The Short, Very Surprising History Of Collusion

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David Pietrusza Author, "Calvin Coolidge: A Documentary Biography"
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The further back you go in history, the more you learn.

Take the case of “collusion” or the interference by one nation in another nation’s electoral process. There are a lot of examples: Barack Obama urging Brits to reject Brexit; Harry Truman’s propping up anti-Communist parties in post-war Italy, the Communist Party USA’s control of Henry Wallace’s 1948 Progressive Party presidential bid (in 1944, the Communists had formally endorsed FDR), British Ambassador Sir Lionel Sackville-West being accused of favoring Democrat Grover Cleveland (“For Canada and for England, No Doubt But What He’ll Do/But America Wants for President an American Through and Through”) in 1888’s election.

And, then of course, there was Revolutionary France’s Citizen Edmond Genet’s famous meddling in American affairs, going so far as outfit privateers against British merchantmen and to plot an American-based invasion of Spanish Florida.

Conversely, there was the case of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s bizarre 1983 outreach to the Soviets, personally tendered to the KGB by his friend, his former University of Virginia Law School and ex-California US Senator John Tunney.

The KGB passed Kennedy’s message on to Yuri Andropov in this remarkable memorandum:

On 9-10 May of this year, Sen. Edward Kennedy’s close friend and trusted confidant Tunney was in Moscow. The senator charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Y. Andropov.

According to Kennedy, the current threat is due to the President’s refusal to engage any modification on his politics. He feels that his domestic standing has been strengthened because of the well-publicized improvements of the economy: inflation has been greatly reduced, production levels are increasing as is overall business activity. For these reasons, interest rates will continue to decline. The White House has portrayed this in the media as the “success of Reaganomics.”

Naturally, not everything in the province of economics has gone according to Reagan’s plan. A few well known economists and members of financial circles, particularly from the north-eastern states, foresee certain hidden tendencies that may bring about a new economic crisis in the USA. This could bring about the fall of the presidential campaign of 1984, which would benefit the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, there are no secure assurances this will indeed develop. The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations. These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign. The movement advocating a freeze on nuclear arsenals of both countries continues to gain strength in the United States. The movement is also willing to accept preparations, particularly from Kennedy, for its continued growth.

Kennedy proposed two things to the aged and infirm Andropov. First, he desired to travel to Moscow “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.”

Secondly, and, perhaps, even more surprisingly, he promised to arrange “televised interviews with Y.V. Andropov in the USA. A direct appeal by the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the American people will, without a doubt, attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country. The senator is convinced this would receive the maximum resonance in so far as television is the most effective method of mass media and information… Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interviews. Specifically, the president of the board of directors of ABC, Elton Raul and television columnists Walter Cronkite or Barbara Walters could visit Moscow. The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side.”

“Like other rational people,” the memorandum’s author, KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov noted, “[Senator Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations.” Kennedy, however, was equaled troubled by the state of U.S. politics.

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” Chebrikov also reported. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

A Kennedy-Andropov meeting ever transpired. Neither did any unlikely televised Andropov charm offensive.

Retreat, however, a few decades previous to Kennedy’s risky gambit — and it was then the Soviets taking the initiative. In both 1952 and 1956, Democrats had futilely nominated the erudite (but largely ineffectual) liberal Adlai Stevenson against Dwight Eisenhower. In 1960, however, Stevenson still retained a base of support within the Democratic Party, most notably from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

But not exclusively from Mrs. Roosevelt.

In January 1960, Stevenson received an odd and distinctly unwelcome offer of support, during an equally unusual secret visit to the Soviet Union’s Washington embassy. Following caviar, wine—and assurances that the room was not bugged—Ambassador Mikhail A. Menshikov removed a carefully-folded document from his suit pocket, containing the following startling message from Nikita Khrushchev:

He [Khrushchev] wishes me [Menshikov] to convey the following: When you met in Moscow in August, 1958, he [Khrushchev] said to you that he had voted for you in his heart in 1956. He says now that he will vote for you in his heart again in 1960. We have made a beginning with President Eisenhower and Khrushchev’s visit to America toward better relations, but it is only a beginning. We are concerned with the future, and that America has the right President. All countries are concerned with the American election. It is impossible for us not to be concerned about our future and the American Presidency which is so important to everybody everywhere.

In Russia we know well Mr. Stevenson and his views regarding disarmament, nuclear testing, peaceful coexistence, and the conditions of a peaceful world. He has said many sober and correct things during his visit to Moscow and in his writings and speeches. When we compare all the possible candidates in the United States we feel that Mr. Stevenson is best for mutual understanding and progress toward peace. These are the views not only of myself—Khrushchev—but of the Presidium. We believe that Mr. Stevenson is more of a realist than others and is likely to understand Soviet anxieties and purposes. Friendly relations and cooperation between our countries are imperative for all. Sober realism and sensible talks are necessary to the settlement of international problems. Only on the basis of coexistence can we hope to really find proper solutions to our many problems.

The Soviet Union wishes to develop relations with the United States on a basis which will forever exclude the possibility of conflict. We believe our system is best and will prevail. You, Mr. Stevenson, think the same about yours. So we both say, let the competition proceed, but excluding any possibility of conflict.

Because we know the ideas of Mr. Stevenson, we in our hearts all favor him. And you Ambassador Menshikov must ask him which way we could be of assistance to those forces in the United States which favor friendly relations. We don’t know how we can help to make relations better and help those to succeed in political life who wish for better relations and more confidence. Could the Soviet press assist Mr. Stevenson’s personal success? How? Should the press praise him, and, if so, for what? Should it criticize him, and, if so, for what? (We can always find many things to criticize Mr. Stevenson for because he has said many harsh and critical things about the Soviet Union and Communism!) Mr. Stevenson will know best what would help him.”

The idea of Premier Khrushchev’s backing—and his interference in the American political process—shocked and angered Stevenson. “I get more and more indignant about being ‘propositioned’ that way,” Adlai confided to a friend, “and at the same time, more and more perplexed, if that’s the word, by the confi­dence they have in me. I shall do one thing only now: politely and decisively reject the proposal—and pray that it will never leak, lest I lose that potentially valuable confidence.”

Fear entered Adlai Stevenson’s heart, terror that word of Khrushchev’s unwanted affection, might be revealed. He told few confidantes, among them Scotty Reston of The New York Times. “I’ve got enough troubles,” he complained, “without help from them.” Reston kept Stevenson’s secret.

Collusion, after all, works best in secret — even when it doesn’t work.

David Pietrusza (www. David Pietrusza.com) is author of the forthcoming book TR’s Last War: Theodore Roosevelt, the Great War, and a Journey of Triumph and Tragedy.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.