Looking Back: The Secret Service at Work

By Jack Limpert

In 1968 I was a Congressional Fellow in the office of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. The fellowship program is run by the American Political Science Association and it brings journalists and political scientists to DC for a year to show them how Capitol Hill really works. We then were to go back home wiser about the legislative branch. But as is the case with many Washington programs, its intentions and results didn’t match. Most the political scientists did go back—to a teaching job at a college or university. But many of the journalists networked themselves into DC jobs and never left the nation’s capital. One fellow alleged that journalists who go on fellowships usually are trying to change spouses or jobs.

At the start of the year-long program, each fellow had to find a slot in a congressional office. I was looking for something more interesting than a half year with a House member and half year with a senator. It was a presidential election year, so I first tried the office of Senator Eugene McCarthy, who already was running for president, holding President Johnson’s feet to the fire on the Vietnam war. McCarthy aides told me they didn’t need any congressional fellows. I next tried New York Senator Robert Kennedy, who looked like he might run for president. Kennedy aides Joe Dolan and Frank Mankiewicz told me a journalist from Newsday also wanted to be a fellow in RFK’s office and they were taking him because he was from the senator’s home state. I then went to the office of Vice President Humphrey, who had a Capitol Hill office in his role as president of the Senate. HHH’s press secretary, Norman Sherman, said yes, and I became a fellow in HHH’s Senate office. My first job was to send telegrams to groups that had invited the Vice President to speak but he wasn’t going to do it. Then on March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced he was not running for re-election, Vice President Humphrey became a presidential candidate, and I spent most the year riding the plane carrying the writing press—there also was the Vice President’s plane, which Norman rode on, and a broadcast press plane, called “the zoo plane” because of the behavior of radio-TV types.

Before the November 1968 election, won by Richard Nixon, and for a few months after I sometimes visited Vice President Humphrey at his home. He lived at Tiber Island, an apartment building in Southwest DC. I’d walk in the building’s front door, stop and say hello to a Secret Service agent who had a small office near the building entrance, and take the elevator to HHH’s apartment. There I’d knock on the door and HHH’s wife Muriel usually would let me in.

Fast forward 34 years: In early 1969 I had gone to work at The Washingtonian and after 1979 the magazine was owned by Philip Merrill, a newspaper and magazine publisher who once had worked at the State Department, the Pentagon, and NATO headquarters in Belgium. Phil was close to Dick Cheney, and maybe partly because of that he was named head of the Export Import Bank in 2002. His swearing in was on December 4 at Vice President Cheney’s house at the Naval Observatory—it’s a beautiful residence that after 1974 was made available to the nation’s vice president.

We took taxis up to the Massachusetts Avenue gate of Naval Observatory, where a large team of Secret Service agents was clearing visitors to the Vice President’s house. It  took time, and while waiting I saw two men who the Secret Service had refused admittance because their names weren’t on the okay-to-let-in list. They were still waiting when I was cleared to go in. I was told later they had to wait 40 minutes.

How much did the Vice President’s security detail change from 1968 to 2002? The two men waiting outside in the December cold for 40 minutes were federal judge Larry Silberman and Bill Webster, former head of the FBI and CIA.


  1. Wes Pippert says

    Jack: Here’s another example of how things have changed in Washn since the days in the ’60s when we were Congressional Fellows. My first half of the program I spent in the office of Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., and the last half in the office of Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill. I doubt many today would split their time between a Democratic and a Republican office. What despairs me even more is that the issues facing America in our early days here — the ’60s — dwarf the issues facing America today, in my opinion fwiw. Yet even then the two parties seemed to be able to work together on occasion. Not now.
    — Wes Pippert

  2. Martin Schram says

    Helluva kicker, Jack. And thanks for walking us back thru what some think were the good old days but we know 1968 was the year from hell (two assassinations, etc.) – Marty Schram

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