Skip to comments.Bobby Kennedy's strange Justice
Posted on 11/26/2001 10:27:13 AM PST by Gritty
Most Kennedys are born with a knack for making headlines, and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo is no exception. On the day President Bush formally named the Justice Department's headquarters after her father, Robert F. Kennedy, she was in the news, accusing the administration of violating basic rights in the war on terrorism.
Addressing her 6-year-old daughter in a speech Thursday, Cuomo declared: "Cara, if anyone tries to tell you this is the type of justice your grandpa would embrace, don't you believe it." Her father, she said, was devoted to "protecting civil liberties even when it meant letting the accused ... go free."
She would get an argument from Martin Luther King Jr., whose telephone was wiretapped with the approval of Atty. Gen. Kennedy. (He thought King might be working for the Kremlin.) Nor did RFK let his deep respect for constitutional rights get in the way of his crusade against organized crime.
Quite the contrary. In 1966, after the FBI released documents indicating that the attorney general tolerated illegal bugging of alleged Mafiosi, Kennedy denied any knowledge of the practice. But "evidence strongly suggests that RFK was not speaking truthfully," concluded Evan Thomas in his 2000 biography, "Robert Kennedy: His Life." One Kennedy aide told Thomas, apparently with a straight face, "He became a civil libertarian later."
But maybe you don't learn facts like that at family gatherings in Hyannis Port. Nor would you learn them from listening to President Bush, who tactfully passed over the many ways in which Robert Kennedy's service as attorney general perverted American justice.
First was the simple fact that Bobby served in the post at all. His sole qualification was being the brother of the president. In the faculty lounge of his alma mater, the University of Virginia law school, the announcement elicited a "roar of incredulity," one professor later recalled.
Kennedy did have some experience in the profession -- having served as the lawyer for a Senate investigative committee chaired by the notorious Red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy. When McCarthy died, Kennedy went to his funeral, though he asked reporters to keep it a secret.
But lack of legal expertise was the least of his shortcomings. As the federal government's principal law enforcement official, the attorney general has a responsibility to serve the law and the nation -- not just the president. Janet Reno had chronically chilly relations with Bill Clinton because she took that obligation too seriously for her boss' taste.
Asking such independence of the president's brother, though, is asking too much. RFK, who was appointed at his father's insistence, saw his job as protecting the president.
That duty forced him to tolerate the lawless excesses of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover -- who, as RFK knew, had a thick file of embarrassing information about the president's sexual adventures. These included a reckless affair with the mistress of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. Even in 1968, when he was running for president and rival Democrat Eugene McCarthy vowed to fire Hoover, Kennedy lacked the nerve to do likewise.
When it came to going after bad guys, RFK didn't waste time worrying about prissy niceties like civil liberties. He was infatuated with electronic surveillance, legal or illegal. When one Treasury Department official objected to his demand that the department expand its use of wiretaps and bugs, Kennedy replied, "You look old to me. You should think of retiring." (The man took the advice.)
Because wiretaps are so invasive, civil libertarians generally think they should be used only sparingly, and with careful restrictions. RFK, however, approved some 600 wiretaps. What's more, reports Evan Thomas, "He kept no records and placed no time limits."
Kerry Kennedy Cuomo says her father was willing to let the guilty go free rather than abuse their rights. The truth is roughly the opposite. On his watch, criminals went free precisely because the government had abused their rights. Dozens of cases against organized-crime figures were lost because the FBI's evidence was obtained illegally. Most of the blame for that lies with Hoover, but it was Kennedy who refused to rein him in.
RFK does deserve credit for putting the federal government on the side of the civil rights movement. But honest liberals don't deny Bobby's flaws, which were most conspicuous when he was attorney general.
After naming the building, Bush said that from now on, "everyone who enters this building or passes by will think of Robert F. Kennedy and what he still means to this country." It would be a very good thing if Justice Department employees made a habit of reflecting on his time there -- and vowing to do better.
Janet Reno had chronically chilly relations with Bill Clinton because she took that obligation too seriously...
Must be a typo.
I am sure St. John the Divine mentions that in his gospel...
The Kennedy's have been in denial a long time. That's their privilege as private citizens. Making it public makes them look stupid and trashy.
A really thorough documentary report, TV or otherwise, on Kennedy patriarch Joe Kennedy Senior's business connections with Jules Schriffrin and the Boston mob bank funding [via Cuba/Florida mob figure John Roselli] for the expansion of Chicago's Klein's Sporting Goods from a mens' wear emporium to an importer and sporting goods outlet, from which the rifle supposedly used by Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot JFK with was reportedly obtained.
And exposure of a few of the other Kennedy-Chicago mob connections, conveniently overlooked for so many years, as well as a previous attempt on JFK's life in the Windy City, and the subsequent arrest and jailing of the first Black Secret Service Agent in the history of the USSS, would likely do it.