06.14.10

What's in the Kennedy Files?

The FBI released its secret files on the late Teddy Kennedy this morning. Among the highlights: death threats, rumored sex parties, and a bogus mob plot involving Frank Sinatra.

On Monday, the FBI released its secret files on Senator Edward Kennedy. The reports date back to 1961, a year before the scion of one of America’s most powerful political dynasties took his brother’s seat in the United States Senate.

In April, The Boston Globe reported that family members of the recently deceased liberal politician were given a chance to comb through the records before their release. Kenneth Feinberg, Kennedy’s former chief of staff, who currently is a high-ranking official in the Treasury Department, was brought in to help with the review. In the end, the FBI said, nothing was kept out at the Kennedy family’s request.

One missing item that will be of interest to Kennedy watchers is any record of any kind of investigation into Kennedy for criminal activity. "At no point do these files suggest that the FBI investigated Senator Kennedy for a criminal violation or as a security threat," the FBI reported.

Adam Clymer: Why Kennedy Wore Kevlar With 2,352 pages to review, reporters will be poring over the files, looking for clues on some of the most tantalizing episodes in the senator’s eventful life: his involvement in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick, his relationships with powerful international figures and domestic leaders, as well as any juicy tales involving celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe.

Here’s what's been found so far.

Kennedy Faced Death Threats
Two of Kennedy’s brothers, John and Robert, were assassinated, and fear of his own murder weighed heavily on the senator’s mind. According to the FBI, Kennedy had good reason to be afraid. Among the many who threatened Kennedy’s life were the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialist White People’s Party, and so-called Minutemen groups. Others sent Kennedy death threats because of his position on Northern Ireland, the FBI said. One letter sent to Robert Kennedy’s widow read, “If Ted runs for Pres. Or VP he will be killed. We hate Kennedys. Stop him.” The death threats lasted even after Kennedy’s failed run for the presidency in 1980. In 1985, one letter-writer declared, “Brass tacks, I’m gonna kill Kennedy and [President Ronald] Reagan, and I really mean it.”

FBI Stayed Mum on Chappaquiddick
No event haunted Kennedy like the car accident in July 1969, which claimed the life of Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old Robert Kennedy campaign aide. It turns out that the FBI knew about the incident almost immediately after the crash but kept quiet that Kennedy was behind the wheel. One file reads, “Stated fact Senator Kennedy was driver is not being revealed to anyone.” The reports don’t provide any earth-shattering intel on the incident. In a summary posted on the bureau’s website, the FBI said, “The FBI had no investigative role in this case, since there were no violations of federal criminal law involved.”

Sirhan Sirhan Targeted Teddy, Too
Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, promised $1 million to his prison mate if he killed Edward Kennedy, too. In 1977, Sirhan told a fellow resident of the Soledad, California prison that he would give him “one million dollars and car” for killing Kennedy. The FBI reported that the prisoner “advised he did not know Edward Kennedy was a Senator but he knew he was the brother of Robert and John F. Kennedy. He advised he declined the contract.” The FBI alerted authorities near Kennedy’s home in Massachusetts. Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy the night Kennedy won the California primary in 1968.

Were J. Edgar Hoover and Kennedy’s Father Pals?
The head of the FBI, the colorful director of the bureau from 1935 to 1972, struck up a friendship of sorts with Joseph Kennedy, Sr., the patriarch of the Kennedy clan. In 1964, Edward Kennedy asked the intelligence honcho to contribute an essay to a book of personal recollections about his father. Hoover agreed, praising Joseph Kennedy’s service as ambassador to England in the 1930s. Nine years earlier, Kennedy senior wrote to Hoover, promising he would support the FBI boss if he ever decided to run for president. Hoover noted, “He urged me to run for this position either on a Republican or Democratic ticket, guaranteeing me the largest campaign contribution I would ever get from anyone, and his personal services as the hardest campaign worker in history.” Hoover told Kennedy that he had no aspirations for higher office.

Feds’ Dark Sense of Humor
Hoover’s apparent warmth for Joseph Kennedy didn’t prevent one FBI gumshoe from cracking wise when it came to attacks on the lives of Kennedy family members. In 1968, Edward Kennedy said he planned to attend the launching of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy without any special protection. An official wrote Hoover, “Please make sure that Ted Kennedy gets all the protection he needs. We are down to one Kennedy Thanks.”

Sinatra and Monroe Tied to Bogus Mafia Plot
The Kennedys were famous for keeping glamorous company. According to one rumor—which the FBI said it decided was bogus—Edward Kennedy’s proximity to the Hollywood crowd might endanger his reputation. In its summary of the files, the FBI reported, a file “contains report of a rumor from an informant suggesting that elements of the Mafia wanted to attack the character of Edward and Robert Kennedy and their brother-in-law Peter Lawford by working through associates of Frank Sinatra to compromise them at a New York party. In the convoluted rumor, both Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe were to be involved.”

Were There Kennedy Sex Parties?
The Smoking Gun turned up one scintillating memo describing the report of sex parties involving the Kennedy brothers, in-laws, three members of the Rat Pack, and one Hollywood bombshell. The source of the report is unclear. The memo reads, “It was reported that Mrs. Jacqueline Hammond”—the ex-wife of the former ambassador to Spain—“…has considerable information concerning sex parties which took place at the Hotel Carlyle in NYC, and in which a number of persons participated at different times. Among those mentioned were the following individuals: “Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe.”

Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.