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February 5, 2006
President Richard Nixon with Bebe Rebozo (left) and J. Edgar Hoover (center)
at the "Florida White House". Credit: National Archives.
By the time he became president in 1969, Richard Nixon had been on the giving and receiving end of major underworld favors for more than two decades. Watergate was just the tip of the iceberg.
by Don Fulsom
During the height of the Watergate scandal, Atty. Gen. John Mitchell's wife, Martha, sounded one of the first alarms, telling a reporter, ''Nixon is involved with the Mafia. The Mafia was involved in his election.''
White House officials privately urged other reporters to treat any anti-Nixon comments by Martha as the ravings of a drunken crackpot.
Time, however, has proved Mrs. Mitchell right.
Richard Nixon's earliest campaign manager and political advisor was Murray Chotiner, a chubby lawyer who specialized in defending members of the Mafia and who enjoyed dressing like them too, in a wardrobe highlighted by monogrammed white-on-white dress shirts and silk ties with jeweled stickpins. The monograms said MMC, because – perhaps to seem more impressive – he billed himself as Murray M. Chotiner, though, in reality, he lacked a middle name.
In this cigar chomping, wheeler-dealer, Nixon had found what future Nixon aide Len Garment called ''his Machiavelli – a hardheaded exponent of the campaign philosophy that politics is war.''
When Nixon went on to the White House, both as vice president, and later as president, he took Chotiner with him as a key behind-the-scenes advisor – and for good reason. By the time he became president in 1969, thanks in large part to Murray Chotiner's contacts with such shady figures as Mafia-connected labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, and Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen, Richard Nixon had been on the giving and receiving end of major underworld favors for more than two decades.
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