Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
August 9, 1973, Vol. XVIII, No. 32
Covering up the cover-up?
by Lucian K. Truscott IV
In the days immediately following the break-in of Democratic National Party Headquarters at the Watergate in June 1972, Richard M. Nixon met repeatedly with the one man to whom he would turn time and time again as the scandal surrounding what he would call “this very bizarre occurrence” unfolded. And yet it is only now, more than a year after the burglary and bugging attempt, that the complicity of this most secretive individual in the events surrounding Watergate being exposed.
Presidential counsels Ehrlichman and Haldeman have been forced out of government; John Mitchell and former Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans have been disgraced and indicted; in all, more than 20 top-level officials in the first Nixon administration have left their jobs because of Watergate. But the man who has interests closest to those of the President with regard to the Watergate scandal survives. Should the Senate Select Committee ever succeed in obtaining the tapes of Presidential conversations they seek, his name will not be on them, nor will he be a participant in any of them. He had no job in the first Nixon administration, nor does he have a job in the current one. He did not meet with the President in the bug-ridden councils of government. But little by little the name of the President’s closest friend and most steady business associate over the years is seeing the light at the end of the Water-tunnel.
His name is Charles G. “Bebe” Rebozo. He lives within the Presidential compound at Key Biscayne, Florida, and he is the President’s constant companion when he is out of Washington, a circumstance which has seemed the rule rather than the exception since June 17, 1972. In fact, according to one veteran Nixon watcher, who has traveled with the Presidential party nearly everywhere it has gone over the past four and a half years, last weekend was the first time he could recall that Nixon went to his retreat in Camp David, Maryland, without the ubiquitous Rebozo.
It may be just a coincidence that Nixon went Rebozoless last weekend, at the end of a week which saw his name raised twice in the press with respect to Watergate. First in a story by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in the Washington Post which reported that Rebozo received secret reports from Tony Ulasewicz, the retired New York City policeman, regarding the accident of Senator Edward M. Kennedy at Chappaquiddick which resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The second report, from sources inside the Senate Select Committee on Watergate revealed that the committee has subpoenaed records of Rebozo’s Key Biscayne bank as part of a probe of his possible involvement in the “laundering” of secret campaign donations to Nixon’s re-election campaign.
And it may be yet another coincidence that Rebozo’s name was raised for the first time in connection with alleged laundering of campaign funds one week after testimony was given by former Presidential counsel John D. Ehrlichman which, according to Voice sources in Washington, implicates Rebozo behind the scenes in a cover-up behind the cover-up of Watergate.
The apparent reference to Rebozo came in answer to a question regarding a June 23, 1972, meeting between Ehrlichman, Haldeman, CIA Director Richard Helms, and his deputy, General Vernon E. Walters. Nixon, as he has admitted in his May 22 statement on Watergate, had ordered his two top aides “to insure that the investigation of the break-in not expose either an unrelated covert operation of the CIa or the activities of the White House investigations unit…”
The President gave Ehrlichman and Haldeman examples of CIA operations which might possibly be compromised by an “all-out” FBI investigation of Watergate. The two mentioned by Ehrlichman were the $89,000 “Mexican money” which ended up in the bank account of Watergate defendant Bernard Barker, and the Bay of Pigs. Ehrlichman went on to say that in a July 6 meeting with the President, he “became convinced” that the President’s concern about the possible compromising of CIA activities came “from an outside source.” Voice sources in Washington have confirmed speculation that the “outside source” of the President’s concern was C.G. “Bebe” Rebozo. And in fact, in both the “Mexican money” and the peculiar raising of the spectre of the Bay of Pigs more than 10 years after the fact, Rebozo had an interest. So did Nixon.
The interest of the two friend and business partners is complicated, and goes back many years, to the early days of the development of Key Biscayne, among other matters. But the pressures both men must have felt in the days immediately following the arrest of four Cuban Americans and James McCord in the offices of the Democratic National Party had their roots in these facts:
— Rebozo, Nixon, and former Florida Senator George A. Smathers owned undisclosed interests in pre-Castro Cuba in the 1950s, according to a former high law enforcement official close to investigations which touched on the holdings of American citizens in Caribbean countries. When Castro ousted Cuban dictator Batista, the three partners were forced to liquidate their holdings, and according to the same source, transferred them to interests in the Dominican Republic. Smathers has told syndicated columnist Jack Anderson that President Kennedy believed the CIA to be responsible for the assassination of Rafael Trujillo in 1961. Smathers’s willingness to talk on this subject is peculiar in two respects: first because the assassination of Trujillo doubtlessly affected his, Nixon’s, and Rebozo’s holdings in the Dominican Republic, and second, because neither Robert nor Ted Kennedy was known to be aware of their brother’s alleged belief of CIA involvement in the assassination leading to speculation that Smathers’s invocation of Kennedy to Jack Anderson (in 1971) may have been a cover for his belief that the CIA was involved. It is also known that not long after the overthrow of the Trujillo regime, Richard Nixon, then an attorney in private practice, represented Trujillo’s son, Ramfis, in an attempt to recover money frozen in a Swiss bank after the revolution.
— According to the Voice source, knowledge of the holdings of Nixon, Rebozo, and Smathers in Cuba and the Dominican Republic may have been one of several facts used by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to blackmail Nixon into submission on the Huston intelligence plan and to keep himself in the Director’s chair despite what we now know to be Nixon’s avowed desire to oust the aged FBI chief. (Nixon, Rebozo, and Smathers have been partners in various other business dealings which will be explored in future articles.)
— Nixon, while Vice-President under Eisenhower, was the White House liaison officer for the planning of the Bay of Pigs invasion during 1960. Sources in Miami believe it may have been during this time that Nixon and Rebozo first came in close contact with the Cuban exile community — a logical association, in that Nixon, Rebozo, and the Cubans had all lost their Cuban holdings when Castro took power.
— Charles G. “Bebe” Rebozo is known to still have extensive and close ties to the anti-Castro Cuban exile community in Miami. These include ties to convicted Watergate conspirators Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez through the Barker real estate firm, Ameritas. Through the firm’s attorney, one Miguel Suarez, Rebozo has helped to arrange for the financing of several real estate ventures of Barker’s. Martinez was formerly a vice-president of Keyes Realty Company, an organization which figures in the complicated history of the Key Biscayne land now owned by Nixon and Rebozo (to be explored in detail in future articles). A top official of Keyes Realty has been a director of Rebozo’s Key Biscayne Bank, according to reporter Jeff Gerth, who also says that Nixon and Rebozo have had other land dealings with the man who succeeded Keyes as president of the company, one Allen Morris. To top it off, the account into which Barker deposited the $89,000 “Mexican money” was in the Republic National Bank. According to Jeff Gerth, “the first president and father of the owner of Republic National was the former chairman of the syndicate-controlled Miami National Bank.”
— Miami National has a long history of domination by the Teamsters. In the 1960s, the bank was used to launder and transfer to and from Swiss bank accounts money that mobster Meyer Lansky skimmed from his gambling interests in the Bahamas and Las Vegas. Also connected with Miami National was Arthur Desser (an associate of Jimmy Hoffa, whom Nixon freed last year, and Meyer Lansky), who at one time owned 547 acres of prime Key Biscayne land, including lots now owned by Nixon and Rebozo. According to both Jeff Gerth and the Long Island Newspaper Newsday, Nixon failed for years to record ownership of one of his Key Biscayne lots until the mortgage formerly held by Lansky associate Arthur Desser was paid off.
— Nixon-Rebozo friend and business associate George Smathers also has ties to the anti-Castro community. According to the Miami Herald, when convicted Watergate conspirator Frank Sturgis, alias Frank Fiorini, lost his citizenship in 1960, it was Senator Smathers who came to his assistance and ensured that Sturgis/Fiorini was not deported and regained his citizenship.
All four Cuban-Americans arrested and convicted for their parts in the Watergate break-in were at one time or another employes of the CIA, and all four had roles in the Bay of Pigs. Last week former CIA director Helms admitted under questioning that when Martinez was arrested in the Watergate he was still on a $100 per month retainer to the CIA. All of those arrested carried false identification papers supplied by the CIA.
Despite the ties between Nixon/Rebozo/Smathers and the CIA anti-Castro Cubans arrested in the Watergate (carrying money from the Nixon re-election unit), the reference to the Bay of Pigs, made by Haldeman on orders of Nixon at the meeting with Helms and Walters, was a peculiar one. Helms appeared irritated as he recalled details of the meeting in his Senate testimony: “He (Haldeman) also at that time made some, what to me was an incoherent reference to an investigation in Mexico, or an FBI investigation running into the Bay of Pigs. I do not know what the reference was alleged to be, but I assured him that I had no interest in the Bay of Pigs that many years later…”
Helms went on to imply very strongly, in answer to a question by Senator Herman Talmadge, that he was fired from his CIA post by Nixon. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May of this year, Helms left the same impression as he outlined the details of the attempt by Haldeman and Ehrlichman to involve the CIA in the Watergate cover-up, and his refusal to do so. He told Senator William Fulbright that his refusal to aid the cover-up was followed by a period of relative non-communication with the White House, until the conversation he had with the President which led to his leaving the agency. “And when was the conversation?” asked Fulbright. “Ten days after he was re-elected,” replied Helms, in an apparent wry reference to Nixon’s having waited until his reelection worries were over to ax Helms.
Helms appeared, at most, embarrassed by the fact that the Cuban-Americans arrested in the Watergate, as well as McCord and Hunt, were all CIA-connected, other by employment or association. President Nixon, with his mention of the Bay of Pigs in his attempt to enlist the aid of the CIA in covering up Watergate, appeared genuinely worried that links between himself and his friends and business partners Rebozo and Smathers would be exposed. Helms’s clear implication in his testimony regarding the June 23 meeting was that he felt the Bay of Pigs, long a sore spot on the reputation of the CIA, was being used to bludgeon him into cooperation with a scheme to limit the FBI investigation of the “Mexican money” and the Cubans.
Nixon has never been very sweet on the CIA. The New York Times has reported that it has been Nixon’s determination since taking office to either seize political control of the CIA or to cripple the agency and transfer its intelligence functions to other agencies, such as the National Security Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency, over which he is known to have complete control. The firing of Helms and a subsequent purge of more than 1000 CIA employes have been seen as the first moves Nixon has made in this direction. Voice sources speculate that it was the CIA, in the ’50s under Dulles and in the ’60s under Helms, which maintained quiet tabs on the holdings of Nixon/Rebozo/Smathers in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The interest of these three friends in the two Caribbean countries, the known interest the three shared with the anti-Castro Cuban exiles, and the contacts they maintained are especially interesting in light of certain facts regarding the influence of organized crime — mostly in the person of Meyer Lansky and associates — in the Caribbean at the same time. Facts concerning the involvement of Nixon confidant and business partner “Bebe” Rebozo in the cover-up behind the cover-up are leading some investigators to wonder, finally, if Nixon ever held out a hope that Watergate — the facts surrounding the break-in: the Ellsberg break- ered up. Or was he concerned primarily with what lay beyond the break-in the Ellsberg break-in, ties to Rebozo and Smathers, the Key Biscayne and San Clemente properties, holdings in Cuba and elsewhere, and connections to organized crime? [There seemed to be a bad break or missing material in this paragraph. I looked for a correction in the ensuing issue but didn’t see one. — Tony O]
Was the cover-up behind the cover-up the one that mattered? These and other questions will be explored in detail in future articles.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]