Picks and Pans Review: Senatorial Privilege: the Chappaquiddick Cover-Up

by Leo Damore

An achievement of reportorial diligence, this book tells a story that the most imaginative crime novelist would have been hard put to invent. It is a tale of death, intrigue, obstruction of justice, corruption and politics. It is also one view of why Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was never indicted in connection with Mary Jo Kopechne’s death in 1969. Damore spent more than four years on the book and is the first writer to gain access to the state police investigation reports and confidential records of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. Damore, who has written four other books and covered the Chappaquiddick incident as a Cape Cod News reporter, also found a crack in Kennedy’s stonewalling of both the police and the press that has gone on for nearly 20 years. Through the eyes of Kennedy’s cousin, lawyer Joe Gargan, who was interviewed at length, readers follow Ted Kennedy on the night that Kopechne, 28, a Robert Kennedy campaign worker, drowned in a car the Senator drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick near Martha’s Vineyard. Gargan relates how Kennedy returned to a cottage where friends were partying to ask Gargan and lawyer Paul Markham to help dive to save Kopechne. When their efforts failed, Gargan says, Kennedy suggested telling police that Kopechne had been in the car alone, but both friends urged the Senator to tell the truth to the police. Kennedy fled and didn’t report the incident for nine hours. Damore describes the later damage-control operation by Ted Kennedy and associates as a clever job of manipulation that included a “mole” in the district attorney’s office during the grand jury investigation. Kennedy, who had been expelled from Harvard for cheating and convicted of reckless driving in Virginia, was never indicted. A judicial inquest found, “There is probable cause to believe that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently…and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.” George Killen, chief investigator for the district attorney’s office on Cape Cod, concluded, “Senator Kennedy had been drunk…and probably speeding at the time of the accident.” Random House first commissioned this book and gave Damore an advance of $150,000, then rejected the manuscript as unpublishable. Random House may have thought the book too hot to handle; readers will find it hard to put down. (Regnery Gateway, $19.95)

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