- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — E. Howard Hunt, who helped organize the Watergate break-in, leading to the greatest scandal in American political history and the downfall of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency, died yesterday. He was 88.

Mr. Hunt died after a lengthy bout with pneumonia, according to his son, Austin Hunt.

The elder Mr. Hunt was many things: World War II soldier, CIA officer, organizer of both a Guatemalan coup and the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, and author of more than 80 books, many from the spy-tale genre.

Yet the bulk of his notoriety came from the one thing he always insisted he wasn’t — a Watergate burglar. He often said he preferred the term “Watergate conspirator.”

“I will always be called a Watergate burglar, even though I was never in the damn place,” Mr. Hunt told the Miami Herald in 1997. “But it happened. Now I have to make the best of it.”

While working for the CIA, Mr. Hunt recruited four of the five actual burglars — Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Rolando Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis, all whom had worked for Mr. Hunt a decade earlier in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

All four also had ties to Miami, where part of the Watergate plan was hatched.

“According to street gossip both in Washington and Miami, [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro had been making substantial contributions to the McGovern campaign,” Mr. Hunt told CNN in February 1992, referring to 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. “And the idea was … that somewhere in the books of the Democratic National Committee those illicit funds would be found.”

The idea was wrong, and the fallout escalated into a huge political scandal.

Mr. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974. Twenty-five men were sent to prison for their involvement in the botched plan, and a new era of skepticism toward government began.

“I had always assumed, working for the CIA for so many years, that anything the White House wanted done was the law of the land,” Mr. Hunt told People magazine for its May 20, 1974, issue. “I viewed this like any other mission. It just happened to take place inside this country.”

The Hunt recruits and James W. McCord Jr. were arrested June 17, 1972, at the Watergate office building.

Mr. Hunt and fellow operative G. Gordon Liddy, along with the five arrested at Watergate, were indicted on federal charges three months later. Mr. Hunt and his recruits pleaded guilty in January 1973, and Mr. McCord and Mr. Liddy were found guilty.

Mr. Hunt eventually spent 33 months in prison on a conspiracy charge and said he was bitter that he was sent to prison while Mr. 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.

Everette Howard Hunt was born Oct. 9, 1918, graduated from Brown University in 1940 and was commissioned as a Naval Reserve officer in Annapolis the following year. He served as a destroyer gunnery officer, was injured at sea and honorably discharged from the Navy.

From 1949 through 1970 he worked for the CIA, and was involved in the operation that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz as Guatemala’s president in 1954, plus the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

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