The man who taught Nixon his tricks

…was the sainted John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The Kennedys turned to two crusading liberal columnists, Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, who had been attacking Nixon for the past decade. It was “a journalistic atrocity” to conspire with “the Kennedy hawkshaws to help us get the goods on their opponent,” Anderson admitted, but scoring a scoop to destroy Nixon was simply too tempting to pass up.

The confidential documents revealed how (Howard) Hughes had funneled to the Nixon family $205,000 (worth about $1.6 million today) using various intermediaries, including one of Nixon’s brothers, to disguise the transaction. Later evidence would show that the vice president had personally phoned Hughes to ask for the money, which was used to help Nixon pay for an elegant, 9,000-square-foot Tudor house in Washington with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms, a library, a butler’s pantry and a solarium.

How did JFK’s campaign obtain this incriminating evidence? By paying the contemporary equivalent of $100,000 to a Los Angeles accountant named Phillip Reiner, one of the Hughes middlemen used to conceal Nixon’s role in the deal. Reiner was a Democrat who recently had had a falling-out with his partners. With his attorney, Reiner had contacted Robert Kennedy, his brother’s campaign manager. Soon after, a break-in occurred at the accountant’s old office – and the Kennedys suddenly acquired a thick file filled with secret records documenting Nixon’s shady deal. (Reiner’s estranged partner filed a burglary report with the police, but the crime was never solved.) …

Nixon always believed he was the true winner of the 1960 campaign. He called the Kennedys “the most ruthless group of political operators ever mobilized” and said they “approached campaign dirty tricks with a roguish relish” that “overcame the critical faculties of many reporters.”

Indeed, the mysterious break-in to recover Nixon’s incriminating financial documents convinced him that such burglaries were standard practice in national politics.

Well, not all his tricks, obviously; shaking down a government contractor for a DC mansion is not exactly choirboy behavior. The difference is that JFK got away with it, instead of meeting Nixon’s own fate. At least Nixon died a natural death, though one has to wonder, Nixon being Nixon, whether he would have traded places.

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One Response to The man who taught Nixon his tricks

  1. kishnevi says:

    JFK got away with it

    Probably the fact that whoever did the actual robbery on behalf of the K’s was astute enough not to get caught in the act had something to do with that. So perhaps Kennedy could locate better quality personnel than Nixon (or maybe Kennedy money has something to do with that).

    And the Watergate burglary differed from the template in another significant way: the Kennedy burglars apparently knew exactly what they wanted (I’m assuming Reiner provided some inside info), took it and left. The Watergate burglars were trying to wiretap, and weren’t looking for specific material–a more speculative venture.

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