Watergate Figure E. Howard Hunt Dies
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; 8:17 AM
MIAMI -- He served as a Navy and CIA officer, and helped orchestrate a coup in Guatemala and the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, but E. Howard Hunt is best known as something he always said he wasn't: a Watergate burglar.
Hunt, who often said he preferred the term "Watergate conspirator," died Tuesday at the North Shore Medical Center in Miami after a lengthy bout of pneumonia, said his son, Austin Hunt. He was 88.
"I will always be called a Watergate burglar, even though I was never in the damn place," Hunt told The Miami Herald in 1997. "But it happened. Now I have to make the best of it."
Hunt was eventually jailed for helping plan the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, which led to the collapse of Richard Nixon's presidency.
While working for the CIA, Hunt recruited four of the five actual burglars _ Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Rolando Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis _ who had worked for him a decade earlier in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.
All four also had ties to Miami, where part of the Watergate plan was hatched. Hunt said the burglary's aim was to see whether Fidel Castro's Cuban regime had given money to the campaign of Nixon's Democratic opponent, George McGovern.
It hadn't, and the fallout from the break-in led to Nixon's resignation Aug. 9, 1974.
Twenty-five men were sent to prison for their involvement in the plan, and a new era of skepticism toward government began.
The Hunt recruits and James W. McCord Jr., security director for the Committee for the Re-election of the President, were arrested at the Watergate, and one of the burglars was found to have Hunt's White House phone number.
Hunt and fellow operative G. Gordon Liddy, along with the five arrested at the Watergate, were indicted on federal charges three months later. Hunt and his recruits pleaded guilty in January 1973, and McCord and Liddy were found guilty.
Hunt eventually spent 33 months in prison on a conspiracy charge, and said he was bitter that he was sent to jail while Nixon was allowed to resign.
"I felt that in true politician's fashion, he'd assumed a degree of responsibility but not the blame," he told The Associated Press in 1992. "It wasn't my idea to go into the Watergate."