President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

President Lyndon B. Johnson was surprised to learn that Walter Jenkins—his friend, longtime aide, and confidant since 1939—was gay. Immediately after Johnson learned about Jenkins’s 1964 arrest in a YMCA restroom known as a place for gay sex, he secured Jenkins’s resignation because of his concern about the possible impact of the arrest on his campaign for the presidency.

Summary of Event

On the evening of October 7, 1964, Walter Jenkins attended a party at the new office building of Newsweek magazine. After drinking several martinis there, he walked to the YMCA near the White House. The YMCA men’s room was well known to local police as a meeting place for men seeking sex with other men. Jenkins and Andy Choka were arrested by undercover police shortly after they entered a restroom stall. Jenkins pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct and paid a fifty dollar fine. [kw]Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting, President Lyndon (Oct. 7, 1964) [kw]Gay-Sex Sting, President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in (Oct. 7, 1964) Jenkins, Walter Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;and Walter Jenkins[Jenkins] Federal Bureau of Investigation;and Watergate[Watergate] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1964 Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Lyndon B. Johnson[Johnson] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Barry Goldwater[Goldwater] Jenkins, Walter Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;and Walter Jenkins[Jenkins] Federal Bureau of Investigation;and Watergate[Watergate] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1964 Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Lyndon B. Johnson[Johnson] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Barry Goldwater[Goldwater] [g]United States;Oct. 7, 1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting[01220] [c]Sex;Oct. 7, 1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting[01220] [c]Sex crimes;Oct. 7, 1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting[01220] [c]Government;Oct. 7, 1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting[01220] [c]Politics;Oct. 7, 1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting[01220] [c]Public morals;Oct. 7, 1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting[01220] [c]Law and the courts;Oct. 7, 1964: President Lyndon Johnson’s Aide Is Arrested in Gay-Sex Sting[01220] Fortas, Abe Goldwater, Barry

Jenkins, born in Jolly, Texas, on March 23, 1918, was raised in Wichita Falls, Texas. While attending the University of Texas, John Connally, a classmate and future governor of Texas, suggested that Jenkins work for Democratic congressman Lyndon B. Johnson. Except for his World War II service in the U.S. Army and a brief, unsuccessful congressional campaign in 1951, Jenkins worked for Johnson from 1939 until his resignation in 1964. Jenkins was known for his quiet and placid demeanor, long work hours, and complete devotion to Johnson.

Jenkins also managed Johnson’s business interests. After Johnson became president, Jenkins received top security clearance to access national security documents. He also was authorized to attend all cabinet meetings and sign Johnson’s name on letters.

Jenkins’s arrest on October 7 did not become public knowledge and was not known to Johnson until October 14. Abe Fortas, a prestigious Washington attorney and also a confidant of Johnson, informed the president that Jenkins had just confessed his arrest to Fortas and seemed emotionally distraught. Fortas also informed Johnson that Jenkins had been arrested in 1959 in the same men’s restroom for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer.

On the evening of October 14, news wire services reported Jenkins’s arrest; George Reedy, White House press secretary, confirmed the story. Meanwhile, Jenkins checked himself into a local hospital, and Johnson had Fortas secure Jenkins’s resignation. Against her husband’s advice, Lady Bird Johnson issued a statement expressing concern for Jenkins’s health and family. The official White House message at this time was that Jenkins needed to be hospitalized and would resign because of overwork and nervous exhaustion. Privately, Johnson was surprised to learn that Jenkins was gay.

Johnson, however, suspected that Jenkins had been entrapped by local police as part of an unscrupulous Republican campaign trick a few weeks before the 1964 presidential election. The rhetoric and television commercials of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee, emphasized the moral decline of American society and questioned Johnson’s personal ethics. Dean Burch, the Republican national chairman, publicly implied that Johnson was trying to suppress the news of Jenkins’s arrest because it affected national security. It was commonly assumed that homosexuals were security risks because they could be blackmailed into violating national security.

Goldwater, who had been the commanding officer of the Air Force Reserve unit in which Jenkins served, chose not to make Jenkins’s arrest a campaign issue. Nevertheless, Johnson was determined to learn if Jenkins’s arrest was a Republican campaign trick and if his sexuality ever threatened national security. Thus, on October 15, the U.S. Congress directed J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation;and Walter Jenkins[Jenkins] Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to investigate Jenkins and issue a report. In less than two weeks, the FBI interviewed Jenkins and more than five hundred people. To the FBI, Jenkins admitted to earlier, occasional homosexual encounters. On October 22, the FBI issued its report, concluding that Jenkins did not violate or endanger national security and that there was no connection between Jenkins’s arrest and the Republican Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1964 presidential campaign.

Despite the favorable FBI report, Johnson remained concerned about how the scandal might affect the presidential election and the reputation of his presidency. Johnson made sure that while Jenkins was in the hospital, he remained heavily sedated, had no telephone, and had only White House-approved visitors. Besides praising Jenkins as a dedicated public servant who needed to be hospitalized and to resign because of overwork, White House statements also implicitly reinforced a widespread public assumption that a married Roman Catholic man with a large family could not also be a homosexual.

Johnson’s machinations and manipulation of the media and public opinion were soon overshadowed by major international events, minimizing the significance and public awareness of the Jenkins scandal. During the two weeks following the White House’s confirmation of Jenkins’s arrest, the attention of the media and public focused on China;nuclear weapons China’s detonation of a nuclear Nuclear weapons;China bomb, the election of a Labour Party government in Great Britain, and the forced retirement of Soviet premier Khrushchev, Nikita S. Nikita S. Khrushchev.

After his release from the hospital, Jenkins moved to Texas and was quickly forgotten. He quietly worked as an accountant and management consultant. He died on November 23, 1985. Former White House press secretary Reedy, in his 1982 book on Johnson, claims that the president’s political judgment during the remainder of his tenure was negatively affected by the absence of Jenkins from Johnson’s staff.

Impact

Although polls showed that most Americans knew about Jenkins’s arrest and resignation by the end of October, 1964, they also indicated that the Jenkins scandal had no measurable influence on voting behavior in the 1964 presidential election. Johnson easily won the election by a landslide, receiving more than 60 percent of the popular vote and carrying all states except Arizona and a few states in the South.

There were several reasons for this scandal’s lack of impact on voting behavior, media coverage, and public opinion. First, many Americans, including those who voted for Johnson, already perceived Johnson as an ethically questionable politician and were accustomed to learning about actual or alleged scandals involving the president. Second, the media, especially the broadcast media, were reluctant to investigate and emphasize a scandal on homosexuality. Third, Goldwater refused to exploit the Jenkins’s scandal as a campaign issue. Finally, the story of Jenkins’s arrest was replaced by news of major world events, including nuclear weapons, the continuing Cold War, and the effects of change in British politics. Jenkins, Walter Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;and Walter Jenkins[Jenkins] Federal Bureau of Investigation;and Watergate[Watergate] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1964 Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Lyndon B. Johnson[Johnson] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Barry Goldwater[Goldwater]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dallek, Robert. Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Excellent biography of Johnson that includes his close relationship with Jenkins and his response to the arrest of his longtime confidant.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Muzzy, Frank. Gay and Lesbian Washington, D.C. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2005. A double focus on the presence of gays and lesbians in Washington, D.C., and their impact on politics in the United States. Well illustrated. Part of the Images of America series.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reedy, George. Lyndon B. Johnson: A Memoir. New York: Andrews and McMeel, 1982. A recollection of the Jenkins scandal by Johnson’s White House press secretary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Savage, Sean J. JFK, LBJ, and the Democratic Party. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. An analysis of Johnson’s party leadership that includes an explanation and assessment of the Jenkins scandal within the context of the 1964 presidential election.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weisel, Al. “LBJ’s Gay Sex Scandal.” Out, December, 1999. A detailed explanation and analysis of the Jenkins scandal in a magazine geared to gay and lesbian politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wise, David. “Why the President’s Men Stumble.” The New York Times, July 18, 1982. A well-written article on presidential-staff scandals from the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan.

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