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Blood, Money and Power
Failing to make the case against LBJ
By Steven Martinovich
Back in the early 1990s I sat on a committee that organized a symposium at Laurentian University on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a conference that featured the attendance of Marina Porter (better known to history as Marina Oswald). Our stated goal, at least according to our mission statement, was to determine who was really responsible for Kennedy's death. During our final meeting before the conference I off-handedly remarked that we could end up validating the conclusions of the Warren Commission, earning peals of derisive laughter from the rest of the committee -- all of whom had their own sometimes outlandish theories backed with far less evidence.
Barr McClellan's Blood, Money and Power: How L.B.J. Killed J.F.K. reminded me a lot of that committee. In the absence of any real proof -- the common denominator of every conspiracy theory surrounding the assassination -- his standards of evidence are often little more than nudges and winks or unspoken communications. Statements that are open to interpretation become rock solid proof that your boogey man of choice was the person responsible for the events of November 22, 1963. For McClellan, the culprits behind the murder are Lyndon B. Johnson and a cabal of "superlawyers" who represented his interests.
Except that McClellan isn't the typical obsessed crank that is the stereotypical assassination buff, he served as an attorney to Johnson after he left the White House. Working at a powerhouse Texas law firm starting in the late 1960s, McClellan maintains he had access to several of the key players he identifies as the men responsible for Kennedy's murder. His evidence consists of surprising admissions by lawyers who practically volunteered their firm's involvement, plenty of assumptions and one fingerprint.
Blood, Money and Power begins as a character sketch of both Johnson and lawyer Edward A. Clark, two men tied together at the hip and united by their lust for power. Each used the other in their quest for influence and wealth that stretched back to Johnson's earliest days -- including an allegedly stolen election in 1948 -- to his surprise announcement that he would not seek a second term as president. According to McClellan, Clark essentially controlled part of the Texas legal system as used it to further Johnson's career. Johnson, in turn, used his power to benefit Clark and the Texas oil industry.
The grease that kept this engine running was corruption and although it aided Johnson, it also had the potential end his career. Scandals dogged him throughout this career and reached their peak in the 1960s when a worried Kennedy considered dropping him from the 1964 ticket. In an attempt to protect their access to power and place Johnson in the White House, the conspirators decided that Kennedy had to be assassinated. That sunny day in Dallas was the culmination of years of work by Clark and Johnson to capture the White House and use it for their nefarious ends.
It's an incredible theory that begs the obvious question: How did a conspiracy, and all those other previous crimes -- which also included murders, that involved so many people remain hidden for so long? According to McClellan, Johnson, Clark and the other lawyers at the firm were protected by privilege. The details of the assassination and its participants could never be revealed because privilege -- which at the time in Texas didn't specifically bar lawyers from discussing crimes that were being planned -- is considered one of the most sacred bonds of the client-lawyer privilege.
It's compelling until you stop to consider that an enormous amount of McClellan's assertions are not backed up with any real proof. The conspiracy itself, he claims, was the product of vague statements, or as McClellan prefers, "code words" and unspoken sentiments. His proof of more than one shooter in Dealey Plaza consists of a lone fingerprint that may or may not be that of a convicted murderer linked to Clark. Lawyers he worked with casually dropped stunning revelations while they drove out to meet with Johnson during his retirement.
McClellan also does a remarkable job of weakening his own case through his extensive use of "faction", recreating conversations and events that he wasn't privy to. McClellan didn't join Clark's law firm until 1966 -- years after most of the events in Blood, Money and Power took place -- but that doesn't stop him from imaging those dark conversations that he believes occurred during the years that Clark and Johnson maintained a relationship. It's a device that appears to put some meat on the bones of McClellan's accusations but really only illustrates that much of his case is built on what he believes occurred, not what he can prove.
The notion that Johnson was one of America's more unsavory presidents doesn't need much evidence to back it up. It's quite likely that there was enough fire to sustain the smoke surrounding the scandals. It's also not surprising that Texas' old boy network aided Johnson and enriched both he and his lawyer in return for political favors. The leap between corruption and assassination, however, is too great to be bridged with the paucity of evidence that McClellan brings to bear. As a successful lawyer, McClellan should have known better than to come to court so unprepared.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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