George Armistead Smathers, the son of a state circuit court judge, was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on 14th November, 1913. The family moved to Miami in 1919 and attended public schools in Dade County.
Smathers graduated from the University of Florida in 1936. After attending law school he was admitted to the bar in 1938. He later served as assistant United States district attorney in Florida (1940-1942). During the Second World War Smathers served in the United States Marine Corps from May 1942 until discharged as a major in October 1945. Soon afterwards he was appointed as special assistant to the U.S. attorney general.
A member of the Democratic Party, in 1947 Smathers was elected to the United States House of Representatives, representing Florida's Fourth Congressional District. In 1949 Smathers met and befriended John F. Kennedy, then a young Congressman from Massachusetts. During this period he had a reputation for being hostile to equal civil rights for African-Americans.
President Harry S. Truman had never forgiven Claude Pepper for supporting Henry A. Wallace over him to become vice-president in 1944. He called George Smathers into a meeting at the White House and reportedly said "I want you to do me a favor. I want you to beat that son-of-a-bitch Claude Pepper." In 1950 Smathers took on Pepper in the primary election in Florida for the Senate. Smathers resorted to the tactics developed by Joseph McCarthy and claimed Pepper was a communist sympathizer because he supported civil rights and universal health care. Smathers called him "Red Pepper" and circulated a 49-page booklet titled The Red Record of Senator Claude Pepper . Pepper responded by calling Smathers a fear monger and bigot. However, Smathers won the election by 60,000 votes.
Smathers was a strong opponent of Civil Rights legislation and in 1956 was one of 19 senators to sign the Southern Manifesto, in which members of Congress resisted rulings by the federal courts to desegregate schools. Smathers was called a racist after he criticized the activities of Martin Luther King. He said "I don't like bigotry and intolerance... But they do exist and I don't think you're going to get them out by passing laws."
In 1959 George Smathers became head of the committee in the South to elect John F. Kennedy. However, during the campaign he surprisingly decided to run against Kennedy in Florida. Later he admitted that he did this with the agreement of Lyndon B. Johnson. Kennedy was furious. Smathers later recalled: "To make a long story short, he (Kennedy) kept after me to withdraw. "I want you to withdraw. I want you to withdraw... Damn it to hell, what kind of friend are you?" And so and so. I said, "Look, I'm not going to stand here and take all this abuse, so I'm going to go out. I'm leaving."
Smathers took a close interest in the events in Cuba. He supported Alliance for Progress, a government program that spent billions of dollars in an attempt to get pro-American governments in Latin America. Smathers was one of the first to warn of the dangers posed by Fidel Castro. He once told the New York Times that "we have a moral as well as a legal responsibility to pursue a policy that will lead to Castro's downfall"
In 1963 his close friend, Philip Graham committed suicide. He upset a lot of people when he commented: "Well, if you'd been married to Kay Graham you'd have probably shot yourself too."
Smathers formed a business partnership with Grant Stockdale. Their company, Automatic Vending, was involved in providing vending machines to government institutions. However, in 1961 Automatic Vending was sued for improper actions in getting a contract at Aerodex.
William Torbitt (Nonmenclature of an Assassination Cabal ), claims that Smathers and Grant Stockdale were involved with Bobby Baker, Fred Black and mobsters Ed Levenson and Benny Sigelbaum in a company called Serve-U-Corporation. Established in 1962, the company provided vending machines for companies working on federally granted programs. The machines were manufactured by a company secretly owned by Sam Giancana and other mobsters based in Chicago.
On 26th November, Grant Stockdale flew to Washington and talked with Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy. On his return Stockdale told several of his friends that "the world was closing in." On 1st December, he spoke to his attorney, William S. Frates who later recalled: "He started talking. It didn't make much sense. He said something about 'those guys' trying to get him. Then about the assassination."
Stockdale died on 2nd December, 1963 when he fell (or was pushed) from his office on the thirteenth story of the Dupont Building in Miami. Stockdale did not leave a suicide note but George Smathers claimed that he had become depressed as a result of the death of John F. Kennedy.
Two of George Smathers' secretaries died in suspicious circumstances. Nancy Carole Tyler, who later went onto work for Bobby Baker, died in an air crash on 10th May, 1965. Mary Jo Kopechne also worked for Smathers, died in a car owned by Edward Kennedy on 17th July, 1969.
In his book, Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America (1999), Brian Lewis Crispell describes Smathers as being a "quintessential Cold Warrior who subscribed fully to the necessity of containment, the domino theory, and assumptions regarding the monolithic nature of communism. These beliefs were most fully played out through his interest in Latin America and his avid backing of the Vietnam War."
George Smathers voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and opposed the first version of a 1965 Voting Rights Act. In an interview he gave thirty years later, he pointed out: "There wasn't any doubt that before 1964 if Spessard Holland (Florida's other senator) or I had voted for civil rights - you couldn't do it and survive."
After retiring from the Senate, Smathers practiced law and became a prominent Washington lobbyist. He made a fortune in orange groves, car dealerships and banking. In 1991, Smathers gave a $26 million gift to the University of Florida library system.
George Smathers died, aged 93, at Indian Creek Village, an exclusive island community outside Miami, on 20th January, 2007.
From 1960 to 1963, the ruling hierarchy of Lionel Corporation was General John B. Medaris, Roy Cohn and Joe Bonanno (Joe Bananas), a top Mafia man from New York, Las Vegas, Tucson and Montreal, Canada. Lionel Corporation during this period did over ninety percent of their business with the space agency and army ordnance furnishing such items as electronic equipment, rocket parts, chemical warfare agents and flame throwers. Also, during this period, General Medaris, though having retired in 1960, remained on active duty as special advisor to Army Intelligence in the Pentagon. The Lionel Corporation management was in direct contact with Louis Mortimer Bloomfield who, among other things, was a lawyer with offices in Tangiers, Morocco and Paris, France. Bloomfield was also the president of Heineken's Brewers, Ltd., Canada. General Medaris was a director of one of the land speculation companies of Bobby Baker and Senator George Smathers in Florida. Joe Bonanno (Joe Bananas) in his capacity as a Mafia leader, was associated in the Havana and Las Vegas gambling with L.J. McWillie, Clifford Jones and others.
In addition to J. Edgar Hoover's close association with Roy Cohn, he was also a long time friend of General Medaris. Joe Bonanno (Joe Bananas) had been a personal informer for J. Edgar Hoover for over a decade during 1963. Grant Stockdale, ex-United States Ambassador to Ireland and former George Smathers Administrative Assistant and a stock holder and officer in Bobby Baker's vending machine and Florida land transactions, knew and was closely associated with almost all of the top figures in the cabal. Shortly after President Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, Grant Stockdale was pushed, shoved or fell from the fourteenth story of a Miami building and was killed immediately in the fall. As an officer in the Bobby Baker enterprises, Grant Stockdale had particular knowledge of a good part of the workings of the cabal and his death was one of a series made necessary to protect the group from public exposure...
Fred Black of Washington, D.C. was a lobbyist for North American Aircraft and business associate with Bobby Baker and Clifford Jones. Black has confirmed the connection between Jones, McWillie, Baker, Ruby and ex-Cuban President, Prio.
After November 22, l963, Black publicly told many people in Washington, D.C. he had informed J. Edgar Hoover that an income tax conviction against him must be reversed or he would blow the lid off Washington with revelations of the assassination conspirators. Lobbyist Black prevailed upon J. Edgar Hoover to admit error before the Supreme Court where his case was reversed in 1966. Hoover did well to rescue Black from the conviction. Fred Black, while socially drinking with acquaintances in Washington has, on numerous occasions, been reported to have told of J. Edgar Hoover's and Bobby Baker's involvement in the assassination through Las Vegas, Miami and Havana gamblers. He named some of these as the Fox Brothers of Miami, McLaney of Las Vegas, New Orleans, Havana and Bahamas, Cliff Jones of Las Vegas, Carlos Prio Socarras of Havana, Bobby Baker and others. He stated there was also a connection in that some of the gamblers were Russian emigres.
Don Reynolds, Washington, D.C. businessman and associate of Bobby Baker and who had a number of questionable business transactions with Walter Jenkins on behalf of Lyndon Johnson, also gave testimony concerning Bobby Baker's involvement with the principals and he has stated on numerous public occasions that this group was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Black was a stockholder with Baker in the Waikiki Savings & Loan Association in Honolulu. The other members were Clifford Jones and his law partner, Louis Weiner. There was the Farmers and Merchants State Bank in Tulsa where Jones joined Baker and Black in a stock deal and brought in a Miami pal by the name of Benny Sigelbaum, a courier of funds and documents to the Swiss banks for Permindex and the Syndicate.
Of all the enterprises, none could compare with the controversial Serv-U Corp., a Baker-Black controlled vending- machine firm. Ed Levinson, president of the Fremont Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, was also a partner. Grant Stockdale, President of Serv-U and his money is covered later. Formed late in 1961, Serve-U Corporation provided vending machines for the automatic dispensing of food and drink in companies working on government contracts. In the next two years, Serv-U was awarded the lion-share of the vending business at three major aerospace firms - North American Aviation, Northrop Corporation and Thompson Ramo Wooldridge's Space Technology Laboratories. Baker and Black each bought stock in the company for $1 a share, while the others paid approximately $16 a share.
As early as October 1960 Kennedy had discussed with his conservative friend Senator George Smathers of Florida the likely reaction of the American public to an attempt to assassinate Castro. Alternatively, Kennedy and Smathers had considered provoking a Cuban assault upon the base at Guantanamo to provide an excuse for a U.S. invasion of the island.
In the 1950's the Batista government vigorously promoted tourism as a hedge against the always precarious sugar trade. Fancy hotels with gambling casinos went up and U.S mobsters shared profits with government officials...
In search of rum, rhumba, and much, much more, some 300,000 tourists each year flocked to the island to partake in Cuba's bustling life of outdoor cafe's, bar's, nightclubs, brothels and casinos.
Like many other prominent Americans, the young Democratic U.S. Senators John F. Kennedy and George Smathers partied on the island. In December 1957, Kennedy and Smathers journeyed to Havana. They visited Ambassador Smith, a Kennedy friend from Palm Beach, and his wife and former model, Florence Pritchett Smith with whom the Massachusets politician had had a love affair some years before. The pleasure seeking senators apparently never discussed the rebellion, although Smather's, as he himself put it "had made a career of Cuban problems." Instead golf, sailing, nightclubs, and women occupied their time. Crime boss Meyer Lansky's widow claimed later that during that trip her husband helped locate women to satisfy Kennedy's now-famed sexual athleticism. "Kennedy wasn't a great casino man," remembered Smathers, "but the Tropicana night-club had a floor show you wouldn't believe."
Lyndon B. Johnson: Tell me, what is the situation on the tax bill? I am going to meet with the Cabinet at two-thirty and...
George Smathers: ... I made a deal, just confidentially . . . that Ribicoff and Long and myself and Fulbright would vote against any motion to take the bill away from the Chairman... He would agree to... close the hearing... Now, I asked them the other day what Byrd was really trying to accomplish. It's to hold up the tax bill until he could prove that Kennedy was going to have the budget... over $100 billion. So he could then argue, you know, that we are financing these tax amendments with debt. So I... told him that... if we, the President would come out and tell him now in December what he thought his budget was going to be, would Byrd cooperate and help them to get the clearance in the Executive Session over with?... He said, "I don't have any problem." . . . Now at the last legislative breakfast - you were not there - I very strongly said that I thought we had enough votes on the floor to pass the tax bill this year. But.. we were going to have to go around Harry Byrd in the committee... I don't know if you want to do it or not, but the smart thing to do, in light of developments, would be for you to get the appropriation bill through real quick and then just...
Lyndon B. Johnson: No, no, I can't do that. That would destroy the party and destroy the election, and destroy everything. We've got to carry on. We can't abandon this fellow's program, because he is a national hero and there are going to be those people want his program passed and we've got to keep this Kennedy aura around us through this election.
George Smathers: Yeah. Well, in that connection... I had a most interesting visit with Hubert last night, after we met with you. He invited me over to his office to have a drin... Hubert and I think that the new President has just got to have a liberal running with him as VP candidate and - I am just speaking for myself - I think, my God, that most of the Southerners would be for Hubert... He was not at .all averse to the idea... He jumps for it... I says, "Can you hold Joe an... Paul and can you keep them lined up?" And he said, "I'm sure I can. This is going to be the problem.... They are going to try to make the new President look immediately like he is an old Texas oilman and... he is now the President of everybody."
Anyway, so here I was caught between Johnson on the one side, who was my leader, I was his whip, and here was my dear friend, personal friend, Kennedy, and they're going to go into my state and ruin it. What am I going to do? All of my friends are going to say: "Who do we vote for?" Obviously the Catholic votes would go for Jack, and the West Florida people would vote for Johnson, and they'd divide the state very much. So I said, "I don't want you guys to run." I went to Johnson and I said, "Now, Lyndon, I don't want you to run." He said, "I think I can beat him, if you'll help me." I said, "Here I am, I'm a close friend of both of you. I've worked for you, on your team, and yet Jack Kennedy is personally my best friend here in the Senate. So the only thing that I can finally do is I'm going to run myself and keep you guys out. Because I don't think either one of you think you can beat me in my own state." I think that was true. Kennedy beat them in Indiana, he beat them in Maryland, he beat them in Wisconsin, and so on. But to make a long story short, I decided that I was going to run, and I announced that I was going to run for president in Florida, I would be the favorite son from Florida, and that would stop Johnson and Kennedy from dividing up the state. Johnson was pleased with that, he didn't really want to run anyway, but Kennedy kept after me: "You've got to back out, you've got to back out." So let's say the day is now February, the election was going to be the first Tuesday in May. If you're going to file, the filing date expires on let's say February the 16th, or whatever the date was, I've forgotten. I had filed, Kennedy had also filed, and so here we were getting ready to run against each other. I didn't know anything about the polls. I said, "Now, Jack, I think I can beat you." He said, "I don't want to run against you." I said, "Well, I don't want you to." To make a long story short, he kept after me to withdraw. "I want you to withdraw. I want you to withdraw." The day came on the 16th you had until twelve o'clock to withdraw. I got a call from Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy's secretary, who said, "Senator Kennedy would like to see you." So I went over to his office, and he was sitting there. He said, "Old pal" - he was always starting off that way - "old pal, you've got to do me this favor. You're my best friend, you were in my wedding, and you've got to withdraw. I can win, easy. I'm going to get the nomination. But I don't want to run against you. It's now a quarter of eleven, and you've got until twelve o'clock. I've got a fellow in Tallahassee, in the capital, in the secretary of state's office, waiting to withdraw your name." He said, "You've got to do this for me." I said, "Well, I can't do it. I'm not going to do it." Well, it went back and forth, and finally he got mad and said, "Damn it to hell, what kind of friend are you?" And so and so. I said, "Look, I'm not going to stand here and take all this abuse, so I'm going to go out. I'm leaving. I'm just sorry. If you're going to run, we're going to have a hell of a race, that's all I can say. But I don't want you down there dividing our state. What I will do is after the first ballot, I will instruct my delegates they can go for whomever they want to vote for, either you or Lyndon. You've got Grant Stockdale, who will be on my slate" - you had to put in a slate already - "and he loves you as you know, and he'll be making big speeches for you.
As Senator, George Smathers did not always support his good friend President Kennedy. In fact, he didn't support him before he was elected. In a special session of Congress that took place while Kennedy was running against Nixon, Smathers had voted against EVERY one of JFK's pet projects. (The Man and the Myth, Victor Lasky, page 434). In 1961, for example, he only supported the President's bills 47 percent of the time. (The Man and the Myth, page 102) A close personal friend and usher at Senator Kennedy's wedding, Smathers did not support JFK's attempts to pass Medicaid. Theodore Sorenson writes that Smathers "was aware of the influence of the AMA in Florida". And he goes on to relate that a White House colleague commented that, "Smathers hasn't stood up for Jack Kennedy since the wedding" (Kennedy, page 344). In addition, Sorenson tells of a conversation he had with JFK himself, in which the President commented that he had received a series of poor recommendations from Smathers in regard to the Dominican Republic, adding, "And now he's trying to tell me what to do about Cuba." Those poor recommendations may have been as a result of Smathers visit, at JFK's request, to the Domincan Republic in the spring of 1961 to convince the dictator Rafael Trujillo to "relinquish power and move out", as Smathers testified to the Church Committee in 1975. It was an effort in which Smathers failed and resulted in Trujillo's assassination in May 1961. The fact that Kennedy tried to intervene indicates his reluctance to support assassination as a tool of state.
Michael Beschloss writes in The Crisis Years, that Smathers lobbied Kennedy hard against Castro. Smathers himself admitted that, "Kennedy always identified me with pushing, pushing, pushing (page 101). It was probably because he was. According to Gus Russo, (Live by the Sword, page 233) Smathers was one of those Democrats who broke party ranks and demanded military action during the Missile Crisis. The other was the right-wing Democrat, Strom Thurmond. In addition, Smathers was a great hater of Fidel Castro (High Treason, Groden and Livingstone, page 325).
The subject of assassination as a tool of state (in regard to Cuba) was discussed by JFK and Smathers. Smathers could not remember whether he brought it up or JFK did, but Smathers suggested, according to Warren Hinkle and William Turner (Deadly Secrets: The CIA/Mafia War against Castro and the Assassination of JFK, page 73), that any assassination attempt be coupled with a staged incident at the Guantanamo Naval Base that would provide a pretext for intervention by American Forces.
Smathers' suggestion about using Guantanamo as an excuse to invade Cuba was similar to the plan suggested by Richard Nixon in his post-invasion visit to the White House when he suggested finding "legal cover" such as "defending our base at Guantanamo" as an excuse for "going in ".
Shortly thereafter, Kennedy learned enough of Smathers' right-wing associations to make him wary. According to Hank Messick (Lansky, page 169), a Smathers watcher, Kennedy ordered Smathers never to bring up the topic of Cuba again. But Smathers pushed one more time. At a White House supper, Smathers table-talk of assassination angered the President so much that Kennedy slammed his fork against his plate and broke it. (Deadly Secrets, pages 73-74). After that, Smathers gave up.
Bobby Baker was about the first person in Washington to know that Lyndon Johnson was to be dumped as the Vice-Presidential candidate in 1964. Baker knew that President Kennedy had offered the spot on the ticket to Senator George Smathers of Florida... Baker knew because his secretary. Miss Nancy Carole Tyler, roomed with one of George Smathers' secretaries. Miss Mary Jo Kopechne had been another of Smathers' secretaries. Now both Miss Tyler and Miss Kopechne have died strangely.
Since this comedy of errors has become public knowledge in the United States, there has been prolonged polemic over whether the plots against Castro were supported by President Kennedy or whether he even knew about them. The subject came up in the Oval Office, as the Latin American correspondent of the New York Times, Tad Szulc, learned during an interview with the President in late 1961. Szulc recalled how - in the middle of a talk about Cuba - Kennedy suddenly leaned forward in his rocking chair and asked, "What would you think if I ordered Castro to be assassinated?" Szulc replied that political assassination was wrong in principle and in any case would do nothing to solve the Cuban problem. Kennedy, wrote Szulc, "smiled and said that he had been testing me because he was under great pressure from advisors in the intelligence community (whom he did not name) to have Castro killed, but that he himself violently opposed it on the grounds that for moral reasons the United States should never be a party to political assassinations. 'I'm glad you feel the same way,' he said."
It may be that the essence of the President's predicament lies in the remarks he made to Senator George Smathers, himself a passionate opponent of Castro. Smathers said he found the President "horrified" at the idea of assassination and refused to be pushed about his Cuba policy. Smathers added, "I remember him saying that the CIA frequently did things he didn't know about, and he was unhappy about it. He complained that the CIA was almost autonomous." CIA officials have since said they assumed the President approved of the assassination plots but that it - was not done to discuss the subject in front of him. This assumption of presidential connivance remains controversial.
In 1959 Smathers promised to help JFK become the Democratic candidate for president and became head of the committee in the South to elect Kennedy. However, during the campaign he surprisingly decided to run against Kennedy in Florida. Later he admitted that he did this with the agreement of Lyndon B. Johnson...
Smathers also betrayed JFK over Marilyn Monroe. According to Sarah Churchills recently published book, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe (2004), it was Smathers who first leaked the story to the press about the affair. The story first appeared in an article by Dorothy Kilgallen the day before Monroe died (Kilgallen was herself to die in similar circumstances as Monroe on 8th November, 1965).
Why should Smathers do this? One possibility is that Smathers was trying to link JFK with Monroes death. According to Matthew Smiths Victim: The Secret Tapes of Marilyn Monroe (2003) the CIA was involved in a plot to implicate the Kennedys in Monroes death as punishment for the Bay of Pigs disaster.
If Smathers was involved in any conspiracy to kill JFK one would expect those close to him like Grant Stockdale to find out about it. One person who might have discovered what was going on was his secretary, Mary Jo Kopechne, and her flat mate, Nancy Carole Tyler, who was Bobby Bakers secretary. According to Penn Jones, it was Kopchne and Tyler who leaked the story about JFK replacing LBJ by Smathers as vice president.
Nancy Carole Tyler died in a plane crash, near Ocean City, Maryland, on 10th May, 1965.
Kopechne went on to become Robert Kennedys secretary. She was to die in Edward Kennedys car on 18th July, 1969.
At 10:00 a.m. on Monday, December 2, 1963, Grant Stockdale came to his office on the 13th floor of the Alfred I. Dupont Building, 169 Flagler Street in Miami. His secretary, LaVerne Weingartner, who usually opened the office was not there, but at a dentist's office and would not arrive until 10:30. Stockdale went into a law office across the hall from his and asked Mrs. Mary Ruth Hauser how he could get a key to unlock his office door. She offered to call the building manager to send someone to open it.
Mrs. Hauser stated, "He followed me into my office and stood there while I called down for a key. He stood there very calmly. He didn't seem at all agitated... Somehow the subject of the President's death came up... He told me he was in his office when his wife called to tell him the President had been shot. He said he just got down on his knees and prayed."
Stockdale and Mrs. Hauser were still talking when someone came to unlock his door. She started to followed him across the hall, but just then her office phone started ringing and she returned to answer it. Mrs. Hauser said, "It couldn't have been five minutes later that there was this terrible thud...I just wonder if I had gone right behind him...I don't know, I guess it wouldn't have made any difference. The whole world has just gone mad."
Stockdale's body lay on the roof of the five-story Florida National Bank and Trust Company below the Stockdale office window. Dr. Sheffel H. Wright who had offices in the Dupont Building pronouned him dead at 10:30 a.m.; the police placed the time of death at 10:17 a.m.
All of the people who saw and spoke to Stockdale on his way to work said he had been in good spirits, waving and saying hello. He stopped for a shoe shine, spoke to the elevator operator, and exchanged words with the parking garage attendant. However, it was his friend George Smathers who claimed that it had been an accumulation of grief and worry that had driven Stockdale to suicide.
One newspaper report states that Mrs. Stockdale had urged her husband to seek help for his depression after the assassination, but she called the doctor on Monday to inform him that he was so much better.
According to an article written by Miami Herald Reporter John B. McDermott, titled "Stockdale Into Irrational Mood," Stockdale had tried to reach him on Sunday, December 1. "He wanted to tell me something - to talk things over."
McDermott's article presents the following information:
On Saturday, November 23, 1963, Grant Stockdale flew to Washington, D.C., after a call from Robert Kennedy. He returned that night, thinking he would be unable to get a ticket to the church for the funeral services.
On Monday, November 25, Stockdale learned that a ticket had been reserved for him by the White House, but there was not enough time to get proper plane connections on time.
On Tuesday, November 26, Stockdale flew up to Washington and talked with Robert and Edward Kennedy, and then flew back that night. As a result of this last trip, Teddy (Edward) Kennedy called Mrs. Stockdale, "expressing anxiety over the ex-ambassador's mental state."
Stockdale had mentioned to several people during the ten days before his death that "the world was closing in."
On Sunday, December 1, after attending services at St. Stephens Episcopal Church with his family, Stockdale had paused to speak with Attorney William Frates.
"He started talking," Frates recalled Monday. "It didn't make much sense. He said something about 'those guys' trying to get him. Then about the assassination. He said he wanted to talk to me - that he had already talked to Billy Gaither (another attorney)."
Nixon is commonly supposed to have been introduced to Bebe Rebozo by Richard Danner, the courier and connecter who left the FBI to become city manager of Miami Beach at. a time when it was under the all-but-open control of the Mob. Danner first met Nixon at a party thrown in Washington in 1947 by another newly elected congressman, George Smathers. Smathers was by that time already an intimate friend and business partner of Rebozo and a friend of Batista. When Nixon vacationed in Havana after his 1952 election to the vice-presidency, Syndicate-wise Danner used his clout with Lansky's man Norman "Roughhouse" Rothman to get gambling credit at the Sans Souci for Nixon's traveling companion, Dana Smith. We recall Dana , Smith as the manager of the secret slush fund set up to finance Pat Nixon's cloth coats, the exposure of which led to the famous Checkers TV speech during the 1952 campaign. Smith dropped a bundle at the Sans Souci and left Cuba: without paying it back. Safe in the States, he repudiated the debt. That infuriated Rothman. Nixon was forced to ask the State Department to intervene in Smith's behalf.
It is poetically satisfying to imagine Nixon and Rebozo meeting through Danner. When Danner reenters in the next to last act of Watergate with the $100,000 from Hughes which only he seems to have been able to deliver, we may sense a wheel coming full circle. But there is the possibility also that Rebozo and Nixon actually connected in Miami in 1942, and it is almost certain that they knew of each other then, as will emerge.
Here are the fragments with which we reconstruct Rebozo: (1) he is associated with the anti-Castro Cuban exile community in Florida; (2) an all-Cuban shopping center in Miami is constructed for him by Polizzi Construction Co., headed by Cleveland Mafioso Al "The Owl" Polizzi, listed by the McClellan crime committee as one of "the most influential members of the underworld in. the United States"; (3) his Key Biscayne Bank was involved in the E. F. Hutton stock theft, in which the Mafia fenced stolen securities through his bank.
Rebozo's will to power appears to have developed during the war, when he made it big in the "used-tire" and "retread'' business. Used-tire distributors all over the country; of course, were willingly and unwillingly turned into fences of Mafia black market tires during the war. Rebozo could have been used and still not know it.
He was born in 1912 in Florida to a family of poor Cuban immigrants, was ambitious, and by 1935 had his first gas station. By the time the war was over, his lucrative retread business had turned him into a capitalist and he was buying up Florida land. Before long he was buying vast amounts of it in partnership with Smathers and spreading thence into the small-loans business, sometimes called loan-sharking. From lending he went to insuring. He and Smathers insured each other's business operations. His successes soon carried him to the sphere of principalities and powers the likes of W. Clement Stone of Chicago and the aerosol king Robert Abplanalp, both of whom met Nixon through him. Also during the war, Rebozo was navigator in a part-time Military Air Transport Command crew that flew military transports to Europe full and back empty, which some find a Minderbinderesque detail.
During the first year of the war, before going into the Navy, Nixon worked in the interpretations unit of the legal section of the tire-rationing branch of the Office of Price Administration. Investigator Jeff Gerth has discovered that three weeks after Nixon began this job, his close friend-to¬-be, George Smathers, came to federal court for the defendant in this case, United States vs. Standard Oil of Kansas. U.S. Customs had confiscated a load of American-made tires reentering the country through Cuba in an "attempt to circumvent national tire rationing," i.e., bootleg tires. Smathers wanted to speed up the case for his client, and so wrote to the OPA for a ruling. His letter must have come to Nixon, who, OPA records show, was responsible for all correspondence on tire rationing questions. It was therefore Nixon's business to answer Smathers. Especially since this was the first knock on the door, it would be nice to know what Nixon said and how the matter was disposed of. "Unfortunately," reports Gerth, "most OPA records were destroyed after the war. The court file for this case is supposed to be in the Atlanta Records Center, but a written request submitted to the clerk of the civil court on July 6, 1972, has not been honored, despite the usual one week response time. Written questions submitted to President Nixon and Bebe Robozo have also gone unanswered. Among the relevant questions is whether Miami was one of the regional offices Nixon set up.
Was this the bending of the twig? And if Rebozo and Nixon actually did meet then, even if only through bureaucratic transactions around the flow of tires, then they met within the sphere of intense Syndicate activity at a time when Roosevelt's Operation Underworld had conferred immense prestige and freedom of movement on Syndicate activities. Could the Nixon-Rebozo relationship escape being affected by FDR's truce between law arid crime?
Let us spell out this theory of Nixon's beginnings in A-B-C simplicity.
Prohibition: Organized crime takes over the distilleries industry.
Repeal: Bootlegging goes legit, the Syndicate thereby expanding into the sphere of "legal" operations. This is the first big foothold of organized crime in the operations of the state.
Cuba/Batista: Lansky goes to Cuba in 1934 in search of a molasses source, meets and courts the newly ascendant strongman Batista, stays three weeks and lays plans for developing Havana into the major off-shore freezone of State-side organized crime, Cuba playing the role in the Caribbean of Sicily and Corsica in the Mediterranean.
World War II: In despair of otherwise securing the physical security of the docks against sabotage which may or may not have been Fascist-inspired, Roosevelt accepts a secret arrangement with organized crime. He comforts Luciano in prison and agrees to release him to exile at the end of the war. He generates an atmosphere of coalition with crime for the duration. In that atmosphere, Syndicate projects prosper. But one of the smugglers, Kansas Standard, gets too brazen and is caught, perhaps, by naive customs officials. Smathers takes the case for the defendant and thus comes into contact with Nixon.
Noting Gerth's discovery that the records of this case have inexplicably disappeared from the files, noting Rebozo's involvement in the tire business and his rapid enrichment during World War II, and noting Smathers's well-known affection for Cuban associations, we generalize to the straight-forward hypothesis that Nixon may have been fused to the Syndicate already in 1942. Was his 1944 stint in the Navy a sheep-dipping? Look at this rise: 1946: Nixon for Congress; 1948: Nixon for Congress (II); 1950: Nixon for Senate; 1952: a heartbeat away.
So it is another Dr. Frankenstein story. The Yankees beget in sheer expediency and offhandedness the forces that will later grow strong enough to challenge them for leadership. Operation Underworld was the supreme pioneering joint effort of crime and the state, the first major direct step taken toward their ultimate covert integration in the Dallas-Watergate decade.
Smathers was elected to Congress in 1946, representing Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier counties for two terms. But he had his eye on the Senate.
As Pepper's post-war unpopularity grew in proportion to his perceived Communist sympathies - which earned him the sobriquet "Red" Pepper - Smathers realized that Pepper was vulnerable.
He decided to oppose him against the advice of powerful Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn.
During campaign season, Smathers stumped hard, shaking so many hands that he got calluses. He never had to work that hard again; running virtually unopposed in two subsequent reelection bids, he returned excess campaign contributions, a rare move at the time.
And while he may never have given "the speech," he did make this notorious comment regarding the suicide of UF classmate and newspaper magnate Phil Graham: "Well, if you'd been married to Kay Graham you'd have probably shot yourself too."
The remark, which Smathers regretted, ruined his standing with the woman who became publisher of The Washington Post.
The first South Floridian to win statewide office, Smathers remained in the Senate until he retired in 1969. He served as chairman of the Democratic Campaign Committee in 1956 and ran the Senate as acting majority leader after his close friend and ally, Lyndon Johnson, suffered a heart attack.
Like other Southern Democrats, Smathers coddled segregationist white voters. He supported voting rights for blacks but sought to weaken other equal rights measures or simply vote against them, as he did with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said such matters were better left in the hands of the people.
"I don't like bigotry and intolerance," he said, according to Brian Lewis Crispell's 1999 biography "Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America." "But they do exist and I don't think you're going to get them out by passing laws."
He opposed Thurgood Marshall's nomination to the Supreme Court. He called the Brown v. Board of Education decision a "clear abuse of judicial power." And when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in St. Augustine, Smathers offered to pay the minister's bail, but only if he left the state.
While such positions led some to label Smathers a racist - those who knew him insist he was simply trying to keep his job - his expertise on Latin America made him an early advocate for the people of that region, if for nothing more than to quash communism's expansion.
Smathers consistently pleaded for more attention for Latin America. He pushed the Alliance for Progress, which pumped billions of dollars in additional aid to the region, and was among the earliest and loudest voices cautioning of Castro's communist leanings, urging a hard-line approach to Cuba and a total embargo on its goods...
The congressman badgered incumbent Sen. Claude Pepper on his support of civil rights and charged his pleas for patience with the Soviet Union made him a communist sympathizer. Scurrilous statements were uttered on both sides of the campaign, but the most famous remarks - innocuous declarations delivered to less-educated audiences to appear scandalous - may have never been uttered.
"Do you know that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert?" he was quoted as saying. "Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy."
The comments were recorded in a small magazine, picked up in Time and elsewhere and etched into the public's memories, but Smathers denied ever having made them. He offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could prove he did, but no one could.
Pepper's backers called Smathers - who had previously worked on his challenger's campaign - a fearmonger and a bigot whose tactics amounted to McCarthyism. But Smathers prevailed.