Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) was a younger brother of President John F. Kennedy. Robert, also known as "Bobby" Kennedy or RFK, served as Attorney General during his brother's presidency. Robert was considered one of John's closest advisers. He was a strong supporter of Civil Rights issues and was primarily known for his fighting of Organized crime.
Robert Kennedy started his legal career in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice in 1951. In 1953, he served with Roy Cohn as counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy's Committee on Government Operations and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He became nationally known for his anti-Mob activities while working as chief counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, a post which he left in 1960 to work on his brother's presidential campaign. After the election, John Kennedy appointed him to be Attorney General. At 36, he was the youngest man to serve in this position.
FBI wiretapping of Martin Luther King
As Attorney General, Kennedy was alarmed by Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that two of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s closest advisers, Stanley Levison and Hunter Pitts "Jack" O'Dell, were secret operatives of the Communist Party's underground "apparatus."
On June 16, 1963, Attorney General Robert Kennedy raised “the possibility of effecting technical coverage on ... Martin Luther King,” according to a memo by FBI Assistant Director Courtney Evans, in charge of the Special Investigative Division:
|“|| I told the AG that ... in so far as Dr. King was concerned, it was obvious from the reports that he was in a travel status practically all the time, and it was, therefore, doubtful that a technical surveillance on his office or home would be very productive. I also raised the question as to the repercussions if it should ever become known that such a surveillance had been put on Dr. King.
The AG said this did not concern him at all, that in view of the possible Communist influence in the racial situation, he thought it advisable to have as complete coverage as possible. I told him, under the circumstances, that we would check into the matter to see if coverage was feasible, and, if so, would submit an appropriate recommendation to him.
On October 10, 1963, the Attorney General authorized the FBI to wiretap MLK Jr's phone on a trial basis due to suspicion that Dr. King still had associates who were Communists. RFK later privately acknowledged to journalist Anthony Lewis:
|“||I asked the FBI to make an intensive investigation of Martin Luther King ... to see who his companions were and, also, to see what other activities he was involved in. This is also the reason that President Kennedy and I and the Department of Justice were so reserved about him, which I'm sure he felt. We never wanted to get close to him just because of these contacts and connections that he had, which we felt were damaging to the civil rights movement and because we were so intimately involved in the struggle for civil rights, it also damaged us. It damaged what we were trying to do.||”|
Robert stayed on after his brother's assassination, resigning in September 1964. He then ran a successful campaign for Senate, and took office as Senator from New York in early 1965. Kennedy ran for President of the United States as a Democrat in the 1968 election, but was assassinated just months before.
Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan on June 6, 1968 while running for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States against his principal opponent, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. It is believed that Sirhan Sirhan carried out the assassination because of Kennedy's strong support for Israel. Neither Kennedy nor McCarthy won the party nomination; instead the party choice fell on Vice President Hubert Humphrey, also of Minnesota, who prevailed among delegates without entering a single primary contest following the withdrawal on March 31, 1968, of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Humphrey went on to be defeated for the presidency by Republican Richard M. Nixon in 1968.
- United States Senate, Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book III. Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. (United States Government Printing Office, 1976), p. 101
- David J. Garrow, "The FBI and Martin Luther King," The Atlantic, July/August 2002
- John Meroney, "What Really Happened Between J. Edgar Hoover and MLK Jr.," The Atlantic, November 11, 2011
- Herst, Burton (2007). Bobby and J. Edger. pp. 372–74