NEW YORK — Cartha D. DeLoach, who as a top aide and confidant to J. Edgar Hoover was the FBI’s liaison to the White House and an intermediary between Hoover and President Lyndon B. Johnson during a tense political era, died Wednesday on Hilton Head Island, S.C. He was 92.
Mr. DeLoach, who was known as Deke, spent more than 25 years in the FBI, rising to deputy associate director, the number three position, behind only Hoover and the associate director, Clyde Tolson.
Mr. DeLoach had met and worked with Johnson in the 1950s, when Johnson was the Senate majority leader; he and Johnson helped push through legislation guaranteeing Hoover a salary for life. In 1963, shortly after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson called Hoover — Mr. DeLoach said it was the day after Johnson was sworn in aboard Air Force One — and requested that Mr. DeLoach be assigned to the White House.
‘‘There was political distrust between the two of them, but they both needed each other,’’ Mr. DeLoach said in 1991 for an oral history interview for the Johnson library at the University of Texas. ‘‘Hoover was anxious to retain his job and to stay on as director. He knew that the best way for the FBI to operate fully and to get some cooperation of the White House was for him to be cooperative with President Johnson.’’
‘‘President Johnson, on the other hand,’’ Mr. DeLoach continued, ‘‘knew of Mr. Hoover’s image in the United States, particularly among the middle-of-the-road conservative elements, and knew it was vast. He knew of the potential strength of the FBI — insofar as being of assistance to the government and the White House is concerned. As a result it was a marriage, not altogether of necessity, but it was a definite friendship caused by necessity.’’
At the time, Mr. DeLoach headed the bureau’s crime records division, which was also in charge of public affairs. He was a principal spokesman for the bureau in the investigation of the murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers who were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in early summer 1964. Their bodies were not discovered until August; it was Mr. DeLoach who called the president to deliver the news.
Johnson called on the bureau to perform tasks that caused friction with other agencies. Fearful of assassination, he added FBI agents to his security detail, infringing on the territory of the Secret Service. And he drew the bureau into the political arena, requesting investigations into political opponents and reporters.
Mr. DeLoach was the main conduit between Johnson and Hoover, and though he acknowledged that he knew the president occasionally asked the FBI to overstep its authority, he said other presidents had done the same, and that when the president of the United States asks for something, it is difficult to say no.
Mr. DeLoach “was always at LBJ’s beck and call, night and day,’’ said Tim Weiner, a former New York Times reporter and the author of ‘‘Enemies: A History of the FBI,’’ published last year. ‘‘He was a talented political hatchet man, a trusted deputy to Hoover. He was also crucial to intelligence investigations conducted during the Johnson presidency.’’
Mr. DeLoach became head of FBI investigations in 1965, leading the assault on the Klan after the Mississippi killings. He supervised the investigation of the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. But he had also been part of the bureau’s scrutiny of the civil rights movement and was aware of the bureau’s secret surveillance of King in his private life.
Mr. DeLoach joined the FBI in August 1942 as a clerk and became a special agent that December. He worked in field offices in Norfolk, Va., and Cleveland before going on military leave. He served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946. During his tenure at the bureau under Hoover, its priorities shifted from ferreting out spies during and after World War II, to combating communist ideologues during the early years of the Cold War, to pursuing perceived threats to the country in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.
‘‘Deke’s commitment to the FBI and to the American people at large was a hallmark of his life,’’ said Robert S. Mueller III, the FBI director.
After retiring from the FBI in 1970, Mr. DeLoach worked as a corporate affairs executive for Pepsico until 1985 and later in banking in South Carolina. In a 2007 oral history interview with the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, he said: ‘‘In my humble opinion, despite the good job the FBI has done, it has not received anywhere near sufficient credit for doing all the tremendous investigative work, all the sacrifice, the labor, the blood, the sweat, the tears, to put it proverbially, that we have done. We have not been given credit.’’