Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 24

For my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, I'll use as my starting-point something that Black says on page 764:

"Nixon's last newsworthy act of 1971 was a commutation of sentence for James R. Hoffa, the former Teamsters' Union president who had served four years of a thirteen-year sentence for jury-tampering, having been the chief target of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.  Nixon assured the reelection of his friend and supporter, Teamster president Frank Fitzsimmons, and then had Hoffa released, provided he did not engage in union activities for eight years, appeasing Hoffa's followers in his union but assuring Fitzsimmons's position.  This had the additional benefit of a symbolic affront to the Kennedys, and a direct irritation to AFL-CIO chairman George Meany.

"With the leaders of organized labor...all was politics, and Nixon was trying to divide and conquer.  It wasn't a particularly admirable sequence of events, in the one case or the other, but, contrary to subsequent mythology, Nixon did not inherit a pristine system of presidential disinterest in the fermentation of American life, in all its creative and cynical spontaneity, that bubbled and erupted beneath him.  And John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson weren't saints either."

The reason that this passage stood out to me is that it overlapped with topics that I was reading about in Don Fulsom's anti-Nixon biography: Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President.  Richard Nixon's friendship with Fitzsimmons is obviously important to Fulsom, for Fulsom shows five pictures of Nixon with Fitzsimmons in the pictures section of his book.  Why would Fulsom deem this to be important?  Because Fulsom argues that Fitzsimmons had connections with the mob.  Fulsom says on pages 29-30 that "The president and Fitz quickly colluded on a plan for Hoffa's release, and they started an alliance that was sealed with cold cash----huge payments involving the Mob in return for White House kindness."  Moreover, on page 35, Fulsom states that "Newly released FBI documents show that, in 1978, federal investigators sought to force former president Nixon and Teamster boss Fitzsimmons to testify about events surrounding Hoffa's disappearance."  But the investigators said that upper Justice Department people were hindering this from happening.

Fulsom claims that Nixon received support from mob people, as far back as his 1946 race for U.S. Congress.  Why?  According to Fulsom, Senate investigator Walter Sheridan offered an opinion about why the mobster Meyer Lansky was supporting Nixon: "If you were Meyer, who would you invest your money in?  Some politician named Clams Linguini?  Or a nice Protestant boy from Whittier, California?"  There was also the hatred that many mobsters and mobster-affiliated people had towards the Kennedys.  As Fulsom says on page 23, "Robert Kennedy had been trying to put Hoffa in jail since 1956, when RFK was staff counsel for a Senate probe into the Mob's influence on the labor movement."  While John F. Kennedy himself initially had some support from certain mobsters, according to Fulsom, much of the mob would not care for his administration's tough stance against organized crime.  According to Fulsom, the Nixon administration would be much softer on the mob.  Page 30 of Fulsom's book says: "From 1969 through 1973, more than one half of the Justice Department's 1,600 indictments in organized crime cases were tossed out because of 'improper procedures' followed by Attorney General John Mitchell in obtaining court-approved authorization for wiretaps..."  Page 44: "Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, finally put the squeeze on a federal judge to slice Marcello's prison term to six months" (see here to read about Marcello).  Page 30: "...when the New York Times disclosed that FBI wiretaps had uncovered a massive scheme to establish a national health plan for the Teamsters, with pension fund members and top mobsters getting lucrative kickbacks, [Attorney General] Kleindienst again came to the rescue, rejecting the FBI's plan to continue taps related to the scheme."

Fulson also contends that Nixon's close friend, Bebe Rebozo, had ties to organized crime.  He refers to a Miami police report saying that Rebozo was close to Meyer Lansky.  On page 54, Fulson shows a declassified FBI memo that said that "A Philadelphia source who is in a position to provide reliable information was told by a third party that this individual within the last two weeks, observed fugitive Robert Vesco in the Bahamas in the company of former Nixon aide Bebe Rebozo" (the memo's words, only they were all capitalized in the memo).

Regarding the release of Jimmy Hoffa, Folsom refers to an FBI memo that refers to an informant saying that there was a $300,000 payoff from the mob to the Nixon White House to secure Hoffa's release.  But, in the memo itself (which is on page 25 of Fulsom's book), all I see about this is what follows: "Source advised that approximately one to two weeks before the Christmas before HOFFA was released from prison, ALAN DORFMAN and JIMMY HOFFA, JR. delivered $300,000 in cash to the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C., in a black valise and turned this money over to [blacked out].  The purpose of this money was to guarantee the release of JIMMY HOFFA from the Federal Penitentiary."  Does the memo say that the money was for the Nixon White House?  It depends on what it said before it was blacked out!

Do I buy any of this?  To be honest, I do wish that Fulsom cited more primary sources.  Often, when I check in the back to see Fulsom's source for something, it turns out to be a secondary source, such as Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power.  I'd have to look at Summers to see if he cites a primary source!  But I wouldn't be surprised if Nixon had support from mobsters or people with mob connections.  In the world of the powerful, I'm sure that there are many with money and influence who have had relationships with the mob or with mob-affiliated people, on some level.

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