The Godfather’s Connection to the US Attorney Scandal

Pat_McCarran.jpgI’m still trying to get my mind around the burgeoning US Attorney scandal. While I mull it over, it worth remembering that there is nothing new under the sun, claims about the non-partisanship of the USAO office notwithstanding.

Lyndon Johnson’s biographer, Robert Caro, relates a great story about LBJ’s attempt to win the support of liberal senators in his election as minority leader in 1952. (LBJ had the conservative Southern Democrats on his side, but wanted all the votes). According to Caro, LBJ looked to Nevada Senator Pat McCarran, who was then a target of an FBI investigation into his contacts with the Las Vegas mob. (In the Godfather movies, McCarran was morphed into Senator Pat Geary.)

McCarran wanted his friend, James Johnson, to be named the US Attorney by President Truman before he left office. The theory was that Johnson would protect McCarran by halting any further inquiries. But the President hated the Senator. By January 1 (before Ike’s January 20th inauguration) Truman still had not signed the necessary papers. (Shades of Marbury here!) As Caro reports, on January 13, LBJ went to the White House and begged Truman to support him, so that McCarran would support LBJ. Truman agreed:

“All right . . . I’ll give this to you, Lyndon. But if that old so-and-so doesn’t produce, you bring it back to me . . . As you know, I’m doing this under protest. It is your ‘baby’ from now on.”

Later that day, appointment in hand, LBJ secured McCarren’s support for his leadership bid (in return for the extra concession of a seat on the Government Operations committee.

Of course, this type of anecdote only shows that monkeying with the US Attorney’s office is a time-honored American political tradition. It doesn’t make the activity ethical, or lawful. It does mean that it isn’t unprecedented.

(Story Credit: Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate 477, 500-501 (2002); Photo Credit of Senator McCarran: US Congress.)

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