THE PRESIDENCY: L.B.J., Hoover and Domestic Spying

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As the 1968 Democratic Convention approached, the FBI sent Johnson almost daily reports on the people and events of that unsettled time. One Johnson aide remembers that there was information about the activities of Congressmen and Senators. The FBI reports were often included in the President's night reading, and sometimes they were such "garbage," as one man said, that Johnson aides thought they were not fit for the President to see. They were sent back to the bureau.

Shortly after Johnson took office, the transcript and tapes of Martin Luther King's bedroom activities were spirited to him. He read the accounts, which an aide described as being "like an erotic book." He listened to the tapes that even had the noises of the bedsprings.

When a Johnson assistant once defended King's antiwar activities, L.B.J. exploded: "Goddammit, if only you could hear what that hypocritical preacher does sexually." The aide tried to joke. "Sounds good, Mr. President," he said. A huge grin appeared momentarily on Johnson's face, but he quickly caught it and returned to his threatening self.

An aide remembers being with Johnson and Hoover when Hoover was reporting on important people linked to the gambling world. Johnson was fascinated, but hesitant. How did Hoover know these things? he asked. Because of wiretaps, Hoover told the President. Then Hoover would drop a tidbit or two. Johnson was all ears, but he would protest, "All right, all right," as if he wanted Hoover to stop. Hoover did not stop. He kept on talking, and L.B.J. kept on listening. Johnson was hooked and Hoover knew it.

Yet for all of this, Johnson sometimes denounced bugging as if it were original sin. "The worst thing in our society would be to not be able to pick up a phone for fear of it being tapped," he told one of his men. "I don't want any wiretapping," he said when he was designing the Safe Streets Act. However, Senator John McClellan talked him into including a provision for wiretapping. The Congress then provided more authority than agreed upon, so Johnson ordered the Justice Department not to use that power.

At one point Johnson became so angry at Hoover and the bureau that he ordered his Secret Service detail chief, Rufus Youngblood, to go over to Justice and take over the FBI. Youngblood went there, wandered around for a few days, but the order was never formalized. Two of Johnson's closest friends warned L.B.J. that Hoover was disregarding the civil liberties of many people. It was then that Johnson gave his pungent summation of why he kept Hoover: "I would rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

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