What Happened Between John F. Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover?

“Hoover’s knowledge of JFK’s private conduct and RFK’s political conspiracies were potentially lethal political weapons. He brandished them now. He let the president and the attorney general know that he know they had committed moral sins.”—Tim Weiner, Enemies, 232-233.

 

If you think about their backgrounds and what they stood for, it’s no surprise that J. Edgar Hoover and the Kennedy family did not get along. There is one exception to that however, Hoover and Joe Kennedy had a lot of mutual respect for one another. Joe Kennedy, the father of JFK, was a successful businessman, an ideal capitalist, and a self-proclaimed enemy of communism. This hatred of socialism was only compounded when in 1959 Joe Kennedy lost a very large investment in a Coca-Cola franchise in Havana, Cuba to Castro’s revolution.[1]In the eyes of Hoover however, the sons of his old friend were entirely different.

Joe Kennedy, Businessman and Friend of J. Edgar Hoover

JFK first came to the attention of Hoover in 1942 while he was having a well-publicized illicit affair with a married woman. Her name was Inga Arvad, she was a columnist for the The Washington Post. The reason the juicy gossip caught Hoover’s eye was because Arvad was a former Nazi sympathizer and a suspected spy. The FBI had had her house bugged for months. It would not be the last time Hoover would be privy to the dirty details of JFK’s private life.

As political enemies, their battle began during the election when, according to William Sullivan, “Hoover did his best to keep the press supplied with anti-Kennedy stories… While Hoover was trying to sabotage Jack Kennedy’s campaign, he was quietly helping Richard Nixon.”[2] Once JFK was elected however, the games did not end. The relationship between Hoover and the Kennedys became increasingly childish and passive aggressive as the years wore on. John would often wait until he knew Hoover might be napping in the afternoon and burst into Hoover’s office unannounced and without consulting with his secretary. John would sometimes discuss things with Hoover over lunch and would purposely upset Hoover’s highbrow gentile sensibilities by taking him to lunch at drug stores. In response to these slights, Hoover was clandestinely amassing files on JFK’s sexual indiscretions and his supposed links to organized crime across the country.

Even as the FBI handled the investigation of JFK’s assassination, Hoover’s attitude toward the Kennedys was still cold at best. Sullivan writes “I shouldn’t have been surprised by Hoover’s lack of personal remorse when jack Kennedy was killed. ‘Goddamn the Kennedys,’ I heard Clyde Tolson say to Hoover. ‘First there was Jack, now there’s Bobby, and then Teddy. We’ll have them on our necks until the year 2000.”[3]

While the relationship between Hoover and JFK was mostly one of gossip and childish pranks, Hoover and Bobby Kennedy were involved in much more political skirmishes.


[1] Burton Hersh, Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover that Transformed Modern America. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007. Pp.8.

[2] William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1979. Pp. 49.

[3] Ibid.

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