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Why is the JFK assassination research community so easy on Nixon?


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Cui bono is a question often asked in relation to the Kennedy assassination. Besides arguably Johnson, there isn't a single individual who benefitted more from the assassination of the Kennedy brothers than Richard Nixon. Of the five men who have been shot while either president or running for president in the 20th century, four ran (or would have run) against Nixon.

Many researchers believe there are links between the Kennedy assassination and Watergate. Some even believe the Watergate plumbers were directly involved in the Kennedy hit. For example, Lamar Waldron acknowledges Nixon's deep association with mobsters, some of whom may have been connected to the assassination and even concludes that certain Watergate burglars were in Dealey Plaza, but he maintains that Nixon was not complicit in Kennedy's murder.

When the June 1963 Nixon-Kendall memo was discovered, whereby Nixon requested to be filled in on the president of PepsiCo's experiences with "the Bay of Pigs"--Nixon's reason for being in Dallas the day before the assassination was as an attorney for PespiCo at the bottlers' convention--there seemed to be a collective "nothing to see here."

When the 1947 memo indicating that Jack Ruby was once on Nixon's Congressional payroll was shown to be authentic, researchers didn't seem to regard it as very significant.

While there is a lot of evidence to suggest Nixon was not involved, I would argue that the research community as a whole has let Nixon off easy for being such an obvious suspect and his known propensity to do whatever was necessary for his political survival.

Anyone who has studied or even watched a documentary on Nixon knows that his personality was extremely complex and he had a kind of tortured soul. There were many layers to Richard Nixon and in many ways he was a walking dichotomy. He was fiercely ambitious and ruthless, but also had a Quaker guilt which haunted him throughout his life. He always felt like the underdog with an intense need to prove himself. He was accepted into Harvard and even got a grant, but due to his brother Harold's illness and the family's finances, he was needed at home to run the store. He considered himself underestimated, left behind, and with a paranoia and jealously of the Eastern establishment. Because of this, he was a fighter and would resort to vicious acts to get ahead, or the progress he deserved, as he saw it. This obviously came into conflict with his religious upbringing--forcing him to have an inner deniability. John Ehrlichman, looking back on the Watergate years, wondered if Nixon truly began to blur the lines of what was true and what was his own narrative.

This kind of ambition obviously gave Nixon a quick political rise, culminating in his being chosen for VP at a young age. As VP, he loved the power over international affairs and covert affairs. The only logical climax of his political power--the presidency which he felt he rightfully deserved was stolen by Kennedy.

I would argue that after the gubernatorial defeat in 1962, for a short time Nixon did consider himself to be out of politics but this led to a deep depression. His inner friction and need to prove himself could never settle for complacency and anything less than greatness. He quickly began to plot his political comeback with a small inner circle. On 11/23/63, Nixon was already talking to Republican strategists about how this development (the assassination) would impact the future political landscape.

Consider the following:

As Vice President, Nixon oversaw clandestine programs which Eisenhower himself was shielded. It has been suggested that the "your mission, should you choose to accept it" monologue was a take-off of Nixon's orders to operators as VP. In the mid-50's, Aristotle Onassis was on the verge of a deal where he would have a monopoly on the shipping of Saudi Arabian oil. Onassis' brother-in-law, in attempt to stop the deal, went to Robert Maheu, who in turn went to Nixon. Nixon looped in Dulles & CIA and apparently said to Maheu, "if it turns out you have to kill the bastard, just don't do it on American soil." Does another Nixon-Maheu-CIA mission ring a bell?

It is well known that Operation 40 began with Nixon and he was the group's initial overseer, meaning he knew the principals and had potential access to their services even after his official capacity. Some of these same group would later become involved in the Watergate caper, which suggests some sort of communication with them between 1960 and their being hired in the early 1970's. More on this in a moment.

In 1960, Mario Kohly became a figure in the Cuban Revolutionary Council and the greater efforts against Fidel Castro. By many accounts, Kohly had the backing of Nixon and according to Robert D. Morrow, Operation 40 grew out of a Nixon-CIA meeting with Kohly. Also according to Morrow, Mario Kohly, along with Tracy Barnes and others in the CIA and Cuban exile community were involved in the conspiracy to assassinate JFK. In 1964, while Kohly was imprisoned for counterfeiting, Nixon lobbied on his behalf. Could this be reflective of Nixon's later release of Jimmy Hoffa as payback for favors?

Moreover, many players in the CIA and Cuban exile community were "Nixon men" who had hoped and maybe even assumed he would beat Kennedy in 1960 (although Nixon was bitter over the CIA's briefing of Kennedy prior to the debates and even suspected the CIA was supporting Kennedy) and had their sentiments compounded after the Bay of Pigs. According to Kinzer's The Brothers, the first person Alan Dulles came to see after the Bay of Pigs was Nixon.

Further, operationally during Kennedy's presidency, the CIA was still in effect acting on the directives and policies of Nixon and Dulles and leaving Kennedy (and McCone) in the dark about much of it.

Nixon also had the backing of wealthy Texas oilmen before he even sought their support. In essence, many of the groups suspected in the assassination--CIA rogues, Cuban exiles, the Mafia, oilmen, even Prescott Bush and much of the power elite at the time--were Nixon men. In Oliver Stone's movie Nixon, Stone portrays a different, although not necessarily mutually exclusive, narrative to that of JFK wherein rich Texas oilmen meet with Nixon the night before the assassination. Nixon is not complicit in the assassination, but the Texans imply what is about to happen. I propose the question: how likely is it for some of these players to act in Nixon's future interest without at least cueing him in on it?

"Conventional wisdom" of Nixon in relation to the Kennedy assassination goes that Nixon was trying to gain full knowledge of what happened to Kennedy and of what he suspected was a Johnson-CIA hit in order to gain political leverage. His obsession with the "whole Bay of Pigs thing" and getting files on it led to some friction with the Agency. He tried to shut down the Watergate investigation by threatening Helms that it might expose "the whole Bay of Pigs thing."

Assuming this really was a reference to the Kennedy assassination, wouldn't Nixon's knowledge of the principals involved - Hunt, Sturgis, the Cuban burglars - who were "Nixon men" and who Nixon himself allowed to work on his behalf indicate something more sinister? Wouldn't this to an objective observer seem to indicate his complicity in their efforts to get him in the White House?

In the movie Nixon, it strongly implies that Nixon knew Howard Hunt was involved in the assassination but that Nixon didn't know Hunt was working for the White House. We now know this to be false. Nixon certainly knew Hunt was on the payroll and Hunt's family was even invited to the White House to meet Nixon. (On a side-note, it also seems strange that on the Nixon-Colson tape when Colson informs Nixon that Dorothy Hunt's plane crashed and she was dead, Nixon asks if they had children--he always tended to play stupid or forgetful when he knows he shouldn't be letting on too much).

Saint John Hunt claims Nixon personally asked Colson to hire Howard Hunt and it is documented on the Watergate tapes. I have never heard this before. Does anyone know if this is true?

Also, in Nixon's last telephone call with John Ehrichman, he denies ever knowing Hunt before he started working in the White House, which is a complete lie. Why would he be so adamant to deny knowing Hunt prior to 1971?

I believe it can be demonstrated that operations during the Nixon White House were layered in order to ensure plausible deniability or two tracks intended to confuse. For example, Caulfield and Ulasewicz were also told to implicate the CIA in their operation in order to guarantee a cover-up if Operation Sandwedge was ever in danger of being exposed. I could go on and on about Nixon-era operations, but that is perhaps for another thread. But, it is my belief that there was more to the George Wallace Shooting and that Nixon agents were probably responsible. Arthur Bremer's written desire to kill either Wallace or Nixon in effect exonerated Nixon. Some food for thought: Lee Harvey Oswald had to be "locked" in his bathroom so that he wouldn't kill Nixon.

Finally, some would argue that Nixon was "out of it" in 1963. I think this is pretty far off base. Nixon was always well connected behind the scenes and had to be in on the drama. Take this for example: http://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/17/world/secret-nixon-vietnam-trip-reported.html

In sum, I don't think there is sufficient evidence to suggest Nixon was the primary mover without the backing of other powerful forces (Texas oilmen, CIA, the Mafia, and Cuban exiles have been aforementioned), I think there is enough evidence to at least raise the possibility of his complicity or foreknowledge. Through years of research, I have come to believe that Johnson was involved. Is it possible that Johnson and Nixon could have struck a deal? Take it for what it's worth, which is probably made up, but in Double Cross, Sam Giancana's brother and nephew quote Giancana as saying he was in Dallas the day before the assassination and that "Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson knew about the whole damn thing." While the fidelity of this quote is questionable, the concept behind it is certainly plausible.

I am curious to get other members' take on all of this.

Edited by Brian Schmidt
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Gary Mack has brought it to my attention that "Jack Ruby was never on Nixon's payroll, Jack Rubenstein was and, as reported in one of the Chicago newspapers within a few days of Oswald's death, it was found that they were two different people. Jack Rubenstein was quite a bit older than the man who changed his name to Jack Ruby." I've heard conflicting reports on this, but I'll err on the side of going with Gary. Supposedly, and according to Roger Stone, Nixon confirmed that Jack Ruby did work in his office and he hired him on the request of Johnson, which always seemed odd. Perhaps Stone is embellishing or flat out making it up.

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in Double Cross, Sam Giancana's brother and nephew quote Giancana as saying he was in Dallas the day before the assassination and that "Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson knew about the whole damn thing." While the fidelity of this quote is questionable, the concept behind it is certainly plausible.

I'm trying to remember, but in some book I read a passage in which either Nixon told Johnson or Johnson told Nixon, paraphrasing, "If you do such-and-such, I'm going to reveal so-and-so." And what was specifically to be revealed was deleted from the book's text "for reasons of national security" (meaning, I assume, the book had been vetted by the CIA). But the gist was that Johnson and Nixon shared some secret that one of them threatened to reveal, with the other one backing off with regard to some action. Maybe someone else here knows what I'm talking about and with a better memory.

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Ron, I think it was supposedly Nixon's sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks, although I have heard people suggest that one of them was alluding to something bigger.

If I recall correctly, during the fallout from Watergate, Nixon was trying to downplay wiretapping and show how everybody did it. He knew Johnson had bugged him during the '68 election and in turn got Halderman to try to use it as leverage on Johnson so that Johnson would tell Congressional Democrats to back off. Only this approach backfired because it was through those wiretaps that Johnson found out that Nixon sabotaged the peace deal, so Johnson told him if he reveals the bugging, he would let the cat out of the bag about the peace deal.

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Ron, I think it was supposedly Nixon's sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks, although I have heard people suggest that one of them was alluding to something bigger.

If I recall correctly, during the fallout from Watergate, Nixon was trying to downplay wiretapping and show how everybody did it. He knew Johnson had bugged him during the '68 election and in turn got Halderman to try to use it as leverage on Johnson so that Johnson would tell Congressional Democrats to back off. Only this approach backfired because it was through those wiretaps that Johnson found out that Nixon sabotaged the peace deal, so Johnson told him if he reveals the bugging, he would let the cat out of the bag about the peace deal.

Okay, that must be what I was trying to remember.

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Hope I am not too far out on a limb when I suggest that the Bush family benefitted greatly from the destruction of the Kennedy clan. I understand that Prescott was instrumental in launching Nixon's political career.

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According to Roger Stone, who worked with Nixon and knew him well, Nixon thought LBJ killed Kennedy.

Among other revelations, Stone told TheDC that Nixon hired Jack Ruby as a House committee informant at Johnson’s request years prior to the Kennedy assassination, which occurred 50 years ago today.

“Nixon said, ‘The damn thing is, I knew this Jack Ruby. Murray [Chotiner] brought him to me in 1947, said he was one of “Johnson’s boys” and that LBJ wanted us to hire him as an informant to the Committee. We did,'” according to Stone.

“I think Nixon immediately recognized that LBJ was using one his operatives to do ‘clean up’ work on the murder of John Kennedy. Nixon would also say to me ‘Both Johnson and I wanted to be president, but the only difference was I wouldn’t kill for it.’ At other times when I pressed the old man hard on who really killed JFK, Nixon would just shiver and say ‘Texas!’,” Stone said.

“Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge and Barry Goldwater were convinced that Lyndon Johnson murdered JFK. I mean absolutely convinced.”

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Guest Mark Valenti

Relying on Roger Stone for historical accuracy is a little bit like relying on a hooker for sincerity.

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I have known Roger Stone since 1973 when I served as legal counsel to the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NIPAC) of which he was an officer. NIPAC was highly successful and credit for this goes to Roger and his late colleague, Terry Dolan. Roger has always been a political activist. He courageously goes where others fear to tread. A recent example was when John Dean spoke at the Austin Book Fair. Roger was the first member of the audience to ask a question and he made Dean look foolish and hypocritical. Robert Morrow was the second person to ask Dean a question and again Dean looked like a deer caught in a car's headlights. The event was televised nationally. Since then when Dean speaks in public, the only questions that he will entertain are those submitted in writing so that they may be screened.

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Roger Stone has requested that I post his response to statements made in this thread and it is my privilege to do so:
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I fully recognize that history has branded Richard Nixon as a villain and the man people love to hate but the posting by Brian Schmidt claiming Nixon was somehow complicit in John Kennedy's murder is rich with conjecture and inference and devoid of any actual evidence.

While there is substantial evidence of Lyndon Johnson's involvement including fingerprint evidence tying LBJ close associate and convicted murderer Malcolm 'Mac" Wallace to the assassination, there is no such evidence tying Nixon to the crime. As many as six eyewitnesses report to either the FBI or the Dallas Police seeing a man closely meeting the description of Wallace in the sixth floor window of the Texas School book depository as detailed in my late friend James Tague’s excellent book, LBJ and the Kennedy Killing.

Many critics have claimed Nixon's attended a post midnight meeting at the ranch of LBJ crony and Nixon campaign donor Curt Murchison Sr. I believe they are conflating a reception honoring J. Edgar Hoover earlier in the evening at the Murchison spread with a the late night meeting behind closed doors which included Hoover, Ed Clark, D.H. Byrd, H.L. Hunt lawyer John Carrington and the late arriving LBJ. To those who say this is not possible because LBJ was "seen” in Fort Worth that night I would refer them to Phil Nelson's excellent book, LBJ- the Colossus, which details Johnson's frequent use of a body double, a Johnson cousin who would later die mysteriously. In Nigel Turner's excellent television presentation, The Men Who Killed Kennedy Part 9, both the Murchison housekeeper and chauffeur confirm the late night final planning session at Murchison's residence. Nixon, however, was seen in the roof top restaurant at his Dallas hotel as late as 11:30 that night as reported by the Dallas Morning News.

On November 21st Nixon held at press conference in his suite at the Baker Hotel in Dallas predicting JFK would drop LBJ from the 1964 ticket because of the latter's growing vulnerability in both the Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes scandals. I confirmed that Johnson and Nixon spoke that morning and LBJ told Nixon he was concerned by the "atmosphere of hate" in Dallas and that he asked Nixon to "tamp down" Congressman Bruce Alger, the only Republican in the Texas Congressional delegation and a vociferous critic of Kennedy. Perhaps that's why, upon learning of Kennedy's murder, Nixon called FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and asked him "was it one of those right-wing nuts?" That Hoover responded "No, Dick, it was a communist" shows Hoover giving Nixon the party line.

Nixon, for his part, called on the people of Dallas to give the President a courteous and polite reception in his hotel press conference.

In 1963 Nixon was powerless. Sure he still nursed political ambitions and knew all the players but he had no governmental power. He was also one year past from his disastrous 1962 run for Governor of California for which he had substantial problems raising money. Nixon was considered washed up and politically dead in 1963. Who did Nixon control in 1963? The CIA ? The FBI? The Dallas Police? The Dallas District Attorney? The answer is none of these.

Somehow Schmidt believes that Nixon was in on the Kennedy murder because he traveled to Vietnam to secure the release of a POW. When Jesse Jackson negotiates privately for release of US hostages he's a hero but when Nixon does it (while out of office) it is somehow proof of his involvement in Kennedy's murder. Absurd.

There is substantial evidence that it didn't take long for Nixon to figure out who did kill Kennedy. His body man, Nick Ruwe, was adamant that Nixon recognized Ruby on television. In 1972 Nixon would tell former LBJ aide George Christiansen,”Well, Lyndon never liked being No. 2 to anyone." Nixon himself would tell me. “the difference between Lyndon and me was-- we both wanted to be President but I wasn't willing to kill for it."

It's true that Nixon told two different stories about when he learned of Kennedy's murder. At the time Nixon landed at Idlewild airport after flying from Dallas to New York it was known that Kennedy had been shot but that he had not yet been declared dead. Nixon would first claim that he heard on the taxi-cab radio that JFK was dead, then claim he heard it from a woman on a street corner while stopped at a red-light. I chalk this up to Nixon's desire to be seen in the best possible light: he understood his public imagery was inextricably linked to JFK, even in death. Nixon's doorman at his Fifth Avenue apartment house confirmed Kennedy's death. Minutes later Nixon would call Hoover to ask who was responsible. Why would he do so if he already knew?

Schmidt claims, without foundation, that Johnson and Nixon had a "deal." Really? What was in it for Nixon? For Nixon to see his immediate benefit in Kennedy's murder he would have foreseen the rise and defeat of Goldwater (he didn't), LBJ's escalation of the Vietnam War and his subsequent unpopularity and withdrawal from the 1968 race, as well as the murders of both MLK and RFK, all of which created a "perfect storm" for his comeback. While Nixon was a consummate politician, no one could have foreseen this turn of events in the immediate aftermath of Kennedy's murder.

Nixon's efforts to obtain the CIA's files on Kennedy's assassination, which he called 'the whole Bay of Pigs thing,” proves he understood the CIA's role in the murder and wanted the proof to obstruct the agency’s opposition to his Vietnam withdrawal, China opening and SALT agreement with the Russians. Later he would want the goods as a hedge against impeachment. According the deputy FBI director William Sullivan, Nixon was fully aware of Warren Commission member Gerald Ford's alteration of the Kennedy autopsy records to accommodate the so called "single bullet theory". This best explains Ford's subsequent pardon of Nixon that most likely cost Ford re-election

Schmidt goes on to accuse Nixon of complicity in the assassination attempt on George Wallace .Wallace was shot while running for President as a Democrat and after the legal deadlines had passed to get on the ballot as an Independent in most states. Wallace ran as a Democrat after John Mitchell leveraged Wallace's brother Gerald's IRS problems by threatening Wallace away from a problematic Independent candidacy. Murray Chotiner told me this directly and it is confirmed in a book by Clark Mollenhoff. Wallace was creating chaos in the Democratic primaries with no prospect of nomination. What would have been Nixon's motive to have him murdered? By 1972 he was no political threat to Nixon. Nixon certainly understood that those who voted for Wallace in the 1972 primaries would support him over liberal George McGovern in the general election.

It's easy to hate Nixon. He was a man of immense contradictions and flaws as well as great vision. But the idea that Kennedy's death alone opened a pathway to Nixon's return to viability or that he was a participant in Kennedy’s murder in any way is unsupportable with any solid evidence.

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First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Stone for responding to my post and Mr. Caddy for facilitating the exchange. This kind of discussion--involving primary sources who knew Nixon well--is so valuable and is what makes this forum great and unique.

I want to make it clear that I don't hate Nixon and it's not my intention to rub Nixon's name in the mud. I have always been fascinated by Nixon and in some ways feel a personal identification with parts of his personality. In sixth grade when we had to choose a historical figure in which to write a biography and dress up as for a class presentation, I chose Nixon. In fact, I would err on the side of Nixon not being involved. The question I posed was a genuine one, not a rhetorical one. You are right to point out that much of my post is indeed conjecture and inference. I don't dispute this and simply wanted to get others' take on my thoughts.

There are several sections in your posts, however, which I take issue. You claim that in 1963, Nixon was powerless and did not have control or leverage over any powerful players or institutions. Part of the "thesis" of my post was that in 1963, while Nixon was not a government official, he was not powerless and had an apparatus of mafia, a CIA clique, oilmen, etc.--all who have been accused of complicity in the assassination--who seemingly wanted Nixon in the White House. The point of my linking the 1964 POW story was to show that Nixon always had to be connected and in on the action (not to demonstrate that this act somehow illustrates his disposition towards assassination)--something I'm sure you would agree with having known him personally.

You mention that no one, including Nixon could have foreseen the "perfect storm" of events in the aftermath of the JFK assassination that would allow for his comeback. I would suggest, and I'm not the first one to do so, that this "perfect" storm in-and-of-itself is suspicious to an impartial observer. Many researchers believe the same group that was behind the JFK assassination also killed Bobby. If it was Johnson and his small inner group exclusively behind JFK’s murder, other than the fact that he thought Bobby might reopen the investigation (and I do admit this is a significant motive), what reason would there be to kill RFK? Furthermore, I did not make a claim that Nixon and Johnson had a deal, I simply raised the possibility; if one does suspect Nixon's complicity, it is unlikely that he would be able to orchestrate it without the help of higher forces.

In your defense of Nixon, you ask, "Minutes later Nixon would call Hoover to ask who was responsible. Why would he do so if he already knew?" Well, maybe someone trying to appear innocent might think of such a thing. We both know how clever and good of a xxxx Nixon was. Go back and listen to the LBJ tapes--he does this sort of thing all the time.

Finally, as a general observation: if Jack Ruby really did work on Nixon's staff in 1947, if someone believes that Hunt, Sturgis, Barker et al were active in the assassination and they end up working in Nixon's White House, is it really so unfair for someone to go "hmmm?....."

As for the Wallace shooting, it's my personal belief that the Nixon White House was behind it; take it for what you will. You do raise valid points; however my criticism of your approach is as follows. Martha Mitchell said that her husband confessed to her that Colson met with Arthur Bremer four days before the assassination. If a witness of equal stature (stature might be a funny word to use in relation to Martha Mitchell) as Martha Mitchell had recounted something to implicate LBJ in a murder, you would likely take it at face value, but since it doesn't fit your narrative, you reject it.

I hope my post has responded to some of your concerns and that my suspicions don't seem too unfair. I bought your book a while back and have since completed it. One of the things that struck me most is that you mention John Davis Lodge told you about his brother's knowledge that Kennedy wouldn't be around to fire him on Monday. Do you have any speculation as to who told Henry Cabot Lodge this or how he found out before the assassination?

Edited by Brian Schmidt
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Guest Mark Valenti

Those reading this thread will have to remember - if they don't already know - that political flamethrower Roger Stone will seemingly do and say anything to slur any Democrat at any time, while bolstering and burnishing the image of any Republican. In my opinion, he is a kind of Satanic Dick Tuck, with a dash of Guccione "charm." I think people like him and Karl Rove, Lee Atwater and Ann Coulter are dead set on trying to rewrite history or at the very least, confuse history to the degree that casual readers won't know what to think or whom to believe.

Let's get back to Nixon.

Nixon was never powerless. From the inception of his political career, he allied himself with extremely powerful men who fueled countless off-the-grid geopolitical acts. Child molester Elmer Bobst, Nazi collaborator Prescott Bush, Maheu, Lansky, Vesco, Chotiner, Hoffa - Jesus, what a rogue's gallery.

Nixon was instrumental in getting the Bay of Pigs ball rolling. Does anyone believe that the effort to reclaim Cuba for US interests stopped at Playa Girón?

Please. Between the CIA's need for a southern base and the Mob's desire to once again set up their gambling, booze and prostitution businesses, there were plenty of Nixon allies itching for him to slink back to a position of "official" power. Nixon never stopped his involvement in politics because his chief activity was never "above ground." Whatever he did in the view of the press and public was just PR window dressing. Nixon's prime influence was always hidden, secretive and clandestine.

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an intelligent and respectful debate on an important topic. Bravo!

I agree with Brian that it would be good to know who told Henry Cabot Lodge he wouldn't have to worry about JFK.

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