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Nixon: America's Greatest Criminal

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Richard Nixon, from the front cover of the book Richard Nixon, from the front cover of the book

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, and the recent death of Senator George McGovern highlights just what an important event it was. Richard Nixon was determined to get re-elected in 1972, and his dirty tricks campaign against McGovern forever changed American politics.

To explore the antecedents of Watergate, author Lamar Waldron has produced a book that reminds one of War and Peace. Not for its content, but for its massive size of 808 pages. While it is a major project, reading this book is well worthwhile as it shows just how involved Nixon was with a vast range of criminal activities from the very beginning of his career.

The subtitle of the book, The Hidden History, is quite apt. Time and again it is revealed here for the first time (using documents only recently declassified) how Nixon and his cronies were at the center of the two major events of the late 1950s and early 1960’s: the attempts to murder Castro, and the assassination of President Kennedy.

Here is an example from 1960 of how the effort against Castro was connected to Watergate. Ten key Watergate figures were involved in the plots against Castro.

“Vice President Nixon and his aide General Cushman had ties to the origin of the CIA-Mafia plot to poison Fidel. “ A young American woman recently returned from Havana told Cushman of Marita Lorenz, who’d had an affair with Fidel. “Richard Nixon had been talking to his friend, the wealthy former diplomat William Pawley, about the problem of Fidel Castro since January 1960. Those contacts continued into the summer, when Lorenz was approached by a close Pawley associate, a former FBI agent who introduced her to Frank Fiorini. After meeting with Fiorini she met with a CIA officer and after Watergate she identified the man as E. Howard Hunt.”

Those who know about Watergate will not likely recognize the name Frank Fiorini. By the time of Watergate, he had mysteriously changed his name to Frank Sturgis. Both Sturgis and Hunt were two of the burglars caught breaking into the Democratic national committee offices in 1972, the start of the Watergate scandal. Waldron notes darkly that “Fiorini and Hunt both denied they ever met until their work together for Nixon in 1972. However, near the end of his life, Hunt finally admitted he had known Fiorini in the early 1960s.” Cushman first met with Hunt and Nixon in the 1950s, another fact conveniently concealed until now.

Fiorini worked for Mob boss Santo Trafficante and he knew Sam Giancana, the two most powerful mob chiefs in the CIA-Mafia plots that Nixon orchestrated. The two mob bosses met right here at Miami Beach’s Fontainbleau hotel in September 1960 to plot against Castro.

The nastiest piece of work is another nearly forgotten figure, Bernard Barker, an aide to Hunt and another of the Watergate burglars. He was born in Cuba and had his citizenship revoked in the mid-1950s. By the end of the 50s he was working for Trafficante and the CIA.

When President Kennedy was shot, Dallas Deputy Seymour Weitzman ran to the now-infamous grassy knoll near the motorcade. He was one of several law enforcement personnel “who saw someone behind the picket fence claiming to be a Secret Service agent, even though no real Secret Service agents were stationed there.” In his testimony before the Warren Commission, Weitzman confirmed he had met the fake agent. After the Watergate burglary 9 years later, Weitzman identified the man as Bernard Barker. Another witness in Dallas, Malcolm Summers, also identified Barker “as the armed man he encountered on the knoll moments after JFK had been assassinated.”

Where was Richard Nixon on that fateful day of November 22, 1963, when his greatest enemy- the man who defeated him for President- was in Dallas? A UPI wire photo taken that day shows Nixon “after he arrived at Idlewild airport in New York following a flight from Dallas, where had been on a business trip.” Waldron says that “three months later Nixon denied to the FBI that he had even been in Dallas on Nov. 22.” Would any criminal implicate himself by admitting his presence at the scene of the crime?

Harry Williams, an associate of Robert Kennedy, is quoted in the book as saying that Bernard Barker “had something to do with the assassination of the President,” and he also affirmed that Trafficante helped to finance the assassination. Thus it is no surprise that Nixon turned to his henchmen, Hunt and Barker, when he wanted to break into the Watergate in 1972.

It is impossible to summarise such a lengthy book in a short review, but the fact that Nixon’s campaigns (from his very first one in 1946 for the House of Representatives) were financed by the Mafia is an important element that runs all the way through.

When he finally became President, “Nixon’s staff knew he was interested in anything that might smear the Kennedy legacy.” This book makes clear for the first time what Nixon was actually looking for in the Watergate offices of the Democratic party, and the lengths he was willing to go to in an effort to get his enemies. It is a landmark book which should be read by everyone.

The book contains a few typographical errors. Pg. 29 “would hone” instead of “”wound hone”; Pg. 115: “finally agreed” not “finally agree”; Pg. 223: “continue to” not “continued to”; Pg. 436: “attorney” not “atrtorney”; Pg. 535: “taps”, not “tapes.”

Watergate: The Hidden History (808 pages) is $35 from Counterpoint Press. Visit their website: www.counterpointpress.com

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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