Nightly News   |  June 14, 2010

Ted Kennedy FBI files reveal death threats

The FBI released hundreds of pages of files on Monday that show Ted Kennedy was subjected to death threats throughout most of his career in public life. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, anchor: It's been almost 10 months since Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy died. And tonight, the FBI has released files that show he was subjected to death threats throughout most of his career in public life. It's the most complete picture yet of what he went through after his brothers John and Robert were killed by assassins. Here's NBC 's justice correspondent Pete Williams .

PETE WILLIAMS reporting: In 1972 , eight years before he ran for president, Senator Ted Kennedy was so worried about his safety he asked for temporary protection from the US Secret Service . It took an order from Richard Nixon , then president, to grant it. More than 2,000 pages of FBI files , released today under the Freedom of Information Act , document a constant stream of threats. A postcard sent just a year after Robert Kennedy 's assassination said, "Remember what happened to Bobby and Jack. " Those who knew him say Ted Kennedy took the threats seriously.

Ms. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN (Presidential Historian): He actually had to make a decision of will not to allow himself to be afraid because he knew that it would diminish his life if he had to constantly be looking around corners and worrying about what might come next.

WILLIAMS: One person in the early 1970s sent dozens of letters, enclosing newspaper clippings with threats like this one, quote, "You are a dead man, one bullet in your head." Though the FBI found fingerprints on them, the sender was apparently never identified. Another file says a caller to the FBI in Toledo reported his friend left on the bus for Washington , quote, "to kill Senator Edward Kennedy ."

Senator TED KENNEDY: The torch will be passed again.

WILLIAMS: The threats took their toll. A former staffer recalls the senator's reaction to a car backfiring.

Mr. TOM ROLLINS (Former Kennedy Chief of Staff): The boss was flat on the ground, face down on the sidewalk. And I looked at him and I said, `Boss, are you OK?' And he looked up at me, getting ready to pick himself up, and he said, `You know, you never know.'

WILLIAMS: Not all the documents disclosed today involved threats. A telegram to former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover urged the government to offer more protection. It said, "We are down to one Kennedy ." Pete Williams , NBC News, Washington.