Thus, on January 31, 1957, was born
the Select Committee on improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field,
better known as the Rackets Committee.



The creation of the select committee created an immediate dilemna for RFK's brother.
As the number two-ranking Democrat on Labor, Senator John Kennedy
was automatically entitled to join the Rackets Committee.
He could have ducked...but JFK 'reluctantly' agreed to serve.

excerpts from pages 70-375

...When the Democrats won back control of the Senate in 1955, Bobby became chief counsel of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. With communist hunting out of favour in the wake of [Joseph] McCarthy's excesses, Kennedy steered the committee towards government corruption. But he discovered his true interest in the netherwold of organized crime...

In the summer of 1956, Kennedy began hearing from muckraking reporters who were writing stories about corruption in the trade union movement. Unions, with their vast pension funds and need for muscle, made ideal targets of opportunity for organized crime. Ever since the Kefauver hearings in 1951, the public had been at least dimly aware that labor was being infiltrated by the mob. On the Waterfront, the 1954 movie about corruption in the Longshoremen's Union, dramatized the problem. But it took some muckraking reporters to begin to expose the vast reach of labor racketeering.

Uncovering mob ties to the unions was a dangerous business. In April 1956, some hoods threw acid into the eyes of a crusading labor reporter, Victor Riesel...(the mobster later beat the rap). But reporters began nudging Kennedy: 'Shouldn't his congressional investigators take a look at the broader problem of labor racketeering?' Kennedy hesitated. He was only just beginning to see the dimensions of the threat. Anyway, he wasn't sure his committee had jurisdiction. The Senate Labor Committee was jealous of his purview, but its members were also leery of offending Big Labor, which generously donated to the political parties.

A relentless and abrasive newsman named Clark Mollenhoff found the key to Kennedy: he baited him for being gutless. 'Was Kennedy scared?' Mollenhoff taunted. 'Afraid of the power of the unions?' He didn't have to ask if Kennedy was physically afraid. Kennedy took the bait. In August 1956 Kennedy got the members of the investigations subcommittee to authorize a preliminary look into racketeering by the labor unions.

Although he could not yet see the scale of his crusade or where it would take him, Kennedy had at last found an enemy worthy of his passions. But, as usual, family duty came first. Before RFK could take on a thorough rackets investigation, he had to attend to his brother Jack's political ambitions. Already plotting his path to the White House after four years in the Senate, Jack Kennedy wanted to make a try at getting on the ticket with Adlai Stevenson...

JFK lost, narrowly, to Senator Estes Kefauver, the Tennessee senator who had first won national attention with televised hearings on organized crime in 1951...In fact, JFK's defeat really had been a blessing. Stevenson's campaign was doomed. But JFK had established himself as the bright young face of the party's future, the hope to recapture the White House in 1960...And the victory of Estes Kefauver, whom RFK had dismissed as a drunken lightweight, opened his eyes to another possibility--a way to make a name and win headlines while chasing bad guys....On election day, Kennedy voted for Eisenhower.

Then it was back to his new cause, investigating labor corruption. Kennedy saw a chance to top the 1951 Kefauver hearings by investigating the growing links between labor and organized crime. Such an investigation would be politically risky, given the power of Big Labor in the Democratic Party. Still, Kennedy started at the top: he picked as his first target the nation's largest and richest union, the Teamsters, the 1.3-million-man union that dominated the trucking industry.

Teamster Truck

The union had been 'mobbed up,' quietly infiltrated by gangsters who saw the Teamsters' $250 million pension fund as a honey pot. In November, Kennedy traveled west under an alias (Mr. Rogers), talking to newspapermen who had written stories about labor corruption. With him was Carmine Bellino, an accountant and former FBI agent who, as a Senate staffer, had seen two previous congressional investigations of labor racketeering wilt under political pressure. 'Unless you are prepared to go all the way,' he advised, 'don't start it.' Kennedy replied, 'We're going all the way.' In Los Angeles, they heard grisly stories of strong-arm tactics. They learned about the union organizer who had been warned to stay out of San Diego by the jukebox operators. He went anyway and was knocked unconscious. When he awoke the next morning, 'he was covered with blood and had terrible pains in his stomach,' Kennedy wrote. 'The pains were so intense that he was unable to drive back to his home in Los Angeles and stopped at a hospital. There was an emergency operation. The doctors removed from his backside a large cucumber. Later, he was told that if he ever returned to San Diego it would be a watermelon.'

In Seattle, Mollenhoff sent Kennedy to see Ed Guthman, a Pulitzer Prize winner for the Seattle Times ('Can you trust him?' Gutham had asked Mollenhoff). Guthman directed Bobby to some Teamster dissidents. The renegades told Kennedy how the rank and file were being fleeced by the union bosses, who lived high (one of them used union trucks to transport his racehorses). The Teamsters' president, Dave Beck, was a self-important glad-hander who posed as a statesman of the union movement. He had built a grand headquarters in Washington known as the Marble Palace and won access to the Eisenhower White House. He was just the kind of puffed-up-phony Kennedy delighted in exposing.

Through his newspaper contacts, Kennedy found a labor consultant named Nathan Shefferman, who had helped Beck buy a few items 'wholesale.' Kennedy and Bellino flew to Chicago and--with a subpoena--persuaded the affable Shefferman to show them his books. Bellino, an investigator with a nose for cooked books, spread the documents around their hotel room in the Palmer House. Bellino followed the money from union coffers to various improvements on Beck's lavish house in Seattle. After an hour, Kennedy later wrote, 'we had come to the startling but inescapable conclusion that Dave Beck, the president of America's largest and most powerful labor union, the Teamsters, was a crook.'

Kennedy was exhilarated when he returned home the next day, December 20. He was convinced that labor racketeering across the country 'cried out for an investigation.' For Christmas, Kennedy took his growing brood (five children, with the addition of Mary Courtney in September) and his crime-busting ambitions to Hyannis Port. He announced to his father and the rest of the clan that he would ask his Senate committee to probe the grip of organized crime on labor unions. The reaction was disappointing. No one cheered, and Joseph Kennedy was dead set against the idea. 'He was really mad,' sister Jean recalled. Such an investigation would be 'politically dangerous. It would antagonize labor and lead to nothing,' Jean recalled the patriarch arguing. 'He was really, deeply emotionally opposed.' The father-son debate raged on, dampening the holiday....

Was Kennedy risking his own brother's presidential ambitions by taking aim at the unions? Kefauver had capitalized on his organized crime hearings to become the running mate on a losing ticket in 1956. But Jack Kennedy aimed higher, and a Democrat would have a hard time winning the White House without the support of organized labor. Hearings that publicized the depth of union corruption hardly seemed like a way to make friends in the labor movement....

Robert Kennedy, after so many years of slavishly following his father's wishes, defied the patriarch. His stubborness and independence towards others had finally come home, provoking a family confrontation that was, as sister Jean recalled, 'the worst ever.'

Kennedy's psychological motivations will always remain speculative, if intriguing. More certain is Kennedy's desire to stand up for the underdog, and his determination to test his courage. In Jimmy Hoffa, Bobby Kennedy himself found the perfect foil.

His father's objections did not appear to slow down RFK even for a day. As soon as he got back to Washington, two days after Christmas, Kennedy called on Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, chairman of the investigations subcommittee, at his apartment, and laid out the evidence that he had collected against the Teamsters. A crusty, righteous Baptist from a conservative southern state, McClellan was perfectly willing to investigate racketeering by Big Labor. To appease labor's defenders, however, a special committee would have to be created, with four senators from McClellan's investigations subcommittee and four from the more sympathetic and pliable Labor Commitee. The new committee's mandate would be to look at wrongdoing by management as well as labor. Thus, on January 31, 1957, was born the Select Committee on improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, better known as the Rackets Committee.

The creation of the select committee created an immediate dilemna for RFK's brother. As the number two-ranking Democrat on Labor, Senator John Kennedy was automatically entitled to join the Rackets Committee. He could have ducked, following the example of Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jackson, who was fearful of crossing Teamster president Dave Beck, a powerful figure in Jackson's home state of Washington. But JFK 'reluctantly' agreed to serve, writes RFK in his memoir of rackets-busting, The Enemy Within. According to his brother, JFK initially felt that one Kennedy investigating labor was probably enough, a judgment Joseph Kennedy undoubtedly shared. JFK later said that he went on the committee to keep off the next senator in line of seniority--arch-conservative Strom Thurmond of South Carolina--and because 'Bobby wanted me on that committee.' But JFK was cagey. He may also have wanted to keep an eye on RFK, to make sure his hotheaded little brother didn't push too far and create a backlash that could jeopardise JFK's presidential ambitions....

RFK was already involved in his own intrigues. Eddy Cheyfitz, a Washington lawyer-fixer-PR man, had been hired by Dave Beck to polish the image of the Teamsters. Cheyfitz had invited RFK over to the Marble Palace and boasted of Beck's clout with leading politicians. Secretly, however, Cheyfitz was working for the man who wanted to push Beck aside and take over the Teamsters--Jimmy Hoffa, a hard-eyed, fire-plug-shaped former warehouseman from Detroit. Eager to see Beck brought down, Hoffa was quietlly feeding damaging information about the Teamster president to Kennedy through Cheyfitz, who acted as the middleman and cutout.

Cheyfitz figured that Kennedy and Hoffa would get along because they were in many ways alike. Tough, competitive, suspicious, tightly wound, congenial when they felt like it and rude when they did not, Jimmy Hoffa and Robert Kennedy did have much in common, including wearing white socks with their suits. Arrested and convicted of assault, conspiracy, and extortion, a veteran of many bloody labor battles, Hoffa had always played rough. 'Guys that tried to break me up got broken up.' he bragged. He also flaunted his ties to gangsters. Union bosses who did not use underworld muscle, he scoffed, were 'fools.' But unlike Dave Beck, Hoffa was not a high liver, and he had--like Bobby Kennedy--his own sense of rough honor. He had lived with his wife and family in the same modest working-class house in Detroit for twenty years. When he traveled, he refused to let bellhops handle his luggage or hail him a cab. He never smoked or drank. And he saw himself as the champion of the underdog, standing for the rank and file against the free-loaders in the Marble Palace. Cheyfitz wanted to persuade Kennedy that Hoffa was a reformer who would clean up the Teamsters. Hoping that the two driven men would see their similarities and not their differences, Cheyfitz invited Hoffa and Kennedy to dinner at his house on a snowy evening in February 19, 1957.

Kennedy went, but with his guard up and his suspicions high. Unbeknownst to Cheyfitz, Kennedy had been tipped off that Hoffa was trying to subvert the Rackets Committee. On the night of February 12, a week before his scheduled dinner with Hoffa and only two weeks after the creation of the committee, he got a call from a New York lawyer named John Cye Cheasty.'I have information that will make your hair curl' Cheasty announced. 'In those days,' recalled Kennedy, 'there were few people I talked with who did not claim to have information that would make my hair stand on end, and I tried to see them all.' Kennedy invited Cheasty to Washington. The next day, munching a sandwich, he listened to Cheasty tell his story. He soon stopped eating. Cheasty told him that he had been given $1,000 in cash as a down payment to get a job as an investigator with the Rackets Committee. Hoffa wanted Cheasty to act as a spy. Kennedy immediately hired Cheasty to act as a double agent.

Kennedy was late to dinner at Cheyfitz's on the nineteenth because he had been waiting in his office for a phone call from the FBI, reporting on a secret meeting between Cheasty and Hoffa on a snowy street corner late that afternoon. At Cheyfitz's ornately decorated house, Kennedy and Hoffa said hello and eyed each other warily. Kennedy noticed that Hoffa was short (five feet five) and solidly built, with eyes that were small, bright green, and hard. Hoffa was struck by Kennedy's weak handshake. He later told a reporter, 'I can tell by how he shakes hands what kind of fellow I got. I said to myself, 'Here's a fella thinks he's doing me a favor by talking to me.' Both men refused Cheyfitz's offer of a drink. Kennedy began quizzing Hoffa about his ties to Johnny Dio, the New York gangster charged with throwing acid into the eys of labor reporter Victor Riesel. Hoffa brushed off the questions and bragged about his toughness. 'I do to others what they do to me,' he blustered at Kennedy. The union boss talked about his police record (sixteen arrests) and the brutal fights he had waged against management. He said that he had destroyed employers who tried to pick on him. 'Maybe I should have worn my bullet-proof vest,' Kennedy bluffed back. Kennedy always tried to deal with tense situations by cracking wise jokes. The forced quality of his humor this evening suggests how tense he felt. During the course of this uncomfortable evening, both Hoffa and Cheyfitz revealed a knowledge of the Rackets Committee's inner workings that could only have come from Cye Cheasty. Kennedy was tempted to drop Cheasty's name, just to test the reaction, but decided not to risk tipping his hosts off to Cheasty's double agent role.

At about nine-thirty, Ethel called the Cheyfitz home to say that someone had skidded into a tree outside the Kennedy house in McLean, and that her husband was needed at home. Hoffa chided, 'Better hurry up, Bob. She probably called to see if you're still alive.' Kennedy called Ethel back and said, with more labored humor, 'I'm still alive, dear. If you hear a big explosion, I probably won't be'. 'He's a damn spoiled jerk,' Hoffa told Cheyfitz when Kennedy was gone.

In his car driving home, Kennedy thought of how often Hoffa had said he was 'tough.' The word had talismanic meaning to Kennedy, but he felt that men who really were tough did not have to boast about it. Kennedy concluded that Hoffa was 'a bully hiding behind a facade.'

Less than a month into his investigation, Kennedy was reasonably confident that he could bring down not only Dave Beck, but also his would-be usurper Jimmy Hoffa. Beck was vain and selfish, Kennedy believed, but Hoffa was more sinister. Kennedy was especially interested in Hoffa's ties to the mob and his use of 'muscle' to keep discipline in the union and intimidate employers. From his friends in the New York police force, Kennedy had wiretaps of Hoffa making deals with Johnny Dio. Now, with Cheasty, he had his own lure to catch the Teamster boss.

On March 13, the FBI set a trap. As the government's hidden cameras whirred, Cheasty was seen handing over a manila envelope to Hoffa outside a hotel on Dupont Circle in downtown Washington. Hoffa stuffed $2,000 in fifty-dollar bills into Cheasty's hand. The gumshoes moved in, and Hoffa was arrested and charged with bribery.

Kennedy was waiting for Hoffa when he was arraigned at the courthouse after midnight. Hoffa glared at Kennedy 'for three minutes,' Kennedy recalled. Kennedy bridled when Hoffa addressed him as 'Bobby' and told him to mind his own business. Then the men engaged in a debate over who could do the most push-ups. Ethel had come along to the courthouse. 'I've never been to an arraignment before,' she explained to a reporter. This one was 'very exciting.' Ethel was not there as a mere spectator. She had alerted the press, drawing fifty reporters to the scene. A little too cocky, Bobby told the reporters that he would 'jump off the Capitol' if Hoffa were acquited.

Kennedy was riding high, confident he could remake the Teamsters all at once. As he waited for the Hoffa bribery trial to start, he turned his attention back to Beck....At the end of March, the Rackets Committee called Beck to appear as a witness...Then towards the end of the afternoon it was the turn of the committee's chief counsel. Kennedy tipped his hand right away. 'Can you tell the committee what your relationship had been with Mr. Nathan Shefferman?' Kennedy began. Beck immediately looked for cover. He invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Kennedy was dryly sarcastic in his pursuit:

  Mr.KENNEDY: Do you feel that if you gave a truthful answer to this Committee on your taking of $320,000 of union funds
   that might tend to incriminate you?
  Mr.BECK: It might.
  Mr.KENNEDY: Is that right?
  Mr.BECK: It might.
  Mr.KENNEDY: You feel that yourself?
  Mr.BECK: It might.
  Mr.KENNEDY: I feel the same way...

Kennedy went on to list all the items that Nathan Shefferman had bought for the Beck family with union funds....Over the next few weeks, Kennedy was able to prove that Beck was stealing money from the widow of his best friend. Beck was finished. He was eventually indicted and convicted of larceny and income tax evasion and sent to prison.

Hoffa was next. The Teamster boss's bribery trial began three months later, as the Washington heat rose in late June. Hoffa had hired the best criminal defense lawyer in the country, Edward Bennett Williams, who knew that he had a difficult case--the prosecution had movies of his client handing an envelope stuffed with cash to a federal employee. But Williams was extremely resourceful. He argued that Cheasty was not Hoffa's spy, but rather his lawyer. He had been retained to help Hoffa defend himself from the congressional probe. The argument was clever, if disingenuous, and it was buttressed by William's flagrant playing of the race card.

Having purposefully chosen a jury that was two-thirds black, Williams hired a black lawyer to sit at the defense table. An article extolling the lawyer was delivered to the homes of several jurors. Outrageously, the defense team brought heavyweight champ Joe Louis into court to greet the Teamster boss. The Justice Department prosecutor, by contrast, performed clumsily, putting on a weak and fumbling case. RFK, in the judgment of everyone except his loyal wife, was underwhelming as a witness. The jury voted to acquit.

Kennedy was conducting a committee hearing when the verdict came down. A reporter watching his face saw Kennedy blanch. Kennedy's secretary, Angie Novello, dreaded her boss's return to the office. Kennedy walked in, sensed the defeated mood, and said, 'Come on now. We've got a lot of work to do. No sitting around.' Kennedy was furious about the Joe Louis gambit, and he sent his best investigator, Walter Sheridan, to confront the ex-heavyweight champ. Touchingly, Kennedy's sentimentality and hero worship interfered with making an example of the old boxer. Kennedy asked Sheridan to bring back Louis's autograph for his son Joe, age five. When Louis gladly obliged, Kennedy couldn't bear to bring him to Washington to expose him as a Teamster shill before a congressional committee.

Kennedy finally summoned Hoffa himself to appear before the committee in August. The ornate Senate Caucus Room filled with spectators who looked forward to a showdown. The senators on the committee leaned back in their chairs. McClellan called the hearing to order in his slow, sad voice. Kennedy sat tense, on the edge of his chair, nervously pushing his horn-rimmed glasses up on his forehead. Hoffa was breezily confident.


He began by addressing Kennedy as 'Bob.' He made a mockery of poor memory. 'To the best of my recollection, I must recall on my memory, I cannot remember . . . I can say here to the Chair that I cannot recall in answer to your question other than to say I just don't recall my recollection . . .' Hoffa and Kennedy would lock eyes and stare at each other for several minutes at a time. Then Hoffa would wink. 'I used to love to bug that little bastard,' Hoffa recalled.

None of this amused Kennedy. He later said he detected in Hoffa 'absolute evilness'. Kennedy portrayed the Teamsters as a threat on a par with communism. The Teamsters--'the most powerful institution in this country, aside from the United States government itself'--had the power to squeeze the lifeblood from the country by controlling the nation's transportation network. He warned Americans, 'Quite literally, your life--the life of every person in the United States--is in the hands of Hoffa and his Teamsters.' This was hype: Hoffa never dreamed of the kind of general strike that could choke the country. Still, he was a baleful force in the labor movement.

Kennedy was convinced that Hoffa had beaten, if not killed, union dissidents, stolen millions in union funds, and shaken down employers. But proof was hard to come by. Records had vanished, along with Hoffa's memory of key events. Kennedy hoped to grind Hoffa down, slinging charges at him until one stuck. Though obsessed with his foe--and obsessed is not too strong a word--Kennedy strangely underestimated Hoffa. Kennedy was so sure of the rightness of his cause that he could not see that Hoffa felt the same way about his own. The Teamster leader was accustomed to being prosecuted and, as he saw it, persecuted. Hoffa could easily regard himself as the friend of the working man unfairly assaulted by a showboating millionaire's son.

Day after day, the two antagonists went at it. A Civil war buff, Kennedy rather grandly compared himself to General Ulysses Grant, 'slugging it out' in the Wilderness Campaign, where the fog of war lay heavy, fighting was chaotic, and casualties were high. Kennedy tempered his grandiosity with wry, self-deprecating humor. 'My first love is Jimmy Hoffa,' he told one reporter, John Bartlow Martin. Martin, who was profiling the Kennedy-Hoffa feud for the Saturday Evening Post, was driving with Kennedy down Capitol Hill on the way home one night when Kennedy noticed that the lights still burned at Teamster headquarters. Never to be outworked, Kennedy turned the car around and went back to his office. Hearing of Kennedy's reaction, Hoffa saw an opportunity for more winking mischief. He began leaving the lights turned on in his office after he went home at night.

The Hoffa hearings became a kind of trench warfare, exhausting and inconclusive. Hoffa lost his blitheness. 'You're sick!' he snarled at Kennedy. 'That's what's the matter with you--you are sick.' But Hoffa managed to stay a step ahead of the law. Indicted for wiretapping in New York, he escaped with a hung jury--eleven to one to convict. Retried, he was again acquitted in the spring of 1958. One day, Hoffa and Kennedy ran into each other in the elevator of the federal courthouse, Kennedy asked how the trial was going. 'You never can tell with a jury,' said Hoffa. 'Like shooting fish in a barrel.' (When Hoffa was finally convicted in 1964, the crime was jury tampering.)

Even Kennedy began to weary of the chase. He desperately cast about for a smoking-gun document or a turn-coat witness. John Bartlow Martin found Kennedy in his office one day in the late summer of 1958, tired and dispirited, eating lunch at his desk as he tried to cajole a prospective witness. 'Sol, can I get you to come over here and testify?' Kennedy pleaded. 'It would make a real difference.' Kennedy waited and prodded some more: 'Are you going to let him stand up here and kick everybody around?' Then, discouraged: 'Okay, Sol.' He slammed down the phone and glumly drank his milk.

On September 20, 1958--over a year after Hoffa first appeared before the committee--at the end of a long afternoon of circular questions and answers, Chairman McClellan called a truce. Mournfully puffing on a cigarette, the chairman proposed a recess. Kennedy, 'bushed,' smiled wearily. Hoffa, standing across the table, snickered. 'Look at him, look at him! He's too tired. He just doesn't want to go on.' Kennedy wrote in his journal:

  'I am mentally fatigued--more than during any other hearing. We
  have been going on for a long time without a break & I have about
  had it. I shall be happy when Hoffa is finished next week. McClellan
  also very tired. This year seems to have been tougher than last. Plod-
  ding grind . . . I feel like we're in a major fight. We have to keep
  going, keep the pressure on or we'll go under.'

It was characteristic of Kennedy that his response to fatigue and frustration was not to pull back, but to try harder. He needed to find a way to work more quickly, to pore through the documents flooding his office. Ever the self-improver, he somehow found time to travel to Baltimore once a week to take a speed reading course. (His brother John went with him for awhile, then, bored, dropped out.)....

Kennedy had a way of deflecting people at first, sometimes with insults, yet then giving his total attention to those he liked. John Seigenthaler's experience was characteristic. An able newspaperman for the Nashville Tennessean, Seigenthaler wanted to share information that he had dug up on the Teamsters. Flying to Washington, he found Kennedy glowering and stalking up and down in his office. 'You're late. You southerners are always late,' said Kennedy. Seigenthaler, who was ten minutes early, tried to protest, but Kennedy told him to talk to one of his assistants. It took three brush-offs before Kennedy finally looked at Siegenthaler's work, but when he did, he read every word. Kennedy flew to Nashville to talk to Seigenthaler, who soon revised his estimate of Kennedy as a 'rich snob'. In the car, one of Seigenthaler's friends inquired about Bobby's siblings. Bobby said that in addition to his brother Jack, the senator, he had an older brother, Joe Jr. 'Where was Joe?' the friend innocently inquired. 'In heaven', Bobby replied. Seigenthaler noted that Bobby was simple and direct, yet mysterious. 'You never knew if there was a smile there or not.'...

Home and work blurred for RFK. He liked to be home on the weekends to be near his children, so he instructed his staff to join him. He would come home and immediately change his shirt, which he would wear half unbuttoned with the tails hanging out. His staffers had to come prepared to ride horses or play touch football. John Bartlow Martin observed that 'Kennedy saw nothing incongruous about a millionaire's meeting beside the pool on his Virginia estate with former policemen and ill-paid lawyers and accountants to set traps for a Teamster from the Indian coalfields.' Ethel was very much a part of the scene. Although 'she sometimes seemed a little overwhelmed,' noted Martin, she attended hearings and the Hoffa trial as an avid partisan. During Hoffa's cross-examination, she could be heard exclaiming, 'Give it to him!' When Kennedy was cross-examined, she muttered, 'They have no right to ask those questions.'

The thirty-three-year-old Kennedy had a virtually free hand with the Rackets Committee. Chairman McClellan was fond of RFK and shared his moralistic sense of good and evil. He stepped in only when the chief counsel became entangled in his own questions. Kennedy's staff grew and grew until it had over a hundred investigators, by far the largest staff on Capitol Hill. Kennedy's men were encouraged to be resourceful. Pierre Salinger, a bon-vivant magazine writer who joined the staff, recalled getting a housemaid drunk so that he could reach under her mattress and remove some Teamster documents hidden there. Kennedy himself would go out on wild goose chases, on one occasion digging in an Illinois cornfield for the body of an alleged Teamster victim (never found)...

There is little proof that Kennedy played politics on the committee...Still the Republican minority naturally chafed. Senators Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Karl Mundt of South Dakota began writing each other, complaining bitterly that 'the Kennedy boys' had hijacked the committee. They saw a Democratic plot: by focusing on Hoffa and the Teamsters, Kennedy was covering up for the real labor outlaw, Walter Reuther and the United Auto Workers, a union that typically backed Democratic office seekers...

Kennedy disdained Goldwater and Mundt as craven. 'They have no guts' he wrote in his journal. 'They just complain to newspapermen. Never to me personally'....

Boxed in, Kennedy announced that the Rackets Committee would investigate the UAW. Kennedy himself traveled to Sheboygan in January 1958 to look into the bitter strike. He found wretched conditions for the workers and a labor-hating management. Kennedy was saved by Reuther's essential honesty. Reuther could be long-winded and flowery. But, unlike many Teamster officials, who offended RFK with their gold rings and sweet-smelling cologne, Reuther lived and dressed simply. He did not consort with gangsters. He was--important to Bobby--physically brave, having been shot by mobsters and dumped into the Detroit River. Fortunately for the political future of the Kennedys, Reuther resisted the temptation to cash in on his power. Reuther's representative in Washington, Jack Conway, himself a tough Irishman like Bobby, opened up all of Reuther's financial records. Kennedy's accountant, Carmine Bellino, with his expertise at sniffing out phony bookeeping, could find nothing wrong. Reuther didn't even expense account his dry cleaning. The investigation exonerated the UAW. The Republicans were spluttering. 'You were right,' Goldwater honestly admitted to Kennedy. 'We never should have gotten into this matter.'

Joe Sr.'s fears had not been realized. The Kennedys had not antagonized organized labor. Big Labor would never fully embrace the Kennedys--especially RFK--but the union bosses never sought to wreck JFK's progress towards the White House. 'Attacking Hoffa was good politics,' said Paul Schrade, a top UAW official who became close to the Kennedys. 'The AFL-CIO was going after corrupt unions anyways and expelled Hoffa.' During the investigation, the Kennedys openly courted the UAW's support. While Reuther kept the union officially neutral, top UAW officials, particularly Conway, quietly worked to get JFK nominated and elected. In retrospect, the Rackets Committee worked so well to the Kennedys' advantage that it seems carefully orchestrated. It wasn't. 'Bob and Jack didn't know it was going to be good politics,' said Schrade. 'What the hell did they know about unions? Not much.' Clark Molenhoff, the reporter who helped goad Kennedy into investigating labor racketeering, also saw risk rewarded. 'It happened that . . . it made them front-page figures for about four years; but it could have . . . dynamited them at the very outset.'...

Most of the publicity added luster to the family name. In the summer of 1957, as Bobby's face-off with Hoffa began attracting national attention, the glossy magazines began running blowing spreads. 'Young Man with Tough Questions' headlined Life on July 1. 'Rise of the Brothers Kennedy' answered Look on August 6. 'The Amazing Kennedys' topped the Saturday Evening Post on September 7. Constitutional scholars, writing in the smaller magazines, did question RFK's inquisitional style and tactics. They grumbled about 'Profiles in Bullying' and wondered if RFK was transforming the Fifth Amendment into a tacit admission of guilt. But most newsmen were Kennedy's supporters, if not virtual camp followers....Some newspapermen, having covered the hearings for more than two years, attended staff parties almost like members of the staff. Some shared the staff's zeal for getting Jimmy Hoffa . . ....

Life profiled Kennedy's personal life in April 1958 with a sweet article about the christening of Kennedy's sixth child, Michael. 'A Debut in a Burgeoining Family' shows Bobby assembled with his brood and his dog, a scene of happy domesticity. It was a reasonably accurate picture. Kennedy worked outrageous hours and rarely saw his children on the weekdays. But he adored them...

When Hoffa was acquitted that summer, Ethel suffered with Bobby and shared his determination to fight on. 'We're all sick to death about Hoffa,' she wrote Rose and Joe Sr. 'But we are relying on Carmine [Bellino], Clark Mollenhoff, and Bobby and Jack to hit one for our team.'...

Kennedy was emerging as a national hero in his own right. His ambitions, however, were for his older brother. By early 1959, Jack and Bobby and two or three close aides like Kenny O'Donnell 'were runing for president in our office after five o'clock in the evening,' observed a committee staffer, Ruth Watt. In September 1959, after 1,525 sworn witnesses and more than 500 hearings produced 46,150 pages of testimony, Robert Kennedy resigned as chief counsel of the Senate Rackets Committee. Kennedy took time in the summer of '59 to draft a book about his investigations called The Enemy Within. Sensitive to the charges that Jack's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage, had been ghostwritten by committee, RFK wrote his own, in indecipherable longhand. The Enemy Within was, briefly, a bestseller. Although overheated, it captures Kennedy's crusading passion. It might have launched him on a political career of his own. But family duty called...

During 1961, Bobby often talked with Budd Schulberg, who wrote the screenplay to On the Waterfront about making a movie of The Enemy Within. Paul Newman was supposed to play the role of RFK. Bobby may have been engaging in a bit of sibling rivalry; Hollywood was at the time producing PT 109 with Cliff Robertson as the young JFK. In any case, the major studios were too intimidated by the Teamsters to make a movie with Jimmy Hoffa as the bad guy...

The attorney general was well aware that Jimmy Hoffa wanted him dead. Kennedy had continued to pursue Hoffa with a unit known (though not in the Justice Department) as the Get Hoffa Squad, run by Kennedy's loyal top investigator Walter Sheridan. In 1962, Sheridan's team had got a break when a disaffected Teamster named E.G. Partin agreed to cooperate with the government. Partin told Kennedy's men that Hoffa had asked him if he knew anything about plastic explosives. Partin quoted Hoffa as saying, 'I've got to do something about that son of a bitch Bobby Kennedy.' The Teamster chief marveled at RFK's almost defiant indifference to personal security. Hoffa told Partin that RFK had a lot of guts to swim alone in his pool and drive around in a convertible. Skeptically listening to Partin describe these threats, Walter Sheridan suggested that Partin be given a lie detector test. 'What do we do if that fellow passes the test?' Kennedy asked...

Jimmy Hoffa, for years his great white whale, was finally convicted (of jury tampering) in March, 1964....

Kennedy himself was an obvious target for assassination plots. FBI bugs and taps had picked up threats from various mobsters and Hoffa's henchmen. Most were bluster. But right in the midst of Garrison's revelations and Kennedy's preparations for his antiwar speech in early March [1967], the FBI received a threat that had to be taken seriously. One of Hoffa's goons, the head of the Teamsters Union in Puerto Rico, Frank Chavez, had sworn that he would kill RFK if Jimmy Hoffa ever went to prison. On March 1, 1967, the Supreme Court turned down Hoffa's last appeal of his conviction for jury tampering in Tennessee. That same day, Chavez and two other thugs, carrying guns, boarded a plane for Washington. Kennedy was warned and given armed guards. Hickory Hill was placed under surveillance. It later turned out that Hoffa himself talked Chavez out of shooting RFK. Fearful that he would never get out of jail if the Teamsters were caught trying to kill Kennedy, Hoffa demanded that Chavez turn over his gun. (A few months later, Chavez was murdered by his own bodyguard)...

RFK understood that the political obstacles to wresting the nomination from a sitting president in 1968 were huge...To run for the presidency in 1968, Dutton wrote RFK in November, 1967, would be 'political suicide'...And yet . . . it was Robert Kennedy who liked to quote Dante that 'the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.'...

RFK's other great fear was the darkest and most unmentionable: that he would, like his brother, be murdered. He knew that he had many enemies, that he excited unreasoning emotions, that he had been the target of repeated threats, and that some of the threateners, like Teamster Frank Chavez, were dangerous. He was famous for ignoring death threats.

Kennedy's defiance of danger was heroic, but also slightly compulsive. He seemed to be daring death as a way of coping with the dread of it....By late February, Kennedy was randomly polling friends and acquaintances, asking if he should run.... And so Robert Kennedy backed into the race. There was no single moment, no one epihany, no turning point...

The senator's staff was told to reserve the Senate Caucus Room, where RFK had grilled Jimmy Hoffa and JFK had announced his presidential candidacy...He seemed certain that he would lose, that in the end he would not be able to overcome Johnson's power or [Eugene] McCarthy's head start. But at least he had resolved to act...

The Teamsters tried to buy peace with RFK. A Teamster leader came to Senator Edward Kennedy proposing that the Teamsters would give RFK $1 million and help him at the polls--if RFK would agree to go along with the recommendation of the U.S. Parole Board to shorten Jimmy Hoffa's prison sentence. Sitting in his bath at the end of the day, RFK told brother Ted, 'Well, you tell so and so, that if I get to be president, then Jimmy Hoffa will never get out of jail and there will be a lot more of them in jail.'... [end of quoting from Robert Kennedy: His Life, by Evan Thomas; Touchstone, New York, New York; 2000]


Jackie Jura
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