The Justice Department is facing new calls to investigate the Cold War-era, anti-gay blackmail plot that led to the suicide of Senator Lester Hunt.
The Wyoming Senator’s son, Lester Hunt, Jr., and Senator Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin—D), the first openly lesbian member of Congress, have written letters to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into the roles played by three senators in the suicide of Senator Hunt.
In 1954, Senator Lester Hunt, Sr. killed himself with a rifle in his Senate office—a year after his son, Lester Hunt, Jr., was arrested in Lafayette Park for soliciting sex from an undercover male police officer. A recent examination of the historic record, presented in the Yahoo News documentary Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays, strongly suggests that Hunt’s suicide was precipitated by pressure from his political opponents in the Senate to resign.
Initially, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan police chose not to pursue the case, and dropped the charges against Hunt’s son. Recent research has shown that two Senators—allies of Senator Joe McCarthy—intervened and demanded that Hunt, Jr. be brought up on morals charges. The Senators then blackmailed Senator Hunt, threatening to distribute 25,000 pamphlets in his home state of Wyoming about his son’s arrest if Hunt did not drop out of the 1954 elections.
Lester Hunt, Jr. sent his own letter in July to the Attorney General following the release of Uniquely Nasty, in which he discusses the circumstances of his arrest and his father’s suicide publicly for the first time.
“It is shocking to me that no formal investigation was ever conducted by either the Senate or the Justice Department,” Hunt, Jr. writes. “Given the egregious nature of the matter, it seems to me that although belated, a formal review of the case is warranted and I am writing to ask that it be done.”
Senator Baldwin expressed similar concern about the failure of the government to pursue the matter. “Shockingly, there is no evidence that a formal investigation into the death of a sitting Senator was undertaken… While decades have passed since this tragic incident, it remains a troubling example of the misdeeds of the McCarthy era and the role of homophobia and bigotry has played in the history of our nation, including at the highest levels of federal government.”
“[I]t is important for the integrity of the Senate and our continued efforts to acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of our past that a formal investigation of Senator Hunt’s death take place.”
The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.’s pro bono legal partner, McDermott Will & Emery, has also written a letter on behalf of MSDC supporting Hunt and Baldwin.