Wednesday, January 19, 1966 - 8:06pm - 8:14pm
Lyndon Johnson, Nicholas Katzenbach

Earlier this day, on the floor of the Senate, Senator John J. Williams said that Lawrence L. 'Larry' Callanan of St. Louis, an official at the St. Louis Steamfitters Union who had been convicted of labor racketeering a decade earlier and whose sentence had been commuted by President Johnson, had donated a total of $2,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 1965. Callanan had been convicted in 1954 for a $28,000 shakedown of a Tulsa pipeline contractor and while serving half of his 12-year sentence had accrued significant tax debt. In April 1964, President Johnson commuted his sentence, thereby removing legal obstacles to Callanan resuming union activities and accepting a job there. Callanan subsequently assumed a post as director of the Steamfitters' Voluntary Political, Educational, Legislative, Charity, and Defense Fund, a post in which he was able to steer political funding and thereby exercise significant local electoral influence. On November 2, 1964, the fund had contributed $25,000 to the "Friends of LBJ;" this was in addition to the $2,000 Callanan was accused of personally contributing. Williams further suggested that Callanan had attempted to disguise the donations and said that "perhaps there is a plausible explanation for the strange circumstances surrounding this case, but I fail to see it."1

President Johnson: Yes, Nick.

White House Operator: [Unclear] Ready, sir.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Nicholas Katzenbach: Hello?

President Johnson: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Katzenbach: Mr. President, let me give you what I can give you on Lawrence Callanan--

President Johnson: OK.

Katzenbach: --the [John] Williams story. This is a fellow who was indicted and convicted of a Hobbs Act extortion in 1954, and he was given a very heavy sentence of 12 years imprisonment and five years probation.2 He served six years of his sentence and was put on probation in [19]60 and then served for about four years on probation. At this point, his probation officer wrote to our pardon attorney, said that he'd been very impressed with the conduct of this person, and that while he couldn't recommend it, he thought--he couldn't recommend it because he was an officer of the court--he thought that the commutation might be in order because until he was relieved of the restrictions for convicted union officials, he couldn't get a job. And that he could be able to get a job at $10,000 a year for the union, instructing in steamfitting, if a commutation was given.

The pardon attorney sent forms to Callanan at that point. They were made out--they were endorsed by several people, including a number of contractors and company presidents in the area of St. Louis. United States attorney recommended a commutation. Pardon attorney made a recommendation that a commutation be given, primarily because the sentence was way out of line with other Hobbs Act sentences, and this enabled the person to get a job. Because of the fact that he'd been unable to earn money, the fine was remitted.

This went forward in a routine way to you, was recommended by Attorney General [Robert F. 'Bobby'] Kennedy, to you on February 12, and you signed it in April on the same day in which you signed some 20 pardons and 9 other commutations.

The--subsequently to this, it apparently is true that he did make campaign contributions as indicated in the ticker.3 The $25,000 referred to in the ticker story is, to the best of our knowledge, not an offense at this point, although it's still under investigation. The story is that it wasn't--it was misentered in the files as a $25,000 contribution. In point of fact, it was a collection of a lot of smaller contributions that were made.

President Johnson: Well, what do we do about it?

Katzenbach: Well, I would think as far as you were concerned--and there has been some adverse publicity in the St. Louis Globe Dispatch for some time--and there's some correspondence I haven't yet run down in terms of our answers to this and the questions that were asked about this. I would think as far as you were concerned, you would simply state that this came as a routine matter over to you from Mr. Kennedy in February, that you signed this along with a lot of other pardons and probations in April, and that as far as any further details on this are concerned, they ought to be in touch with the Department of Justice.

President Johnson: All right, well you tell Bill [Moyers] that in the morning.

Katzenbach: Yes.

President Johnson: I'm going to Kansas City at eight o'clock and--

Katzenbach: Do you want a--I can get a memo--

President Johnson: I want to look at anything comes from Missouri. I'll be damned if it's not the hottest thing in the world. [Katzenbach laughs.] And I don't want to do anything wrong, and I want you to try to make them keep me from doing it. And don't let them get over here. And I just don't know . . . this Williams will make anything appear. Now, I can't see who contributes, and I can't see who's pardoned. [laughs]

Katzenbach: No, and you certainly can't tell who's going to contribute after they're pardoned, which is, I think the [unclear] the facts on this, at least as far as the file shows here, which is all that I've done, was routine and was sent over routinely by Bobby. But I would think there'd be a good deal of protection to you, simply to deal with it as that kind of routine--you don't know any of the facts.

President Johnson: OK, thank you.

Katzenbach: All right.

President Johnson: Tell Bill how to handle it, if they ask him. All right. Bye.

Katzenbach: All right, I'll speak to Bill, and I'll get you a fuller memo on it tomorrow sometime.

President Johnson: Let me see--let me see if he's here. If he is I can transfer you--

Katzenbach holds for 1 minute and 51 seconds while President Johnson tries to locate Moyers.

President Johnson: Nick? 

Katzenbach: Yes, sir.

President Johnson: He is here, and I'll get the operator to transfer you.

Katzenbach: Oh, I'll--let me just ring . . . I'll just ring back on this line, Mr. President.

President Johnson: OK. All right, OK.

Katzenbach: Thanks.

  • 1. Associated Press, "Ex-Convict Tied to Political Gift," New York Times, 20 January 1966, p.18; Lana Stein, St. Louis Politics: The Triumph of Tradition (St. Louis: St. Louis Historical Society Press, 2002), pp.79-80.
  • 2. "The Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. § 1951) prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. Section 1951 also proscribes conspiracy to commit robbery or extortion without reference to the conspiracy statute at 18 U.S.C. § 371. Although the Hobbs Act was enacted as a statute to combat racketeering in labor-management disputes, the statute is frequently used in connection with cases involving public corruption, commercial disputes, and corruption directed at members of labor unions." (http://www.justice.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/131mcrm.htm)
  • 3. Katzenbach is referring to the news wire service ticker.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.