Austin, Washington The astonishing charge by Billy Sol Estes that he gave Sen. Ralph Yarborough $50,000 in cash in 1960 has zoomed through Texas politics and exploded in one short month. The FBI and a journalist or a few are still investigating to try to unravel the facts from the rumors about the episode, and meanwhile, for the record, we would place in our readers’ hands a dayby-day account of this matter’s development, in the interests of its careful discussion and history’s true recording. I. The Accusation April 12. The Dallas News published its copyrighted interview with Estes on the same front page with its endorsement of Gordon McLendon for the U.S. Senate and other candidates. Estes, now a convicted swindler, was quoted that he gave the cash to Yarborough before witnesses on Nov. 6, 1960, a year in which Yarborough did not have a campaign of his own. The alleged witnesses were not named or quoted. Yarborough was quoted that the charge was “an infamous lie out of the whole cloth.” April 13. A UPI story was published in some Texas papers reviewing the matter. April 14. The Dallas News published a UPI story from Austin about the News’ April 12 story that contained the paragraph: “The story speaks for itself,’ a spokesman for the News said in Dallas. `We have no reason to doubt its accuracy.’ ” From Austin, the News reported that Jack Bryant, an attorney for Estes, said “the bankrupt tycoon” had reaffirmed his statement on the matter. April 17. The Observer reported that the trustee in the Estes bankruptcy in federal court in El Paso said he had never seen or heard of anything in Estes’ records that would bear out the statement from Estes. The Observer reported also that W. J. Worsham, a Pecos farmer, flew Yarborough to Pecos for the Nov. 6 event, a barbecue, at Estes’ home and that Worsham said he had been with Yarborough there all the time and the reports of the $50,000 transactions were not true. Yarborough recalled to the Observer that Worsham had collected and that day gave him $900 in contributions to defray his costs campaigning in Texas for the Kennedyand that $400 of this had been given to Worsham by Estes. Worsham confirmed this. Yarborough repeated, at a press conference in Fort Worth, that the $50,000 story was “an infamous lie.” April 19. The News did not itself report that it interviewed or contacted the “witnesses” Estes said saw the alleged transaction, but the News said Estes “produced two men” who had signed affidavits that they saw Estes give Yarborough the cash. They were James Fonville, a Midland policeman, and Ernest Keeton, a Negro retired Army sergeant who was identified as “a longtime friend of Estes.” Their story was this: that Estes gave Fonville $50,000, had him count it out and put it in a brown envelope and hold it ; that when Yarborough and Estes were in the office together, Estes had Fonville produce the money and count it, whereupon Fonville gave it to Estes and Estes gave it to Yarborough. Keeton swore that he took coffee to the three men and saw Fonville counting out the money and, at Estes’ instruction, stayed and saw Estes give it to Yarborough. This Dallas News story recounted, from the April 17 Observer, the bare facts that Yarborough “was given only $900 at the barbecue, that $400 of that came from Estes, and the money was handed to the senator News did not specify the circumstance that the $900 was represented to be for the senator’s expenses in campaigning for Kennedy-Johnson. This same day, a reprint of the News’ April 12 story was mailed from Dallas, with no identification as to the sender. Gordon McLendon, Yarborough’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, later used this reprint, or what appeared to be it, on a statewide TV program. Meanwhile, also April 19, Yarborough’s he’adquarters mailed out documents on the bankruptcy of the Liberty Broadcasting System in 1952, of which McLendon was president, and the Observer’s April 17 story and editorial on the Estes charge. April 21. On this Monday, Sen. Yarborough later revealed, he went to Washington and asked the Justice Dept. to institute an FBI investigation of the Estes charge against him. He argued that the U.S. had jurisdiction because the case was an extension of the Estes scandal. At first he did not get an answer, but subsequently he was advised that the FBI would investigate. April 22. Apparently McLendon’s radio stations were broadcasting the Dallas News .stories about Estes’ charge, because on this day Yarborough’s headquarters an nounced the senator had wired a request to the Federal Communications Cmsn. that it look into “the infamous lies being broadcast against me in Texas” over McLendon’s stations. He said that false statements by McLendon about him over the air “raise grave questions as to whether these stations are being operated in the public interest,” and he asked for F.C.C. monitors. In Tyler, McLendon said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that his stations would continue to use the Dallas News stories, “and if he doesn’t like it, let him sue me for libel so I can get my counter-suits going.” April 24. The AP reported that the Amarillo Daily News quoted Fonville saying he saw Estes give Yarborough the money and offering to take a lie detector test if the senator would join him. April ’25. On this day, McLendon committed his campaign to the Estes charge. The Houston Chronicle quoted him, “We will not only continue to broadcast [quotes from the Dallas Morning News], but from now on we ‘are going to factually expand upon them.” Ed Johnson of the Star-Telegram reported that McLendon and his staff worked on his Saturday night TV speech from 2 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and that McLendon drafted it by typewriter. The Dallas News said McLendon personally wrote it. In that speech, which McLendon entitled, ” ‘Who Told the $50,000 Lie?’ or ‘Who Got the $50,000?’,” McLendon said the Estes matter was “the gravest matter of this campaign.” He presented Fonville and Keeton, read them their affidavits, which they affirmed, and challenged Yarborough
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.