Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell (President Johnson joined by Lady Bird Johnson, A. W. Moursund, and Wesley West) on 1 January 1964


Transcript

Edited by Kent B. Germany and Robert David Johnson, with Ashley Havard High and Patricia Dunn

See the daily introduction for 1964-01-01  [from the Norton edition]

President Johnson’s attention then turned to one of his most valued advisers in the Senate and arguably the most influential southerner in Washington, D.C., save for Johnson himself. In midevening, while visiting with several Texas friends, Johnson called up Georgia senator Richard Russell, a man considered by the President as his mentor and by the President’s children as “Uncle Dick.” The group revisited old times, discussed the whipping that the University of Texas’s national champion football team had put on Roger Staubach and the Navy Midshipmen in the Cotton Bowl, and engaged in the rituals of ribbing and bragging associated with serious deer hunting. In between those moments, Johnson explored policy toward West Germany, wheat sales to the Soviet Union, aid to Indonesia, and the defense industry in Georgia. The wheat sale issue gave the two men the opportunity to comment on Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, and both men offered lukewarm endorsements. On the issue of continuing foreign aid to Indonesia, Russell told Johnson, “I wouldn’t give them a damn cent, Mr. President,” and proceeded to criticize the State Department. “They all get their advice from the same source,” he lamented, “and they think through the same processes, and they pee through the same quill.”

President Johnson

Hello.[note 1] The Presidential Recordings Program revised the following section of text in 2021 for inclusion in The LBJ Telephone Tapes, a project produced by the Miller Center in partnership with the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to commemorate the library's 50th anniversary.

Richard Russell

Happy New Year, Mr. President.

President Johnson

Well, I called you up to get New Year’s gift off of you, and damn if you didn’t beat me to it.

Russell

Yes, sir, I sure did.

President Johnson

I just sitting here with a bunch of your old roughneck friends, and we’re sitting in here in the den and . . . Wesley [W. West] and A. W. [“Judge” Moursund III]. And old A. W. said, “There’s old Dick Russell’s chair.” He said, “You remember that night he and Herman Brown came in here?”[note 2] Herman Brown was George Brown’s brother, a cofounder of Brown & Root, and one of the President’s major financial supporters.

Russell

God, I’d hoped that chair disappeared.

President Johnson

[laughing] No, they got it, and they call it—got a little brass plaque on it, said, “This is where Dick Russell sat the night that A. W. and Herman Brown brought him in [from the] football game.”

Russell

Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, that football team sure played ball today.

President Johnson

Huh?

Russell

That team sure played football today.

President Johnson

They did all right. You remember that night?

Russell

Not much about it. [President Johnson laughs heartily.] I don’t remember much about it. [Both laugh.]

President Johnson

Well, we just wanted to call you up and tell you that you are a very much beloved man.

Russell

Well, you make me feel mighty good, Mr. President.[note 3] End of 2021 revisions.

President Johnson

Well, how is your family?

Russell

They’re all fine, thank you.

President Johnson

Well, you tell that little—

Russell

We’ve got terrible weather out here, got ice and snow and trees breaking down, and everything else. With the sleet, it’s terrible.

President Johnson

Well, they tell me that there’s no plane—they couldn’t even bring me the courier plane today from Washington.

Russell

I’m sure that’s true—it’s just been terrible all up and down the seaboard.

President Johnson

I gave all your argument to [Ludwig] Erhard, and I wasn’t very persuasive with him. [Russell laughs.] He got up that night at toast—after I took him out on the ranch and looked at the deer, and just he and I were driving along in the front seat. And I said, “Would you give me one good reason why we ought to keep six [Army] divisions over there?” And he looked at me and said, “Well, psychologically, it’s very important to the German people because they’d get very disturbed if you pulled them out of there.”

And I said, “Well, do you think we ought to, just for psychological reasons, spend all $6[00] or $700 million?” “Well,” he said, “the [U.S.] boys all like to stay there, too.” I said, “Now, listen, Mr. Chancellor. There’s not a single boy there that wouldn’t like to be home with mama and papa tonight, this Christmas.”

And that night, when he got up to respond to my toast—I told him that the Germans had launched me into politics. Dick Kleberg hired me.[note 4] Kleberg was the Texas congressman who had brought Johnson to Washington as a congressional aide. And the Americans had launched Erhard. And I said, “When I got in, I was a politician. I had to start to work on the budget and become an economist, and he was an economist, and he had to become a politician.”[note 5] Erhard had served as minister of economics under Konrad Adenauer from 1949 to 1963. [Both laugh.]

And the old man got up to reply—he said, “I got kind of disturbed this afternoon.” [Both laugh heartily.] But he agreed to spend more money with us than he’s been spending, and more than we’re spending, and he agreed not to let Cuba have any more spare parts and things, that they had been letting dribble out of there.

Russell

Well [unclear]—

President Johnson

He agreed to raise his defense budget by a billion [deutsche] marks. He agreed that we could make some little moves from time to time, and he would try to explain them and get his people a little better conditioned. I think that we had a mighty good meeting, although we didn’t get all your troops out right quick.

Russell

I didn’t want to bring them all out right quick, but I—

President Johnson

I told him you were making those big Lockheed transports, and you wanted to see them used.[note 6] The Lockheed company was producing the C-130 military transport plane at its enormous plant in Marietta, Georgia, in Russell’s home state.

Russell

[Chuckles a bit.] Well, we . . . Really the, well . . . I was—no need—

President Johnson

I asked—have they talked—

Russell

I know you did a good job with him.

President Johnson

Have you talked to Indonesia? Have you talked to anybody about Indonesia?[note 7] Johnson was considering a possible cutoff of U.S. aid to Indonesia because of President Achmad Sukarno’s hostile actions toward Malaysia.

Russell

No.

President Johnson

I told somebody in Washington that before I approved 25 million [dollars] in aid to them, I wanted to get your—

Russell

I wouldn’t give them a damn cent, Mr. President.

President Johnson

I knew you wouldn’t, but I want you to tell them why. I want them to give you that approval that they rushed to me with the Secretary of State and all of them said it’s got to be done by the first of the year—

Russell

Now, the trouble about it is that those people have got their own little coterie of thinking there in the State Department. They’re good men all right. [Dean] Acheson, [John Foster] Dulles, and this man we’ve got there now, [Dean] Rusk, are all mighty fine men. But they all get their advice from the same source, and they think through the same processes, and they pee through the same quill.

There are several things that can be done that wouldn’t cause the collapse they think it would.

President Johnson

Well, I asked somebody. I don’t know who it was. I think it was Mac Bundy. But I told him I wouldn’t act on it until I got a written memo from you. I want your opinion on it, and I want [Robert] McNamara[’s]. [Unclear comment by Russell.] I asked McNamara, and McNamara kind of snorted, too.

Russell

Well, I talked to [Orville] Freeman tonight about the durum wheat.

President Johnson

Yeah. I told—

Russell

[Unclear] person I’ve heard from.

President Johnson

Well, I told him to call you about that. What did you tell him?

Russell

I told him I hadn’t been in favor of that wheat deal, but since we’ve started into it, I saw no reason why that little $800,000 extra substitute should stall it off, that I’d defend him in the Senate on it.[note 8] In October 1963, President Kennedy had negotiated an arrangement to sell excess U.S. wheat to the Soviet Union. The Continental Grain Corporation of Kansas had recently sold the Soviets $30 million worth of durum wheat. Washington Post, 3 January 1964.

President Johnson

Well, I wanted your judgment on it, because I think that he tries, but I’m not sure he has the best judgment all the time.

Russell

No, he doesn’t. But he tries, and he’s enthusiastic, and he’s loyal.

President Johnson

Yeah, I think all that’s true. And I don’t think he whips us around.

Russell

No. No, that’s right—

President Johnson

He tries to get along with [James] Eastland and [Allen] Ellender and some of them . . .[note 9] Mississippi senator James O. Eastland was chair of the Judiciary Committee. Louisiana senator Allen Ellender was chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Russell

Yes, he does. Yes, he does.

President Johnson

And he defends them in the Cabinet meetings.

Russell

He does. He’s a good man. He’s not a heavyweight, but he’s good, and he’s loyal, and he does [unclear]—

President Johnson

How is Bobby doing?[note 10] Bobby Russell was the senator’s nephew and a state judge in Georgia.

Russell

He’s doing fine.

President Johnson

He’s not there, is he?

Russell

No sir. I had supper with his—up at his house the night before last, but I haven’t seen him since then.

President Johnson

Well, give him my love, and tell him that if he didn’t have such a damn good job, I’d give him a bad one.

Russell

Well, we talked about you—had a couple of fellows down there from Atlanta, thought they was big shots and all. Bobby was telling them about what a great man you was. [He said that] you was the greatest man ever been, make the greatest president the country had ever seen.

President Johnson

Well, not—

Russell

Your ears must have been burning. He made two or three speeches about you.

President Johnson

I would if he was up there to help me.[note 11] The Presidential Recordings Program revised the following section of text in 2021 for inclusion in The LBJ Telephone Tapes, a project produced by the Miller Center in partnership with the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to commemorate the library's 50th anniversary. But I hope you have a wonderful New Year. And wait a minute. A. W. wants to speak on behalf of me and Wesley and a few of them here, and say howdy, after this girl [Lady Bird Johnson] talks to you.

Russell

All right, sir.

Lady Bird Johnson

Senator?

Russell

Honey, how are you?

Lady Bird Johnson

Oh, I’m fine.

Russell

I’ve just been seeing you with great approval in the newsreel and on the—in the paper.

Lady Bird Johnson

[Chuckles.] There’s nobody’s approval that I want more than yours.

Russell

Oh, Lord, what a politician. No wonder Lyndon Johnson’s president.

Lady Bird Johnson

And, listen, I—

Russell

No wonder he’s president.[note 12] End of 2021 revisions.

Lady Bird Johnson

I want to talk to you seriously about—I mentioned very briefly something about Tallulah Falls, and I’ve got plans about my trips to places that we both know, and I want to talk to you a little bit more about it.[note 13] Tallulah Falls was an isolated and economically depressed town in the mountains of northwest Georgia near the South Carolina border. The First Lady was in the process of visiting several economically depressed areas.

Russell

I’d be glad to.

Lady Bird Johnson

Now—

Russell

It’s all right, but it’s not of any maximum importance.

Lady Bird Johnson

Well, what I want is something that’s a going concern—

Russell

There’s a lot of [unclear] folks. They used to be poor mountain folks, but they all, there [are] paved roads up there now, and they can all get in and out.

Lady Bird Johnson

Mm-hmm. I want a going concern where I can be of some little use.[note 14] The Presidential Recordings Program revised the following section of text in 2021 for inclusion in The LBJ Telephone Tapes, a project produced by the Miller Center in partnership with the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to commemorate the library's 50th anniversary. And I just want to say that I hope there were a lot of Russells gathered around the Christmas dinner table [Russell acknowledges] and the New Year’s dinner table.

Russell

We didn’t have but 42 here at Christmas; a lot of them couldn’t get in. But we had big time.

Lady Bird Johnson

Well, all my love to you—

Russell

Are those two lovely daughters of yours at home, or where are they this Christmas?

Lady Bird Johnson

Well, they were together with us at Christmas, and we had all of Lyndon’s family at Christmas, and now we’re having my family—about 15 Taylors. But my two children went with their dates to watch the big ball game.[note 15] Lynda Bird sat on the Navy side, while Luci watched from a Texas section. Lynda Bird’s fiancé, Lieutenant Bernard Rosenbach of Comfort, Texas, was an alumnus of Navy on active duty at sea. San Angelo Standard-Times, 1 and 2 January 1964.

Russell

That was a terrific ball game. That Texas could beat any college team in the world today. I never saw a team play like they do.

Lady Bird Johnson

[Chuckles.] And they’ll be back tomorrow. And I want—that Lynda Bird [Johnson]’s going to come back up there.[note 16] Lynda Bird enrolled later at George Washington University. The main reason she’s coming is because she wants to listen to smart people like you and get smarter.

Russell

She needs to be up there to help her daddy. She’s a politician just like her mother. [Lady Bird Johnson chuckles.] [Unclear.]

Lady Bird Johnson

And here’s Judge Moursund.

A. W. "Judge" Moursund III

Hi, Senator?

Russell

Judge, how are you?

Moursund

All right. Happy New Year to you.

Russell

Same to you, A. W., and many of them. I was getting along just fine here until Lyndon reminded me of that time I sort of disgraced myself over there, and you had to take care of me.

Moursund

Oh, heck, he shouldn’t have mentioned that. [Russell laughs.] He’s just kidding.

Russell

That’s all right.

Moursund

How’d you like old Texas today?

Russell

I want to tell you: they could have whipped any college football team ever was assembled today.

Moursund

They’re working today, weren’t they?

Russell

Navy had a good team, but they just looked like [a] high school out there trying to play Texas.[note 17] End of 2021 revisions. They had a good team. I want to tell you, that Number 70 for Texas was the most terrific tackle I ever saw.[note 18] Scott Appleton wore number 70. He was a consensus All-American tackle and a winner of the Outland Trophy, which was awarded to the best lineman in college football. He stood 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 240 pounds. Houston Post, 21 December 1963. In the line he was taking two and three men out.

Moursund

Yes, he’s tough. He sure is.

Russell

And he’s not such a hell of a big fellow, either.

Moursund

No, he’s just determined.

Russell

Yes. He’s got the speed, and quick as a cat, too.

Moursund

How you feeling?

Russell

I’m feeling fine, A. W. I hope you are.[note 19] The Presidential Recordings Program revised the following section of text in 2021 for inclusion in The LBJ Telephone Tapes, a project produced by the Miller Center in partnership with the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to commemorate the library's 50th anniversary.

Moursund

Well, have you had nice holidays?

Russell

Yeah, we’ve had a good time.

Moursund

Well, that’s sure fine.

Russell

Y’all kill any deer out there?

Moursund

Yeah, we did. We miss you.

Russell

Well, I wished I could have been there. I hope the President didn’t miss his turn as many times as he did that time he created that shortage of . . .

Moursund

[speaking over Russell] No, he made an awful good shot yesterday. He shot a deer, I think, about 350 yards, right through the neck.[note 20] In a recorded conversation earlier in the day with Harry Jersig, the head of the Lone Star Brewing Company, Johnson explained that he had killed two deer the previous morning.

Russell

Well, that’s wonderful.

Moursund

He really did. You know, I’m not lying about that one. [Both laugh heartily.][note 21] End of 2021 revisions.

Russell

Well, that’s all right. Nobody’s ever killed one as far as I put that one that [unclear] shot, though.

Moursund

I know it. You—[Russell and Moursund talk simultaneously.]

Russell

I put him a mile and half off [unclear].

Moursund

Well . . .

Russell

[Unclear] looked so serious and [unclear] those eyebrows, and [unclear] about it.

Moursund

It sure is good to hear you sound so well.

Russell

It’s good to hear from you, A.W., and a Happy New Year to you, and many of them.

Moursund

Here—Wesley wants to say something to you. Stay with it.

Russell

Wesley?

Wesley West comes on the line.

Wesley West

[Unclear.]

Russell

Wesley?

West

How are you, sir?

Russell

I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age.

West

Well, it’s been too long, but we think this is a pretty fine way to start off the new year.

Russell

I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age. By golly, I’ve thought about you lots of times, wondered how you were getting along.

West

Well, we’re not doing too well, but we don’t know any better. We think everything’s all right.

Russell

Oh, you’re doing all right.

West

We think it’s going to be all right, and we don’t know of a better way to start off the new year than to—

Russell

You’re doing it all right.

West

—get to talk to you and to be with such nice people out here.

Russell

You’re doing it all right. You’re with a great man there, that’s going to be President for nine more years.

West

I think that’s about right.

Russell

And I’m certainly honored and pleased and gratified that youall talked to me.

West

Well, it’s—

Russell

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, Wesley; you’ll have to come up there to Washington to see us some time.

West

I’d like to do it. I sure would. I’d like to visit with you sometime. We miss you out here.

Russell

Well, I miss being out there, too.

West

Well, it’s mighty nice to talk to you, and I hope it stays good—

Russell

Happy New Year to you.

West

Same to you, Senator.

Russell

I’ll see you.

West

Fine and dandy. Bye-bye.

Russell

Bye. Good night.

Noticeably shorter than the call to Russell, Johnson’s next New Year’s Day greeting went to the Senate Minority Leader.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell (President Johnson joined by Lady Bird Johnson, A. W. Moursund, and Wesley West) on 1 January 1964,” Tape WH6401.02, Citation #1128, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power, vol. 3, ed. Kent B. Germany and Robert David Johnson] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/9030011

Originally published in

Lyndon B. Johnson: The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power, November 1963–January 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and Robert David Johnson, vol. 3 of The Presidential Recordings (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company, 2005).