The mainstream press and the progressive movement are shocked — shocked! — over Paul Manafort’s influence peddling and political corruption schemes. Their reaction to Manafort’s conviction and guilty plea remind me of the scene in the movie Casablanca, where the police chief is “shocked” to learn that there is gambling in Rick’s establishment, followed by someone bringing the police chief his gambling winnings.
The fact is that influence peddling, political corruption, and being on the take have always been an inherent part of the welfare-warfare state way of life. With trillions of taxpayer dollars flooding into the federal government’s coffers, there will always be people who are doing their best to get their sticky little fingers on a part of all that welfare-warfare largess. Why do you think the Pentagon has long refused to permit a financial audit of its operations? It’s because lots of people are on the warfare-state take in one way or another.
Paul Manafort brings to mind Lyndon Johnson, another influence peddler par excellence. The only reason Johnson is hailed as a hero by the mainstream press while Manafort is condemned as a crook is because Johnson had the good fortune of becoming president, which, in the eyes of the mainstream press and the Washington establishment, put a halo around his head.
Despite the fact that he became president, Johnson was one of the most crooked politicians in U.S. history. If Kennedy had not been assassinated, there is little doubt that Johnson would not have been his running mate in the 1964 presidential election, not only because JFK had expressed to close friends his intention to dump Johnson from the ticket but, more important, because of the strong likelihood that Johnson was going to be indicted for influence peddling and corruption, just like Paul Manafort.
In 1948, Johnson was running for U.S. Senate against Coke Stevenson, the governor of Texas, who was one of the most admired and respected governors in the history of the state. Johnson knew that he stood a good chance of losing the race. He instructed a powerful political crony in South Texas named George Parr, who ran his county like a personal fiefdom, to keep his ballot station open until all the others statewide had closed.
As detailed in a New York Times review of Robert Caro’s biography of Johnson, after all the other ballot stations had closed, Johnson had lost the election. His South Texas crony Parr proceeded to manufacture thousands of bogus votes, which put Johnson over the top by 87 votes statewide. When Stevenson sent the Texas Rangers to seize the voting signatures sheets, which were all in the same ink and same handwriting, the courthouse mysteriously burned down, along with all the fraudulent voting records.
Johnson also became a multimillionaire while in public office. How did he do that? By having his wife purchase a television station in Austin, which had a monopoly on broadcasting in that area because Johnson used political influence to ensure that television broadcasting licenses weren’t given to competitors. The resulting monopoly poured millions of dollars in advertising money into the pockets of Johnson and his wife Lady Bird. Caro stated, “It was a case study of political influence.”
At the time of the assassination of President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson was in grave danger of being removed from office and being sent to the penitentiary. It was only because of the assassination that he was spared such ignominy.
One scandal in which LBJ was embroiled involved a man named Billie Sol Estes, a fellow Texas who was ultimately sent to jail for agricultural fraud. When a federal agent went down to Texas to investigate Estes’s agriculture schemes, he was found dead on a Texas ranch, his body riddled with several bullets. The local authorities ruled it a suicide.
Another scandal involved Bobby Baker, who had been LBJ’s right-hand man when Johnson was Senate Majority Leader. Baker had been caught in an influence-peddling, corruption scheme involving vending machines on military bases. As the noose was being tightened around Baker’s neck, it was also indirectly being tightened around Johnson’s neck, owing to the strong suspicion that Baker would, under pressure, disclose Johnson’s role in the fraudulent scheme.
In fact, there was a congressional hearing on the Baker scandal that was very likely to implicate Johnson going on at the very moment of the JFK assassination. The assassination caused the hearing to be shut down immediately and, once Johnson became president, it was never resumed.
Moreover, Life magazine had planned a big expose of Johnson’s corruption for an issue in late November. It got replaced by coverage of the Kennedy assassination and was never published after Johnson became president.
As Caro details in his most recent volume on Johnson, there were two newspapers in Texas where investigative reporters were delving into Johnson’s role in these scandals. After he became president, Johnson telephoned the principals at both papers and threatened them with IRS or regulatory retaliation if they didn’t shut down their investigations into his corruption. Both papers shut down their investigations and never resumed them.
Paul Manafort’s mistake was obviously not being elected president. If he had been, he would be hailed as a giant hero, just as Lyndon Johnson is, rather than labeled as a run-of-the mill, corrupt white-collar criminal.