By The Jefferson Allegiance and his mistress. A document brokered by Jefferson and Hamilton against the future threat of a president run amok. That’s the core idea of the book. Most of it is a thriller set present day to track down the Allegiance, but there are flashbacks to when just the threat of it stopped presidents. Here is the fifth:
22 March 1962
President John F. Kennedy, as was the custom for his lunches with J. Edgar Hoover, had the Oval Office emptied of everyone, even his brother Robert. To Kennedy, today was looking to be a particularly odious session, as Hoover was carrying a particularly thick file.
Kennedy had been advised by Eisenhower to continue a tradition begun by FDR: inviting the head of the FBI to lunch at the White House every month. It was under the principle of keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Since taking office, Kennedy had stretched the interval out to every two months, and he was hoping he could eventually go without seeing the grotesque man at all. Bobby wasn’t happy about the luncheons either, because technically Hoover worked for the Attorney General, although the man never acted like he answered to Bobby. Or even the President, Kennedy reflected as he sat on the couch across from Hoover, a low, ornate, coffee table between them; Jackie’s choice.
Hoover dropped the thick file onto the coffee table with great relish. Kennedy didn’t rise to the bait. Instead he waited as his secretary refilled his coffee cup, offered some to Hoover, and then departed. Kennedy took a sip of coffee and waited some more, refusing to descend into Hoover’s gutter.
“Interesting wiretaps,” Hoover finally said. “Should I set the stage for them?”
Kennedy shrugged, knowing the old man would say what he wanted, regardless. His back was aching and he shifted, trying to adjust the brace strapped around his body. He glanced at his watch, thinking ahead to his schedule for the afternoon.
His thoughts came to an abrupt halt at Hoover’s next two words: “Judith Campbell.”
Kennedy tried to stay relaxed. “Who?”
Hoover gave that sickening smile of his. “Las Vegas. Nineteen sixty. The filming of Oceans Eleven. Your ‘buddy’ Frank Sinatra. He introduced you to her. Don’t you remember?”
“I can’t recall. I don’t even remember being in Vegas.”
The smile grew wider. “I can assure you that you were,” Hoover said. He opened the folder and on top was the picture of a woman. He slid it across to Kennedy, who didn’t pick it up.
“She’s quite beautiful,” Hoover said. “Interesting timing. You were seeking the democratic nomination at the time. Apparently you were seeking more than that, as you became involved with Miss Campbell.”
“I’m afraid your information is—“
“Incorrect?” Hoover completed for him. “Do you know how many times I’ve heard that? I never share information unless I am certain it is correct.” He grabbed the next picture in the folder and tossed it on top of Campbell’s. Kennedy’s stomach tightened.
“Perhaps unknown to you at the time, but certainly known afterwards, was that Sinatra also introduced Miss Campbell to this man.” He leaned forward and tapped the picture. “Sam Giancana. A criminal. Head of what is called ‘the Outfit’ in Chicago. Since there is no organized crime in this country, the Outfit is a bunch of thieves and murderers.” The sarcasm was dripping from Hoover’s words.
“It wouldn’t surprise you, of course, to know that Miss Campbell is also Mister Giancana’s mistress?”
Kennedy couldn’t tell if it was a question or not, so he remained silent.
“Of course not.” Hoover answered his own question. “Since Miss Campbell calls you here at the White House using the phone in Mister Giancana’s apartment in Chicago.” Hoover picked up a third picture and threw it down. “Your father. Joseph Kennedy. He had dealings with men like Giancana, especially during Prohibition. I believe the Sinatra introduction was at his behest.”
Kennedy had not thought of that, but he knew as soon as Hoover said it, that it was true. Chicago. Of course. His father pulling strings.
Hoover pursed his lips as if in thought. “Now this part is not validated, but comes from credible sources. It seems someone from your campaign gave a bag of cash to Giancana back when you were seeking the Democratic nomination. You did win Illinois, mainly because of a huge push in Chicago. Some would say a statistically impossible push. A lot of votes from the grave.”
“What do you want?” Kennedy had had enough.
Hoover picked up the next item in the folder. A thick sheaf of papers. “Come now, Mister President, are you really trying to hire this Giancana fellow and his ‘Outfit’ to assassinate Castro?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Hoover blinked. “You really don’t know about that? Curious. Your precious CIA is keeping secrets from you, too. But, like me, they know your secrets.”
“What do you want?”
Hoover reached over and grabbed the sheaf of papers and the photos, making a large show of putting them back into the folder and shutting it. Kennedy didn’t miss that there was a lot in that folder that Hoover had not brought out.
“It isn’t what I want. It’s what we want.” Hoover lifted the lapel on the right side of his suit jacket, revealing a medallion. “The Society of the Cincinnati, Mister President.” With his other hand he tapped the thick folder. “We have you—and your brother—by the balls, to use a crude but appropriate metaphor. If I ask for something, we want it. Do you understand?”
Kennedy just stared back at the old man.
Hoover stood, tucking the folder under one arm. “Right now, all we want it is for your brother to change his mind and sign off on the paperwork on his desk to wiretap Martin Luther King.”
“I don’t—“ Kennedy began, but stopped as Hoover waved the folder, as if fanning himself. “All right.”
5 August 1963
“I love you, too,” President Kennedy said, and then hung up the phone, severing the line to his wife in Hyannis Port.
“How is Jackie?” the only other occupant of his private dining room on the second floor of the White House asked.
Kennedy grimaced, both from the pain in his back and the recent conversation. “Not good. The heat is bad, she feels ill and she’s scared.”
“Of course she’s scared. She already lost one child. I know how she feels.”
Kennedy watched as Mary Meyer took a sip of her drink. He enjoyed her company—one of the few people he felt comfortable being alone with and simply talking, but to be honest, he still missed their affair.
“Graham shot himself,” he said, referring to the Washington Post publisher who had killed himself with a shotgun just two days previously. And who, back in January, had pushed his way to the podium at a conference of newspaper editors in Phoenix—even though he wasn’t supposed to speak—and drunkenly delivered a tirade that included references to the President’s ‘new favorite,’ Mary Meyer. He had been wrong about the ‘new’ part, Kennedy mused. He’d known Mary since college, and she’d long been a staple of White House life.
“I heard,” Mary said. “I feel for his wife. He’d just gotten out of the hospital. They thought he was better.”
“He was out of control,” Kennedy said. He had been intimate many times with Mary, and even though that part of their relationship had ended with the dual pressures of Graham’s publicity and Jackie’s pregnancy, he still felt a tight bond. He’d once smoked marijuana with her, even tried LSD—not his thing—and she’d been there with him through the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, and many other significant events of his Presidency. Always someone he could confide in and count on for solid advice. “What’s wrong, Mary? Is it Jackie? She’s fine with your being here.”
Mary Meyer shook her head. “I was approached by some men. They wanted me to give you a message and they showed me something.”
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you, except that they’re for real. Three high-ranking generals and someone—let’s say he’s on a level with Graham.”
Kennedy frowned. “What did they show you?”
“A document.” Mary got up from her end of the table and sat caddy-corner to the President and took his hand.
Kennedy was surprised at the move and the look on her face. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Have you ever heard of the Jefferson Allegiance?”
Kennedy gripped her hand tighter. “A rumor of it. No one has ever confirmed its existence though.”
“It exists. They showed it to me.”
Kennedy could feel his back tighten, the old injury from PT-109 coming back to haunt him as it always did when he was under stress. “Why did they show it to you?”
“They wanted me to give you a message. And they knew you trusted me.”
“Go on,” Kennedy prompted.
Mary’s tongue snaked over her lips, a sign of how nervous she was. “They said that they respected what you did during the Missile Crisis. That it was important that one man be in charge and handle things. That it was one of those unique moments with high stakes where the responsibility and decision-making had to rest on the President’s shoulders.”
“But?” Kennedy prompted.
“The Bay of Pigs. The Wall being built in Berlin. Your recent speech there worried people. They felt you were continuing to challenge Khrushchev. That it had become personal. And the involvement in Vietnam greatly concerns the military men.”
Kennedy scoffed. “There are only eleven thousand men in Vietnam—all advisers. And the Pentagon has promised they can be withdrawn by the end of the year after they crush the Vietcong rebels. Vietnam is not an issue.”
“That is not the way the Philosophers see it.”
“The ‘Philosophers’? So it’s true that they guard the Allegiance.” He stared at her. “Is it as powerful as rumored?”
Mary nodded. “If they invoke it, they would remove you from office. And that’s just the beginning.”
The silence in the dining room lasted a long time before Kennedy spoke again. “What do they want?”
“For you to use the National Security Council for advice more often. To back off Vietnam. Back off of pressing Khrushchev.”
“Do they want an answer?”
“They told me they would get their answer from your actions.”
“I don’t like being threatened,” Kennedy snapped. “I get it from both sides. The damn Cincinnatians and Hoover. Now the Philosophers. I’m sick of it.”
“There’s something else,” Mary said.
“What?” Kennedy knew he was being short, but the pain in his back and this information along with Jackie being miserable in Hyannis Port was ruining what he had hoped would be a pleasant evening.
“Did you know the CIA is trying to use the mob to kill Castro?”
Kennedy leaned back in his chair, trying to ease the pain in his back, pulling his hand out of hers. “Hoover said something to me about that. I thought he was bluffing.”
“I asked Cord,” Mary said, referring to her ex-husband, who was high in the ranks of the Agency. “He said ‘of course not,’ which means of course they are.”
“Goddamnit,” Kennedy slammed a fist onto the tabletop, causing the crystal to bounce.
“The Philosophers want you to get on top of that. After the Bay of Pigs, there can’t be another Cuban fiasco. They say it’s very complicated and dangerous and that the Cincinnatians are involved.”
“Who the hell runs this country?” Kennedy demanded.
Mary got up and walked behind his chair. She leaned over and wrapped her arms around his chest. “I’m worried, Jack. Very worried for you. Cord didn’t just lie to me. There’s something going on. Something very dangerous. Promise me you’ll be careful?”
Kennedy was hardly comforted by her touch or her words, but he nodded anyway. “I promise.”