WASHINGTON _ The FBI was asked by top aides to President Richard Nixon to "discreetly" look into the background and personal associations of the young political aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned in 1969 when Edward M. Kennedy's car careened off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, newly released FBI documents show.
The thousands of pages of Kennedy's FBI file made public earlier today show that the bureau played no official role in the investigation of the incident that occurred after the pair left a late-night party and nearly ended the Massachusetts senator's political career.
But they do depict how the Nixon administration sought to use the bureau to gather incriminating evidence about Kopechne in an effort to damage Kennedy's reputation and political fortunes.
In one request, a Justice Department official asked the FBI to find out if Kopechne, who had worked for the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, had traveled to Greece in August 1968.
The October 17, 1969, memo, addressed to a top aide to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, said that John Dean, then assistant to Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, "stated that both the deputy attorney general and the attorney general [John Mitchell] are anxious to discreetly find out if Mary Jo Kopechne (deceased) had visited Greece in August 1968."
The memo continued: "Dean gave Kopechne's passport number as H-111-6365. Dean also stated that he would appreciate receiving any reports that the FBI might have as a result of investigation of Kopechne or her acquaintances."
Dean, who later became White House counsel to Nixon and was implicated in the Watergate break-in that forced Nixon's resignation in 1974, said today that he recalled that the White House was keenly interested in finding out more about Kennedy and Kopechne at the time, through any means available.
"There was a lot of interest in Kennedy," Dean said by telephone from his home in California. "Nixon thought that was who was going to run against him. He didn't know if Chappaquiddick was going to end Teddy's career or not."
Dean added: "He was looking for any information of a negative nature -- and constantly looking for it."
The FBI responded to Dean's request on Oct. 23, 1969, but the part of the memo that discusses Kopechne's travels is blacked out, leaving it a mystery whether she was in Greece or why the Nixon administration was interested in knowing it.
Yet the memo does reveal for the first time that the bureau interviewed Kopechne on two occasions in 1967 in connection with the investigation of a man who was later convicted of check fraud who had forged her name on a check.
The transcripts of the two interviews with Kopechne were not included in the documents released today, though the FBI's interview with the so-called "hoodlum" portrayed a tall and handsome con man who was kicked out of the Air Force before preying on unsuspecting women around the country while operating under several aliases.
The man's name was also blacked out.
Kopechne apparently met him at a party in Washington in August of 1967. The FBI documents state that "she was in his company for approximately one week, including a weekend at Virginia Beach and one evening which he spent in her apartment buillding."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.