Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Forty-nine years ago today, on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza.
The assassination and subsequent slaying of shooter Lee Harvey Oswald shocked the country. In the five decades since, the assassination continues to capture the imagination of authors, filmmakers and the public. It has sparked hundreds of conspiracy theories and studies into who — if not Oswald — was behind Kennedy’s slaying.
Robert Blakey, an attorney who served in the Justice Department in the 1960s and worked on drafting the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act, served on the House Select Committee on Assassinations that was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of both Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
Unlike the earlier Warren Commission, which found Oswald acted alone, the House committee concluded its two-year investigation with a report stating Kennedy’s assassination was likely the result of a conspiracy.
Much of the evidence tied to the report was sealed from the public for 50 years. The committee specifically noted that it did not believe the conspiracy was orchestrated by the Soviet Union, Cuba, an organized crime group or any anti-Fidel Castro group but that the involvement of individual members of any of those groups could not be ruled out.
The committee consisted of 13 congressmen; Blakey served as its chief counsel and staff director from 1977 to 1979. Blakey helped draft the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 and later wrote a book about the assassination, “The Plot to Kill the President.”
Blakey, in Las Vegas on Nov. 13 for a lecture at the Mob Museum, sat down with the Sun for an interview about his knowledge of the assassination.
One of the things the House select committee did was review the investigations conducted at the time, including by the FBI, CIA and, later, the Warren Commission. What stuck out to you?
First of all it was not a (federal) crime at that time to shoot the president, except for it being murder. So the FBI had to have a predicate in order to do an investigation. (One of the) bullets hit the car, and that’s destruction of government property. So, the whole Kennedy investigation (by the FBI) was premised on the ... destruction of government property, but that meant that the people who (oversaw) it in the bureau were from the property desk, not organized crime, and not the security people. The organized crime people were in a position to look into it, and they were never asked. They were never tasked with the investigation, and I couldn’t believe it.
You worked on the legislation that allowed for electronic surveillance, which eventually led to federal wiretaps on suspected members of organized crime. What did you learn about the connections between politics and organized crime?
One of the taps was set up in the Westside Democratic Club in Chicago, and they heard the whole story of what was actually going on in a phone conversation that’s really interesting. It’s a conversation between (organized crime boss) Sam Giancana and the mob there and Roland Libonati, a congressman. They are discussing how many votes Libonati should hit in the next election, how much he should win by.
So Libonati says: ‘Well I want it to look a little better than that, I want it to look like a close race.”
What were your thoughts about the Kennedy assassination before you started work on the committee?
A lot of people working on investigating the assassination spent a lot of their time looking for a conspiracy. When I started work on the assassinations committee, I did not think the mob did it. I thought it would be too high of a risk factor for them, and I knew (FBI Director J. Edgar) Hoover had electronic surveillance on them.
I said to myself: ‘I’ll be a hero to the mob. I’ll prove they didn’t do it by getting all this surveillance.’
So I got, I think, (information from) six months before and eight months after the (assassination), and the next thing you know they start talking about whacking the president.
What were some of the more interesting things you heard?
There is one conversation in Philadelphia where assassination is mentioned and (Philadelphia organized crime boss) Angelo Bruno says: ‘No, no. We don’t do that.’ And he tells the old Sicilian story about what happens when you take a prince out. You get his son, and the son is worse than the prince. So you live with what we have, and that was the message.
That changed over time. It was very clear they were talking about it. They were thinking about it and they were very angry about it, and particularly they were angry with Kennedy and the reason they were angry with Kennedy is twofold. Giancana had gotten him votes in Chicago, and then what did he do? He put Bobby Kennedy in (as attorney general) and sicced him on them. That’s not good.
And, there were romantic relationships between John Kennedy … well there were romantic relationships between Kennedy and everybody.
There were two John Kennedys. There was the public John Kennedy, which everybody admires, and then there is the guy who is sick when it comes to women. But he had a relationship with a woman who was … also associated with Sam Giancana.
What conclusions did you come to after it was all over?
I think the mob set Oswald up as a patsy. It’s not that I think (Oswald) didn’t shoot (Kennedy), but that I think he was set up so (investigators) would focus on the Cuban connections (and not the mob). Did the mob do it? I don’t know for sure, but it explains more of the evidence than anything else.
You were a part of the Justice Department when Robert Kennedy was attorney general and vigorously went after organized crime. What happened after John F. Kennedy’s death?
Whether the mob killed Kennedy or not I couldn’t tell you, but they were the one element of society that profited the most by the assassination, because the (federal government’s) organized crime program basically collapsed.