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Originally published Monday, June 14, 2010 at 7:58 PM

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Ted Kennedy got constant death threats, FBI files show

For decades after his brothers John and Robert were assassinated, Sen. Edward Kennedy received many threats that he would meet the same fate, according to FBI documents released Monday.

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — For decades after his brothers John and Robert were assassinated, Sen. Edward Kennedy received many threats that he would meet the same fate, according to FBI documents released Monday.

More than 2,000 pages of partly redacted documents from 1961 to 1985 show that Kennedy, the veteran Massachusetts Democrat who died of brain cancer last year, received death threats from individuals and organizations including the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialist White People's Party and "Minutemen" groups.

The documents suggest that Kennedy was under constant threat. About four months after Robert Kennedy was killed in June 1968, the FBI's Seattle office wrote an "urgent" memo to headquarters.

It discussed two anonymous letters. One predicted "assassination of Kennedy number three within twenty-four hours of the day October twentyfifth nineteensixtyeight (sic). All Kennedy residents are in danger on that day." The other warned that "the Kennedy residence must be well protected on that date."

In 1977, an inmate who had been incarcerated next to Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, for 18 months said that Sirhan had offered him $1 million and a car "in exchange for killing Sen. (Edward) Kennedy." The inmate declined, the file said.

Threats persisted well after Kennedy faded from the presidential spotlight. In 1985, the Secret Service received a letter from someone in Wayne, Mich., saying, "Look, I'll kill (President Ronald) Reagan and Kennedy yet, now I mean this. ... "

Kennedy endured the shooting deaths of two older brothers, President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on June 6, 1968. Kennedy's eldest brother, Joe, had died in a 1944 plane explosion during World War II.

The FBI looked into a rumor that "elements of the Mafia wanted to attack" the character of Edward and Robert, as well as their brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford, "by working through associates of Frank Sinatra to compromise them at a New York party."

On its website, the FBI calls the rumor "convoluted. ... The FBI did not consider the rumor solid and no other mention of it appears in the file, suggesting that the informant did not supply any corroboration to the story."

The FBI closely monitored Kennedy's fact-finding trip to Mexico, Central America and South America in 1961, and one document shows that Hoover received a file from an FBI employee in Mexico City that said the senator "is interested in meeting with 'leftists' to talk with them and determine why they think as they do."

During the trip, the documents show, the FBI recovered a notebook kept by Kennedy documenting his travels that was accidentally left on his airplane.

The files include 77 pages on the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne when Kennedy drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha's Vineyard in 1969. The pages are nearly all newspaper articles, but one internal FBI document informed Hoover of the accident and says the police chief in Edgartown, Mass., "confidentially" advised that Kennedy was the driver.

"Stated fact Senator Kennedy was driver is not being revealed to anyone," the document said.

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