Hoover and the Kennedys: Part II

“The war between J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was a scorched-earth campaign that burned throughout the 1960s.”– Tim Weiner, Enemies, 223. 

Just as J. Edgar Hoover had not liked or trusted John F. Kennedy, so too did he dislike Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They fought on a number issues ranging from JFK’s romantic indiscretions to the Civil Rights movement. Robert was an outspoken advocate of the civil rights movement and yet, there were two issues that time and time again dominated the attention of the young attorney general as evident by his orders to the FBI. The first issue was organized crime and the second was communism in the United States. J. Edgar Hoover, like he had with so many other titans of American politics, was whispering threats of communism in the ear of Robert Kennedy. This allowed Hoover and the FBI use their own social biases to survey and harass whoever they wanted under the guise of suspected communism.

I have already written about the relationship between the FBI and race and you can read that here. For years Hoover was a silent antagonist to the civil rights movement and now he used his suspicions of a link between civil rights and communism to get permission to survey black activists in the US. David Garrow writes in his book, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. that despite his dislike of Hoover, often times Robert Kennedy unconditionally accepted FBI allegations of links between communism and specific civil rights leaders.[1]

Although an outspoken advocate for Civil Rights, Robert Kennedy was worried how an alleged connection between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Communism would effect the movement.

As mentioned before RFK was an outspoken advocate of civil rights and as such was worried how communism and communist affiliations would effect the movement. Both he and the President personally warned King against associating with communists and yet, memoranda from the FBI kept rolling in about his leftist affiliations. Begrudgingly, on October 10, 1963, RFK consented to give unlimited power of wiretapping to the FBI in order to bug King’s headquarters in Atlanta.[2] Hoover’s relationship with Robert Kennedy represents the mastery of his craft as a manipulator. Despite the Kennedy’s distrust and even at points, open hatred of Hoover, he was still able to get what he wanted.

Here is a video of J. Edgar Hoover presenting the FBI to the Kennedy brothers in October of 1961.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFDTBhwCiTM


[1] David Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Penguin Books, 1981. Pp. 95.

[2] Time Weiner, Enemies, New York: Random House, 2012. Pp. 235.

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.