Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Flashback: Tommy the Cork, Nothing if not Ambidextrous, Helps LBJ While Keeping His Ties to the Right.

[More than 50 years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

We skimmed over the details at the Madison Hotel lunch, but you’d think helping Chiang Kai-shek, signing a formal agreement with the CIA to finance a private airbase which served Chungking, Kwelin, Luchnow, Nanking and Amoy would be enough…but Tommy was hired by Rep. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), a close friend who was running for the Senate in 1948, to convince organized labor in Texas that Johnson was more a friend of the unions than his primary opponent, Governor Coke Stevenson. Stevenson had criticized LBJ because he voted for Taft-Hartley. Stevenson was normally so conservative he said, when a black was lynched, “well, ya know them Negroes sometimes say things like that guy that git `em into trouble.” It was an anomaly that Stevenson was criticizing Johnson for voting for the conservative Taft-Harley act when Stevenson was decidedly the most conservative Texan state official in thirty years.

The first canvass after the election showed Stevenson won by 362 votes. Then with funny manipulating, by the time the results became official, Johnson was declared the winner by 17. When the judge invalidated the results and set a trial date, Johnson hired Tommy along with Francis Biddle, FDR’s old attorney general; Abe Fortas, Joe Rauh and Ben Cohen (Tommy’s old White House co-worker). They decided to take the case directly to the U. S. Supreme Court; Tommy met with Justice Hugo Black whom he was instrumental in naming to the Court. Black ordered Johnson’s name put back as Democratic nominee. Johnson decisively defeated Jack Porter, his Republican opponent in November. Stevenson still wasn’t through; he took the case to the Senate Rules and Administration committee. Tommy went to work again; he had a strong friendship with Sen. Styles Bridges (R-N. H.), the ranking minority member. Stevenson put up such a howl that the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover probed the Johnson camp for corruption. Tommy went to work on Hoover and Johnson was eventually cleared by Hoover of corruption and allowed to take his seat in the Senate.

Johnson said he owed everything to Corcoran.

Time now for some private employment. Tommy became lobbyist and general counsel to the United Fruit Company. A socialist became president of Guatemala who threatened to nationalize the company. Tommy visited the State Department and CIA and suggested the U. S. use United Fruit as an American base against communism—which it did. All the while, Tommy’s company, CAT (Civil Air Transport) set up its headquarters in Formosa (now Taiwan) to which Chiang Kai-shek had fled. He was instrumental in getting President Truman to declare support for Taiwan. Tommy was still working for United Fruit which was still worried about being nationalized, so he visited with Allen Dulles, the deputy CIA director who in private life had worked as a lawyer for United Fruit. They collaborated but the dictator confiscated United Fruit anyhow, offering a puny $525,000 for 209,842 acres of United Fruit land. Tommy was stiffed and remained so until Dwight Eisenhower came to the White House. Tommy discovered that his personal secretary, Anne Whitman, was married to United Fruit’s public relations director. To counter the dictator, Eisenhower named John Peurifoy as ambassador to Guatemala.

Tommy worked the phones and honed his contacts. Things brightened when John Foster Dulles succeeded Dean Acheson and Allen Dulles became head of the CIA. Both Dulles brothers had sat on the board of United Fruit’s partner in the banana monopoly and UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was a major United Fruit stockholder. Ike’s top army deputy, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith was moved to the State Department and told Tommy that he would like to work for United Fruit after he retired. Tommy said it would be a deal but first they had to overthrow the Guatemala dictator. Smith agreed and the first successful Eisenhower foreign policy initiative tied the Dulles brothers to Bedell Smith along with the CIA’s Richard Bissell. With Tommy running liaison, the U. S. financed a rebel “liberation army” which trained in Nicaragua. All was set in readiness to overthrow the dictator…though duly elected…president of Guatemala. Of which more later.

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