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Interview with Laurence Leamer

Aired May 15, 2003 - 20:10   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Before there was Clinton, there was Kennedy, a charismatic Democrat in the oval office, a young intern, and talk of an affair. A new biography of John F. Kennedy alleges he had a liaison business a White House intern when he was president. And today a woman in New York acknowledged she was that intern 41 years ago.
Jason Carroll, has been following this story for us. He from New York.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good evening to you Anderson. The woman in question lives in this neighborhood on the upper east side of Manhattan. And so far, the only thing she's saying about this alleged affair was put into a written statement.


CARROLL (voice-over): Marion Fahnestock, Mimi for short, is a Manhattan mother, grandmother, and church-goer. She also a former white house intern who says when she was 19 years old, she had an affair with President John F. Kennedy from June 1962 to November 1963. Ending two months before she married. Now 60, Fahnestock, released a statement saying, I was involved in a sexual relationship with President Kennedy. For the last 41 years, it is a subject that I have not discussed. In view of the recent media coverage, I have now discussed the relationship with my children and my family, and they are completely supportive. So are members of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church where Fahnestock works as a website manager.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's a very respected, trusted member of our church and staff family. We all love her and stand behind her a 100 percent.

CARROLL: She grew up as Marian Beardsly (ph) in a wealthy New Jersey suburb. One childhood friend was surprised to hear the revelation.

JOAN TATNALI, CHILD HOODFRIEND: She is the least likely person I ever would have expected to have had a romance. But I think probably Jack Kennedy would have gone to bed with anybody, so. Not that Mimi is just anybody. She's very attractive, smartest girl in our class, very good at track.

CARROLL: Fahnestock went to a prep school in Connecticut. Miss Porter's. also attended by the future first lady, Jacqueline Bouvier. Fahnestock, attend Wheaton College but did not graduate. She spent her freshman and sophomore summers in the White House according to an oral history by a former Kennedy press aide, who also allueded to the affair. Historian Robert Dallek uncovered it while doing research for his new biography of the former president.

ROBERT DALLEK, AUTHOR: She had 17 blacked out pages in her oral history in the Kennedy Library. I asked her, and she gave me access to them. Almost 40 years later, she felt that there was no harm in it.

CARROLL: The alleged affair gets only a few lines of attention in a 700 page book. Dallek described the intern as a tall, slender, beautiful 19-year-old college sophomore. Quoting a press aide who said, "she had no skills and she couldn't type." The unnamed former intern came forward, only after the New York Daily News tracked her down.


And Fahnestock has asked the media to respect her privacy, as well as the privacy of her family -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jason, I know folks on the upper east side can be a tight-lipped bunch.

Any response from neighbors?

CARROLL: They can be tight-lipped. Our cameras were in the neighborhood throughout the day. Basically the response we got was something that I call the so-what factor when it comes to the story. Listen to some of the small sampling of New Yorkers that we spoke to today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does anyone really care?

I mean, he's dead. I mean, let the man rest in peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She wants to make money and she wants to be famous. Her 15 minutes of fame.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what he did with his life is his own business, you know what I am saying. He had his private life, you know. That doesn't make him a bad president. He was a very good president, in my opinion, you know.


CARROLL: One of the people that our cameras spoke to today sort of compared this story to eating junk food. I think it might be more interesting at this point to hear how the historians end up putting this into perspective.

COOPER: All right, Jason Carroll, thanks very much. We'll hear that a little bit later on in the program. Celeste Katz helped break this story for the "New York Daily News."

We spoke to her a short while ago.


COOPER: When you broke the story how did you approach her when you actually found out where she was, where she was working, who she was, what happened?

CELESTE KATZ, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Basically I went into the church, asked for her office.

She came in, I told her who I was, I said have you been following our coverage of John Kennedy?

She said yes.

I said, are you the Mimi in the story?

And she said yes. I am the Mimi.

COOPER: Did she seem surprised, relieved?

KATZ: I think since the number of stories had been increasing, there had been wide interest and of course, all things Kennedy. I think she probably expected after awhile, somebody would figure out who she was.

COOPER: What did she say about it?

KATZ: She said she was very young, very innocent, very naive at the time. That this was her first job, something that happened a long time ago when she was 19 years old. And basically, she just felt that finally she had an opportunity to explain to her family this part of her life.

COOPER: She had never told her daughters before?

KATZ: As far as I know, she had not. She said she was able to reveal the secret that she had held with her for 41 years.

COOPER: Wow. And it's not known her -- her husband divorced and passed away so it's still not known whether or not she told him?

KATZ: That's not clear.

COOPER: Right. Did she say anything about those days or have you learned anything?

I am sure the details of this are pretty extraordinary. I mean, at one point she was discovered in the limo on the floor?

KATZ: Yes, I mean, basically what she said -- she didn't go into a great deal of detail herself. But rather she confirmed, she said the things that you have written in your articles are true. Which you said, for example, that she and perhaps other companions of the president had been flown around in air force jets, they had attended parties, they had gone to meet the president at various summit meetings, and so on. She did confirm that. She did confirm they had had an intimate relationship.

COOPER: Do you think we're going to be hearing more from her or do you think she stopped talking?

KATZ: I mean, that's not really clear. Maybe she's taking some time to gather her thoughts. She -- what she really emphasized was how glad she was to have the support of her family.

COOPER: What else about this?

Why do you think this story has captured so many people's attention?

KATZ: I think that ever since the Kennedys came into office, there's been fascination with this, you know, American royalty, this sort of Camelot feeling people have had about the Kennedy family. And their various triumpts and travilles. And I think that goes on. I think there was a very powerful mystique about John Kennedy people have not forgotten.

COOPER: And maybe now she works in this church, has her family, she has her friends, and a very private life?

KATZ: Yes. She works in the church, she works as the web master. And she runs their audio ministry. She has two married daughters, four grandkids. And she's living a very happy life from what it seems.

COOPER: All right, Celeste Katz, thanks very much.

KATZ: Thank you.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well if today's news reminds us of anything, that presidential indiscretions are certainly nothing new. What is new is the glaring media spotlight. What used to be swept under the rug by White House reporters is now fodder for discussion around every water cooler in America and every cable news network.

Senior political analyst William Schneider gives some historical perspective.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): In the history of presidential affairs, there's a long history of -- presidential affairs. Thomas Jefferson's alleged long-term affair with a young slave girl was reported at the time, but largely ignored. In the 1884 campaign, Republicans tried to make an issue out of charges Democrat Grover Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child. The GOP turned it into a campaign song. "Mama, where's my pa." But Cleveland got elected and Democrats responded, "gone to the White House, ha ha."

It didn't matter because the president was a party leader. In the twentieth century presidents became popular leaders but there was a lot about them people didn't know. Warren G. Harding (ph) continued to see his mistress in the White House and was reported to have -- received her in the coat closet. Franklin D. Roosevelt had an affair with his wife's personal secretary, who was with him when he died. Love letters disclosed years after he left office revealed Dwight Eisenhower had an affair with his driver Kay Summersby during World War II. People didn't know about John Kennedy's affairs with Marilyn Monroe or Judith Campbell Exner, who had ties to organized crime figures. Actually some people knew.

HUGH SIDNEY, "TIME MAGAZINE": I was fully aware of John Kennedy's relation is with various girls. I never saw that it got in the way of Kennedy being president. And so we just kind of shoved it aside.

SCHNEIDER: That's all changed. Press coverage has become more personal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's the celebrity status of everything, including the presidential office.

SCHNEIDER: Television gives the president a personal relationship with the American people that Cleveland and Harding never had. You never saw Eisenhower on MTV and talk about his underwear. The private has become public. Much more than in the Kennedy years.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: John F. Kennedy's affairs would have resulted in a presidential resignation had people known about it at the time. So John Kennedy was very lucky that the press corps did have the rules it had in the early 1960s.


SCHNEIDER: In fact, the revelations about JFK probably helped Bill Clinton survive in office. Many people said, hey, Clinton didn't do anything Kennedy didn't do, why should he be driven out of office?


COOPER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

News that President Kennedy had an affair with an intern comes as no surprise to a lot of people. JFK's reputation as a womanizer had been widely reported in recent years. Our next guest is familiar with that reputation. Laurence Leamer is political historian and author of the book "The Kennedy Men." He joins us live from Washington. Laurence, thanks for being with us.

No surprise I guess. But the word intern of course is what has captivated so many people on this story.

Did it surprise you?

LAURENCE LEAMER, POLITICAL HISTORIAN: no, pity the poor academic historian who wants to write about world affairs and politics and has to teach intern 101, oral sex 202. The who nature of our writing about history has changed. But the real question is, did this matter to his presidency?

COOPER: Do you think it did?

LEAMER: I think we have to assume it had some impact. It was -- he was a kind of serial adultery. As you mentioned had an affair with a gangster (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Also (UNINTELLIGIBLE), she was East German woman deported as a spy. He had problems with this. And when you look at historical records, you can make the conclusion it didn't matter, that you can't see any policy decision he made that affected it. Equally arguing he would have been a even better president if he had act the differently in terms of this and his use of amphetamine means. But I think it does matter. If you want to say it didn't matter, teach young people their personal sexual conduct doesn't matter either.

COOPER: There are some who say he was using sex, maybe he used this argument, that he using sex to relieve the enormous pain that we know he was under.

Do you buy that?

LEAMER: No, I think he was relieving pain. He had his brother Bobby saying Jack was in pain half his life. But it was an unhealthy pattern, no question about it. This young woman, he was as much taking advantage of her as President Clinton did with Monica Lewinski. The healthy thing is that these things were known by a chosen few in Washington. They're known by Americans. All of us now. And we can decide what kind of leaders we want. We may end up with a kind of more European attitude, that this is what people do, we're still going to have to choose our leaders nonetheless.

COOPER: Did Jacqueline Kennedy, the first lady, know what was going on.

LEAMER: Yes, Jacqueline Kennedy knew. In a sense, she married her father in a way. Her father, Blackjack, was a womanizer himself whose wife divorced him. And Jackie spent about half the White House years away from the White House. Whenever she was gone, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was out, and there were women available to him.

COOPER: As Bill Schneider was just talking about, there is a long history of this behavior in the White House.

What do you think it is about people in power is it just that they can get away with it, so they do?

LEAMER: It's not just the White House, it's all of us. That's why I think the European attitude, that this is what happens, and it would have been a much healthier, frankly, if Bill Clinton had had a mistress and not to sick relationship with Monica Lewinski. And President Kennedy had not had this endless series of women coming in and out. That's what was unhealthy. And that's what's most troubling, because it could have been blackmailed.

COOPER: All right we going to have leave it there. Laurence Leamer, appreciate you joining us, thank you.


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