when bobby learned jack had been shot -- 6/11/18

Today's selection -- from Playing with Fire by Lawrence O'Donnell. The moment Bobby Kennedy learned that his brother had been shot, he leapt into action:

"[Upon learning that his brother John F. Kennedy had been shot,] almost immediately, out of his shocked, choked silence, Bobby started doing a lot of talking. In the next forty-five minutes at Hickory Hill, still not knowing his brother's fate, Bobby used the phones to circle the wagons.

"Keeper of the president's secrets, steward of his reputation, Bobby, wearing sunglasses to hide the horror that was only just beginning to over­come him, did what he always did for President Kennedy. He started getting things done.

"He called McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser. He told Bundy to change the locks on JFK's White House files: the most impor­tant stuff was to be moved immediately to the national security office and put under guard. He called the Secret Service. They were to uninstall the secret Oval Office and Cabinet Room tape recorders.

"At 2:30 p.m., [FBI director J. Edgar] Hoover called Bobby back. 'The President is dead.' Eight minutes later, the CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite announced that news to the nation.

         President Kennedy with his brother Robert, 1963

"Who did it? As the awful day wore on, that became Bobby Kennedy's only question. Somehow his horror and overwhelming grief focused, in those early hours, on a desperate need to know.

"The CIA. That was Bobby's first thought. He called John McCone, director of the CIA, and asked him to come over, right away. McCone ar­rived minutes later. Bobby wasted no time. He put the question directly to McCone. McCone was startled. Though he was director, he felt there were things about CIA activities that Bobby knew more about than he did. RFK had been deeply involved in covert activities, among them assassination attempts on Fidel Castro. Many in the CIA hated JFK; among other things there were rumors that he'd been planning to restructure the agency, dis­sipating its power. McCone was Roman Catholic. These two grieving men shared a language of faith, and they fell back on it now. The CIA director swore to Bobby Kennedy by everything they both held sacred, in fear of eternal damnation, that the CIA was innocent of the death of President Kennedy. Bobby believed him.

"Certain Cubans were also on Bobby's list. There were Fidel Castro and his operators in Havana, of course. They had reason enough to kill JFK. JFK's operatives had tried to kill Castro. But there were also the anti­Castro Cuban exiles in the United States. They felt betrayed by JFK's withdrawal from the Bay of Pigs operation. A U.S. warship that the exiles had expected to support the invasion of Cuba had pulled out, leaving them stranded. And the FBI had received intelligence of threats against the president from exiled Cuban freedom fighters.

"It was late afternoon now, and the Kennedy children were coming home from school. Bobby spent time hugging and comforting them. The radio reported the arrest in Dallas of Lee Harvey Oswald. Early news on Os­wald placed him with Cuban exiles who had been plotting against Castro
in New Orleans.

"Kennedy called Enrique Williams. Bobby was close to Williams, a leader of the Cuban exiles still hoping to invade Cuba and oust Castro. Williams was in D.C. that day, meeting at the Old Ebbitt Grill with his exile compadres. On the phone with Williams, Bobby was accusatory.

" 'One of your guys did it,' he told Williams.

"Williams denied all knowledge. Bobby hung up. The list was so long, so bewildering. There were Mafia kingpins with reasons to have JFK killed. Sam Giancana, the Chicago mobster, had shared a girlfriend with JFK. Bobby himself, as attorney general, had drawn Giancana's and others' ire by aggressive investigation into their activities. To Giancana's face, Bobby had compared the mobster's laugh to the sound of a little girl.

"There was big labor, hardly above committing murder, often indistin­guishable from the racketeers that Bobby had spent so much time harass­ing and prosecuting. Jimmy Hoffa, the leader of the Teamsters, was on Bobby's suspect list that afternoon. But so was the Soviet regime. So was Lyndon Johnson. Any and all of them could sound plausible enough to keep the world guessing for the rest of the century. Hundreds of books would be written about what was driving Bobby Kennedy crazy that after-
noon. Who killed JFK?"

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Lawrence O'Donnell


Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics


Penguin Press


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