President Lyndon B. Johnson’s longtime aide and White House special assistant Walter Jenkins, whose 1964 arrest for alleged “homosexual conduct” created an uproar in the midst of Johnson’s re-election campaign, revealed in a confidential memo that another longtime Johnson aide was accused of engaging in homosexual acts, according to documents released for the first time last month by the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas.
The newly released documents include an October 1964 draft memo attributed to Jenkins that reveals that a government background check discovered that White House secretary and Johnson family friend Robert “Bob” Waldron “had engaged in homosexual acts” in the recent past.
The Washington Blade obtained copies of the documents from the Mattachine Society of Washington, which spent months working with LBJ Library officials to identify and discover the documents from the library’s voluminous collections.
The group, which is headed by veteran gay rights advocate Charles Francis, has taken the name of the organization co-founded in the early 1960s by gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny as D.C.’s first gay rights group.
The recently revived version of the group specializes in obtaining government documents, long withheld from the public, that tell how thousands of gays were fired from federal jobs during the post-World War II era of anti-gay witch hunts.
Francis said he and Mattachine board member Pate Felts, with the help of the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery, which serves as pro bono counsel for the group, traveled to the LBJ Library to retrieve the documents with the full cooperation of library officials.
The Johnson White House at the time disclosed that Jenkins resigned from his job at Johnson’s request shortly after his 1964 arrest for allegedly having sex with a man in the men’s room at a YMCA facility located near the White House. An FBI report released as part of the LBJ documents, but that had been reported in the media earlier, says Jenkins had been arrested in 1959 on a similar “morals” charge at the same YMCA bathroom as the 1964 arrest.
A source who knew Waldron told the Washington Blade that Johnson also terminated Waldron from his White House position after Jenkins’ 1964 arrest, even though Waldron was never accused of wrongdoing and was never publicly identified as gay at the time he worked for Johnson. In addition to working at the White House as a presidential secretary he had been retained to perform similar duties for Johnson during Johnson’s tenure as Senate Majority Leader and U.S. vice president during the Kennedy administration.
Waldron states in an oral history released as part of the LBJ Library documents that he told friends and associates in 1964 that he decided to change careers and left his White House job voluntarily to enroll in an interior design school in New York. He became a nationally acclaimed interior decorator based in Washington, doing decorating work for prominent political figures for 26 years, and remained friends with the Johnson family.
He died in December 1995 of complications associated with AIDS at the age of 68.
“Every decorator in D.C. knew that Waldron was gay as did most of his clients,” said the source who knew him and who spoke to the Blade on condition of not being identified. “He most definitely was not a closeted gay man, nor did he make any attempt to hide his orientation.”
According to the source, unlike Jenkins, who was married with six children, Waldron was a lifelong bachelor. He regularly took on the role as escort at White House functions and on presidential trips abroad for another longtime Johnson administrative aide, Mary Margaret Wiley. But it was widely known that the relationship between the two was strictly platonic, the source and others who knew them have said.
Waldron, a native of Texas, says in his oral history that he attended Northwestern University to study court reporting and later attended “business school” in Texas. He says in his oral history that “nearing finishing a degree and no job I went to law school.” While finishing his second year at law school he says he accepted an offer in 1955 by Congressman Homer Thornberry (D-Texas) to take a job as administrative assistant in Thornberry’s congressional office in Washington. That job brought him to Washington, where he remained for the rest of his life.
It couldn’t be confirmed whether Waldron completed and graduated from any of the colleges or law school he attended. He states in his oral history that he had “no intensions of practicing” law.
Waldron stated in his oral history that he took notes at Johnson’s request as Johnson conferred with his inner circle advisers at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles when John F. Kennedy sent word that he would like Johnson to become his vice presidential running mate.
After Johnson accepted Kennedy’s offer, Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, who became good friends with Waldron, invited Waldron and Wiley to join them on the convention stage along with Johnson and Kennedy’s family members and close friends as the Kennedy-Johnson ticket was introduced to tumultuous applause in the packed convention hall.
Waldron points out in his oral history that during nearly all of the years he worked for Johnson he remained on the payroll of Texas Congressman Homer Thornberry, who was a close Johnson friend and political associate.
“Homer I know called numerous times and said Bob is spending all of his time with you, why don’t you transfer him to your payroll?” the source that knew Waldron as well as Thornberry said. “And for whatever reason they just kept cajoling Thornberry to keep him on his payroll.”
The source speculated that one possible reason Johnson didn’t want to officially appoint Waldron to his staff was because he or Jenkins, who was in charge of hiring Johnson’s staff, were reluctant to directly hire someone who might be identified as gay.
Jenkins, meanwhile, had served on Johnson’s payroll beginning in 1939, shortly after Johnson won election as a congressman from Texas. Jenkins left the staff to serve in the Army during World War II before leaving the military as a major. At Johnson’s urging, he ran for a seat in the U.S. House in 1951, but lost his race. He later joined Johnson’s U.S. Senate staff and remained with Johnson during Johnson’s tenure as Senate Majority Leader, vice president and president.
Arrested at the YMCA
Among the newly released documents from the LBJ Library is a personal remembrance of Johnson from yet another longtime Johnson administrative staffer, Mildred Stegall, who worked for Johnson nearly as long as Jenkins had and worked closely with Jenkins.
“One of the saddest days of the president and my lives was the day President Johnson asked for Walter’s resignation due to reported misconduct,” Stegall wrote. “It was a tremendous loss because Walter was like the president’s right arm and the most valuable member of the staff and I think the most capable.”
Added Stegall, “I can’t begin to count the times the president asked me, ‘What do you think happened?’ My answer was always the same. ‘I simply do not know.’”
Stegall noted that Jenkins checked himself into George Washington University Hospital after his arrest, where doctors said he was suffering from exhaustion and emotional distress.
“I have always thought that Walter’s resignation was asked for too quickly,” she wrote. “Had he stayed in the hospital for several weeks with a reported nervous breakdown the matter might have blown over, but there was no way to know and the president took the only course he thought he could take.”
An FBI report on the Jenkins arrest, dated Oct. 22, 1964, says Johnson asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to arrange for a “full and complete investigation” when he learned of Jenkins’ arrest one week after it took place on Oct. 7 of that year.
The report says Jenkins, then 46, attended a party with his wife that day at the new offices of Newsweek magazine before the two left the party about 8 p.m. It says Jenkins planned to return to his White House office to work in the evening as he often did. But the report says he apparently decided to make a stop someplace else before returning to work.
“At 8:15 p.m. Mr. Jenkins was arrested in the basement men’s room of the YMCA Building, 1736 G Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., by officers of the Metropolitan Police Department,” the FBI report says. “Arrested at the same time for engaging in an indecent act with Mr. Jenkins was Andy Choka, a 60-year-old retired Army enlisted man.”
The report adds, “Mr. Jenkins made no attempt to hide his identity from the officers, willingly accompanied them and admitted to having been arrested one previous time on a morals charge. The previous arrest occurred shortly before 10:30 p.m. January 15, 1959, in the same basement men’s room of the YMCA. He was charged with loitering for indecent purposes.”
It says Jenkins was released following the 1959 arrest after posting and forfeiting $25 collateral. Following his 1964 arrest, he and Choka were released after each posted $50 collateral, the report says.
The report says an apparent miscommunication between D.C. police, the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service resulted in the White House not being informed of Jenkins’ 1959 arrest at the time Jenkins received his White House security clearance in 1961 when he began work for then-Vice President Johnson.
“Mr. Jenkins was interviewed by the FBI on Oct. 18, 1964, and admitted having engaged in the indecent acts for which he was arrested in 1959 and 1964, the report says. “He claimed that he had been ‘enticed’ by the arresting officer on the former occasion and that his mind was befuddled by fatigue, alcohol, physical illness and lack of food the latter time.”
The report says an extensive background investigation turned up no evidence that Jenkins compromised government secrets or acted in any way against the interests of the country or the government.
“A favorable appraisal of Mr. Jenkins’ loyalty and dedication to the United States was given the FBI by more than 300 of his associates, both business and social, representing divergent political backgrounds, who were interviewed in this investigation,” the report says.
Waldron ‘outed’ by Jenkins?
The FBI report had been released shortly after the investigation into Jenkins’ 1964 arrest. But the LBJ Library documents released to the Mattachine Society of Washington last month included for the first time several drafts of an internal memo that Jenkins reportedly prepared to “clarify” and take strong exception to some of the statements attributed to him in the FBI report.
Among other things, Jenkins said in all of the drafts of the memo that the FBI report could give the impression to some that he might have associated with people who may have engaged in homosexual conduct, even though the report didn’t say this directly.
“Never in my years of government employ, with one single and limited exception, did I associate with any person employed by any branch of the government, or any other office, whether employed by the government or otherwise – known to me to be a homosexual,” he stated in one of the drafts.
“The one exception,” Jenkins wrote, “is Mr. Bob Waldron. The relevant facts in his case are as follows: Mr. Waldron was employed by Congressman Homer Thornberry over a period of some years. From time to time he was loaned to the staff on which I was working because of his exceptional skill as a stenographer and typist,” Jenkins says in the draft memo.
He says at the time when Thornberry left Congress to become a federal judge, Waldron applied for a job with the National Aeronautics and Space Council and underwent a background check for that position.
“The field investigation of Mr. Waldron came to my attention, and it contained information alleging that Mr. Waldron had engaged in homosexual acts,” Jenkins wrote. “I did not know, and I do not know at this time, whether Mr. Waldron was or is in fact a homosexual, but I thought that the allegations were sufficient to warrant my recommending that Mr. Waldron’s application should be rejected. It was rejected.”
He states in his draft memo that the rejection of the application took place in January 1964.
“Thereafter, on a few occasions, I was present at large social gatherings where Mr. Waldron was also present,” the memo says. “This was the limit of my association with him after receiving the allegations described above. I reiterate that this is the sole exception to the categorical statement made above.”
What appears to be the final version of the Jenkins memo, dated Oct. 27, 1965 and which bears Jenkins’ name but not his signature, Waldron’s name is omitted. He is described only as a “person employed by a member of Congress” who from time to time was loaned to the staff where Jenkins worked – meaning Johnson’s staff.
The source who knew both Waldron and Jenkins believes Johnson and his White House legal advisers were clearly informed of the earlier draft that named Waldron as having been linked to “homosexual acts.” The source also thinks White House legal advisers may have played a role in drafting the memo for Jenkins.
Coming at the time of the Jenkins arrest, the source said Johnson and his advisers most likely decided to let Waldron go out of concern that he could have triggered yet another “homosexual” scandal at the White House.
Francis agrees with that assessment, saying Waldron, like Jenkins, became expendable despite his years of loyal service to Johnson.
Creating ‘revulsion’ among co-workers
Jenkins and Waldron’s departure from the White House came at a time when Kameny and his gay rights associates organized protests outside the White House calling for an end to the U.S. Civil Service Commission ban on gay civilian workers at all federal government agencies and departments.
Kameny’s correspondence to then-Civil Service Commission director John Macy prompted Macy to send Kameny his now infamous “revulsion” letter in which Macy said the Commission would not lift its ban on homosexual employees because such employees were sexual “deviates” and would create revulsion among their co-workers.
President Kennedy appointed Macy as head of the Civil Service Commission and Johnson retained him after assuming the presidency.
“The confidential Jenkins file safeguarded by Mildred Stegall shows how quickly a ‘bachelor’ family friend, who was as close as one could get to LBJ, could be transformed into a ‘sexual deviate’ and thrown overboard,” Francis said in discussing Waldron’s fate.
“Mainstream Johnson historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert Caro need to address the tumultuous investigations and destruction of gay and lesbian Americans beginning in the late 1940s and early 1950s and continuing and even intensifying through the Johnson years,” Francis said.
Others familiar with the Johnson administration have said the political realities of the time, especially the 1964 presidential election in which Johnson was running against Republican Barry Goldwater, made it impossible for Johnson to do anything other than jettison Jenkins and Waldron.
After Johnson left the White House in 1969 he and Lady Bird welcomed both Jenkins and Waldron to the LBJ Ranch in Texas and resumed his friendship with the two men.
Jenkins died in November 1985 at the age of 67 from a stroke.
Bill Moyers, one of Johnson’s presidential press secretaries and a longtime Johnson staffer, appeared to sum up the views of those who knew and worked closely with Jenkins during the Johnson years in a 1999 interview with Out magazine.
“When they come to canonize political aides [Jenkins] will be the first summoned, for no man ever negotiated the shark-infested waters of the Potomac with more decency or charity or came out on the other side with his integrity less shaken,” Moyers said. “If Lyndon Johnson owed everything to one human being other than Lady Bird, he owed it to Walter Jenkins.”
Moyers questioned in Jenkins case
Another of the LBJ Library documents released last month to the Mattachine Society of Washington is a Jan. 15, 1965 letter from J. Edgar Hoover to President Johnson informing Johnson that an FBI agent one week earlier heard a “rumor” that [presidential advisor Bill] Moyers posted the $25 bond for Jenkins’ release in connection with Jenkins’ 1959 arrest at the YMCA.
The rumor was that an unidentified D.C. police sergeant “knew” that Moyers posted the bond, Hoover said.
“Without making any open inquiry into the matter, it has been discreetly determined that copies of collateral receipts maintained by the Metropolitan Police Department have been destroyed and there is no way to determine by documentary evidence who, if anyone other than Mr. Jenkins, posted collateral for him in connection with his arrest on Jan. 15, 1959,” Hoover told Johnson.
“The above is being furnished for your information and no investigation to identify and interview the unnamed sergeant will be conducted in the absence of a specific request from you,” Hoover wrote in his letter.
The documents released by the LBJ Library to Mattachine Society do not include a reply by Johnson to Hoover’s letter.
“[T]his is a rumor and totally unfounded in fact,” Moyers replied in a Jan. 18, 1965 letter to Hoover. “I was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, at the time,” Moyers states in his letter. “I was not in Washington on any date between 1954 and January, 1960,” Moyer said, adding, “I have never posted bond for Mr. Jenkins or, for that matter, anyone else.”
Moyers, who later became a nationally known journalist, couldn’t immediately be reached by the Blade for comment on the Hoover letter.