Howard Baker

Howard Baker

Howard Baker was born in Huntsville, Tennessee, on 15th November, 1925. He attended Tulane University, New Orleans, before serving in the United States Navy during the Second World War.

After graduating from Tennessee Law College he was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1949. A member of the Republican Party Baker was elected to the Senate in 1966.

On 17th June, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord were arrested while in the Democratic Party headquarters in Watergate.

The phone number of E. Howard Hunt was found in address books of the burglars. Reporters were now able to link the break-in to the White House. Bob Woodward, a reporter working for the Washington Post was told by a friend who was employed by the government, that senior aides of President Richard Nixon, had paid the burglars to obtain information about its political opponents.

In 1972 Richard Nixon was once again selected as the Republican presidential candidate. On 7th November, Nixon easily won the the election with 61 per cent of the popular vote. Soon after the election reports by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, began to claim that some of Nixon's top officials were involved in organizing the Watergate break-in.

Frederick LaRue now decided that it would be necessary to pay the large sums of money to secure their silence. LaRue raised $300,000 in hush money. Anthony Ulasewicz, a former New York policeman, was given the task of arranging the payments.

Hugh Sloan, testified that LaRue told him that he would have to commit perjury in order to protect the conspirators. LaRue was arrested and eventually found guilty of conspiring to obstruct justice. He was sentenced to three years in jail but only served four months before being released.

In January, 1973, Frank Sturgis, E. Howard Hunt, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker, Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.

Richard Nixon continued to insist that he knew nothing about the case or the payment of "hush-money" to the burglars. However, in April 1973, Nixon forced two of his principal advisers H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, to resign. A third adviser, John Dean, refused to go and was sacked. On 20th April, Dean issued a statement making it clear that he was unwilling to be a "scapegoat in the Watergate case".

On 7th February, 1973, the Senate voted to create a Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. Sam Ervin was appointed chairman of this committee. Baker was a member of the committee and hearings took place between 17th May to 7th August and 24th September to 15th November.

Baker took a keen interest in the possible role that the CIA played in the Watergate. This included an investigation of Lee R. Pennington, Lou Russell and James W. McCord

William Colby was eventually given the Pennington file. On 28th June, 1974, he reported to Baker: "The results of our investigation clearly show that the CIA had in its possession, as early as June, 1972, information that one of its paid operatives, Lee R. Pennington, Jr., had entered the James McCord residence shortly after the Watergate break-in and destroyed documents which might show a link between McCord and the CIA."

In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence. Baker became a member of this committee. As a result of his investigations Baker became a critic of the Warren Commission.

The committee also reported that the CIA had withheld from the Warren Commission, during its investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, information about plots by the Government of the United States against Fidel Castro of Cuba; and that the FBI had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The Mafia boss, Sam Giancana was ordered to appear before the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. However, before he could appear, on 19th June, 1975, Giancana was murdered in his own home. He had a massive wound in the back of the head. He had also been shot six times in a circle around the mouth. At the same time Jimmy Hoffa, another man the committee wanted to interview, also disappeared. His body was never found.

Johnny Roselli was also due to appear before Church's committee when he was murdered and in July 1976 his body was found floating in an oil drum in Miami's Dumfoundling Bay. Jack Anderson, of the Washington Post, interviewed Roselli just before he was killed. On 7th September, 1976, the newspaper reported Roselli as saying : "When Oswald was picked up, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive U.S. crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald."

As a result of Church's report and the deaths of Sam Giancana, Jimmy Hoffa and Johnny Roselli, Congress established the House Select Committee on Assassinations in September 1976. The resolution authorized a 12-member select committee to conduct an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Baker served as minority leader (1977-1981) and majority leader (1981-85). He retired from Congress in 1985 and served as chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan (1987-88). In 2001 Baker was appointed as United States Ambassador to Japan.

Primary Sources

(1) Bernard Fensterwald, Assassination of JFK: Coincidence or Conspiracy (1976)

Senate Minority leader Howard Baker, the moderate Republican from Tennessee and former member of the Ervin Watergate Committee as well as the Church Intelligence Committee, has become a strong advocate of reopening the Kennedy assassination probe. Senator Baker is reported to.have long harbored various suspicions relating to the assassination, and conducted a lengthy investigation into various Cuban exile activities during the Ervin Committee probe - activities that many Warren Commission critics believe may, relate to the Kennedy assassination. In a CBS interview on May 23, 1976, Senator Baker voiced strong misgiving's over the extent of CIA and FBI information turned over to the Warren Commission.

(2) Howard Baker, CBS interview (23rd May, 1976)

I don't think the Warren Commission was privy to all the facts, for instance, it did not know even of the 56 attempts by CIA on Fidel Castro's life and apparently did not know of Castro's threat in public, saying look, you're trying to kill me and I know it. If you don't stop, no American leader is going to be safe. I have no record evidence that the, Warren Commission ever considered that.

(3) Howard Baker, CBS interview (23rd May, 1976)

I think that Gary Hart and Dick Schweiker did a great job, a monumental undertaking, and I think just as clearly that the new intelligence oversight committee ought to decide how to pursue the matter, it certainly should not be dropped. I:have no information that would indicate that the Warren Commission is wrong, or that Oswald was an agent, or did not act on his own. All I have is a basket of loose ends that Hart and I think they've got to be examined.

(4) Howard Baker, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations (1976)

I believe the covert action capability of our intelligence community is vital to the United States. We must maintain our strength in this capacity, but, we must also control it. The key and difficult question, of course, is how we can control. it without destroying or damaging its effectiveness. In my view, the best way to both maintain strength and yet insure accountability is to have strict control of the covert action programs through the Operations Advisory Group, with parallel control and supervision by the proposed permanent congressional oversight committee.

Covert action is a complex United States intelligence capability. Covert action provides the United States with the ability to react to changing situations. It is built up over a long period of time. Potential assets are painstakingly recruited all over the world. Having reviewed the history of covert action since its inception, I do not look upon the intelligence agents involved in covert action as a modern day group of bandits who travel the world murdering and kidnapping people. Rather, a vast majority of covert action programs are not only valuable but well thought approaches through media placement and agents of influence which produce positive results.

Covert action programs cannot be mounted instantly upon a crisis. It is naive to think that our intelligence community will be able to address a crisis without working years in advance to establish sources in the various countries in which a crisis might occur. These sources provide what is referred to as the "infrastructure," which must necessarily be in place throughout the world so that the United States can . predict and prevent actions abroad which are inimical to our national interest.14 I believe that, were we to completely abolish covert action or attempt to remove it from the CIA and place it in a new separate agency, these sources would dry up, and, when a crisis did come, our intelligence community would not be able to meet it effectively. Not only do I question the effectiveness a new separate agency for covert action would have, but such a re-structuring would unnecessarily increase our already burgeoning bureaucracy.

(5) Howard Baker, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations (1976)

Finally, I wish to address briefly an area of the Committee's investigation which I pursued for the most part independently. At the close of the Senate Watergate investigation I filed a report as part of my individual views which outlined remaining areas of investigation with respect to the relationships between the Central Intelligence Agency and the former CIA employees who participated in the Watergate break-in. By virtue of my membership on this Select Committee. I have been able to pursue a further inquiry into these matters, and wish to thank the Chairman and the Vice Chairman for the staff assistance and latitude provided me to pursue this area of investigation.

Many of the concerns raised in the Watergate Committee investigation have been overtaken by time and events. For example, the reported references to illegal CIA domestic activities have now been confirmed, as described in detail in the Committee's Report. The reference to the CIA maintaining a file on Jack Anderson proved to be part of a lengthy investigation and physical surveillance of Anderson by the CIA during a "leak" inquiry. Similarly, the detailing of Howard Hunt's post-retirement contacts with the CIA has been supplemented with still more such contacts. Since July 1974, we have witnessed a variety of other disclosures relative to the CIA's domestic activities; indeed, the creation of our Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities was due in part to the continuing public concern about these matters.

Unlike the Watergate Committee investigation of CIA activities, which was terminated because of the refusal of the CIA to turn over documents, this investigation was conducted in an atmosphere of cooperation. After some initial difficulties, which the Committee encountered in a variety of areas, the cooperation afforded by the CIA was exemplary. In particular, I especially want to express my appreciation to former Director William Colby and present Director George Bush for cooperating to the fullest extent in this investigation. I also want to thank Ambassador Richard Helms and former Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton for their patience and extensive assistance in in numerous conferences, in trying to reconstruct the elusive details of this significant period.

In pursuing this area of inquiry, the Committee staff examined a great volume of highly sensitive material, much of which contained speculative matters and a multitude of information of marginal relevance. This information, which had not been made available in large part to the Separate Watergate Committee, was examined in raw form and without sanitization deletions. Because of the sensitivity of the material, it was reviewed on the Central Intelligence Agency premises. Thus, it was in a spirit of cooperation that this examination was accommodated; and, this experience indicates that the Congress and the intelligence community can cooperate in an investigation without incurring unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information.

At the close of this Committee's examination of the available record, I wish to state my belief that the sum total of the evidence does not substantiate a conclusion that the CIA per se was involved in the range of events and circumstances known as Watergate. However, there was considerable evidence that for much of the post-Watergate period the CIA itself was uncertain of the ramifications of the various involvements, witting or otherwise, between members of the Watergate burglary team and members of components of the Agency. Indeed, the CIA was apparently, at times as perplexed as Congressional investigators. It should be noted that the Agency undertook an extensive internal inquiry in an effort to resolve these uncertainties. The investigation of Watergate and the possible relationship of the Central Intelligence Agency thereto, produced a panoply of puzzlement. While the available information leaves nagging questions and contains bits and pieces of intriguing evidence, fairness dictates that an assessment be rendered on the basis of the present record. An impartial evaluation of that record compels the conclusion that the CIA, as an institution, was not involved in the Watergate break-in.

(6) Carl Oglesby, The Yankee and Cowboy War (1976)

Howard Baker details his discovery that CIA Director of Security Osborn ordered Pennington material removed from CIA Watergate files before the files were handed over to Congressional investigating committees, and points out that the information on Pennington came to light in the first place "only as a result of the position taken by a staff employee of the Personnel Security Division." This staff employee "was so concerned that the documentary evidence - of the Pennington information would be destroyed by others in the CIA that he and a co-employee copied the relevant memoranda and placed them in their respective personal safes:" An unsung Ellsberg, this staff employee. The "relevant memoranda" referred to appear to be a single internal CIA report by Paul Gaynor on the results of agent Pennington's trip to the McCord house several hours after the Watergate arrest. As we shall see, Gaynor remained in close contact with the McCord operation from then on, at least up to the March 19 letter and the opening of the Sirica phase.

One or both of these anonymous CIA "staff employees" ( intelligence analysts?) balked at going along with a CIA letter notifying the Ervin Committee that it had seen everything the CIA had to show on the question. According a Jim Squires story appearing in the Boston Globe, March 26, 1974, Gaynor's report had been kept secret over a year by Security Director Osborn, who "took an early retirement last month." Paul Gaynor also "retired from the Agency last year." Heads falling in the forest-do they make any sound.

(7) Howard Baker, responding to the CIA's investigation into Lee R. Pennington (1974)

Our investigation clearly shows that the CIA had in its possession, as early as June of 1972, information that one of their paid operatives, Lee R. Pennington, Jr., had entered the James McCord residence shortly after the Watergate break-in and destroyed documents which might show a link between McCord and the CIA. This information was not made available to this committee or anyone else outside the CIA until February 22, 1974, when a memorandum by (Howard Osborn) the then Director of Security (McCord's old job) was furnished to this committee.

The evidence further shows that in August of 1972, when the FBI made inquiry about a "Pennington" the Agency response was to furnish information about a former employee with a similar name.