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RFK: No Feud with Johnson

Mar. 12, 1964 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy today refuted reports of a feud between him and President Johnson.

“I have read these reports about a feud,” he said. “There is no substance to these reports.”

It was his first public comment on the matter. He made it in a meeting with 30 students from the George School in Bucks County, Pa., who were visiting the Justice Department.

“I have the highest regard for him,” Mr. Kennedy said in answer to a student’s question on his feeling toward the President. “Our relations are friendly; they always have been. He has always been kind to me, to my family and to Mrs. Kennedy, both as Vice President and since then.”

When a student asked him who would be the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate next fall, Mr. Kennedy said jokingly, “Teddy.” Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts is his brother.

The personal relationship between Mr. Kennedy and President Johnson is the subject of curiosity and gossip in Washington. Informed observers believe the word “feud” is an inflated description of what is, at most, a strained relationship. It appears that the two, never personally close, are being pushed farther apart by circumstances and by suspicions fed by rumors.

One circumstance is the difference in their background and style. Mr. Kennedy is a man of soft understatement, reminiscent of his brother, the late President, though not with the same ironic wit. President Johnson has a broad, gusty quality. They are not men who would naturally be intimates. There was, however, no noticeable animosity between them before last Nov. 22. They were not personal friends but had worked together on Government matters amicably enough.

The assassination of President Kennedy, in a way, stands between them. Mr. Johnson wants to prove he can lead the country and his party on his own. Mr. Kennedy cannot forget that it was a brother he loved who was elected President in 1960.

Finally, there is the circumstance that each has admirers who dislike and suspect the other. These admirers apparently have spread various suspicions, and the result is a poisoning of the atmosphere.

For example, Charles Bartlett, a columnist who was a friend of President Kennedy, has implied that President Kennedy had not really wanted Mr. Johnson as his running mate in 1960. On the other hand, William S. White, a columnist close to President Johnson, has written that there was an “odor of police-state methods” at the Justice Department led by the Attorney General.

An example of how suspicion could blow up small incidents was the outcry over Paul Corbin, an admirer of Robert Kennedy, who worked on the Democratic National Committee. He apparently made some telephone calls to New Hampshire urging a Kennedy write-in.

President Johnson is said to have been told that Mr. Corbin engineered the write-in at Mr. Kennedy’s behest, then was allowed to resign. It is now realized that Mr. Corbin was too lacking in political influence to be entrusted by Mr. Kennedy with engineering anything.

Nevertheless, President Johnson is described as being somewhere between “irked” and “furious” at the campaign which got Mr. Kennedy more than 24,000 votes in the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Johnson himself got only 28,000.

Complicating all this is the Attorney General’s uncertainty about his future. He has committed himself to staying in the Government only through the election next November. Mr. Kennedy decided on his own to issue the statement, without consulting the White House.


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