Thomas: Robert Kennedy is sitting by his pool. It's a warm day, warm November day, and he's sitting by his pool at Hickory Hill. He's having a conference about organized crime, actually. And the phone rings, somewhere in the house, I think, but there's a poolside phone as well. And he picks it up and it's J. Edgar Hoover telling him, the director of the FBI, telling Robert Kennedy, the attorney general, that John F. Kennedy's been shot in Dallas.
Bobby Kennedy later recalled that Hoover had no more emotion in his voice than if he was telling him that they just discovered a communist on the faculty of Howard University in Washington.
In other words, there was no grief, there was no sympathy, there was no inflection of surprise, just in a flat voice. The director of the FBI told Bobby Kennedy that his brother had been shot. He wasn't dead yet, but just shot. Bobby was of course stunned, put his hand up over his eyes, told the others there that his brother had been shot. Ethel came over and put her arms around him. Obviously, he was in a state of near-shock, although pretty quickly, and even after he finds out that his brother is dead, he gets on the phone and he starts trying to find out who killed his brother.
ABCNEWS: What went through Robert Kennedy's mind in the period right after his brother's death?
Thomas: Robert Kennedy had a fear that he had somehow gotten his own brother killed. That Robert Kennedy's attempts to prosecute the mob and to kill Castro had backfired in some terrible way, had blown back, as the intelligence folks say and, and in fact, he said to Ed Guthman, Robert Kennedy said to Ed Guthman as his spokesman, as they walked along that afternoon on Hickory Hill, right after JFK was killed, Bobby said there's been so much hate, I thought they'd get me. Bobby thought that he'd be killed, not his brother and now he has this daunting, horrible realization, or fear that all of his attempts to get the mob and to get Castro have in some terrible way blown up and come back to haunt his family and, and resulted in, in the death of the president, his brother.
Robert’s Role in Kennedy Administration
ABCNEWS: What role had Robert Kennedy played in his brother's presidency?
Thomas: Robert Kennedy played a role that today would be impossible. The president's brother, also the attorney general of the United States, essentially running covert actions to get rid of America's number one enemy. There is not a chance in hell something like that could happen today. Partly because it happened then.
It begins with the Bay Of Pigs. Very early in the Kennedy administration, the CIA convinced President Kennedy that they could knock off Castro with the CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba by a thousand Cuban exiles. Total disaster. Cubans driven into the sea, huge embarrassment for the Kennedy administration. President John F. Kennedy's response was, boy, I'm not going to get fooled again by these guys in the CIA and the military.
I want my brother on this case, [said Kennedy]. I want my brother to protect me. So he brought Bobby in. And in fact, he considered making Bobby head of the CIA. That would have been a mistake. They didn't do that. But instead he essentially gave his brother Robert the Cuban account. You take care of Cuba. Now, a more cautious person, after the Bay Of Pigs, might have said, we're not going to make that mistake again.