If Johnson was involved in a conspiracy, why wouldn’t he tell his protege Connally? The two had been closest of friends for more than twenty years. Their wives and children were close. Is it possible that Johnson would put Connally in harm’s way?
Although the two were political allies for much of their time together, the relationship changed after Johnson accepted the Vice Presidency. Robert Caro’s latest book, Passage of Power, chronicles Johnson’s fall from power. By the second year of his vice presidency he had been reduced from one of the most powerful men in the country to a figure of ridicule “Rufus Cornpone” – ignored by the President and insulted by the President’s brother, Robert. Johnson’s political career would likely have ended but for the assassination.
Connally, on the other hand, had become a rising star. In the run up to the election of 1964, Kennedy needed to carry the State of Texas. Johnson had been put on the 1963 ticket to deliver his state, and he had. But by 1963, according to Caro, Johnson was out of favor in Texas. His liberal views had alienated the powerful conservatives who ran the state. Connally had become their new favorite son. One instance, reported by Caro, is especially telling. In 1963 it was “Big John” Connally who controlled Texas’ role in financing the Democratic presidential campaign. After a number of fruitless meetings with Johnson and Connally in 1962, attempting to arrange a campaign swing through Texas, Kennedy finally concluded that he should be working through Connally, not Johnson.
Caro reports that on October 4, 1963, John Connally flew to Washington to participate in meetings with President Kennedy. Connally told Johnson he was coming to Washington but didn’t tell him he would be meeting with Kennedy. When Johnson found out that Connally and Kennedy had planned the Texas trip without him he was considerably irritated (Caro, The Passage of Power pages 273-274).
Johnson was a proud man, a vengeful man. His reputation for both was legendary. His failure to tell Connally about the plot would have been a way to both get a bit of revenge on Connally and to show Connally that Johnson still had influence with Connally’s ultraconservative friends. Connally didn’t tell Johnson about the meetings with Kennedy? Very well, Johnson wouldn’t tell Connally about his meetings with the Texans who Connally thought he was in tight with. Johnson would have his revenge.
Perhaps Johnson didn’t anticipate that the effect of his silence could be so serious. Perhaps he had other things to think about. This was certainly true. According, again, to Caro, at the moment the Kennedy motorcade was traveling through Dallas, reporters were combing the Hill country looking through deed records, digging into advertising sales from Johnson’s radio station, building a massive case against Johnson for bribery. The stories were an offshoot of the investigation into Johnson’s relationship with Bobby Baker, another infamous bag man. As the motorcade took off from the Dallas airport hearings were ongoing before the Senate Rules Committee – hearings at which people were testifying about the pressure Johnson had placed on them to buy advertising on Johnson’s radio stations. Caro, The Passage of Power pages 310-311. Perhaps Johnson just didn’t focus on the potential danger Connally was in when he stepped into Kennedy’s limo. Or perhaps he didn’t care. Connally wouldn’t help Johnson. Very well.
That day in Dallas two men fell victim to the conspiracy. One was killed, the other was seriously wounded.The first victim died on that day. The second, John B. Connally, Jr. took an incredible journey through America’s political and economic jungle before his death in June, 1993. In 1963, Connally was the Democratic Governor of Texas. Connally had begun his political career in Lyndon Johnson’s office in 1939. He rose through the ranks of Texas Democrats on Johnson’s coattails, eventually becoming a “bagman”-carrying, by his own admission, large amounts of money from Texas billionaires George and Herman Brown to Senator Johnson’s office for use in buying political influence.
By 1960, Connally had become the coexecutor of the estate of oilman Democrat Sid Richardson, a position worth more than a million dollars in fees. He became President Kennedy’s first Secretary of the Navy, a post he resigned to run for Texas Governor.
When he died in 1993, Connally had served as President Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury in 1971-1972, become a Republican and run for President on the Republican ticket. He had been caught up in the wave of real estate speculation that swept the country in the 1980’s . When the bubble burst, in 1994 it took Connally with it. His personal bankruptcy led to an auction of his belongings that was nationally televised in January, 1988.
Tracking coconspirators through history is like tracking an exotic species of wild animal through a jungle. The jungle is full of distractions; the tracks are old and hard to follow. Connally’s life is like a flashlight, picking out a track here, a snapped twig there. To follow him from 1963-1993 is to follow a trail of evidence that discloses the possible participants in the assassination and its aftermath.
If Connally had knowledge of a conspiracy, why wouldn’t he just tell the world about it? Why wouldn’t he testify about it under oath before the Warren Commission? The answers to those questions are also lights in the jungle; showing how the conspirators operated.
The first clues to the conspiracy can be found in Connally’s own testimony about the assassination. It changed several times over the years. Connally first testified to hearing multiple shots. In the midst of the attack he screamed, “My God, they’re going to kill us all!” He became the darling of the conspiracy theorists. A few years later, Connally was commending the Warren Commission for its excellent work and upholding its “single bullet” conclusion. His earlier testimony was “merely an impression” he said.
What would cause him to change his testimony? Some have asserted that he feared for the safety of himself and his family. Others attribute the change to the fact that Connally’s first impressions should be discounted by his wounds. Another explanation would be that in between the first accounts and the subsequent accounts, Connally learned who the attackers were and made a deal with them.
Would Connally become a participant in the cover up? His biographer James Reston, Jr. portrays him as amoral. His life involved a series of involvements in schemes that ranged from shady (Brown’s bagman) to illegal (Texas Milk Fund Scandal). Given the choice of turning in his old Texas friends and profiting from silence, there is little doubt of the choice he would make.
A realistic conspiracy theory must take into account all the facts. The plan and the cover up play out on a grand stage; they don’t hopscotch among selected facts. Three books are almost required reading for someone who wants to seriously discuss what led to the assassination and what occurred as part of a cover up. The Big Rich, by Bryan Burrough is a detailed, extensively annotated history of big oil. My blogs borrow many of Burrough’s facts. To understand the major figure in this trip, John Connally, one must read The Loan Star: The Life of John Connally by James Reston, Jr. The 610-page biography contains an interesting appendix: The Aftermath of Dallas: Connally and the Conspiratorialists. Finally, to understand the man elevated to the Presidency by the assassination and Connally’s close friend and mentor. Lyndon Johnson, one must read the Robert Caro volumes on Johnson. The most recent volume, The Passage of Power, follows Johnson during the critical period from 1960-1965.
These three books, coupled with some supplementary materials from other blogs, the FDIC and the US Government, do an excellent job of setting the stage.
Every commentator looks at evidence from a personal perspective. My perspective was formed in Houston from 1980-1999 as an attorney/partner at Vinson & Elkins LLP, the largest law firm in Texas. Governor Connally was a retired partner at Vinson & Elkins during that time. He filed bankruptcy in 1987. His failure was followed shortly by he failure of Vinson & Elkins’ major client, First City Bancorporation. Heavily involved in the oil business and in the real estate deals the oilmen acquired in the name of “diversification” First City found itself on the brink of failure in 1988.
The loans began going into default in 1983 and followed the slow decline of Houston’s economy. Houston’s unemployment rate remained at just below 10% from 1985 to 1995. Employment in Houston’s central business district dropped from 155,000 in 1985 to 137,000 in 1990. Skyscrapers built during the boom years remained empty – “shotgun” buildings (you can fire a shotgun through the lobby and not hit anyone).
In 1988, 279 banks failed or received assistance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the highest number in recent U.S. history. Of that total, 214, or 76.7 percent were in the Southwest, with 174 in Texas alone. Included in the 174 banks were the 60 subsidiary banks of First City Bancorporation of Texas, Inc. First City was a major Texas-based bank holding company. The FDIC provided assistance of 1 billion dollars to in 1988, part of a plan to sell the bank group to a group of investors headed by A. Robert Abboud, an Arab American who has been actively involved in the oil industry.
Abboud had resigned as President of Occidental Petroleum in 1984 to become active in the banking industry. He was forced to resign as Chairman of First National Bank of Chicago, but was able to put togther a group of investors to rehabilitate First City with the assistance of the FDIC.
The Abboud acquisition closed in 1988. By 1990, First City was once again in trouble. http://www.fdic.gov/bank/historical/managing/history2-05.pdf/ The stage was set with all the players- the participants, the victims, the facilitators, the people who had the most to lose.
And what of the Texas oilmen? The assassination gave birth to a rash of conspiracy theories involving the Evil Texan. They were accused coconspirators in literature (“Executive Action” by Mark Lane) and in film (“JFK by Oliver Stone). The Texas oilman became an arch-villain, a right-wing extremist who operated outside the law.
The real oilmen like H.L. Hunt found themselves the subject of death threats – threats that only increased when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated.
Their state, Texas, began to run out of easily accessible supplies of the black gold. Drilling costs increased as drillers had to go ever deeper to hit pay dirt. Texans began to look to other states – other countries for their livelihood. And once they left the borders of their friendly state they became subject to the whims of other politicians, other forces. The Hunts met their match in Gadhafi, who seized the Libyan operations of Bunker Hunt’s partner British Petroleum in 1971.
The oilmen’s heirs became the spoiled rich kids, indulging in exotic foreign spouses (the di Portanovas) who eventually triggered embarrassing public battles over their inheritances while splurging on exotic cars and racehorses. They branched out into unprofitable ventures like the silver market and the food business.
In 1972 Big Oil began to desert the Democratic party – the party of LBJ. While Johnson (now out of office) was recovering from a heart attack the Hunts, the Klebergs and other famous Texans gathered not at the Del Charro but at the Picosa Ranch, home of Johnson’s protégé John Connally, to meet and greet Richard and Pat Nixon. The meeting led to the formation of “Democrats for Nixon” and Connally’s desertion of the Democratic Party. The defection caused an earthquake in Texas politics. Ralph Yarborough, a lifelong Democrat, said it was the first time he saw “a rat swim to a sinking ship.”
And finally, the great wealth that Big Oil had enjoyed reaped a great destruction. The oil boom of the 1970’s triggered inflation. Wall Street experienced a record bear market. The “diversification” of their investments brought diversified risks.
As the 1970’s progressed these risks increased, though the oilmen, obsessed by family issues, international squabbles and the enjoyment of their possessions, didn’t pay much attention.
Then, in the 1980’s and 1990’s Texas became a victim of the volatility of world oil prices. In 1985, the Saudis linked the price of their oil to the spot market for crude and increased their production two and a half times. Crude oil prices fell below $10 per barrel.
The oilmen had leveraged their assets to acquire the trappings of success – fine art, thoroughbreds, massive mansions – encouraged by bankers who counted on predictions of crude reaching $100-dollar-a barrel in a few years. Instead, between 1985 and 1994 crude reached the lowest level since 1973. http://www.wtrg.com/prices.htm/
What happened next to Texas is not dissimilar from what is happening today in the United States and the world. When assets are encumbered with more debt than they can support the lenders foreclose. When the lenders cannot sell their foreclosed assets for enough to make their own obligations the lenders fail. Texas suffered a great recession that lasted into the late 1990’s. Major banks closed; drilling rig manufacturers, supply companies and those who depended on the industry for their livelihood failed.
The crash is important to the story of the Kennedy assassination not only because it was the comeuppance of the alleged co-conspirators, but also because of its potential impact on the evidence of the conspiracy.
Historians who look for some “smoking gun” tell-all about the assassination are likely to be disappointed. Evidence of such a long-concealed and carefully protected plot is much more likely to be circumstantial. And when the conspirators or the victims or the people involved in the cover up run into financial difficulty, the cover can crack.
The cover had already been pulled back a bit when John Connally left the Democratic Party. What would motivate a lifelong Democrat – a party insider- to desert his party? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Connally was a victim of the conspiracy. The wounds he suffered would eventually cause his death. And why would he be able to persuade other prominent oil men to follow him to the Republicans? The reason is often portrayed as a result of the growing conservatism of these oil men. That seems to make little sense, however. Those who disagree with a party’s philosophy try to change the philosophy, especially if they have the money to make major contributions. They don’t start again in a party full of entrenched interests, in which they would be newcomers. And Nixon was not necessarily a friend of Big Oil. In 1972, when Connally and the Texans were meeting, Nixon had already proposed the Environmental Protection Agency, after all. On the other hand, if Johnson’s failure to warn Connally of the impending assassination caused a rift between the two; if Connally’s knowledge of the co-conspirators could be used against them to Connally’s benefit, then the desertion of the Democrats would make sense; not necessarily economic or political sense, but human sense.
As the Texas recession deepened unusual things began to happen – things that when examined as a whole, indicate that secret forces were at work.