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When the investigation was concluded, tempers cooled and the nation moved past the issue. The president and the presidency had been saved from a damaging blow from an angry electorate.
Russell had known President Dwight Eisenhower as an Army major and served in the Senate with John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. When Edward Kennedy became a Senator, President Kennedy advised him, “if you want to learn how to be an effective Senator, you should start by going to see Dick Russell.”
Russell’s relationship with Johnson is legendary. Books have been written about Russell’s influence on Johnson’s career, and the depth of the relationship has been captured on the tapes of Johnson’s telephone conversations.
Nixon and Russell respected one another. Nixon summed up a major dimension of Russell’s career when he said, “When the security of the United States was the issue, six American presidents leaned upon this great patriot; he never failed them.”
Other Senators have had close relationships with presidents, but none has had an influence so often, on so many, over four decades as Russell.
Part of the trust bestowed on him by his colleagues stemmed from the respect with which he treated them. He had courtly manners and patrician courtesy. Civility was an operating principle for him; that one may disagree without being disagreeable was his creed.
In this moment, when lawmakers are being urged to soften their rhetoric, Russell’s statue in the rotunda of the building bearing his name offers a reminder that trustworthiness and civility work in the real world of lawmaking and statecraft.
Powell Moore was press secretary for Sen. Richard Russell from 1966 to 1971. He was an assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs under the George W. Bush administration and an assistant secretary of State for intergovernmental and legislative affairs under President Ronald Reagan. He was chief of staff for former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).