FBI Files Show Army Taped
Eleanor Roosevelt Having An Affair
By Janon Fisher

NEW YORK ( -- Recent inquiries into Hillary Clinton's sex life may have left many wondering where the invasion of her privacy is going to stop. But life for former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt makes the indignities suffered by Clinton look mild.
FBI files show that in 1943 the U.S. Army taped Roosevelt, Clinton's role model, allegedly having sex with a young Army sergeant named Joseph Lash. According to documents obtained by, the tapes were then played to President Roosevelt, who ordered Lash to be sent "outside the United States and on his way to a combat post within 10 hours."
Lash was indeed sent into service at that time, his son confirmed, but as a weather observer, and he saw little combat. Lash survived the war and eventually won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography about the first lady.
How the two met
Lash was an ideological man; he often immersed himself in big causes, and as a college student he was active in a number of student organizations.
"My father was a radical student leader," Jonathan Lash told
In 1939, after Lash returned from fighting fascists during the Spanish Civil War, he went before the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer questions about left-wing activities in student organizations nationwide. At the time, Lash was the executive secretary of the American Student Union.
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Historians consider these committee hearings to be the precursor of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's attempts to expose communists within the federal government.
It was during the Dies Committee meetings that Lash and Roosevelt met, said Blanche Wiesen Cook, a John Jay College professor working on the third volume in her biographical series on Roosevelt.
Mocked committee chairman
During the testimony, Cook said, Martin Dies, the Texas representative heading the hearings, had been grilling Lash on his leftist politics and the prevalence of communists in the American Student Union when Lash, who had been holding up well under questioning, broke into song.
"If you see an Un-American lurking far or near, just alcoholize with Martin Dies and he will disappear," he sang. According to the files, the audience erupted in laughter.
And he caught the attention of the first lady.
"Dies had been giving the students a hard time; he had been very rude to them. Eleanor had been sitting at the back of the audience knitting, but when she heard Lash speak, she was very impressed. He was very bold and brave," said Cook.
"She moved to the front of the committee room so that [Dies and committee members] would be more respectful in their questions. She sort of came to his rescue."
After the meeting, the two began to correspond, and a friendship blossomed out of a common political ideology that lasted to Roosevelt's death.
Lash's insolence also brought out the ire of those who took the Dies Committee seriously and who considered socialism and communism in any form to be a threat to national security.
'Young campus cutie'
Roosevelt was accused of "commercializing her office as wife of the President and had forfeited the respect people are accustomed to giving one of her position" by Washington Post columnist Westbrook Pegler.
Pegler wrote of Roosevelt's attachment to "a young campus cutie who had been infected by the Moscow principles." The bureau presumed the man in question was Lash.
It appears that Roosevelt did intervene on Lash's behalf on several occasions. When he was turned down for a Navy commission, she wrote to the attorney general to inquire "if it would be possible for you to run down for me through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colonel Donovan's Naval Inspectors and the Dies Committee, what they really have on Joe Lash."
Roosevelt felt Lash had been wrongly turned down and wanted to see if the Navy had justification. "He's a Jew. Perhaps that is one more reason why I am concerned not to see him unjustly treated," she wrote.
Though Lash's FBI file contains hundreds of pages listing his alliances and activities that had caught the bureau's attention, an internal memo shows the attorney general was told by the bureau that there was no investigation.
Hoover's secret file alleges hotel romp
However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover kept a file on Lash in his personal "Official and Confidential" files. These files allege that the relationship between Roosevelt and Lash had been fully realized.
In a memorandum dated Dec. 31, 1943, FBI agent George C. Burton relayed to Hoover his discovery of a possible love affair between Lash and Roosevelt from conversations he had with a colonel in the Army Counterintelligence Corp. After Lash enlisted in the Army, he remained under surveillance because of his socialist sympathies and his close relationship with the first lady.
According to the memo, two other Army colonels were called to the White House by the president concerning the surveillance conducted on Lash. The officers played a recording, from a microphone that had been hidden in Lash's hotel room, that they felt was of a tryst between Lash and Roosevelt.
"This recording indicated quite clearly that Mrs. Roosevelt and Lash engaged in sexual intercourse during their stay in the hotel room," Burton wrote.
President orders 'purge'
"[Col.] Forney advised [Col.] Bissell that after this record was played Mrs. Roosevelt was called into the conference and was confronted with the information and this resulted in a terrific fight between the President and Mrs. Roosevelt. At approximately 5:00 a.m. the next morning the President called for General Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Corps, and upon his arrival at the conference ordered him to have Lash outside the United States and on his way to a combat post within ten hours."
Finally, in a move that illustrates Franklin Roosevelt's jealous rage, the president may have wanted the entire Army Counterintelligence Corps disbanded. "The President had ordered that anybody who knew anything about this case should be immediately relieved of his duties and sent to the South Pacific for action against the [Japanese] until they were killed," Burton wrote.
Experts doubt truthfulness
Burton, who eventually moved to Sun City, Ariz., died four years ago; his widow knows nothing of the memo. The tapes of the alleged affair have never been found, and some key details in the story don't hold up under scrutiny.
Chic Hecht, a former senator of Nevada and ambassador to the Bahamas, said the Army Counterintelligence Corps was never disbanded, and that it played a key role in establishing normalcy in Germany after World War II. Hecht was a member of the corp in the early '50s, spending some 18 months in Soviet Union.
"That is certainly not true; it certainly did not disband, it grew," Hecht said.
Jonathan Lash said his father had obtained the file through the Freedom of Information Act before his death in 1987, and had shown him the memo.
"He said that he didn't know whether to laugh or be mad. He was mostly amused," Lash said. "He was amazed that they'd gone through all this trouble."
Cook is more emphatic that the liaison had never occurred. "The idea that they had sex is just bizarre," said Cook. "It was in my opinion a 'mother and son' relationship."
Cook said Roosevelt persuaded Lash's wife to leave her first husband to marry Lash.
The file, in fact, shows that around the time of the alleged affair, Lash and his soon-to-be-wife, Mrs. Trude Pratt, had shared a hotel room. There is also a lengthy transcript of the hotel room conversation between Pratt and Lash, and according to the memorandum concerning the surveillance, "Subject and Mrs. Pratt appeared to be greatly endeared to each other and engaged in sexual intercourse a number of times during the course of their stay at the Urbana Lincoln Hotel."
It is possible the recordings referred to by Burton are not of Lash and the first lady, but of Lash and Pratt.
Cook admits that Roosevelt had affairs of the heart with others beside her husband, and she lists Lorena Hickok, Bernard Baruch and Earl Miller as the most well known. "I don't think that any of [the affairs] were physical after Lorena Hickok," Cook said.
"Every woman in public life has to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide," Roosevelt once said -- words Clinton likely knows only too well.
Janon Fisher is an staff writer (


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