23. “A Single Man's Monomania”

Title Quote: G. Robert Blakey

In November 1980, Fonzi penned an article for the Washingtonian magazine excoriating the HSCA and implying that Phillips was Bishop despite Veciana’s unequivocal denials and sworn testimony to the contrary. The article reportedly weighed in at a nearly book length 80,000 words and much of the text eventually found its way into his tome The Last Investigation published thirteen years later. The name “Phillips” was mentioned in the piece only one-third as often as Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Phillips’ friend Joe Goulden noted that the circumstances surrounding the publication of the article represented, “one of the more flagrant instances of journalistic malpractice in the Washington media.” Amazingly, while Fonzi was busy preparing his magnum opus that charged Phillips with being a rogue CIA operative, Phillips himself was working in the same building on his own projects for the Washingtonian. Equally remarkable was the fact that Washingtonian editor Jack Limpert fully understood Phillips had been “agitated” by similar accusations in Anthony Summers’ book since he told Limpert that he needed a deadline extension for one of his articles since he found it “difficult to concentrate” due to the allegations. Despite all of this, when Phillips and Goulden attended a dinner at Limpert’s home shortly before publication of the article, Limpert never uttered a word about Fonzi’s inflammatory piece.1

Limpert would later claim that he did not need to speak to Phillips since Fonzi already had. But that assertion is “not quite accurate” according to Goulden who writes that Fonzi only briefly spoke to Phillips during the HSCA investigation and neither Fonzi nor Limpert provided Phillips with an opportunity to rebut the charges made against him in the article.2 Even conspiracy researcher Bill Kelly, who has frequently written articles criticizing Phillips and the CIA, admits that Fonzi “wasn’t perfect” and more specifically “was wrong” when he made the choice not to talk to Phillips. Needless to say, Phillips did not look kindly on the article and filed suit against Fonzi, and the Washingtonian. Phillips ultimately lost his case because as a public figure by virtue of his work with the AFIO, the burden of proof for libel was much greater.

Fonzi’s article drew a chorus of critical responses from both HSCA leaders and the folks at Langley. Scott Breckenridge of the CIA’s Office of Legislative Counsel, who served as the principal coordinator with the HSCA, told a coworker that “This young man (trained in the Schweiker school of investigation) seems to have fastened on the CIA/Veciana thesis early on, his single-mindedness leaving little room for analytical balance. He simply knew [emphasis in original] that CIA was involved, and the rest didn’t matter much.”

G. Robert Blakey, HSCA Chief Counsel, regretted carrying Fonzi over from the Church Committee and quipped that staff members referred to him as “Ahab” and his quest to tie the CIA to the assassination as the pursuit of “Moby Dick.” Blakey also said, “Suffice it to say that he was not hired by me, as he was so lacking in professional objectivity that I would never have employed him in the first instance … he had come upon a lead that purported to connect Lee Harvey Oswald to the CIA ... [and] was convinced that he had the answer to the meaning of the President's death ... Nonetheless, I decided to retain him because I thought that his obsession would help assure that his aspect of the committee's investigation would receive its full due … Mr. Fonzi's article, in short, is not the truth about the committee's investigation but a sad self-revelation of a single man's monomania.”3

HSCA Deputy Chief Counsel Gary Cornwell said, “It does not take a careful reading of [the article] … to realize that Fonzi's intent was to discredit the investigation ... nor must a reader be especially well versed on the subject … to recognize that Fonzi … had his own pet theory about the assassination—one that he had acquired before the Committee even existed … the article does … contain severe distortions of fact and fallacies in reasoning which may have escaped the attention of the casual reader … [the article is] one man’s speculation about the CIA and his opinion of the Committee.”4 Congressman Richardson Preyer, the Chairman of the HSCA subcommittee on the JFK assassination wrote Phillips saying, “I can understand your concern over the Fonzi article. Mr. Fonzi’s views are not shared by me nor, I think, by the Committee. I believed your testimony and did not find the testimony of Veciana credible.”5

Probably the harshest criticism of Fonzi was leveled by HSCA staff member Michael Ewing, who wrote Phillips saying, “Enclosed is a copy of a letter to The Washingtonian that I’ve written in response to their article of several months ago by Gaeton Fonzi … I wouldn’t want you to think that there are many of us who think like … Fonzi … I would like you to know that Fonzi’s writing does not reflect the views of responsible former members of the Select Committee.” Ewing told Phillips that he felt the HSCA investigation of the Bishop story was justified and that he hoped Phillips would eventually undergo a polygraph examination to further that end. Considering Ewing’s statements, it is evident that he was a fair-minded staff member who simply disagreed with Fonzi’s investigatory methods and conclusions.

Ewing’s eight-page letter to Limpert contains an insider’s view of Fonzi’s time at the Church Committee and the HSCA. Ewing begins by telling Limpert that Fonzi’s article was “a mean spirited and embittered hatchet-job, almost as full of rancorous inaccuracy and distortion as it was of juvenile self-delusion.” Ewing went on to say “… there can be little doubt that Fonzi’s qualifications and background were exaggerated in the extreme when he presented his ‘diary’ [the Washingtonian article] to you for publication.”

Regarding the Washingtonian’s characterization of Fonzi, Ewing wrote “Fonzi is not and never has been ‘the government’s top investigator’ on the Kennedy case …”, adding that he “had very little to do with the committee’s investigation and report … he was not substantively involved in the Senate committee probe and never worked from the committee offices.” Ewing also told Limpert “from my own contact with the Church Committee staff, I know that Fonzi’s investigative work and conclusions were generally dismissed out of hand and were not viewed as substantive (or reliable) enough for inclusion in the Senate Committee’s landmark report of 1976.”

Finally, Ewing explained to Limpert that Fonzi had only incorporated only about “one-half” of his personal conclusions regarding the JFK case in the Washingtonian article. “It isn’t any wonder,” Ewing wrote, “that he chose not to include [all of his beliefs] in his published attack on the committee.” According to Ewing, in “late March of 1978,” Fonzi’s list of conspirators in the JFK assassination included at least the following:

  • Marita Lorenz (former girlfriend of Castro).
  • Gerald Patrick Hemming (mercenary).
  • Jack Ruby.
  • Orlando Bosch (Cuban exile linked to a 1976 airliner bombing).
  • The Novo brothers.
  • Edwin Phillips (David’s brother).
  • Frank Sturgis (Watergate burglar).
  • E. Howard Hunt.
  • Pedro Diaz Lanz (friend of Sturgis and Lorenz).
  • Fidel Castro.
  • Santos Trafficante (mafia boss).
  • Richard Helms.

“Owing to the number and variety of purported conspirators,” Ewing quipped, “… one member of the staff came to dub Fonzi’s beliefs as the ‘Mormon Tabernacle Choir theory’.”

Moreover, criticism of Fonzi was not limited to CIA supporters and his HSCA peers. The late Harold Weisberg was a noted Warren Commission critic, assassination researcher and author of several books. In an unpublished manuscript, Weisberg wrote, “Fonzi’s big thing is his preconception that one Antonio Veciana, who was an anti-Castro leader, worked for the CIA. Fonzi gives no proof of this. He merely assumes it and his book and his criticisms are based on it.” Later in the same manuscript, Weisberg stated, “[Fonzi] began with a preconception, and devoted all his … effort to breathing life into it.”6

The CIA conducted an internal investigation of Fonzi to determine if his Washingtonian article violated the secrecy agreement he signed with the agency at the time of his government employment. The key in verifying Fonzi’s culpability in the matter was whether he had relied exclusively on classified material as a source. The CIA found that “although it might be impossible to prove that any of the information used by Fonzi came exclusively from agency files, the information related to operations in Mexico City has never been declassified by the agency.” Nevertheless, the CIA declined to prosecute Fonzi and instead sought to issue a "protest" to the clerk of the House of Representatives to “prevent any of the other former HSCA staff members from 'going public' without first having their material reviewed by the Agency.”

While Phillips was satisfied by his legal triumphs over Freed and Landis and the Observer, there was, as he predicted, “more to come.” In 1985 Phillips saw the galley proofs for the book Reasonable Doubt by Henry Hurt which repeated the Maurice Bishop claims. Phillips asked for 2000 words in the book to refute the allegations but was informed that it had already gone to press. Phillips then asked for 2000 words in any future editions of the work. A lawyer from the publishers informed Phillips that he was a public figure “established under the New York Times case and its progeny.” Phillips then offered to sign a “legal document” promising not to sue anyone connected to the book if he could have his 2000-word rebuttal. Phillips never heard back from the publisher.


Notes

1. Joseph C. Goulden. “What Cuban Defectors Revealed.” Washington Times, April 30, 2012, B4.
2. Joseph C. Goulden. “What Cuban Defectors Revealed.” Washington Times, April 30, 2012, B4.
3. Letters to the Editor, the Washingtonian, February 1981, 22.
4. The Congressional Record, April 30, 1981.
5. Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, 1202.
6. Weisberg, “Inside the Assassination Industry,” Chapter 43. Weisberg’s criticism was of The Last Investigation rather than the Washingtonian article, but the point is still valid since the book is merely an expanded version of the article. To be fair, Weisberg was critical of several conspiracy researchers besides Fonzi.

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