President Kennedy and the Mob
By Michael M. Bates
Plans are moving forward to complete the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Known also as the Mob Museum, it will be an interactive attraction "dedicated to the history of organized crime and law enforcement." One of the displays, in the organized crime section of the museum rather than the law enforcement area, should feature President John F. Kennedy.
That's because the Outfit helped put him in the White House. Academics still captivated with the myth of Camelot may not buy that contention, but the evidence is pretty persuasive.
Tina Sinatra authored My Father's Daughter, a book about her father Frank, in 2000. In it, she details how Frank served as an intermediary between Chicago crime chief Sam "Momo" Giancana and JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy, in 1960.
Frank Sinatra had been a lifelong Democrat and close personal "swinging" buddy of the notoriously womanizing John Kennedy. If he had a reason to lie to his own daughter about the episode, the motive isn't obvious.
Joe Kennedy invited Frank to the Kennedy compound in early 1960. Tina writes:
"When Dad was summoned to Hyannis Port early that year, he assumed that Joe Sr. would be asking him to sing at a fund-raiser or two. But the Kennedy patriarch had a more ambitious plan in mind. The campaign had entered a critical phase. Jack needed to win the primary in West Virginia, a state with few Catholic voters, to knock out Hubert Humphrey. The Kennedys would need strong support from the mob-infested unions – which was where my father came in.
"As Joe Sr. cryptically explained, ‘You and I know the same people, and you know the people I mean.'
‘"Sure,' my father said. He didn't need to have the dots connected.
‘"I can't go to those people,' the old man went on. "It might come back at Jack. But you can. The best thing you can do for Jack is to ask for their help as a personal favor, to you. Keep us out of it.'"
Sinatra then scheduled a date with Giancana, on a golf course to reduce the possibility of getting recorded. Reminding Momo that he'd not asked for any favors before, he requested one now:
"Giancana looked him in the eye and said, ‘It's a couple of phone calls. And tell the old man I said hello.'"
Kennedy won the election and, appointing his minimally qualified brother Robert as attorney general, watched as his administration chased the Mob with vigor. Tina relates that her father "mollified" Giancana for his monumental blunder by performing with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin at an Outfit-owned Chicago nightclub. Interviewing Tina in 2000, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft reported: "Those Rat Pack members did eight shows - two shows a night for eight days. I'm told there are transcripts with jokes about them doing it for free."
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side of Camelot in 1997 included Tina Sinatra's recollections before her book was published. Hersh provided other particulars.
A former Chicago FBI agent wrote in his own book that the agency wiretapped Giancana discussing the Mob supporting Kennedy in exchange for leaving Momo alone.
Hersh interviewed a former Justice Department prosecutor and chief counsel to the House Assassinations Committee. He asserted that FBI bugs unambiguously demonstrated that enough votes were stolen to give Kennedy Illinois. He also avows that the Mob gave money to help Kennedy. "Can you say mob money made a difference? My judgment is yes."
Hersh also cites a memoir written by the woman who served as playmate to both Kennedy and Giancana. She quoted Sam as telling her: "Listen, honey, if it wasn't for me your boyfriend wouldn't even be in the White House."
Supplementary verification of the Outfit's interest in electing JFK was provided by the wife of mob financial wizard Murray Humphreys. She told Hersh her late husband called Joe Kennedy a four-flusher and double-crosser because of a previous experience involving bootlegging during Prohibition. Humphreys opposed helping his son win the White House. He was outvoted, however, and went along with the program, spending the two weeks before the election sequestered in the Chicago Hilton as he industriously worked to usher in the New Frontier. Mrs. Humphreys said, "I didn't know that a president could be elected on the whim of Chicago mobsters."
Bobby Kennedy later wondered if his brother's assassination were orchestrated by the Mob. Naturally, that idea needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, as do the theories that it was Fidel Castro or the CIA or Lyndon Johnson or the Federal Reserve or ant-Castro exiles or fill in the blank who completed that dastardly deed.
I have few doubts that the Outfit assisted Kennedy in winning the 1960 election. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for that story to be included in textbooks. The fable of Camelot lives on.
This Mike Bates column appeared in the January 15, 2009 Reporter Newspapers.