Some would go farther and say that the memorandum from Victor Chebrikov, the top man at the KGB that was addressed to Yuri Andropov, the top man in the entire USSR, outlining a secret proposal made by Senator Ted Kennedy to the Soviets to help them “understand Reagan” in return for their help in making him president, constitutes treason.
It’s not a word to throw around lightly and the reason I refrain from using it is because I am unsure Kennedy’s actions meet the definition. Kennedy was not in direct contact with Andropov, using his good friend John Tunney, former senator from California, as a messenger boy to deliver the proposal to the Soviets. And he wasn’t proposing to betray any secrets.
At the time this memo was first released (1992), it was completely ignored by the American press. But I vividly recall reading about it when Paul Kengor published his book The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. There was a brief firestorm on the internet with Kennedy supporters pointing out that it was possible that Tunney - a notorious loose cannon - could have concocted the whole thing without Kennedy’s knowledge.
Kennedy office issued a statement saying that the interpretation of the memo was “way off the mark,” but didn’t deny its authenticity. This Peter Robinson piece in Forbes details what Kennedy was asking:
Kennedy’s message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. “The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations,” the memorandum stated. “These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign.”
Kennedy made Andropov a couple of specific offers.
First he offered to visit Moscow. “The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.” Kennedy would help the Soviets deal with Reagan by telling them how to brush up their propaganda.
Then he offered to make it possible for Andropov to sit down for a few interviews on American television. “A direct appeal … to the American people will, without a doubt, attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country. … If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interviews. …
And then there is this tidbit about Teddy wanting to run for president in 1988 and wanting Soviet help in boosting his campaign:
Kennedy’s motives? “Like other rational people,” the memorandum explained, “[Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations.” But that high-minded concern represented only one of Kennedy’s motives.
“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”
This is one area of the memo that makes the interpretation of Tunney’s remarks suspect. Kennedy had determined by 1982 that the presidency was out of reach - according to numerous friends and family members - and that he had set his mind to making a good career in the senate. This sounds like Tunney wishful thinking. As a Kennedy insider, he and the rest were desperate to “get back” to the White House. But Kennedy always kept his own counsel about his presidential ambitions and it is unlikely Tunney would have been privy to them.
The memo, while compelling, is a single source document. And while it is believable, it would never stand up in court, and the rigorous standards of evidence applied in treason cases. It is also well to remember that the KGB was sometimes overly enthusiastic in reporting that some Americans were willing to work with them. Also contained in that million page document dump after the fall of communism were memos that “proved” that FDR’s closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, was a soviet agent and that Marilyn Monroe worked for the commies too. The KGB routinely lied to their leaders in this manner and it is impossible without corroborating evidence to determine if the interpretation of the KGB chief of Tunney’s overture is accurate.
There were supposedly other memos about Tunney-Kennedy from 1978 and 1980 that Izvestia ferreted out. But no one has ever seen those memos and their provenance is impossible to determine.
That said, no major media outlet ever pursued the story which is significant in and of itself. Obviously, they were afraid of what they might find if they dug too deeply. Or they found it easy to dismiss because of the reasons I mention above.
It is also significant that not one major media obituary on Kennedy even mentioned it. Protecting the reputation - even after death - of a liberal icon appears to have trumped honest journalism once again.