Reading an interesting article in Forbes, I was dumbfounded by the idea that Ted Kennedy might have sought out Yuri Andropov's help to run for president against Ronald Reagan in 1984. A relevant summary from the article:

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.

Is there any truth to this? It seems like a pretty blatant attempt at treason to me, which is why I find it so surprising.

  • I can't even find anywhere that said Kennedy ran for president in 1984. It looks like he decided not to run in 1982. Wikipedia has some obscure reference to the desire for Kennedy to meet with Andropov in 1983 to help with US-Soviet relations, but this would have been after Kennedy made the decision not to pursue the presidency. The other meaning I can see in this is that Kennedy may have been looking for Andropov to help Democratic Candidate Walter Mondale beat Reagan.
    – SocioMatt
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 14:06
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    I know this already has an accepted answer (a good answer too!), but the more I think about it, I begin to wonder if this question doesn't really belong on skeptics.SE.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 17:43
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    Even given the most unfavorable interpretation, I don't think this would qualify as treason against the United States, which shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. There was no state of war between the US and the Soviet Union, so they were not legally enemies. Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 18:36
  • @KeithThompson, you've got a great point about no state of war between the two powers.
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:35

3 Answers 3


First, I don't believe the text of Kennedy's original letter has ever been released. The original news story by Tim Sebastian (former Moscow correspondent for the BBC), published in The Sunday Times on 2 February 1992, covers a memo written in 1983 by Victor Chebrikov, the text of which is nowadays freely circulated, and available among other places in the appendix of the 2007 book The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism by Paul Kengor (a complimentary history of Reagan's policies in Europe). Second, the column you cite is an opinion piece from a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a right-wing think tank with little love for Kennedy's approach to communism.

In other words, we are three degrees removed. There was the original letter then an interpretation of the letter offered by a bemused KGB officer— which would not be evidence of treason. And then we form another interpretation based on that memo. The article you read is one opinion writer's judgment of Kennedy based on his interpretation, which is adequate for politics but not history.

Did Kennedy sincerely believe that Yuri Andropov, ambassador to Hungary during the brutal suppression of the 1956 rebellion and architect of the suppression of the Prague Spring, cared more about world peace than his own president, who unlike his three predecessors sought to challenge that regime rather than learn to live with it? That would be truly dumbfounding.

  • Not entirely sure I understand (or would agree with if I did fully understand) the final paragraph. The parts I get are excellent though, so +1.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 14:39
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    +1 with the same caveat as T.E.D - I would suggest removing the last paragraph. Yes, I have seen numerous left wing people - politicians and not - fully and honestly believe that {insert objectively non-good figure with sympathetic ideology} >> {insert right wing politician}. As a random example, Nancy Pelosi had a demonstrably higher opinion of Assad Jr. than of Bush Jr :) Or Che worship on part of "what do you you mean Che hated rock musicians AND was anti-black racist" Santana.
    – DVK
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 14:59

Forbes is owned by multi-milionarie Republican (demi-Libertarian) Steve Forbes. It is not a friend of Democrats in general, and Liberal Democratic icons like Ted Kennedy in particular. Still, it was restrained and friendly compared to some other right-wing sources.

The letter the article refers to did appear to happen. The hostile analysis you quoted though, is just that. There's nothing in the letter itself about a "quid pro quo", and no request for help in the upcomming election. If anything, Kennedy seems to be saying he'd have credibility on the subject precisely because he wasn't running in the upcomming cycle ('84).

Another perfectly reasonable cynical political interpretation of this letter is that Kennedy felt that anti-Soviet feeling strengthened Reagan's hand, so anything he could do to help promote understanding and cool tensions would therby weaken Reagan.

Here's what Kennedy's wiki page says about this incident:

Kennedy became the Senate's leading advocate for a nuclear freeze and was a critic of Reagan's confrontational policies toward the Soviet Union. A 1983 memorandum from KGB Chairman Viktor Chebrikov to General Secretary Yuri Andropov noted this stance and asserted that Kennedy, through former Senator John Tunney's discussions with Soviet contacts, had suggested that U.S.-Soviet relations might be improved if Kennedy and Andropov could meet in person to discuss arms control issues and if top Soviet officials, via Kennedy's help, were able to address the American public through the U.S. news media. Andropov was unimpressed by the idea.

So why the conspiracy theory? Well, perhaps part of the reason is that there was at that time a similar story going around about Reagan doing that exact thing to Carter in 1980 (with Iran). So the foreign conspiracy story was already out there. All that needed to be done was change a few names.

  • In the letter by the KGB officer, he states that Tunney mentioned Kennedy wasn't planning on running in 1984 and was going to wait until 1988. At least that's how I read the paragraph dealing with Kennedy's desire to run for POTUS.
    – SocioMatt
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 14:36
  • @SocioMatt - Did I misread that? Certianly likely. Hmmm...yeah, I did a bit. You are essentially right. Fixed that part (I hope).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 14:42
  • No sweat. Since there is no first hand account of this, the pieces don't fit together very nicely.
    – SocioMatt
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 15:01
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    just because Forbes doesn't love communists doesn't mean they can't get a story about them correct. It's not as if they're MSNBC or Pravda :)
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 7:01

From what I understand, it came out when a Times of London reporter in the 1990s found a memo after the KGB files were opened. (Hardly I believe a "right-wing" American propaganda newspaper). It may not have been the original letter he sent (if at all) to the Soviets, but I doubt they would keep the actual letter anyways, and only choose to reference it in their records. Also, Kennedy ran in the Democratic Primaries to challenge Carter in his second term (1980) but I am not aware of any future attempts to run again, although I could be wrong.

  • The KGB or GRU would have kept such a letter had it been received, for possible use against Kennedy by leaking it were it to become necessary to do so to keep Kennedy in line or destroy him before he drank himself to death. Of course it would not be part of "the KGB files" that were opened, no doubt those were only a small part of the total archives, shown to some western reporters for publicity and carefully chosen to convey specific information and impressions.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 7:04

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