Was E. Howard Hunt Involved in the JFK Assassination?

Image Credit: Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Jr./YouTube

HBO’s ‘White House Plumbers’ is the depiction of the Watergate Scandal through the perspectives of two-foot soldiers of the disastrous operation: E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson) and G. Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux). Hailing respectively from the CIA and FBI backgrounds, Howard and Liddy are tasked to spy on the DNC as the 1972 Presidential Election approaches. They decide to place listening devices in the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C.

As the break-in is underway, Liddy begins speculating about who killed John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. He brings up that he believes Howard was the CIA Station Chief in Mexico when Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated Kennedy, was there.

Speculations and Lack of Concrete Proof

While speculations have been floating around since Howard was revealed to be an important figure in the Watergate Scandal, articles and books that have been published on the subject reportedly failed to prove beyond doubt that he was involved in the JFK assassination. Howard supported the findings of the Warren Commission, which concluded that Oswald acted alone. The recurring accusations he faced almost always stemmed from the belief that he was in Dallas, Texas, when Kennedy was assassinated there on November 22, 1963.

Image Credit: Phil Caruso/HBO

The first set of allegations claimed he was one of the “three tramps.” The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published photos of three transients escorted by the police. Assassination researchers Alan J. Weberman and Michael Canfield claimed that two of these transients looked like Howard and Frank Sturgis, one of the Watergate burglars. By then, there were already speculations about the transients’ involvement in the assassination. Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory brought this claim to national attention in 1975.

The United States President’s Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, also known as the Rockefeller Commission, investigated these allegations and reported that the witnesses who claimed that the two transients resembled Howard and Sturgis did not possess “any qualifications in photo identification beyond that possessed by an average layman.” Moreover, the report also mentioned that FBI Agent Lyndal L. Shaneyfelt, a renowned expert in photo identification and photo analysis, concluded the transients did not resemble Howard and Sturgis.

Image Credit: Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Jr./YouTube

Journalist Mary La Fontaine found the 1963 arrest records of three transients in 1992. There, the Dallas police identified them as Gus W. Abrams, Harold Doyle, and John F. Gedney. In his 1973 book ‘Compulsive Spy,’ which covers Howard’s career as a CIA operative, Tad Szulc, the New York Times foreign correspondent and author, wrote basically what Giddy states in ‘White House Plumbers.’ Howard was supposedly the CIA station chief in Mexico City in 1963, drawing the connection between him and Oswald as the latter visited the city in September 1963.

It was mentioned again in Weberman and Canfield’s 1975 book ‘Coup d’Etat.’ The Rockefeller Commission reported that they found “no credible evidence” linking the CIA to the Kennedy assassination and even stated that Hunt was never a station chief or an acting station chief in Mexico. Howard filed a $2.5 million libel suit against Weberman, Canfield, their editor, and the publisher, and later filed a legal action against Szulc, citing him for contempt if he didn’t reveal the sources for the allegations against Howard.

Szulc ultimately won the case, as United States District Judge Albert Vickers Bryan Jr stated Hunt failed to give enough reasons to override aspects of Szulc’s work protected by his First Amendment rights. Six days apart in August 1978, two articles published in the Liberty Lobby newspaper, The Spotlight, and the Sunday edition of The News Journal mentioned a 1966 CIA memo that connected Howard to the JFK assassination. Interestingly, Howard only sued Liberty Lobby for libel. Even though he initially won $650,000 in damages, the judgment was later overturned.

Afterward, Mark Lane, who represented the Liberty Lobby, declared that he convinced the jury of Howard’s involvement in the assassination, but some of the jurors who were interviewed later reportedly stated that the judgment they delivered was on the basis of whether the article recklessly disregarded the truth and not conspiracy theories. According to the former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected to the United Kingdom in 1992, the Russians fabricated a connection between Howard and Oswald to discredit the CIA.

In his memoir ‘The Idle Warriors,’ Kerry Thornley, A former Marine who served alongside Oswald, mentioned Howard, though he claimed to have known him at the time as Gary Kirstein. Howard passed away on January 23, 2007. His two sons, St. John and David, told various news outlets that their father confided to them about his involvement in the JFK assassination on his deathbed and even named several other players, including then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Other members of the family disputed this. Kevan Hunt accused her brothers of “elder abuse.” The Los Angeles Times reportedly investigated the claims made by the Hunt brothers and found them to be inconclusive.

Read More: Where Are E. Howard Hunt’s Kids Now?