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May 17, 2017 10:02 PM

The McGovern Files

A meeting with the Russian ambassador comes under the scrutiny of federal investigators.   

But this time, we're not talking about questions surrounding President Trump's administration.  

This allegedly happened more than a half-century ago involving the late George McGovern. It's just one of the political intrigues about the former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate that we've uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act.

It's a background check on steroids.

"What surprised me most was the thickness of the file," retired SDSU history professor John Miller said.

663 pages of once-secret documents kept by the FBI.  

McGovern Refer

We asked Miller to look over some of the paperwork on former South Dakota Senator George McGovern.

"These FBI files are fascinating for that kind of thing," Miller said.

Back in 1961, McGovern was up for a position in the newly-elected JFK administration.  So the White House had the FBI vet McGovern.

"What's surprising is just how thorough that investigation was, they must have talked to dozens of people," Miller said.


Many of the people the FBI agents interviewed provided glowing endorsements of McGovern, including fellow South Dakota native Hubert Humphrey.

"They lived next-door to each other in Washington when he moved there in 1957 and they were good friends.  Later on, they had their political differences, a falling-out," Miller said.


Others raised questions about McGovern's loyalty, claiming he had socialistic political leanings.  A serious accusation during the height of the Cold War.  

There was even a discredited story that McGovern once failed to salute the flag at a Sioux Falls Izaak Walton League meeting.  


The FBI also reported that McGovern tried to hold a meeting with the Russian ambassador in 1961, but no meeting date was agreed upon. In the FBI report, McGovern said he always kept the State Department apprised of his dealings with other governments and these matters did not particularly concern him.


"When you start reading the actual words of the accusers and then of the defenders, you get the kind of visceral love and hate relationships that South Dakota had with one of its most famous politicians," Miller said.

Others put their visceral hatred on paper.  The FBI files include handwritten death threats against McGovern.  Miller says sadly such threats come with the territory of a life in politics.

"You're really in constant physical danger when you're out there in public and if you're not aware of that, maybe you better learn, you gotta be careful," Miller said.

Still, the most potentially-damaging information in the FBI files is the allegation that McGovern had fathered a child out of wedlock, a claim the report says was verified by a special investigation by the Kennedy Administration. 

 The report says that when shown the information, McGovern did not deny the accusation.  
  
"That accusation has floated around, even back then it was kind of in the rumor stage, in recent years, more credibility has been given to it," Miller said.

Miller says any salacious details contained in the FBI files won't taint McGovern's legacy.

"Considering the kind of stuff that we know more recent politicians from JFK to Donald Trump to you name it, he was a paragon of virtue, I would say," MIller said.

Miller says the more information we learn about McGovern, including the details from once-secret documents from the FBI, the more history will give McGovern his due.

"There are so many people who knew McGovern who knew him as a man of honesty and integrity, good intentions goodwill, there are people on both sides of the aisle,"  Miller said.

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