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November 12, 1928 |
Pickens, South Carolina, U.S.
Robert Gene Baker (born November 12, 1928) is a former political adviser to Lyndon B. Johnson, and an organizer for the Democratic Party.
Baker was the son of the Pickens postmaster and lived in a house on Hampton Avenue. He attended Pickens Elementary and Pickens High School, until he achieved an appointment when he was fourteen years old as a page of the US Senate with the help of Harold E. Holder.
In 1942, at the age of 14, Baker became a page for Senator Burnet Maybank, and quickly became friends with several important Democrats.[clarification needed] When Lyndon Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1948, he was told that Baker knew "where the bodies are buried", and established a close relationship with him. Since the 1950s, Baker had been a protégée of Lyndon Johnson.
Baker was eventually promoted to the position of the Senate's Secretary to the Majority Leader (who at the time was a Democrat); this was his highest-ranking official position, as well as the position from which he would later resign. Prior to resigning, Baker had been a major power on Capitol Hill. He resigned eventually due to allegations of misconduct and a well-publicized scandal involving government contracts.
Baker frequently mixed politics with personal business. He was one of the initiators and board-members of the Quorum Club located in the Carroll Arms Hotel adjacent a Senate office building. The society was alleged to have been a place for lawmakers and other influential men to meet for food, drink, and ladies. Baker, and one of his colleagues, lobbyist Bill Thompson, are said to have arranged for Quorum Club hostess Ellen Rometsch to meet John F. Kennedy. Rometsch was of German origin. As a youth, she had been a Communist party member in East Germany prior to fleeing with her parents and then coming to the United States.
During 1962, Baker established the Serv-U Corporation with his friend, Fred Black. The company was designed to provide vending machines for companies working for federally granted programs. Though a part of numerous other deals involving both politics and private financial affairs, this particular business venture would cause a scandal. The Serv-U Corporation deal became the subject of allegations of conflict of interest and corruption after a disgruntled former government contractor sued Baker and Black in civil court. This lawsuit eventually generated a great deal of press.
In September 1963, an investigation was begun by the Republican-led Senate Rules Committee into Baker's business and political activities. Baker was investigated for allegations of congressional bribery using money and arranged sexual favors, in exchange for votes and government contracts. Criticized increasingly, Baker resigned his job as Secretary of the Senate on October 7, 1963.
According to author Evan Thomas, the President's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, was able to arrange a deal with J. Edgar Hoover to quell mention of the Rometsch allegations in the Senate investigation of Bobby Baker. Hoover successfully limited the Senate investigation of Baker by threatening to release embarrassing information about senators contained in FBI files. In exchange for this, Robert Kennedy reassured Hoover that his job as FBI Director was secure and also reluctantly agreed to allow the FBI to proceed with wiretaps that Hoover had requested on Martin Luther King to try and prove King's close confidants and advisers were communists.
Although Lyndon Johnson was not involved in Baker's business dealing after 1960, the Senate investigation looked into their questionable financial activities in the 1950s. This was a problem for Johnson and there were rumors he would be dropped from the 1964 presidential ticket. After word of the assassination of John F. Kennedy reached Washington on November 22, 1963, the Senate investigation was delayed. Thereafter, any investigation of Lyndon Johnson as part of the Baker investigation was dropped.
Notes and references
- Caro, Robert A. (2003). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Vintage Books, p. 390.
- Caro (2003). p. 393.
- "Investigations: Bobby's High Life". Time Magazine (Time Inc.) 82 (19). November 8, 1963.
- Thomas, Evan (2000). Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. p. 255. Retrieved 27 Mar 2010.
- Dallek, Robert (1999). Flawed Giant, Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973, Oxford University Press, pp. 40-41.
- Thomas, Evan (2000). Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. p. 263. Retrieved 27 Mar 2010.
- Thomas, Evan (2000). Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. pp. 262, 268.
- Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so", Hoover extended the clearance so his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy. Herst, Burton (2007). Bobby and J. Edger, Carroll & Graf: New York, pp. 372–374.
- Dallek (1999). pp. 40-41.
- Caro, Robert A. (2012), Lyndon Johnson: Passage of Power, Random House, pp. 318, 604.
- Robert A. Caro, Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2002)
- Robert A. Caro, Lyndon Johnson: Passage of Power (2012)
- Bobby Baker with Larry L. King, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator (1978)