Walter Jenkins

Walter Jenkins

Walter Wilson Jenkins, the son of John and Enna Jenkins, was born in Jolly, Texas, on 23rd March, 1918. Jenkins did well at school and went on to study at the University of Texas.

In 1939 Lyndon B. Johnson approached the dean and asked him to recommend a student to work for him in Congress. The dean suggested Jenkins and he began work for Johnson soon afterwards. As he later recalled, at his first his main role was "answering mail and filling constituents' requests for farming pamphlets". Johnson was impressed with Jenkins and by 1941 he was involved in dealing with leading figures in the government such as Harold Ickes. This included information that was "too sensitive to be broached over the telephone."

Jenkins also played an important role in collecting money from Washington lobbyists for Johnson's election campaigns. On one occasion he was given $15,000 in small bills. He later recalled "I went down to Texas carrying this money in bills stuffed into every pocket." He also dealt with members of the Suite 8F Group such as George Brown and Herman Brown (Brown & Root), Jesse H. Jones (Reconstruction Finance Corporation), Gus Wortham (American General Insurance Company) and James Abercrombie (Cameron Iron Works).

In his book Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Robert A. Caro claims that cash was collected by Jenkins, Bobby Baker, Edward A. Clark or Clifford Carter in Texas and then brought to Johnson in Washington. Caro quotes Clark as saying that Johnson always wanted contributions given outside the office.

Lyndon B. Johnson also used Jenkins to obtain political information. He told Jenkins that it was very important to "read" politicians. He constantly told him: "Watch their hands, watch their eyes. Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it's not important as what you can read in his eyes. The most important thing a man has to tell you is what he's not telling you. The most important thing he has to say is what he's trying not to say." Bobby Baker was another one who got this advice. He later recalled: "He seemed to sense each man's individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin."

Jenkins was also responsible for collecting advertising money for the KTBC. This was a radio and television station in Austin, that was officially owned by Lady Bird Johnson. This became a great source of income for the Johnson family after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had granted KTBC 24 hour a day monopoly broadcasting rights.

It was because of his work with KTBC that Jenkins became involved in the Don B. Reynolds scandal. Reynolds was a friend of Bobby Baker, who was at this time working for Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1957 Reynolds was asked to arrange Johnson's life insurance policy.

In 1963 Senator John Williams of Delaware began investigating the activities of Baker. As a result of his work, Baker resigned as the secretary to Lyndon B. Johnson on 9th October, 1963. During his investigations Williams met Reynolds and persuaded him to appear before a secret session of the Senate Rules Committee.

Don B. Reynolds told B. Everett Jordan and his committee on 22nd November, 1963, that Johnson had demanded that he provided kickbacks in return for him agreeing to this life insurance policy. This included a $585 Magnavox stereo. Reynolds was also told by Jenkins that he 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.

Reynolds also told of seeing a suitcase full of money which Bobby 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.

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?"

Walter Jenkins with Bill Moyers
Walter Jenkins with Bill Moyers

The historian, Rick Perlstein argued in Before the Storm: "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."

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.

Jenkins had been saved from exposure. However, on 7th October, 1964, Jenkins went to cocktail party at the Washington offices of Newsweek. On his way home he visited the YMCA toilet. While there he was arrested by the police after being found having sex with a retired soldier. A local newspaper reporter working for the Washington Star, found out about this incident. He also discovered that Jenkins had been arrested on a similar charge in 1959. The offence had taken place in the same YMCA toilet.

Lyndon B. Johnson applied considerable pressure on the newspaper not to print the story. Johnson pointed out that Jenkins was happily married with six children and that the incident was a result of Jenkins having too much to drink at the party. Johnson recruited his personal lawyer, Abe Fortas, to deal with the newspaper editor. However, the story eventually appeared in the Washington Star and Jenkins was forced to resign.

When he heard the news about Jenkins, J. Edgar Hoover sent Jenkins a bouquet of flowers and expressed his regret that he had lost his job. As Anthony Summers points out in his book, Official and Confidential: "J. Edgar Hoover's public attitude on homosexuality was normally at least condemnatory, often cruel. On this occasion, however, he visited Jenkins in the hospital and sent him flowers."

Members of Congress called for the FBI to carry out an investigation into the Jenkins case. Several were concerned that the FBI had been unaware of Jenkins previous offence in the same Washington toilet six years earlier. It also emerged that Jenkins, a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, had tried to use his influence to reinstate a fellow officer dismissed for sex offences.

When the FBI report was eventually published it stated that Jenkins had only "limited association with some individuals who are alleged to be, or who admittedly are, sex, deviates... but there was no information that Jenkins had ever engaged in improper acts with them". The report concluded that Jenkins "had never compromised national security".

After leaving Washington, Jenkins worked as a management consultant and ran a construction company in Austin, Texas. He remained close to the Lyndon B. Johnson family for the rest of his life.

Walter Wilson Jenkins died on 23rd November, 1985.

Primary Sources

(1) Robert A. Caro, Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1982)

Only after he (Walter Jenkins) had passed screening by these four Johnson aides (John Connally, Willard Deason, Jesse Kellem and Ray Lee) was the true purpose of the interviews revealed. "I got a call from John Connally, and he said, "Would you like to drive out to Johnson City tonight and meet Lyndon Johnson?" I said, "Who's Lyndon Johnson?" I was from Wichita Falls and had never heard of him." Jenkins had dinner with Johnson at the Casparis' Cafe, and after hours of answering questions, the young student was asked, "Would you like to work for me?"

(2) Robert A. Caro, Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2002)

Jenkins wrote Warren Woodward on January 11, "Ed Clark tells me that he has received some assistance from H. E. Butt. I wonder if you could go by and pick it up and put it with the other (we) put away before I left Texas Clark says that Brown's money was for the presidential run for which Johnson was gearing up that January, and that Butt's was for Johnson to contribute to the campaigns of other senators, but that often he and the other men providing Johnson with funds weren't even sure which of these two purposes the funding were for. "How could you know?" Ed Clark was to say. "If Johnson wanted to give some senator money for some campaign, Johnson would pass the word to give money to me or Jesse Kellam or Cliff Carter, and it would find its way into Johnson's hands. And it would be the same if he wanted money for his own campaign. And a lot of the money that was given to Johnson both for other candidates and for himself was in cash." "All we knew was that Lyndon asked for it, and we gave it," Tommy Corcoran was to say.

This atmosphere would pervade Lyndon Johnson's fundraising all during his years in the Senate. He would "pass the word" - often by telephoning, sometimes by having Jenkins telephone - to Brown or dark or Connally, and the cash would be collected down in Texas and flown to Washington, or, a Johnson was in Austin, would be delivered to him there. When word was received that some was available, John Connally recalls, he would board a plane in Fort Worth or Dallas, and "I'd go get it. Or Walter would get it. Woody would go get it. We had a lot of people who would go get it, and deliver it. The idea that Walter or Woody or Wilton Woods would skim some is ridiculous. We had couriers." Or, dark says, "If George or me were going up anyway, we'd take it ourselves." And Tommy Corcoran was often bringing Johnson cash from New York unions, mostly as contributions to liberal senators whom the unions wanted to support. Asked how he knew that the money "found its way" into Johnson's hands, Clark laughed and said, "Because sometimes I gave it to him. It would be in an envelope." Both Clark and Wild said that Johnson wanted the contributions given, outside the office, to either Jenkins or Bobby Baker, or to another Johnson aide. Cliff Carter, but neither Wild nor Clark trusted either Baker or Carter.

(3) Walter Jenkins, telephone conversation with Lyndon B. Johnson (27th January, 1964)

Walter Jenkins: "I've got considerably more detail on Reynold's love life."

Lyndon Johnson: "Well, get it all typed up for me."

(4) Investigations: A Senator's Insurance, Time Magazine (5th March, 1965)

Did Walter Jenkins know of any arrangements whereby Don B. Reynolds, a business sidekick of Bobby Baker's, bought $1,208 in advertising on Lady Bird Johnson's Austin TV station in return for selling two $100,000 insurance policies on Lyndon Johnson's life?

The answer, in a sworn affidavit, was a flat no - but that was back on Dec. 16, 1963, when Jenkins was a top White House aide. Last week Jenkins answered again - and this time his no was a lot less than flat. He had meant on that other occasion that he had not known "of the specifics for the purchase of advertising." But "I did know Mr. Reynolds planned to purchase advertising time, and I have never asserted the contrary."

"No Secret." As before, Jenkins did not appear in person before the Senate Rules Committee, which is investigating the Bobby Baker case. He left the White House last October, after being arrested on a morals charge, and his lawyer and two psychiatrists testified that his appearance before the committee would cause such a strain as to endanger his health. Instead, Jenkins replied on paper, but under oath, to 40 written questions from the committee.

In late 1956 or early 1957, Jenkins recalled, he was treasurer of the LBJ Co., which owned the television station, and "I was seeking an insurance company from which insurance on the life of the then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson might be purchased. I made no secret of this search, and I'm confident that Robert G. Baker knew of it, either from me or indirectly. Mr. Baker told me that he knew Don Reynolds, who represented a company which was beginning to specialize in insurance for former heart attack patients. Mr. Baker did not tell me that he had any interest in Mr. Reynolds' business."

Baker arranged a meeting between Jenkins and Reynolds, and Jenkins later talked to Baker several times about the proposed insurance. But then Jenkins "received word from the LBJ Co. that it would not be necessary to pursue the matter further because a local agent in Austin had become interested in selling the policies and that he not only had been an advertiser on the radio and television stations for many years, but also had always related the amount of his advertising to the amount of his business done with the station." This local agent, it turned out, was Huff Baines, a cousin of Lyndon Johnson's.

Meeting the Competition. Jenkins "communicated this information to Mr. Reynolds," and presumably was pleased to hear "that Mr. Reynolds wished very much to sell the policies and would also like to purchase advertising time in the event he sold them." Jenkins studied Reynolds' "offer to meet the competition," and "it was decided to accept the Reynolds offer."

Jenkins insisted that at no time did he "pressure" Reynolds to buy the television time. But in any event, he certainly got the idea across.

(5) Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm (2000)

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.

(6) District of Columbia, Police Case 2208 (7th October, 1964)

Jenkins, Walter Wilson, 3704 Huntington St., NW. Born 3-23-18, Jolly, Texas. Occupation: clerk, married. Male. Collateral: $25. Mother Enna Morgan, father John B., charge disorderly conduct (pervert).

(7) Anthony Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993)

J. Edgar Hoover's public attitude on homosexuality was normally at least condemnatory, often cruel. On this occasion, however, he visited Jenkins in the hospital and sent him flowers.