Fred Dutton in the News
GETTING LBJ’S GOAT
by Robert Pierpoint
When Senator John F. Kennedy campaigned for the Presidency in California in 1960, he became acquainted with two young lawyers, Fred Dutton and Warren Christopher. The Senator lost in California to native son Richard Nixon, but won the election anyway. They had done such a good job in helping his campaign, that after his election he invited them both to join his new administration. Christopher decided to return to his law firm, but Dutton accepted. After JFK’s inauguration, Dutton became a Special Assistant to the President (one of seven so-titled, who had direct access to JFK). When President Kennedy needed someone to negotiate a new trade treaty with Japan, he called on Warren Christopher. It was the young California lawyer’s first experience with foreign policy, but certainly not his last.
When President Kennedy realized that the State Department under Dean Rusk needed a strong shake-up, he asked Fred Dutton to move over to the there, where he was made State’s liaison with congress. My wife, Pat, and I had known Warren Christopher for many years, since she had gone to the University of Redlands with him in 1942. Pat was on a debating team with ‘Chris’. I first met Christopher in 1954, when a fellow lawyer, and fraternity brother of mine, Ed Taylor, held a dinner for a group of lawyers he had invited to hear my views on the Korean war and Asia. It was Christopher who introduced us to another Californian, Fred Dutton.
One evening Pat and I invited Fred and his wife for a quiet dinner at our home. Politics was the main course. At that time, President Johnson was looking for a new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, so I asked Fred who was to get the job. Dutton had left government service and was practicing law with Clark Clifford, but still served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Fred’s answer was a wise, “I know but I can’t tell you.” He was well-aware how much LBJ hated leaks. Then Fred added, ‘I can give you a hint. He is a retired Admiral and his nickname is Red’ That meant absolutely nothing to me, since I was not acquainted with any retired Admirals.
A few weeks later we entertained another visitor from California, Bill Moore. Bill was also a graduate of the U. of R., though several years after us. At that time he was working for a private contractor who did intelligence work, and frequently visited Washington. On week-ends President Johnson usually flew off to his Texas ranch, and he did so this particular week-end. Ordered to catch a commercial flight to join him in Texas, I asked Bill Moore if he would like to join the White House Press corps for few days in Texas on his way home. Bill, a political junkie, leaped at the chance. He agreed to my invitation to room with me at the old and musty Driskill Hotel in Austin, where the Transportation Office arranged the Press Corp’s housing and where the Press Secretary held daily briefings.
Early Sunday morning, Bill and I drove out to Johnson City to watch LBJ attend church. Most of my colleagues did the same every Sunday. We stayed outside the church in a group, and while the President and his guests were getting into cars to form a motorcade, I chatted briefly with Presidential aide Jack Valenti. Then we all jumped into cars and followed the Presidential motorcade into nearby Johnson City. We now knew the usual ritual, as LBJ drove directly to what he called his ‘ Boyhood Home.’ It was a well-restored white clapboard house on the side street of a very small town. The house had a backyard with a lawn and flowers, and a white picket fence around it to keep out unwanted visitors. The White House Press Corps was in this category, so we stood around outside the fence and tried to figure out who his guests were this Sunday. We had already figured out one of them, a former United Press reporter named Richard Helms, who had long been high up in the CIA. Suddenly Bill Lawrence, a longtime New York Times reporter but now with ABC, said somewhat boastfully, “I know who one of them is. That’s Admiral Red Raborn. I play golf with him at Burning Tree.” Lawrence shortly came to regret that remark.
Very quietly I left the group, signaling to Bill Moore that I would be back shortly. Just around the corner, out of sight, was a grocery store with a phone booth outside. In a quick call to Fred Dutton, I said “Admiral Red Raborn’, and his answer was just as short. “You got it,’ he said. The next call I made was to CBS Radio News in New York, to record a brief report that President Johnson was about to name Admiral Red Raborn to head the CIA. Then I rejoined the group outside the fence at LBJ’s Boyhood Home. That afternoon all hell broke loose! The Johnsons owned a radio station in Austin, and the President had listened to my broadcast on his way back to the ranch
Robert Pierpoint was CBS White House correspondent during the 1960s. He is currently retired and living in Santa Barbara, California.
February 22, 2008