Walter Jenkins

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Walter Jenkins

First lady Lady Bird Johnson remained supportive of Walter Jenkins throughout his arrest scandal.

© Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Walter Jenkins was born in 1918, growing up in Texas. He began working for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1939, and spent 25 years with him as his top administrative aide [source: Langeveld]. He was close to the family -- "If Lyndon Johnson owed everything to one human being other than Lady Bird, he owed it to Walter Jenkins," it was written; the Johnsons even celebrated Lady Bird's 51st birthday at Walter's house -- and he was known throughout the capital for his kindness, decency and integrity [source: Feeney].

So why's he on this list? Well, there was a raid on a YMCA bathroom about a month before the 1964 presidential election; Jenkins was discovered having sexual relations there with another man, and was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct. While some papers refused at first to pay attention to the story, it eventually surfaced that this wasn't his first arrest in connection with gay hookup sites.

By October 14, editors were calling the White House directly, and some of the administration's lawyers, in trying to help, managed to confirm the story had legs. Unofficial White House counsel Clark Clifford brought the details to Johnson, and shortly after, White House press secretary George Reedy confirmed it, weeping openly. Johnson ordered an FBI investigation, in case there was any blackmail going on with his most trusted assistant, and tried to sell theories that he was framed, but eventually he let it go, after ordering one last public opinion poll, which at least confirmed the voting public didn't really care that much [source: Langeveld].

Lady Bird issued a statement of support, and the campaign sailed on. The arrest itself was mostly overshadowed that week anyway by huge global shifts: changes in the British electorate, China's first nuke, and the deposition of Nikita Khrushchev. While the incident opened up a conversation in the American press about other suspected or outed gay politicos, it was Jenkins that made the greatest impact, putting Johnson's progressive values to the test. He mourned, refused to replace Jenkins, and it was later said by West Wing staffers that the President never fully recovered from the loss of his right-hand man.

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