Watergate: The Hidden History, Nixon,The Mafia and The CIA
- Lamar Waldron
- 816 pp.
- July 25, 2012
Information from recently declassified records sheds new light on two of the most sensational episodes of 20th-century American history.
Reviewed by Ronald L. Goldfarb
In his new book, Watergate: The Hidden History, the historian Lamar Waldron, who has written about the JFK assassination (Ultimate Sacrifice and Legacy of Secrecy), shifts his focus to Watergate. Here he deals with new information drawing on records of two of the most sensational episodes of 20th-century American history. Waldron distills thousands of recently declassified CIA and FBI records as well as newly disclosed tapes of Richard Nixon, and he combines that information with his encyclopedic knowledge of existing assassination history to draw a new picture of the Watergate plumbers, their master and their motives.
Assassination historians know that from the Eisenhower era to the Kennedy administration, there were complicated, sub rosa relations between notorious Mafia members and incumbent foreign policy figures, in the CIA and in the White House, focused on eliminating Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Here, Waldron takes that dark story back one significant step, tying it to Richard Nixon when he was vice president and going forward from there.
Waldron shows that veterans of then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s early use of Mafia members in cahoots with the CIA in attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro were also part of the later White House plumbers team used on June 17, 1972, to infiltrate Watergate. Their goal in the infamous botched “third rate” burglary was not, Waldron argues, to gather negative political information about the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to use in the upcoming election, as generally believed. Rather, Waldron demonstrates through newly declassified government documents that the plumbers were commissioned specifically to retrieve the records that could tie Nixon (and others) to the earlier CIA-administered and Mafia-assisted assassination attempts against Castro, which would have seriously embarrassed him.
Howard Hunt, Bernard Barker, Eugene Martinez, Frank McCord and Frank Sturgis were used in both these early and later misadventures, he points out. Those “plumbers,” as they were referred to, earlier broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, then the Chilean Embassy, and surveyed the Brookings Institution, as well as burglarizing the Watergate building on several occasions before that notorious night that changed American political history. Nixon did not want to allow his earlier anti-Castro operations with the CIA and mobsters’ help (incidentally, Waldron adds, on two occasions Nixon was paid $500,000 by organized crime figures to come to the aid of the beleaguered, later imprisoned, Teamster boss, Jimmy Hoffa) to become known during his re-election campaign in 1972. Among other attachments, Waldron’s book includes documents of the Ervin Committee (Senate Watergate hearings records), one demonstrating that the plumbers’ “directions were to photograph any documents relating to Cuban contributions or Cuban involvement in the 1972 Democratic Campaign.”
Waldron hypothesizes that Nixon feared his earlier ties with CIA and Mafia figures in plans to kill Castro might come to light. That prospect “created an indirect but dark connection that would haunt him throughout Watergate, until his resignation and pardon.” If that earlier involvement came to light, and his earlier ties with those shadowy characters suggested he had any relation to the assassination of his earlier presidential opponent, JFK, Nixon thought he would be destroyed. Hence, ironically, the botched attempt to retrieve these implicating documents. The Nixon tapes include evidence of Waldron’s conclusion. At one point, in July 1971, for example, he told his aide H. R. Haldeman to “get for me personally, particularly the documents concerning the Bay of Pigs.” He also implored CIA chief Richard Helms and high-level Justice Department officials to get him the records, though he was unsuccessful.
The newly released Nixon tapes lead Waldron to conclude that Richard Nixon “was the man in charge, with an astonishing grasp of overall political strategy and street level criminal action.” And, at that, not all the relevant records are available yet. The National Archives refused to release more than 1,000 top-secret documents over which the CIA demanded secrecy, claiming in classic government-speak that “substantial logistical requirements” warranted non-disclosure. The JFK Records Act requires that all relevant documents be released by 2017, prompting the assassination scholar Max Holland to charge that the National Archives is not “carrying out the letter, spirit and intent” of the act. Robert Blakey, former House Assassination Committee counsel and now a law professor, argues that “bureaucratic jargon” is frustrating the “public interest in transparence.” Why wait? These events occurred half a century ago, and the public interest in their content is understandable and permanent.
Waldron points out in his Watergate book (it is now the 40th anniversary of Watergate, and the JFK assassination approaches its 50th anniversary) that since his days as vice president, Richard Nixon used the shadowy characters to do his dirty work. He dealt with Mafia members in his days as vice president, and later, as president, assisted them by securing Jimmy Hoffa’s parole, which was pursued by the mob and paid off with Teamster funds. Improper wiretap procedures by Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, led to over 800 indictments of crime figures being voided, Waldron adds. Later, then-President Nixon said he could raise a million dollars of hush money to silence the Watergate defendants: “I know where it could be gotten,” he bragged.
Waldron concludes: “Nixon had been involved with criminals and criminal activity for so long — from the very start of his political career — that by 1972, he seemingly didn’t know how to run a political race without them. … Nixon was not the first to blend the worlds of politics, organized crime, and illegal money, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last, but for almost thirty years, he had done it better than anyone else.”
Ronald Goldfarb is an attorney, author and literary agent in Washington, D.C., who has written extensively about the JFK assassination. He worked in Justice Department under Robert Kennedy and writes about these subjects in his book Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes: Robert F. Kennedy’s War on Organized Crime. See www.ronaldgoldfarb.com.