FBI files: Nixon knew of McGovern ‘illegitimate’ child

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Richard Nixon in 1971. JP | AP file photo

After almost three years since requesting them, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader has finally gotten George McGovern’s FBI files.

The South Dakota newspaper confirms a rumor that McGovern, who died in 2012, fathered a child as a young man, before he was married in 1943. It’s the sort of thing that long-time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover could hold over a person’s head if he ever intended to run for office.

The files confirm a long feud between the arch-conservative Hoover and the former World War II bomber pilot who felt the United States was being turned into a police state, the Argus Leader says.

In November 1958, an Aberdeen woman by the name of Catherine Eckrich sent Hoover a letter alleging that McGovern had given a speech badmouthing the FBI and Hoover. Eckrich also alleged that McGovern was a communist. Hoover responded in a letter to Eckrich, writing, “I deeply appreciate your bringing the matters you mentioned to our attention.” He included in his letter reading materials for Eckrich.

The letter from Eckrich was sent to the FBI’s special agent in charge in Minneapolis along with orders to find out more about the alleged incident.

“You are instructed to secure greater details through established reliable sources. Under no circumstances should the congressman become aware of our interest,” the instructions said.

The records reflect that Special Agent Milton Kuhl interviewed Brown County States Attorney Mike Ronayne about what was said at the speech. Ronayne refuted Eckrich’s claim that McGovern had said anything derogatory about the FBI or Hoover. But Ronayne did volunteer that Eckrich and others in the community felt that McGovern was a communist.

It was an accusation that dogged McGovern throughout his career, and it’s one the FBI took note of, according to the records, which include a number of rumors about McGovern’s political beliefs. In part, McGovern brought some of the scrutiny on himself by supporting Henry Wallace, who was viewed as a communist appeaser, during Wallace’s 1948 run for president as the Progressive Party nominee.

As a professor at Dakota Wesleyan University, McGovern’s name was included as a supporter of a communist front group known as the American Peace Crusade, although McGovern later claimed the group had used his name without his permission.

The files showed something else that was troubling: the involvement, however small, of the Argus Leader in relaying information to the FBI.

The files also show that someone — believed to be Hoover — channeled the information about McGovern’s “illegitimate” child to the Richard Nixon campaign, which never used it in the 1972 presidential campaign.

It didn’t have to. McGovern carried only one state in the challenge to Nixon.