THE MAFIA'S PRESIDENT: NIXON AND THE MOB
By Don Fulsom
St. Martin's / Thomas Dunne, $27.99, 304 pages
He was the 34th president of the United States and the only one forced from office by a scandal linked to a burglary.
Richard Nixon was a chilling man who surrounded himself from his early political days with sketchy company, and Don Fulsom leaves nothing out in this catalog of corruption and worse. Mr. Fulsom was a White House correspondent during the Nixon administration and has been teaching a class about Watergate at American University for the past eight years. His book is as chilling as his topic.
Mr. Fulsom portrays Richard Nixon as "a crooked politician" with deep links to the godfathers of the Mafia. That was how, he charges, the mob shot to the top of power and influence during the Nixon years. The pages of "The Mafia's President: Nixon and the Mob" are punctuated by the names doings of the underworld's most notorious, and high-ranking mobsters.
These include the powerful Santo Trafficante Jr., known as the "Silent Don," because while dressing like a bank president Trafficante always upheld the mob's vow of silence. He never ratted out his shady peers, but he regularly ordered hits on his enemies, and his tough-guy reputation thrived. Among the fellow mobsters bumped off on his orders, according to the author, were Brooklyn boss Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, Chicago boss Salvatore "Sam" Giancana and the influential mobster John "Handsome Johnny" Roselli.
By the time Mr. Nixon was elected president, various photographs of him holding hands with mob members surfaced. Mr. Fulsom, who is the former United Press International (UPI) bureau chief, charges that Mr. Nixon was, in fact "the patron saint of the Mafia in the White House." The author estimates that $400,000 to $2 million of Mafia money poured into Mr. Nixon's 1968 bid for the White House. Official post-election results put Mr. Nixon's total campaign spending at $25 million compared to the $5 million Hubert Humphrey spent.
And Mr. Fulsom makes some stunning allegations, asserting that the assassination of political rivals was within the realm of possibility for Mr. Nixon, the politician he describes as "the most violent man to occupy the Oval Office." He terms the sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks in 1968 as "the most wicked action in American history" and adds, "At the least Nixon could well have had insider's knowledge of what really happened in the streets of Dallas on that dreadful day of November 22, 1963." History will inevitably adjudicate that charge.
Mr. Fulsom writes bitterly of what he feels is still left out of the investigation of John F. Kennedy's death, and he takes a dim view of the proceedings of the Warren Commission. He questions the various conspiracy theories, but dismisses the idea that the assassination was carried out only by Lee Harvey Oswald. He is also critical of the performance of former President Gerald Ford, implying that Mr. Ford was one the doubters of the Warren findings yet had a lot to lose by not offering some backing to Mr. Nixon and the official assessment of what happened in Dallas.
It is clear from the book that Mr. Fulsom despises Mr. Nixon. But he takes pains to note that the reason he wrote the book so many years after the events it describes is because assembling the data, especially the missing facts crucial to finding the truth about the Kennedy assassination, required the time. The book was released before the secret documents about the Kennedy assassination were released last year.
But the national upheaval surrounding Kennedy's death does not eclipse the task at hand: following and chronicling the darkest crime figures of the 1960s, how they influenced a U.S. president and what intercessions were required.
One of the most interesting details of the book is the author's analysis of Mr. Nixon's brushes Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa and how Attorney General Richard Kleindienst acted to dissuade the president from becoming irreparably entangled.
There is no denying that the book reveals the author's singular obsession with the former president and his alliances. Mr. Fulsom writes, "The first inklings I had that Richard Nixon was somehow mixed up with the Mafia came during the 50 or so trips I made to cover the candidate, president-elect, and then president at his Key Biscayne, Florida, home."
But in the end, accusations, conspiracy theories and bad company aside, the book is about Richard Nixon, a president who continues to fascinate and frustrate easy assessments. Mr. Fulsom writes, "I have found that the best source for information on Nixon is Nixon himself, a chief executive whose haunting tape recorded schemes and rants still resonate through earphones at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda."
• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.