Questioning President Lyndon Johnson

In March 1966, during my final semester of law school, I was one of 38 national finalists for 16 White House Fellowships. This fellowship program had been started in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to provide one-year high-level positions in the White House and Executive Branch to future leaders so that afterwards the individuals could take that experience into their regular jobs and be better informed about important public policy issues and the workings of the federal government and, therefore, be better citizen leaders.[1]

 

East Room, White House

The other finalists and I were brought to a Virginia retreat center for interviews by members of the Fellows Commission, including John Gardner (then U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Department) and C. Douglas Dillon (former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Department). Afterwards on March 29th we all were bused to the White House and mid-afternoon were escorted to the East Room where the winners would be announced.

Before the announcement, however, President Johnson unexpectedly entered the Room. He first joined his daughter Luci Baines Johnson, who was substituting for her ill mother, to greet the finalists. The President then walked around, shaking hands and making individual comments. Johnson then called for everyone’s attention. He said that when he was a young man in Washington, he always wondered what it would be like to come to see the president and what the president would say while the young Johnson knew what he hoped the president would say. Johnson then remarked that perhaps the finalists would like to ask him questions rather than hearing him give a dry lecture.[2]

There was an awkward silence. The other finalists and I were hesitant to ask the first question, and Johnson told a few jokes to loosen up the people in the Room.

Finally one of the finalists asked what previous presidents would have been selected as Fellows if there had been such a program in their day. Johnson laughingly replied that Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy undoubtedly would have been selected, but he did not think that Truman and Johnson himself would have made it. Other finalists asked Johnson questions about the Viet Nam war, the current visit to Washington of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Fellowship program itself.[3]

Lyndon Johnson & Bill Moyers

Word of this impromptu presidential question and answer session got back to the White House Press Room, and journalists belatedly arrived and stood at the back of the Room taking notes. Johnson’s Press Secretary, Bill Moyers, was next to Johnson during the session and kept trying to end it, but Johnson was enjoying himself and continued to respond to questions.

During this session I was standing about 10 feet from President Johnson. There was concern at the time about inflation with the February 1966 Consumer Price Index up 0.5%, the highest increase in that month since 1951, and whether the President would ask Congress for a tax increase to fight inflation. So I asked the President if he would be seeking such a tax increase.

Tugging at his big right ear lobe, Johnson responded in a folksy manner in his Texan drawl. He first said that he was more worried about economists than he was about the economy and that he had not made up his mind on the tax increase idea. He added that he did not want to ask for an increase, especially in a midterm election year, but if he decided a tax increase was necessary to cool off the economy, he would ask Congress for a “modest” rise of 5 to 7 per cent in the taxes paid by individuals and corporations. Johnson also said he had ruled out reductions in federal government spending and wage and price controls as other ways to combat inflation.[4]

The President’s Daily Diary for that day says that this answer and his “mention of the Tax Rise to be proposed” was the headline in many newspapers the next day, as indeed it was.[5]

This news the next morning prompted a sharp decline in the stock market–the largest in two weeks. Reacting to this market decline, the President around noon on March 30th told journalists that he “absolutely” had not made up his mind about the need for a tax increase. The market responded with a momentary uptick, but it closed lower that day.[6] Thereafter I joked that I caused the stock market to fall.

At the conclusion of the meeting the prior day in the State Dining Room, the announcement of the 18 new Fellows was made.[7] I was not one of the lucky ones.


[1] White House, White House Fellows, http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/fellows.

[2] Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Daily Diary Collection (March 29, 1966), http://www.lbjlibrary.org/collections/daily-diary.html.

[3]  Id.

[4] Id.; Pomfret, Johnson Favors 5-to-7% Tax Rise If Any Is Needed, N. Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10B12FC3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3;  Rossant, Flexibility and Taxes; Johnson’s Hint of Relaxing Opposition To Rise Is Gain for ‘New Economists,’ N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10D11FE3E59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3; Wicker, The Inflation Debate, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F1071FFD3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3;  Editorial, The Economy’s Pulse, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10617F83F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3.

[5] Id.

[6]  Abele, Tax Uncertainty Upsets Markets, N.Y. Times, Mar. 31, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10D15F63959177B8EDDA80B94DB405B868AF1D3.

[7] Capital Fellows End a Year at Top, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1966, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F10E1FFD3F59177B8EDDA90B94DB405B868AF1D3.

Encounters with Candidates JFK and LBJ

In the summer of 1960 I was an assistant to Donald “Duke” Norberg, the Chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. I, therefore, witnessed the run-up in Iowa to the national Democratic Party’s July 1960 convention in Los Angeles.

Before the convention Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson were the leading contestants for the Party’s presidential nomination.

Lyndon B. Johnson

On June 19th LBJ and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, came to Des Moines to woo the Iowa convention delegates. At a luncheon at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, LBJ emphasized the need for dynamic national leadership. He said that religion was not an issue whereas it undoubtedly was because Kennedy was Roman Catholic. Johnson then implicitly contradicted his own point by noting  that he was accompanied by some of his Texas supporters; one, he said, was a Methodist, one an Episcopalian, one a Jew and one a Roman Catholic who had been knighted by Pope Pius XII. Johnson stressed that the U.S. had lost friends in the world as well as military power and that the president had to make foreign policy decisions. In an implicit criticism of Kennedy who recently had said that at the May 1960 U.S.-U.S.S.R. summit meeting President Eisenhower should have apologized to Khrushchev for the then recent U.S. U-2 spy plane’s flight over the Soviet Union that the Soviets had shot down, LBJ said that the U.S. should not have apologized. Such an apology, Johnson said, was not in line with what America stood for.

Before the luncheon, Mrs. Johnson worked the room. She visited people at different tables and asked if they knew some of the Johnson’s friends from their various home towns. This was a demonstration of the Johnson campaign’s good organization. The following day I drove one of Johnson’s assistants, Cliff Carter, to visit some of the Iowa delegates who could not make the luncheon. Carter asserted that although Kennedy was leading in national delegate support, he would fade on the third ballot after a high of 640 while LBJ would gain strength so that by the third ballot he would have over 800 delegates to win the nomination.

John F. Kennedy

A week later, June 26th, JFK came to Des Moines for a reception at the Hotel Savery. I was not able to be in the room with Kennedy and the Iowa delegates. But I did see him in the hotel lobby and noticed the palpable excitement as he walked to the meeting. I overheard someone say, “Here is another Roosevelt.”

On July 13, 1960, the Los Angeles convention nominated Kennedy for president on the first ballot with 806 votes (or 52.9%). It then nominated Johnson for Vice President. In Kennedy’s July 15th acceptance speech he said, “The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises– it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.”

In the November election, JFK and LBJ won the national popular vote by 113,000 votes over Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge out of a total vote of 68,831,000. In Iowa, however, Nixon/Lodge won with 56.7% of the vote; Kennedy/Johnson only carried six of the 99 counties in the state.

This experience before my senior year at Grinnell College was financed by its Program in Practical Politics.

Lawyering on Wall Street

From June 1966 through April 1970, I was a Wall Street lawyer. I was an associate attorney with the law firm of  Cravath, Swaine & Moore.[1] Its offices then were on the 56th through 58th floors of the Chase Manhattan Bank Building one block from the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. From my office window I could see the New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

Cravath then was considered a large law firm with approximately 100 lawyers, as I recall. Its system was to hire top graduates of the top law schools and to put them in a “class” of their contemporaries to compete for one of the very few partnership slots after seven or so years.

I decided to join Cravath after a summer clerkship in 1965 that I had enjoyed. The firm was regarded as the crème de la crème of law firms. Its starting salary of $9,000 ($62,235 in current Dollars) was the best. Living in New York City sounded exciting. The practice of some Wall Street lawyers becoming high government officials was an alluring dream that I hoped to fulfill. For example, John Foster Dulles was such a lawyer with another firm who became Secretary of State in the Eisenhower Administration, and Roswell Gilpatric was a Cravath partner when I was there who had been Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy Administration.

While I was at Cravath, it jumped the starting pay of its lawyers to $15,000 ($95,550 in current Dollars). This was such startling news that it was covered by the Wall Street Journal. Those of us who already were associates received a similar bump in pay. My wife and I thought we were rich and moved from our Brooklyn Heights apartment to the first two floors of a row home several blocks away.

I was in Cravath’s litigation department or group. I initially was assigned to Partner John R. Hupper, who was an excellent, careful, kind man and an excellent teacher and mentor for young lawyers. I also worked for other equally capable partners, including Thomas D. Barr, Frederick A. O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr. of the toy store family and Albert R. Connelly. The senior partner of the group, Bruce Bromley, who was called “Judge” Bromley because of his service in the New York courts, was another capable lawyer for whom I worked. Much to my subsequent regret I did not know at the time that Bromley was instrumental in the Eisenhower Administration’s selection of Joseph Welch to be the Army’s lawyer in the 1954 McCarthy hearings. Given my personal interest in Welch, which will be discussed in a subsequent post, I would have loved to have talked with Bromley about this important piece of U.S. history.

The more senior associates really did a lot of the supervision of the newer lawyers. I fondly remember some of them: Eugene P. Souther, who later became a partner in another Wall Street law firm; Victor M. Earle, III, who became the first general counsel of one of the big accounting firms (Peat Marwick); Robert E. Bouma, who became a partner in a Chicago law firm; Dorsey D. “Dan” Ellis, Jr., who became a law professor at the University of Iowa and then Dean of the Law School at the University of Washington at St. Louis; George J. Wade, who became a partner in another Wall Street law firm; and Alan J. Hruska, who became a Cravath partner.

I got along with the other young associates in the litigation group even though we all knew we were in competition with one another. Since I was there only four years, however, the real competition started after I left. My best friends and contemporaries were Jay Gerber and Arnold Messing, who later were successful lawyers with other firms in New York City and Boston respectively, along with Howard J. Kristol, who became a partner in a Wilmington, Delaware law firm, and David S. Cupps, a subsequent partner in a Columbus, Ohio law firm.

Another contemporary in the litigation group was David Boies, who later became a famous Cravath partner who defended CBS in a libel case by General Westmoreland regarding the Vietnam War. Some of his other famous cases were as the U.S. Government lawyer who destroyed the credibility of Bill Gates in cross-examination in the Microsoft antitrust case and as the lead lawyer for Al Gore in the litigation against George W. Bush over the 2000 election in Florida.  The New York Times Sunday Magazine in June 1986 put David’s photo on its cover for its lead article about him, “The Litigator.” My wife and I were guests of David and his wife in their Washington Square apartment on the night in 1969 that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I was always amazed that David was able to combine the stressful life of the young associate with teaching antitrust law at N.Y.U. Law School and having season’s tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. On a trip to Minneapolis for a pretrial conference in the IBM antitrust cases, David, several other associates and I gathered in one of our hotel rooms for cards and room-service dinner. To my surprise, David ordered two dinners; he was never overweight or heavy, and I assumed that his metabolism rate was so high that he needed super quantities of food. David is still going strong. As the lead partner now in his own law firm, he recently was in St. Paul, Minnesota as the lead lawyer for the NFL in litigation over the football teams owners’ work stoppage.[2]

Under the Cravath system, it took a long time for a new lawyer to be able to do anything by himself. My first court argument was on a motion in a small case in the state trial court in Manhattan (New York Supreme Court). I do not remember the case or what my motion was. But I do remember the huge courtroom with hundreds of lawyers milling around and waiting for their cases to be called. While I was waiting, I heard an argument on a defendant’s motion for more definite statement in the complaint that starts a lawsuit. The pro se plaintiff (one without a lawyer) was a rabbi, and the judge said, “Rabbi, please hire a lawyer. You have written a novel, not a complaint.”

There were two notable cases that claimed my attention in New York that will be discussed in subsequent posts. One was Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.’s lawsuit over his 1967 exclusion from the U.S. House of Representatives. The other was the set of antitrust cases against IBM over its System/360 computers.

Being a Wall Street lawyer for four years was challenging and exciting. So too was living in New York City with a wife and two young sons. I value those years, but am still glad that I decided against staying for the competition for partnership at Cravath and instead chose to move to Minneapolis to practice law with Faegre & Benson.


[1] Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, http://www.cravath.com/; Cravath, Swaine & Moore, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cravath,_Swaine_%26_Moore.

Tip for Grandparents

 

Mary Robinson, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, offered a tip for grandparents in remarks last week in Minneapolis.

Responding to a question as to how she first became interested in human rights, she credited her grandfather. When she was only 10 to 12 years old, she said she loved going to his law office. There she saw his library of law books and heard him talk about the law, his cases and how law could be used to address human problems. She concluded at her young age that she would become a lawyer who would use law to address human problems.

Robinson also remarked that her grandfather did not know how to talk to children. I disagree. Her own testimony proves that her grandfather knew exactly how to talk with his grand-daughter. It is a powerful tip to a grandparent like me. Do not underestimate the talents of your grandchildren. Talk with them about serious subjects in an adult manner.

Unfortunate Ecuador-U.S. Diplomatic Spat

Ecuador and the U.S. are engaged in an unfortunate diplomatic spat.

It started on April 5th, 2011, when Ecuador expelled the U.S. Ambassador and professional diplomat, Heather Hodges. Her sin? Sending a July 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Quito to the U.S. State Department that recently became public by WikiLeaks. The cable recommended the revocation of the U.S. visa of Jaime Aquilino Hurtado, Ecuador’s national police chief. The grounds for this recommendation, said the cable, were multiple reports of his alleged illegal activities, including his possible involvement in schemes to extort bribes from a taxi union, steal public funds and ease trafficking of undocumented Chinese immigrants. The cable also noted that “some [U.S.] Embassy officials believe that [Ecuadorian] President Correa must have been aware of them when he made the appointment” of Mr. Hurtado and that Correa “may have wanted to have . . .[a police] chief whom he could easily manipulate.” Such statements about Correa, said the Ecuadorian government, were “unacceptable, . . . malicious and imprudent.”

Later President Correa said that the leaked cable indicated that the U.S. Embassy has informants in Ecuador’s police and armed forces. “This is espionage,” he said.  Not true, I say. Normal diplomatic practice for the U.S. and all other countries, I assume, is to be informed about the activities of the other country and to talk with various officials in its government. The leaked cable, in my opinion, reflects that normal practice. Note too that in the reports from Ecuador there is no claim that the statements in the cable are untrue.

Two days after Ecuador had declared the U.S. Ambassador persona non grata, the U.S. did the same with respect to the Ecuadorian Ambassador to the U.S., Luis Gallegos, who also is a professional diplomat.  The only stated ground was to protest what the U.S. saw as the unjustified Ecuadorian expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador.

This U.S. expulsion Of Mr. Gallegos was totally unjustified, in my opinion. Ambassador Gallegos has an impressive record of service to his country and the world community. He chaired the U.N.’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, granting recognition to the struggles and rights of the more than 650 million people with disabilities. In addition to degrees from the Central University of Ecuador, he holds a M.A. degree as a Humphrey Fellow Scholar from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy-Harvard University. An U.S. NGO regarding Latin America said that Ambassador Gallegos capably performed his duties as Ambassador to the U.S. with “a lowered voice, an incisive mind, and an abiding sense of humor, which he needed.”

I recently heard Ambassador Gallegos speak at a meeting in Minneapolis honoring Silvia Ontaneda as the new Consulate General of Ecuador for Minnesota. By his remarks and manner anyone could tell the Ambassador was a wonderful man and honorable diplomat. He indeed exhibited a calm manner, incisive mind and sense of humor.

I hope that this spat will not interfere with improving commercial and other relations between the two countries.

Former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Supports U.N. Security Council on Libya

Mary Robinson, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), this week expressed her support of the recent U.N. Security Council’s actions on Libya.[1]

On February 26, 2011, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970, which among other things, referred the Libyan situation since February 15, 2011, to the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor, directed the Libyan authorities to cooperate fully with the Court and Prosecutor and invited the Prosecutor to make periodic reports about his actions in this matter to the Council.[2] This action, Robinson said, was unusual, but demonstrated the usefulness of having a permanent international criminal court that could be called upon in ongoing situations involving the most serious crimes of international concern and that could help to stop those crimes before they become worse. She also recognized, on the other hand, that the referral might complicate efforts to get Colonel Gadhafi and others to abdicate power by fleeing to another country because of the possibility of criminal charges by the ICC.

Less than three weeks later, the Council, 10 to 0 (with 5 abstentions), approved Resolution 1973, which authorized U.N. members to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya by establishing a no-fly zone, but excluding a foreign occupation force.[3] Robinson asserted that this action was a proper exercise of the emerging international principle of the duty or right to protect or humanitarian intervention because of the imminent threat by the Gadhafi regime to kill many of its own people, especially in Benghazi. She also cautioned against expanding these military measures into intervention on the ground.

In addition, Robinson applauded this year’s “Arab Spring.” The uprisings in the Middle East included many women and demonstrate, she said, that men and women all over the world want human dignity, freedom and human rights as well as a decent living. The desire for human rights is indeed universal. It is not some Western set of values that is imposed on other societies.

Mary Robinson is also the former President of Ireland (1990-97). In 2002 she founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative that aimed “to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.”[4] After that organization finished its work in 2010, Robinson founded The Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice for “thought, leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered and the marginalised across the world.”[5]


[1] Robinson’s remarks at the University of Minnesota and on Minnesota Public Radio are available at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/04/08/midmorning1; http://cce.umn.edu/LearningLife/Listen-to-Past-Events/index.html (forthcoming).

[2] U.N. Security Council, 6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/245/28/PDF/N1124528.pdf?OpenElement; U.N. Security Council, Resolution 1970 (2011) ¶¶ 4-8 (Feb. 26, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/245/58/PDF/N1124558.pdf?OpenElement.

[3] U.N. Security Council, 6498th meeting (March 17, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/PRO/N11/267/18/PDF/N1126718.pdf?OpenElement; U.N. Security Council, Resolution 1973 (2011) ¶¶ 4-8 (March 17, 2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/268/39/PDF/N1126839.pdf?OpenElement. The five Security Council members that abstained were Brazil, China, Germany, India and the Russian Federation.

[4] Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, http://www.realizingrights.org.

[5] The Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice, http://www.mrfcj.org.

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Growing up in the small Iowa town of Perry, I was an active member of the local Methodist Church. I was president of MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship), and our pastor, whom I respected, encouraged me to go into the ministry.

Once I went to college, however, I soon convinced myself that all religions were antiquated superstitions that were of no use to an intelligent, hard-working person like myself. This not uncommon sophomoric rebellion lasted for the next 24 years.

Westminster Presbyterian Church Sanctuary

In 1981 I could admit to others and myself that I did not have all the answers and that there was an inner emptiness in my life. I started attending and then joined Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (http://www.ewestminster.org). A friend was a member there. I worked downtown, and the church was open to the downtown community, especially through its Westminster Town Hall Forum, which brought notable people to speak on key issues in ethical perspective. This was a church, I came to understand, that respected intellect as an important aspect of religious faith and life. Its mission statement provides that “In response to the grace of God through Jesus Christ, [its mission] is:

• to proclaim and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ;
• to gather as an open community to worship God with dignity and joy, warmth and beauty;
• to nourish personal faith through study, prayer, and fellowship;
• to work for love, peace and justice;
• to be a welcoming and caring Christian community, witnessing to God’s love day by day;
• to work locally and beyond with our denomination and the larger Christian Church; and
• to be a telling presence in the city.”

I have been and continue to be an active member of Westminster, serving as an elder and member of various committees. Most recently I have been chairing its Global Partnerships Committee that supervises our partnerships with churches and other organizations in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, and Bethlehem. This is one way we endeavor to fulfill the Biblical injunction from Apostle Paul: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of [us] are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 28)[1] In other words, we are all brothers and sisters without the artificial distinctions that so often divide us from one another.