Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. And investigative reporter Dan Moldea had a doozy: The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was arranged by union boss Jimmy Hoffa and the Mafia. Outrageous? Sure, but in this case, none less than the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations agreed that the Hoffa and the mob had the motive, means and opportunity to kill the president.
Hoffa and the mob are just a few of the stories that Moldea has written about in his decorated, if not controversial, career as a muckraker. His book, Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer, is one part memoir and one part history lesson.
No one will ever say that Moldea is a man of few words. Here is our unabridged conversation with him about his book.
POGO: You've had a long career as a journalist, is there anything you had to cut out of Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer because of space? Is there anything in your memoir that you struggled over whether to include? Something that might be embarrassing to yourself, a family member, friend or source?
Moldea: During my libel suit against the New York Times over its lying review of my 1989 book about professional football and the Mafia, my attorney, Roger Simmons, told me to get prepared to defend my life against the most influential newspaper in the world. He also warned that I would be portrayed as a villain in the media which had a vested interest in the outcome of my case in which we wanted opinion writers to be held to the same standards of accuracy as news reporters.
And Roger was right. We saw raw power come at us like a rifle shot.
That was when I started to write Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer. It has been almost a quarter of a century in the making.
In this book, I really tried hard to create a truly honest self-portrait of a fiercely independent investigative journalist in which I am not always the hero and too often look foolish after some of the more questionable decisions I’ve made.
For instance, I do discuss my case against the New York Times—which some of my closest friends advised me against filing—even though it took an unprecedented moment in American jurisprudence to defeat me when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit took away my momentary victory against the Times in May 1994 in a bizarre decision that has been called Moldea II.
Just to be clear, I am a creation of the New York Times which gave birth to my professional life when I was twenty-eight years old in a story it published on June 29, 1978—probably the greatest day of my life. The newspaper then destroyed me in September 1989 with the review that became the subject of Moldea v. New York Times. Then, showing what a classy operation it is, the Times resurrected me from the dead in the spring of 1995 with not one but two rave reviews—a daily and a Sunday—for my next book about the murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Regarding the RFK case, for many years, I had published articles and went on national television, insisting that two guns had been fired at the crime scene. And it was on that basis that I received my book contract from W.W. Norton. However, after reinvestigating the case—including my three chilling face-to-face interviews with Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted murderer—I concluded that I had been wrong and that Sirhan had acted alone.
That was a very embarrassing situation for me—even though I was the one who had discovered and corrected my own miscalculations about the official investigation of the murder.
What I learned from this experience was, if one does not account for occasional official mistakes and incompetence, then nearly every such crime could appear to be a conspiracy, particularly if a civilian investigator—like me, with limited access and resources—is looking for one.
To its great credit, Norton still released the book—after I had rewritten it to be like an episode of Columbo, in which the reader knows in advance who committed the crime and the adventure was not so much in the destination but during the trip to get there.
I also tell the untold story of how I helped to save Bill Clinton’s presidency by handling the investigation offering a million-dollar reward—the motherlode of checkbook journalism—for porn king Larry Flynt that led to the dramatic resignation of U.S. Speaker of the House-Designate Bob Livingston (R-Louisiana) on the day of the President’s impeachment on December 19, 1998.
Four days earlier, I had found and flipped Livingston’s mistress—who, by the way, refused to accept any money. But I do not disclose in my book to whom I made the phone call that set that final act in motion—although it was not anyone close to the President, his legal team, or his staff.
Immediately, with the hypocrisy of the President’s critics, like Livingston, made public in the wake of the impeachment vote, Clinton’s approval rating skyrocketed to 73 percent, while calls for his resignation virtually ceased.
Meantime, I continued my work to expose other political figures who had conflicting standards of private behavior for public officials. They included five of the thirteen House Managers, who served as the President’s prosecutors during the Senate trial.
Obviously, I was banging against and even crossing all kinds of ethical and moral perimeters with what I was doing. And I discuss these dilemmas, as well as my own sins, quite openly in my book.
In the wake of the President’s acquittal, I faced possible indictment after the Republican National Committee filed criminal charges against me with the Department of Justice for felony obstruction of Congress, jury tampering, and blackmail. But I viewed what was happening as a blatant right-wing attempt to overthrow the executive branch of the United States Government, and I thought that this was important enough for me to risk being destroyed.
POGO: You were nicknamed a “guerrilla writer” by one of your producers at NBC. You defined the term as an “advocacy journalist, an investigative reporter who embraces a particular cause and openly takes sides.” Forty years later, you’re still using the term to identify yourself- why do you think it describes you so well?
Moldea: By describing me as a “guerrilla writer,” that NBC producer, Stanhope Gould, wasn’t giving me a compliment. To all intents and purposes, he was criticizing me for taking sides as an independent journalist, specifically by aligning myself with the rank-and-file reform movement within the then Mafia-controlled Teamsters Union.
To that I plead guilty. Certainly, I remained objective about any evidence I received. But, to me, the good guys and the bad guys were clearly distinguishable in that case, and I did, indeed, actively support the good guys—specifically, the pro-union reformers. I never felt compromised.
In fact, I ended up cooperating very openly with a federal grand jury investigation against some of these bad guys—after they had threatened my father. In the immediate aftermath of my cooperation with the FBI and federal prosecutors, a $1,500 contract came out on my life.
As I reveal in my book, I was more upset by the price than I was about the contract—which I obviously survived.
The only other time I cooperated with law-enforcement officials during an actual prosecution was after a backup hit man confessed his role to me about the murder of a prominent businessman and, in the process, implicated an alleged Mafia figure in the conspiracy. Long story short, the hitter and I had an agreement as to when and how I could use his confession for a book I was writing. And I memorialized that interview, along with the agreement, on tape.
When the reputed Mafia guy was indicted for the murder, the hit man wound up on his witness list—to testify that the mobster played no role in the crime. Knowing that I had completely fulfilled my obligations under our agreement, I went to the prosecutor and told him that I had the backup hit man on tape, confessing to his own crime while implicating the alleged Mafia guy.
All hell broke loose when the tape was revealed. There was almost a mistrial, and I was nearly sent to jail for contempt. In the end, both the hit man and the reputed Mafia guy were convicted and did over twenty years.
And I have no regrets about taking sides on that matter either.
In short, I have always been very open about the causes in which I believe. I announce my biases publicly. So, with my brand of guerrilla journalism, the reader gets full disclosure.
I should add that I also tell the story about the sad case of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called “D.C. Madam,” who asked me to write her memoir while she was under a federal racketeering indictment. Jeane had an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and even spent a year in law school—although she did have a pandering conviction for which she spent some time in prison.
During my research with Jeane, who really shook this town up, I discovered the number of U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) in her phone logs and then leaked the story to Time magazine, which caused yet another now-familiar hypocrisy scandal involving a family-values conservative. I was widely credited for breaking that story.
Incredibly, Vitter—who, at the very least, should have been named as an unindicted coconspirator in Jeane’s criminal case—survived and was reelected in 2010 in a state where its former governor, Edwin Edwards, once claimed that the only unforgivable sin was to be caught “with either a dead girl or a live boy.” And, of course, Vitter has since announced that he will be running for governor of Louisiana in 2015.
In Jeane’s case, after her conviction in 2008, she took an overdose of pills but did not die. Failing to end her life in that manner, she then hanged herself at her mother’s home in Florida a few days later—after she had handwritten two lengthy suicide notes to her mother and sister.
Shortly before her death, Jeane, whom I liked and respected, told me on no fewer than three different occasions that she would kill herself before returning to prison. Each time, I reported the threats to her attorneys—who already knew that she was at risk if convicted.
POGO: You famously concluded that Jimmy Hoffa in a conspiracy with known mobsters was behind JFK's assassination. Is there a greater lesson that we should take away from that episode in American history as it relates to power and government secrecy?
Moldea: By definition, organized crime is enterprise crime, conspiracy crime, and crime by association. Consequently, I have investigated a lot of conspiracies during my career.
My contribution to the JFK murder investigation was that in my 1978 book, The Hoffa Wars, I was the first person to make the case that Jimmy Hoffa and two Mafia figures—Carlos Marcello of New Orleans and Santo Trafficante of Tampa—had likely arranged and executed the murder of President Kennedy in November 1963. A year after the release of my book, the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Hoffa, Marcello, and Trafficante had the “motive, means, and opportunity” to kill the President. The chief counsel of the committee declared, “The mob did it. It’s a historical fact.”
And I certainly continue to believe that.
In my opinion, the President was murdered because of the relentless assault against Hoffa and the Mafia by Attorney General Robert Kennedy—who, I believe, was the greatest crime fighter this country has ever had. And I also believe that the President’s murder sprang out of the CIA-inspired plots with the Mafia to murder Fidel Castro during which the Mafia successfully compromised the intelligence agency.
If former CIA Director Allen Dulles, who authorized these plots, had spoken up during his tenure as a member of the Warren Commission and simply said, “Hey guys, by the way, the CIA worked with the Mafia to murder Castro,” I am absolutely certain that a whole new avenue of investigation would have been created—and that the President’s murder, probably the most daunting mystery in American history, would have been solved a long time ago.
To me, the secrecy that revolved around the CIA’s cooperation with the Mafia in these plots was demonstrably corrupting to the United States Government—as was the Iran-Contra scandal.
I wrote a 1986 book—Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob, published in the midst of Reagan’s second term but before the Iran-Contra disclosures—in which I alleged that Reagan had been influenced by people associated with organized crime throughout his career. And that some of his appointments and policies while in the White House had been influenced by these associations, such as CIA Director William Casey and Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, among several others.
I believed that Reagan’s widely-touted war against organized crime and his stand against drugs were nothing more than charades and public-relations campaigns. And, immediately after the Iran-Contra story broke, I went on national television and said, “I think that this entire [Iran-Contra] situation, when it bottoms out, will bottom out into drugs. . . . That there were people who were selling drugs to purchase weapons for the Contras as part of their eleemosynary activity. And then there were those who were more mercenary about it, selling drugs for profit, using the Contras as a cover for their operations. I think that the entire scenario—where you talk about missing millions of dollars, laundered money, Swiss bank accounts—is going to bottomline at drugs."
In short, I believe that Iran-Contra and the CIA-Mafia plots against Castro were two of the biggest intelligence disasters in this nation’s history—and I don’t think we have ever recovered from either of these scandals which were born in secrecy and thrived in a swamp of official corruption and organized crime.
POGO: A lot of your work has focused on organized crime. In these post-John Gotti years, the mob seems to have done a good job staying off the front page. Do you think their influence in America has waned? Or is it a lack of good investigative journalism?
Moldea: When I published my book about the NFL and the Mafia in 1989—which, incidentally, has just been re-released as an eBook by Open Road Media—the most sophisticated piece of machinery I saw in any bookmaking joint was a hand-cranked adding machine.
Now, twenty-five years later, Mafia guys are no longer knuckle-dragging, eighth-grade dropouts. These guys are Wharton grads and Harvard MBAs who employ very elaborate uses of computer hardware and software, as well as high-tech scams on the Internet from their corrupt operations in countries outside the reach of U.S. law.
Over the years here in America, nearly everyone has called for the intangible "War on Drugs," which nobody can figure out how to win. And yet there is no one calling for a war against organized crime which has now been completely eclipsed by the equally intangible “War on Terrorism” where the terrorists are actively engaging in traditional organized-crime activities to finance their terror operations.
The problem with waging a real war against organized crime—whether as a public official, a reporter, or a private citizen—is political. The left balks at any suggestion of electronic surveillance, which, unfortunately, is the only effective means of gathering intelligence against organized crime. Among other things, you must bug these guys. You must wiretap them.
Meantime, the right has a tendency to decentralize power from the federal government down to state and local levels. Because of decentralization, organized-crime figures have, in many cases, enjoyed relationships with state and local political figures—with all of this newfound power—within their own jurisdictions.
Consequently, mob guys have an uncanny ability to be civil libertarians and support right-wing causes simultaneously.When I want to interview a Mafia guy, I don't walk up to him and ask, “Hey Vito, how did you knock off Rocco." Instead, I go up to him and say that I want to talk about how his civil rights are being violated by the federal government. I have never met a mob guy who is not against wiretapping or not in favor of strong personal privacy laws—and I have bored for hours by mob guys whining about the alleged impingements upon their rights and freedoms by the FBI and IRS.
POGO: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Moldea: For the past twelve years, I have been smack in the middle of the fallout from the so-called, “Hollywood wiretapping scandal,” which featured the criminal activities of a Los Angeles private detective named Anthony Pellicano, once known as the “Sleuth to the Stars.” Directly or indirectly, he had worked for everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Michael Jackson and from Tom Cruise to Chris Rock.
Even though Pellicano has been convicted on federal conspiracy charges and is doing time in a Texas prison, the consequences from this caper continue to resonate. And they have become the centerpiece of my latest book project for which I am uniquely positioned because of my proximity to the principals involved in this drama. But, frankly, it has been the most difficult and painful work I have ever written.
I am hoping that the Pellicano book will be released in the fall of 2015.
Also, for the past 39 years, I have continued to investigate the 1975 disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, which was the subject of my first book in 1978. In fact, at this very moment, I am pursuing a lead which, if verified, could be an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle of this unsolved murder case, which sooner or later, I believe, must be solved.
An American citizen vanished in broad daylight from a public street in a major city without a trace. There are countries where that is a daily occurrence—but it cannot be tolerated in America. And I believe that it’s legitimate for the FBI, as well as journalists like me, to keep investigating and searching when the evidence, the timelines, and the cast of characters are right.
On this matter, I am relentless. After all of these years, I am Ahab, and the Hoffa case is still my white whale.
In addition, believing that everything old will become new again—especially if Hillary Clinton runs for President—I plan to re-release my 1998 book, A Washington Tragedy: How the Suicide of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm, well ahead of the 2016 Presidential election. During my research for that work, I collected clear evidence that a dishonest cabal of Clinton-haters—who shared information, covered up each other’s mistakes, fabricated evidence, and received their funding from the same source—had tried to portray Foster’s death as a murder in their cynical effort to undermine the authority of the Clinton White House.
And many of these same people have been front and center as part of the attack machine against President Barack Obama, and they will surely be clear and present during Hillary Clinton’s anticipated campaign for President. To be sure, I plan to be right in the middle of this battle.
Then, after that upcoming fight, I should be weary enough of the dark and treacherous world of probing American politics to be willing to return to the serenity and tranquility of investigating the Mafia—where I began my career and where the good guys and the bad guys are more clearly distinguishable.
I hope you enjoy Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer.