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The Nation

Watergate plotter may have a last tale

Two of E. Howard Hunt's sons say he knew of rogue CIA agents' plan to kill President Kennedy in 1963.

March 20, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

It had always been suspected that Hunt shared his Cuban exile friends' hatred of Kennedy, who refused to provide air cover to rescue the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that Hunt helped organize.

"He told me in no uncertain terms about a plot originating in Miami, to take place in Miami," said St. John. He said his father identified key players and speculated that then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was responsible for moving the venue to Dallas, where the Texan could control the security scene.

But the memoir's published passages about the assassination have an equivocal tone. Hunt provides only a hypothetical scenario of how events in Dallas might have unfolded, with Johnson atop a pyramid of rogue CIA plotters.

The brothers insist their father related to them a detailed plot to assassinate Kennedy. Hunt told them he was approached by the conspirators to join them but declined, they say.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 21, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
E. Howard Hunt: An article in Tuesday's Section A about E. Howard Hunt's knowledge of an alleged plot to kill President Kennedy said that Hunt's son -- Howard St. John Hunt -- was 19 years old at the time of the Watergate break-in. He was 18.

That information was cut from the memoir, the brothers say, because Hunt's attorney warned he could face perjury charges if he recanted sworn testimony. Hunt also had assured Laura before they married in 1977 that he had nothing to do with the assassination.

St. John said he respected his father's wishes while he was alive but felt no obligation now. He is writing a script about his father, and David is shopping for a publisher for their father's account of CIA involvement in the Kennedy shooting.

Despite the brothers' efforts, their father's role will probably never be known.

The materials they offer to substantiate their story, examined by the Los Angeles Times, are inconclusive.

Hunt answers questions on a videotape using speculative phrases, observing that various named figures were "possibly" involved. A chart Hunt sketched during one conversation with St. John shows the same rogue CIA operation he describes in the memoir. None of the accounts provides evidence to convincingly validate that their father disclosed anything revelatory.

Hunt's widow and her two children, 27-year-old Austin and 23-year-old Hollis, dismiss the brothers' story, saying it is the result of coaching an old man whose lucidity waxed and waned in his final months.

Kevan bitterly accuses her brothers of "elder abuse," saying they pressured their father for dramatic scenarios for their own financial gain. Hunt's longtime lawyer, Bill Snyder, says: "Howard was just speculating. He had no hard evidence."

St. John, who sports a mustache and longish graying coif combed back from a receding hairline, has a more personal reason to believe in his father's disclosures. He said he was instructed by Hunt in 1974 to back up an alibi for his whereabouts on the day Kennedy died, 11 years earlier.

"I did a lot of lying for my father in those days," St. John said.

The brothers, who both possess Hunt's piercing pale-blue eyes, concede they would like to profit from their father's story but insist he meant them to.

"My father died utterly unapologetic about anything he did," David said.

"People do that kind of thing all the time," St. John said of the prospect of making money from his father's deeds. Nor does he think the story will reflect badly on their father. "I don't think it was terrible that he was approached [with the assassination plot] and turned them down."

That Hunt, a skilled obfuscator, might have left contradictory accounts of the Kennedy plot to protect friends and preserve the mystery is not lost on his sons.

"That's the way spies are," David says with a wry smile, remembering a father he never really knew.

"They lead double lives and maintain cover."

*

carol.williams@latimes.com

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