WASHINGTON -- As the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's death nears, former presidential candidate Gary Hart, a member of the Senate committee that investigated JFK's assassination, said that the press had failed in its responsibility to investigate the truth behind his killing.
Hart served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Agencies, known as the Church committee, after chairman Frank Church. He recalled that while the committee was investigating the connection between the assassination, the Mafia and plots against Cuban President Fidel Castro, two of the three main figures involved were also killed.
"It's amazing to me that American journalism never followed up on that story very much, because if you found out who killed those two guys, you might have some really interesting information on your hands," Hart, who served as a Democratic senator from Colorado for two terms, told HuffPost in a recent interview.
There were "all kinds of leads" -- had reporters followed them, he said. "I went down to Miami when [Johnny] Roselli was killed and talked to this Dade County sheriff from the Miami Police Department, and they showed me pictures of him being fished out of the water in the barrel and how he'd been killed -- nightmarish stuff. And [Momo Salvatore] Giancana was killed in his own basement with six bullet holes in his throat with a Chicago police car and an FBI car outside his house," he recounted.
According to CIA documents released in 2007, the agency hired Johnny Roselli, a high-ranking mobster, to eliminate Fidel Castro, offering to pay him $150,000. Roselli reportedly declined the money and worked with former FBI agent Robert A. Maheu; Giancana, Al Capone's Chicago mob successor; and Santo Trafficante Jr., a mobster involved in Cuban operations, to unsuccessfully poison Castro with pills. Roselli disappeared soon after testifying before the Church committee, and his body was found inside an oil drum near North Miami Beach. Giancana was found dead at his Chicago home before he could testify to the Church committee.
While alive, Giancana and Roselli also reportedly communicated with Kennedy. In a 1988 interview with People Magazine, Judith Campbell Exner claimed she had an affair with the president, and that during that relationship she served as a courier between the president and Roselli and Giancana. The president's brother, Robert Kennedy -- then-attorney general -- called for an investigation on Giancana.
The deaths of Roselli and Giancana in 1975 and 1976 occurred amid the Church committee's ongoing investigations surrounding Kennedy's assassination. That coincidence, Hart said, was suspicious enough to warrant press attention, and he was surprised that the press didn't jump on the story.
"I was always amazed in that particular instance of the CIA-Mafia connection and the Cuban connection 12 years -- coming up 12 years -- after Kennedy was killed that somebody didn't go after that story," he said. "New York Times, Washington Post; anybody. And they didn't. They reported the deaths and that was it, and the strange quirky coincidence, you know, but nothing more."
For Hart, the uncanny series of events roughly 12 years after Kennedy's death was less of a coincidence than an indication that people -- including Giancana -- knew more than they were letting on.
"You don't have to be a genius to believe that they knew something about the coincidence of events -- Cuba, Mafia, CIA and Kennedy -- that somebody didn't want that out in the public 12 years later," Hart said.
At a time when his Church committee was uncovering plots against the Cuban president and the CIA's use of the Mafia in those plots, Hart was privy to other peculiarities as well.
According to Hart, the Warren Commission -- the presidential commission charged with investigating Kennedy's assassination that concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone -- remained unaware of the connections between Cuba, the CIA, the Mafia and Kennedy. Only then-CIA director Allen Dulles, who was on the commission, knew, according to Hart, but Dulles said nothing to the other members.
Hart also heard from William Robert Plumlee -- a former CIA contract pilot who gave classified testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then chaired by John Kerry, in the '90s -- about how he believed Kennedy was really killed. Plumlee told Hart that he'd flown a plane to Texas days before the president's assassination and had later come to believe that several people on board were connected to the murder. A report by TV producer Robert Vernon claimed that Plumlee testified that the flight -- with Roselli on board -- was an attempt to thwart the Kennedy assassination.
Hart tried to uncover the truth about the Kennedy assassination and the "big unanswered questions." He said he worked with fellow Church committee member and former Sen. Richard Schweiker (R-Penn.), but ultimately ran out of resources and leads. During an ill-fated presidential bid in the 1980s, Hart vowed he'd reopen the Kennedy investigation if elected. In retrospect, he said it "was probably a stupid thing to do," citing death threats he received.
Fifty years later, the danger of digging into cases such as Kennedy's assassination is not lost on Hart. In his chiding of the press and its failure to seize the opportunity to reveal the truth about Kennedy's death, he admits that revealing such a truth -- even as a journalist -- could have dire consequences.
"You risk your life because whoever killed these two guys is still out there," Hart said.