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January 23, 2007

UPDATE: Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt dies at 88

MIAMI — E. Howard Hunt, who helped organize the Watergate break-in that led to the greatest scandal in American political history and the downfall of Richard Nixon’s presidency, died Tuesday. He was 88.

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

The elder 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,” Hunt told The Miami Herald in 1997. “But it happened. Now I have to make the best of it.”

While working for the CIA, Hunt recruited four of the five actual burglars — Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Rolando Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis, all who had worked for 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, Mr. Castro had been making substantial contributions to the McGovern campaign,” Hunt told CNN in February 1992. “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 huge political scandal.

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.

Hunt declined repeated interview requests from The Associated Press in the final years of his life, which he spent quietly in a modest home in Miami’s Biscayne Park neighborhood with his second wife, Laura.

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