Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Bobby Baker, a close associate of U.S. vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, was accused of using his personal and business contacts—which included organized crime figures—to make money illegally. He also provided Congress members and lobbyists with the companionship of young women. In 1967, Baker was convicted and sentenced to federal prison. The scandal, particularly Baker’s ties to the mob, became a political embarrassment that tarnished Johnson’s presidency.

Summary of Event

Bobby Baker served as a page from the time he was fourteen years old and then became secretary to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1963. During his tenure with the Senate, he became close friends with a number of influential senators, including Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert S. Kerr. In his capacities in the Senate, Baker provided a number of services for the senators and lobbyists, ranging from writing the text of bills to procuring young women as companions. [kw]Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections, Vice President Lyndon B. (Oct. 7, 1963) [kw]Crime Connections, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over (Oct. 7, 1963) Baker, Bobby Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;and Bobby Baker[Baker] Kerr, Robert S. Reynolds, Don Baker, Bobby Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;and Bobby Baker[Baker] Kerr, Robert S. Reynolds, Don [g]United States;Oct. 7, 1963: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections[01200] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;Oct. 7, 1963: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections[01200] [c]Corruption;Oct. 7, 1963: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections[01200] [c]Government;Oct. 7, 1963: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections[01200] [c]Politics;Oct. 7, 1963: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections[01200] [c]Sex;Oct. 7, 1963: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson Aide Resigns over Crime Connections[01200] Tyler, Nancy Carole Williams, Edward Bennett

Bobby Baker (right) is seated with his attorney during Senate hearings.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Baker also used his position in the Senate to make deals, open a motel, obtain a vending-machine contract, and associate with a number of organized crime figures such as Ed Levenson and Benny Siegelbaum, both of whom had connections to controversial union leader Jimmy Hoffa. In the end, Baker’s deals crashed down on him, and he was investigated by the Senate. He then was indicted by a federal grand jury, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to more than sixteen months in prison.

Born November 12, 1928, Baker was the eldest of eight children. His father, Ernest, started out as a mill hand and eventually became the postmaster of Pickens, South Carolina, where Baker grew up. The young Baker’s first introduction to the Senate came in 1942, when he moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a Senate page. A few years later, in 1948, Baker met Johnson, with whom he would be associated the rest of his career. In the Senate, Baker climbed the ladder of success and eventually became secretary to the Senate. By his twenties, he was a well-known individual among congressmen and lobbyists.

Always hustling and looking for opportunities, Baker got involved in a number of projects, such as setting up a law firm with Ernest Tucker, who paid him fees for “referrals,” even though Baker never did practice law. During the 1950’s, he got involved in establishing casinos in the Dominican Republic Dominican Republic through the InterContinental Hotels Group, and he brought Levenson and Siegelbaum to the deal. Baker also was closely involved with Senator Kerr of Oklahoma and his moneyed projects. Baker’s other ventures included establishing the Serv-U-Corporation. Through this company, Baker and his cohorts secured a vending-machine contract for companies working on federally sponsored programs. Finally, Baker invested in the Mortgage Mortgage industry Guaranty Insurance Company Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Company (MGIC) on the advice of its chairman. These investments contributed to Baker’s downfall.

It was Baker’s connections with the Quorum Club, however, that led to the most serious problems. The Quorum Club, located in a hotel across the street from the Senate office building, was an elite club, whose members included lobbyists and politicians. Baker was a club cofounder and served on its board. It was at the Quorum that he conducted many of his illegal dealings. Baker reportedly introduced John F. Kennedy Kennedy, John F. [p]Kennedy, John F.;and Bobby Baker[Baker] Kennedy, John F. [p]Kennedy, John F.;and Ellen Rometsch[Rometsch] to Ellen Rometsch, Ellen Rometsch, a host at the club, who was later accused of being a spy.

From this point on, Baker’s troubles escalated. Through loans, favorable investments in MGIC, and other favors, he was able to set up his Carousel Motel. Many of the best known senatorial figures, such as Johnson, were invited to its grand opening. Few people realized that the Carousel was a financial drain on Baker, who obtained financial help for the venture from Senator Kerr.

Johnson, by the time of his vice presidency, had dealings with insurance agent Don Reynolds, whom Baker had introduced to Johnson. In 1955, Johnson had suffered a massive heart attack, which made it difficult for him to get health insurance. Reynolds put together a large life insurance policy for Johnson on two conditions: that Reynolds could buy air time on Johnson’s television station in Austin, Texas, and that he would give Reynolds and his wife an expensive stereo set. Johnson later denied any wrongdoing and simply wrote off the transactions as gifts given and received.

Baker’s troubles with federal investigators began because of his involvement with Reynolds and because of his associations with Senator Kerr. According to Baker, Kerr consistently demanded money from corporate executives of companies such as savings and loans as payoffs to avoid regulatory legislation or investigations. In many ways, Baker brought much of this attention upon himself, given that his senatorial job earnings did not match his millionaire lifestyle. Closely identified with Vice President Johnson, Baker failed to realize that this connection did not make him invincible. Baker already had run-ins with Republicans who seemed intent on “getting him.” He even had strained relations with prominent Democrats, who blamed him for the problems President Kennedy, John F. [p]Kennedy, John F.;and Bobby Baker[Baker] Kennedy had with Medicare. Baker decided it was time to leave the Senate. He resigned on October 7, 1963.

Baker described the beginning of the end for him as the time Ralph Hill, president of Capitol Vending Company, caused him trouble over his vending-machine contracts. Instead of settling a dispute with Hill, Baker ignored it until it was too late. Hill sued Baker in November, 1963, and told investigators that Baker demanded monthly payments of $1,000 for any deal to go through for Hill. Hill actually did pay Baker some money, approximately $600 per month for a short period of time.

To make matters worse, and despite his hiring of attorney Abe Fortas Fortas, Abe (later associate justice of the United States, who resigned his position after an unrelated scandal) to represent him, the bottom fell out for Baker. The floodgates were open for an investigation. Married with five children, Baker also was having an affair with his secretary, Nancy Carole Tyler. Nothing was left untouched by investigators, even the fact that Baker filled out the application form for Tyler’s apartment. (Tyler was a roommate of Chappaquiddick incident Kopechne, Mary Jo Kennedy, Edward M. [p]Kennedy, Edward M.;and Chappaquiddick[Chappaquiddick] Mary Jo Kopechne, who was killed in a crash of a car driven by Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy in 1969.) Although U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy reportedly told Baker that he did not start the investigation against him, Johnson believed otherwise.

Impact

The so-called Bobby Baker investigation bill went to the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Everett Jordan, Everett Jordan of North Carolina. Baker’s attorney, Fortas, was replaced by Edward Bennett Williams, Edward Bennett Williams. The hearings were devastating to Baker’s reputation. In its final report, the Senate committee said that Baker had abused his position of trust. His problems worsened as he was the focus of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Federal Bureau of Investigation Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service. During this time, Baker did everything he could to raise money, even becoming a full-time innkeeper at the Carousel Hotel.

Baker soon faced the death of his mistress, Tyler, who was killed in a plane crash in May, 1965. On January 5, 1966, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., on nine counts of income tax Tax evasion;Bobby Baker[Baker] evasion and fraud. His trial took place in January, 1967. Baker was found guilty and sentenced to one to three years in prison. He served more than sixteen months.

The Baker scandal was one of the most significant events of the Johnson vice presidency and his early presidential years. Although Baker was the target of the investigations and trial, Johnson figured prominently in the background. More important, the Baker scandal caused the already strained relationship between Johnson and the attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, to deteriorate even further. Baker, Bobby Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;and Bobby Baker[Baker] Kerr, Robert S. Reynolds, Don

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Robert Gene, with Larry L. King. Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978. An excellent autobiographical account of Baker’s career working with the U.S. Senate, and the corrupt years following his tenure with the federal government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Caro, Robert. Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate. New York: Knopf, 2002. Caro’s thorough multivolume study of Johnson provides many details on Johnson’s career, which included Baker as his aide, in the U.S. Senate.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Long, Kim. The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals, and Dirty Politics. New York: Delacorte Press, 2007. A wide-ranging book detailing the various scandals and corrupt practices that have plagued U.S. politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roberts, Robert North. Ethics in U.S. Government: An Encyclopedia of Investigations, Scandals, Reforms, and Legislation. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. A comprehensive encyclopedia documenting political scandals, ethical controversies, and investigations in the U.S. government between 1775 and 2000.

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