubert has been really good in this and, believe it or not, Joe Clark' has finally gotten the picture and he's trying to stop it now. But Hugh Scott and Carl Curtis are going wild, and Jordan doesn't have enough experience or enough sense to gavel them down and shut them up. But if Dick will talk to him-really talk to him and say
Lyndon Johnson: I think he needs to talk to Curtis too. Why don't you tell Dick to do that?
George Smathers: I will. I've already talked to him.
Lyndon Johnson: I hate to call him.... Get Dick to go see Curtis in the morning and just say, "Now quit being so goddamn rambunctious about this, Carl."
George Smathers: Can I tell Dick this is not right and you know about it? And naturally it makes you apprehensive and you've got all these damn problems and to have this little nitpicking thing. It's just not fair.
Lyndon Johnson: It's not.
George Smathers: So I'll do it.
Lyndon Johnson: Tell him he's the only one can do it. And he can do it. And if he was involved I'd damned sure walk across the country and do it.
George Smathers: Exactly. All right, that's a damned good thought and I'll do it. I've already talked to him about it, but I
Lyndon Johnson: The FBI has got that record.' Now you know I think you ought to leak it. I don't know who you can leak it to. But I've read the goddamn tax report and I've read the FBI report and there ain't a goddamn thing in it that they can even indict him on. The only thing that they can do is that he puffed up the financial statement, which everybody's done. If he pays that off, they couldn't convict him on that....
George Smathers: They won't print that 'cause I tried to leak that the day before yesterday to ... two different sources and it hasn't been printed. They just want to print this ... ugly stuff.... That Curtis is mean as a snake. (Everett) Dirksen sat in the room the night of the day after you became President with me and Humphrey and agreed that this thing ought to stop and that he would get Curtis to stop it. ... You know, there's some statement about Dirksen and Kuchel with this German girl.' So he said, "It is just ridiculous and it ought to stop.". . . . I think we can handle everybody on our side. Howard Cannon is the smartest fellow over there, but he's a little afraid to do anything because he himself figures he was involved out in Las Vegas. So he's a little afraid to be as brave as he ought to be. ... I'll tell Dick this. I've already told him once, but
Lyndon Johnson: Tell him he ought to talk to Dirksen and Curtis both. Please do it, and also Jordan. He's just got his work cut out Monday 'cause they're going to meet Tuesday and they're going to want a public hearing.' And then that's a television hearing, and then a television hearing about my buying some insurance. And what in the goddamn hell is wrong with my buying insurance? I paid cash for it, wrote them a check for it, made my company the beneficiary, and they didn't deduct it. No tax deduction. We'll do it after we pay our taxes. We pay the premium-only reason being if I died, my wife would have to pay estate tax on me on account of she'd have to sell her stock and they want the company to have some money to buy her stock so she doesn't have to lose control of her company.
As an official in the Reynolds insurance firm, I received a $4,000 loan from profits the firm made on the D.C. Stadium transaction. This was not the only business I had brought Don Reynolds. I had placed with him insurance on myself, the Carousel, the Serv-U Corporation, and had directed LBJ, Carole Tyler, and Fred Black to him for insurance coverage.
Not satisfied with having told the truth with respect to the LBJ insurance policy and kicking back a stereo set to the Johnsons, and on the DC Stadium deal, Reynolds now launched wilder and more inventive tales. Among these was that I'd once flashed a black bag full of cash reportedly $1,00,000 - and had indicated it was payoff money from General Dynamics to buy the TFX contract. I never took a dime for myself, for LBJ, or anyone else in connection with that contract. And, if I had done so, I certainly would not have gone around flashing the cash and bragging about it like a schoolboy. The test of credibility here, I think, is that no one ever saw me exhibit that kind of conduct before or since. Reynolds also claimed that he'd paid me $140,000 over the years; this was simply preposterous. For years, however, IRS agents tried to find these nonexistent funds. Only within the past few months has the IRS conceded that they never existed.
As Reynolds continued to make charges, one of which was that Lyndon Johnson had misused foreign counterpart funds during his government travels, it irritated the new president. Johnson then did a dumb thing. He leaked to his friend columnist Drew Pearson, and to other favored newsmen, FBI and Pentagon reports which accused Reynolds of having been forced out of West Point for improper conduct, of having dealt in the black market while overseas in the army, of having brought unfounded charges against others in the past, and of a general instability. This not only was illegal and improper, it also created sympathy for Reynolds - One Man takes on the Establishment - and provided fodder to Scott, Williams, Curtis, Karl Mundt, and other Republican senators eager to prove White House meddling and a whitewash in the Baker case.
It was amusing, however, to note that at a given point Senator Hugh Scott began to soft-pedal criticism of me and to sing hosannas to the new president: "I have so much desire not to damage the Republic. I think Lyndon Johnson is a fine, can-do president, a man of action. I believe he is sincerely advancing a program he believes is in the best interest of this country." There was good reason for Senator Scott's conversion, as I learned through the White House grapevine: LBJ had threatened to close down the Philadelphia Navy Yard unless Senator Scott closed his critical mouth.
In September newspapers and magazines began unraveling a seamy story of Baker's financial ties to a fast-growing vending machine company. Baker and a group of investors, it turned out, had been awarded many contracts while the new company was still being organized, and had also received instant credit from a bank controlled by Democratic senator Robert Kerr, of Oklahoma, and his family. By October the Baker scandal had turned into a newspaper tempest, and reporters were beginning to dig up dirt on a number of present and past senators - including Baker's mentor, Vice President Johnson. A Maryland insurance broker named Donald Reynolds met privately with Senator John Williams of Delaware, a Republican, and complained to him about advertising he had been forced to buy on the vice president's radio and television stations in Austin, Texas, as a condition of writing Johnson's life insurance policy. Johnson also demanded, and got, a television set and a new stereo from Reynolds as a cost of doing business. John Williams's best friend in the Senate was Carl Curtis of Nebraska, the senior Republican on the Rules Committee. As the scandal spread in the newspapers, alarming other Democrats - including senators who had received many thousands of dollars in campaign contributions through Baker - the Rules Committee announced an all-out investigation. Baker's personal life was soon thrust into the limelight, along with the mysterious goings-on at the Quorum Club. It took only days for the Republicans on the committee to find out all they needed to know about Ellen Rometsch.
When Bobby Baker began as a page in 1943, his salary was $1,460 a year. Yet he soon became a wealthy man. The minority report of the committee that investigated his activities (filed on July 8, 1964) had this to say about Baker's amassing of wealth:
"According to financial statements submitted by Baker, he had a net worth of $11,025 as of May 3, 1954. As of February 1, 1963, Baker claimed a net worth of $2,166,886. It is agreed, however, that this latter figure carried errors and exaggerations. After the known errors are taken into account, Baker's claimed net worth would be $1,664, 287. However, it may well be contended that Baker over-valued his Serv-U Corporation stock, with its very lucrative contracts in plants having huge government defense contracts, as well as his stock in the Mecklenburg enterprises and his land near Silver Springs, Maryland. If these assets are carried at their actual cost, Baker still would have a net worth of $447,849. It is obvious that these three assets were very valuable and their value had increased considerably over Baker's initial investment."
The Committee's records show that between January, 1959, and November, 1963, Baker and his associates had borrowed $2,784,338 from lending institutions. These loans had come from twenty-four banks and other lending institutions. The Committee's investigator also reported that Baker's share in approximately six different loans was $1,704,538.
All the time that Baker was making himself a man of wealth, he continued to serve as a most important and influential employee of the United States Senate.
Fred B. Black, Jr., a management consultant whose clients included North American Aviation and Melpar, Inc., and who was associated with Baker in several business ventures, said that the late Senator Robert S. Kerr, of Oklahoma, had told him that outside of his sons and his wife, he never knew and loved a person so much as he did Bobby Baker; that there was nothing Kerr would not do for Baker if he would ask him. Later Black said that he and Baker and the Serv-U Corporation had borrowed over half a million dollars from Kerr's Oklahoma City Bank.
Baker's operations became a subject of some discussion, raising questions in the minds of several senators and Senate employees. Eventually, on September 9, 1963, a law-suit was filed by Ralph L. Hill, president of the Capitol Vending Company, which alleged wrongdoing and the use of governmental influence in Baker's business dealings.
In his suit, Hill alleged that Baker had employed political influence to obtain contracts in defense plants for his own vending-machine firm, called Serv-U Corporation. Hill also charged that Baker had accepted $5,600 for securing a vending-machine franchise for Capitol Vending with Melpar, Inc., a defense plant in Virginia. Hill stated that after Capitol had secured the contract with Melpar, Baker had tried to persuade Capitol Vending to sell out to the Serv-U Corporation; and that when Capitol refused to sell its stock to Serv-U, Baker had conspired maliciously to interfere with Capitol's contract with Melpar. The suit contended that Baker had told Fred B. Black, Jr., that he, Baker, was in a position to help obtain contracts with the government. Hill said that in return, North American (to which Black was a consultant) entered into an agreement to permit Serv-U to install vending machines in its Californian plants.
The filing of this suit brought to light many unpleasant facts, reflecting not only on Bobby Baker but on those men about him and on the Senate generally.
At this point, Senator John Williams, of Delaware, began to take an active part. Williams was a man beyond reproach, sincere and intelligent and dedicated. During his service in the Senate he was rightly referred to as "the conscience of the Senate." He was an expert investigator, tenacious and courageous. Senator Williams became the prime mover in bringing about the investigation of Baker.
On October 3, 1963, Williams went to Senator Mike Mansfield, the majority leader, and to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, the minority leader, and arranged for them to call Baker before the leadership at a closed meeting on October 8. It was Senator Williams' plan to confront Baker with questions about his activities. Bobby Baker never appeared before the Senate's leadership: the day before his scheduled appearance he resigned his post with its salary of $19,600.
Senator Mansfield, announcing Bobby Baker's resignation, said that "Baker has discharged his official duties for eight years with great intelligence and understanding. His great ability and his dedication to the Majority and to the Senate will be missed." Developments during recent weeks, however, Senator Mansfield continued, had made it apparent that it would be best if Baker withdrew from office. "I deeply regret the necessity for his resignation and the necessity for its acceptance."
Senator Williams introduced a resolution calling upon the Committee on Rules and Administration to conduct an investigation of the financial and business interests and possible improprieties of any Senate employee or former employee. On October 10, 1963, the Senate adopted this resolution by voice vote.
The Committee on Rules and Administration was made up of nine members, six Democrats and three Republicans. The Committee's chairman was B. Everett Jordan, Democrat, of North Carolina. The other Democratic members were Carl Hayden, of Arizona; Claiborne Pell, of Rhode Island; Joseph Clark, of Pennsylvania; Howard W. Cannon, of Nevada; and Robert C. Byrd, of West Virginia. The Republican members were John Sherman Cooper, of Kentucky; Hugh Scott, of Pennsylvania; and Carl T. Curtis.
This Committee held its first meeting for the Baker investigation on October 29. Senator Williams, testifying in closed session, recommended that the Committee investigate the FBI files of a deported East German woman, a Mrs. Ellen Rometsch (otherwise known as Elli Rometsch), who had been identified in news stories as a "party girl" associating with lobbyists and members of Congress. He urged also that the Committee look into Baker's transactions with the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation; into the large sums of cash given by Bobby Baker to Mrs. Gertrude Novak, wife of a business partner of Baker; into the vending contract referred to in Hill's suit against Baker.
Additionally, Williams recommended that the Committee investigate circumstances surrounding the rapid growth of the Serv-U Corporation, Baker's company; charges against Baker with reference to irregularities connected with the Senate payroll of pages and other employees working under Baker; Baker's brokerage-fee from the Haitian-American Meat Provision Company. The Committee should look into the transactions between Baker and Don Reynolds connected with Reynolds' selling of insurance to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, Williams continued. The Committee should check the performance-bond for the building of the stadium at Washington.
Having heard Senator Williams, the three Republicans on the Committee requested that the Committee hire outside counsel to conduct the investigation. This move was opposed by the six Democrats on the Committee. Chairman Jordan, presently yielding to public pressure, announced on November 13 that L. F. McLendon, a lawyer from Jordan's home state of North Carolina, was appointed outside counsel.
The Committee on Rules and Administration needed to agree on some procedures. In this the Committee received considerable help from the Subcommittee on Investigations of the Government Operations Committee, headed by Senator John McClellan, of Arkansas. McClellan had followed a procedure of first calling a witness-particularly a controversial witnessin a closed session of the Committee, to inform the Committee what to expect and how to frame their questions. Later the witness would be called in public session. In the investigation of Baker, this rule was not followed, as we shall see later in this account of the great cover-up.
Bobby Baker was a highly successful contact-man. During and after the Second World War, on either side of the Atlantic, the contact-man loomed large. Contact-men existed primarily to obtain for their clients and themselves some share of the vast pool of riches in the possession of swollen centralized political bureaucracies. The more impressive a contact-man's political connections, the better he and his clients would fare. Professor W. L. Burn, in England, well described this international phenomenon:
"One may imagine the stage festooned with forms, applications for licenses, refusals of licenses, checks that failed to command confidence and agreements that failed to produce the desired result. Music is supplied by the ringing of the telephone, the prelude to ambiguous and improbable conversations; and through the half-lit jungle, from public dinner to government department, from government department to sherry party, glides the contact-man, at once the product and the safety-valve of this grotesque civilization."
In Washington, Bobby Baker had become a principal actor in such tragi-comic dramas.
Baker was called as a witness early in the investigation, appearing both in a closed session and in a public session. He had received a subpoena directing him to appear and to produce certain documents. Senator Curtis requested him to submit the required records. Baker refused. The following extracts from the Committee's hearings may suffice to suggest Baker's response. (It should be remembered in this connection that a witness's refusal to answer on the ground that he might incriminate himself raises a legitimate presumption that indeed the witness has committed some act which might subject him to a criminal prosecution.)
Replying to Senator Curtis, Baker refused to produce the desired records. He declared that he had so informed the committee earlier, and therefore should not have been called back to repeat his position.
"Today's proceedings are an unconstitutional invasion by the legislative branch into the proper function of the judiciary," Baker argued. "I do not intend to participate as a defendant witness in a legislative trial of myself, when my counsel has no right to cross-examine my accusers, or summon witnesses in my defense, and when the testimony has been taken both in secret and in the open."
Baker continued that the records were not "pertinent to any bona fide legislative purpose." A case pending in the U. S. District Court of the District of Columbia, he mentioned, in volved some of the documents called for. "I am presently being investigated by two agencies of the executive branch, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service. To force production of these records against this background would be to do indirectly for these agencies what they cannot lawfully do direct. " Moreover, his "privacy of communication" had been invaded by government personnel, so he was refusing to provide any additional information to government agents. Baker concluded by invoking "the protection of the first, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth amendments of the Constitution, and I specifically invoke the privilege against selfincrimination."
So it went through the questioning of Bobby Baker. Altogether, he "took the Fifth" in response to a hundred and twenty questions.
Senator Curtis asked him, "Will you advise the committee whether or not you acquired the cash referred to by Mrs. Novak in the course of your duties as secretary to the Majority of the U. S. Senate?" Baker "stood on his previous answer" that is, refused to answer the question.
Later, Curtis inquired, "Mr. Baker, a previous witness, Mr. Hill, testified under oath that he paid to you the sum of $250 for a number of months for the purpose of securing and keeping a contract which his company, the Capitol Vending Company, had with a government-contracting defense plant. Will you advise us whether or not Mr. Hill's testimony is true?"
Baker refused. Still later, Curtis told him: "Now, Mr. Baker, I hope that you will consider this question carefully, and the rights of all people involved. The witness, Mr. Don Reynolds, has testified that he gave to one Lyndon Johnson a hi-fi set costing something over five hundred dollars. Statements have been made elsewhere that you were the giver of the gift. Will you tell this committee whether or not you made that gift?"
Baker refused. Then came a related key question from Senator Curtis:
"Mr. Baker - Mr. Reynolds, while under oath, testified before this committee concerning this hi-fi gift. He produced certain canceled checks and invoices. He also testified that he purchased $1,200 worth of television time on a TV station in A-astin, Texas. My question is: did you have any part in that transaction?"
Baker refused to answer that question, too, and many more.
It became clear in the course of the investigation that Baker's secretary, Nancy Carole Tyler, had assisted Baker in business transactions handled in his office and during his travels; and that she had handled funds involved in these transactions.
Subpoenaed, Tyler was asked by McLendon, the Committee's counsel, certain important questions. Counsel inquired about trips made by Baker to Los Angeles in connection with the business of the Serv-U Corporation; and when Tyler had resigned her position with Baker, secretary to the majority. Tyler refused to answer on the ground that she might incriminate herself.
The Committee learned no more from Carole Tyler; before the investigation ended, Tyler died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously in an airplane crash on the beach near the Carousel Motel, owned by Bobby Baker.
The key witness in the investigation was Don Reynolds, an insurance agent in the Washington area. He and Baker had been friends, and Baker was an officer in Don Reynolds, Inc., although Baker had not supplied any money for the forming ot that company. Reynolds had been associated in, or was familiar with, many of Bobby Baker's transactions that were under investigation. After consulting with his wife and with Senator Williams, Reynolds decided to testify in full, under oath, whenever called upon by the Committee.
Reynolds said that he had sold insurance on the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson in the amount of two hundred thousand dollars; and that he had to make a "kickback" on the premium he received. The transaction with Johnson had been conducted through Walter Jenkins, a close aide to Johnson. (Jenkins later was disgraced by his arrest for soliciting homosexual acts in the men's room at the YMCA, late in 1964.) Baker had arranged Reynolds' appointment with Jenkins. Facing competition, Reynolds had bought $1,208 in advertising on Johnson's television station in Austin; Reynolds had re-sold this advertising contract, losing $1,100 on the deal. (This "kickback" arrangement had occurred while Lyndon Johnson still was senator from Texas.)
"Why did you purchase the television time?" Senator Curtis asked.
Mr. Reynolds: "Mr. Jenkins, in his discussion with me, showed me a letter from Mr. Huff Baines, indicating that if he had the privilege of writing. . .that he would purchase so much advertising time on the local- station, KTBC."
Under more questioning from Curtis, it turned out that Station KTBC, in Austin, was owned by the LBJ Company. Reynolds went on: "And I told him that although I might not be able to do the same as far as dollar volume, that I would do the best I could, consistent with the fact that the contract I had offered him was the most favorable, if you exclude any question of advertising, sir."
Curtis proceeded to obtain from Reynolds the testimony that Walter Jenkins had informed him he was expected to buy advertising from Lyndon Johnson's television station if he wanted the insurance contract. He had sold the contracted advertising time to Albert G. Young, president of Mid-Atlantic Stainless Steel, "because I saw no use whatsoever for Don Reynolds, who was unknown in Texas, sir, to get people to listen to something they had no interest in, nor could they." Walter Jenkins had confirmed this deal by telephone to Young, whose firm sold pots and pans. After Jenkins had called him, Young went to Austin and utilized the advertising facilities of KTBC; this was corroborated by Young's canceled checks, invoices, and correspondence, shown to the Committee.
This testimony obviously alarmed the majority members of the Committee and the Committee's counsel. At the time of this investigation, Lyndon Baines Johnson was President of the United States; Walter Jenkins was one of the President's aides in the White House, handling much of Johnson's private business. Lyndon Baines Johnson had entered Congress a man of very modest means; but by the time he assumed the presidency, he was a very rich man.
A principal source of Johnson's wealth appeared to be the television station he had acquired in Austin. KTCB was the only television station licensed in Austin; and every other city in the United States, the size of Austin, had at least two television stations. Such licenses were issued by the Federal Communications Commission, upon which political influence might be exercised by persons in power not overly scrupulous. How had Johnson and his family obtained a monopoly of Austin television? To what additional awkward testimony about KTCB might the statements of Reynolds and Young lead if this subject should be pursued?
Therefore, in an effort to prevent Walter Jenkins - former Senate employee, now a White House aide-from being called before the Committee to give sworn testimony, Counsel McLendon had Jenkins sign an affidavit: an affidavit unique in that Jenkins swore to the truth of a memorandum which was written by the Committee's chief counsel and chief investigator. This curious memorandum, referring to Jenkins, stated, "Nor does he have any knowledge of any arrangements by which Reynolds purchased advertising time on the TV station. "
Unimpressed by this remarkable document, Senator Curtis further questioned Reynolds. "Well, then," he asked the witness, "do you agree or disagree with this statement of Jenkins that Mr. McLendon, our counsel, has put in the record, as a statement, not of oral testimony but sworn to before a notary public: `Nor does he have any knowledge of any arrangements by which Reynolds purchased advertising time on the TV station.' You would disagree with that?"
Reynolds disagreed completely with the statement. In further testimony, it was learned that Huff Baines, of Austin, Reynolds' alleged competitor for the sale of insurance to Lyndon Baines Johnson, was a cousin of Johnson, and had sold a number of policies on the lives of people connected with the LBJ Company. Even though Reynolds had offered a better insurance contract than Baines had, it appeared, he had been required to provide advertising revenue to the Johnson station and the gift of a high-fidelity set as sweeteners, lest the contract be awarded to kinsman Baines. And Baker had made the deal.
Throughout these hearings, the Republican members of the Committee - Cooper, Scott, and Curtis - repeatedly endeavored to have Walter Jenkins called as a witness. Jenkins had been employed by Johnson for years. It was well established that he had handled many of Johnson's business concerns. The information given to the Committee by Reynolds clearly conflicted with the memorandum to which Jenkins had subscribed.
This could be resolved only by calling Jenkins as a witness. On March 23, 1964, occurred a roll call on the question of calling Jenkins; the vote went along party lines. Why did these six prominent Democratic senators, several of them leaders of their party, vote against hearing and cross-examining Jenkins? After all, this elusive Jenkins had been an employee of the Senate; he enjoyed no senatorial immunity, nor was he the beneficiary of the usual "senatorial courtesy" tradition. The determined and successful fight by the Committee's majority to prevent the receiving of Jenkins' testimony may have been waged not to protect Walter Jenkins or Bobby Baker, but rather Jenkins ' principal - Lyndon B. Johnson.
The purchase of time on the LBJ broadcasting station was not the only kickback required of Don Reynolds for selling insurance on Lyndon Johnson, for Reynolds was requested to provide a hi-fi set for Senator Johnson. Reynolds, questioned by McLendon, stated that he had bought a Magnavox stereo set, costing him $584.75, and installed it in Senator Johnson's Washington residence (also paying for the installation) in 1959. But Mrs. Johnson had found the set unsatisfactory: it did not fit the space for which she had intended it. In response to questioning from two Democratic senators, Reynolds made it clear that Bobby Baker had told him to give the set to Senator Johnson, and that Johnson knew Reynolds to be the donor.
At a news conference, Johnson had told a reporter that the set was a gift from Bobby Baker. There were two witnesses who might clear up the questions as to whether the set was given by Baker or whether it was an obligation put upon Reynolds for his opportunity to sell life insurance to Johnson. Those two witnesses were Baker and Jenkins. Baker took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify on the ground that he might be incriminated. Walter Jenkins, protected by the Committee's majority, was not called to testify.
Later that year, in the closing days of the Johnson-Goldwater race for the presidency, television technicians in Los Angeles wore a large round button, on which was inscribed the legend, "Johnson, Baker, Jenkins. The family that plays together stays together. "
There were two brutal ironies on November 22.
That Friday started as a great day for Bobby Kennedy, and a potentially ruinous one for Vice President Lyndon Johnson. At ten o'clock in the morning, Donald Reynolds, a Washington insurance broker, walked with his lawyer into a small hearing room on Capitol Hill and began providing Burkett Van Kirk, the minority counsel of the Senate Rules Committee, with eagerly awaited evidence of unreported gift-giving to Johnson. Van Kirk had learned about Reynolds independently, but he and Bobby Kennedy had been secretly working together for weeks, through intermediaries, to accumulate evidence of payola against Johnson and Bobby Baker, Johnson's former Senate aide. Reynolds told Van Kirk and a Democratic staff member of the Rules Committee how he had listed Bobby Baker as a vice president of his insurance agency, and he claimed to have funneled off-thebooks cash to Baker - subsequently written off as a "business expense:' Reynolds told of making payoffs to Democratic Party officials, arranged through Baker's office in the Senate, in return for being allowed to handle the insurance on a large federal construction project. He told what little he knew of Ellen Rometsch and her associations at Baker's Quorum Club, the private club on Capitol Hill where senators and lobbyists shared drinks and other pleasures. And, finally, he told of selling life insurance to the vice president and being pressured in return to buy unnecessary advertisements on Johnson's television station in Austin, Texas - no one in Texas would be interested in buying insurance from a broker in suburban Maryland, 1,500 miles away. Reynolds also told of being compelled to provide Johnson with a stereo record player, as a kind of bonus. Bobby Baker had given the Johnson family a catalog, Reynolds testified, and Lady Bird Johnson had picked out the stereo she wanted. Reynolds was still being questioned at 2:30 P.m. when a secretary burst into the hearing room with the news from Dallas. Lyndon Johnson was now president of the United States, and no one was going to challenge his legitimacy because of a stereo set and a few thousand dollars' worth of television ads.
Burkett Van Kirk remains convinced that Johnson would have been fighting for political survival had he remained vice president. "There's no doubt in my mind," Van Kirk told me in an interview, "that Reynolds's testimony would have gotten Johnson out of the vice presidency."
Michael Gillette : Well, let me ask you in particular. Did you see a lot of Lyndon Johnson in this, behind Bobby Baker?
Carl Curtis : No . Everything would appear as though Lyndon didn't know the investigation was going on. He had the ability to direct things and not be anywhere near the scene. No, he didn't get caught interfering with that investigation at all .
Michael Gillette : I mean in terms of what you found. Could you see Lyndon Johnson's footprints as well as Bobby Baker's?
Carl Curtis : Oh, very much. There was an insurance agent that became a pal of Bobby Baker's . They were in business together, and they went partying together, and they took the girls out together . But when this thing blew up, he finally told his wife that he was involved and she said, "I'll stick with you if you tell the truth ." So I always felt that this man told the truth under oath . He told about selling an insurance policy to Lyndon Johnson. It was after his heart attack. I think it was a policy that ultimately reached a hundred thousand dollars . In the course of selling that, an emissary came to the insurance agent and said, "The Senator can buy that back in Texas from an agent who takes advertising over his television station, and we think you should meet the same requirements ." The man was anxious to sell a policy to the Vice President and so he complied. He actually bought the time on the Lyndon Johnson television station. I've seen the checks in payment for it. He couldn't use the time, so he sold it to a man that sold pots and pans by direct television advertising and I've heard his testimony. He also testified that he was to deliver a stereo or some such machine to the Johnson home. I heard his testimony. I heard the testimony of the individual who delivered it and installed it, had to go back because the installation didn't fit just right. All of these stories would lead up to the name of Walter Jenkins. We could never get Walter Jenkins' testimony, contrary to the way that things went in the Watergate investigation. There was such control by the Democrats on the Rules Committee that we never did get the testimony of Walter Jenkins . These trails, whether it was insurance contracts or something else, would lead right up to Walter Jenkins. Finally I succeeded in getting a motion passed that Walter Jenkins should be called. On the day that he was to appear, two psychiatrists appeared and testified that if Walter Jenkins appeared, it would kill him. Not that it would ruin his health; it would kill him. I cross-examined them for the entire day, and they admitted that he had been vacationing in the islands . He was playing golf. He attended all the rounds the party had in connection with the inaugural. But they stood pat and totally stonewalled it right there. At the end of the testimony of the two psychiatrists, I moved that we call Walter Jenkins anyway. It was voted down on a party-line vote. I then moved that the record of that day be made public, and it was voted down. So it's forever been sealed. Yet there was nothing in appearance or anything that Lyndon or a direct emissary ever came near the committee. There was an interesting thing happened. My minority counsel on the committee was questioning this insurance agent behind closed doors when Jack Kennedy was shot. He got the word, but he never told the witness. The insurance agent went ahead and told the whole story, not realizing he was involving the President of the United States, he thought it was the Vice President. Senator John Williams of Delaware can supply a lot of things about that situation .
Michael Gillette : : Do you think it was the assassination that changed the nature of this investigation, though, and really slowed it down, because people were reluctant to testify?
Carl Curtis : No. No. It was ironclad political control.
Michael Gillette : : Let me ask you about the one hundred thousand dollars that Baker had. Did you have any information as to where he got that money?
Carl Curtis : In those days there were more political campaign contributions made in cash. The reporting requirements weren't very strict and it wasn't frowned upon. Some people were giving maybe to both sides and they didn't want it known so they used cash. The person who received a contribution, if he got it in cash and hadn't reported it in his report didn't want to talk about it. Consequently, and I'm weighing my words very carefully at this point, the go-between who carried the black bag between contributor and candidate, if he skimmed off a little at the top, neither party ever dared complain about it, and the chances are they'd never know it, because they never went and talked to each other. Bobby Baker was the errand boy for the Democrats quite a lot.