Paul Rogers, who died nearly four years ago, was one of the finest men Florida ever sent to Congress. The voters obviously thought so. He served 12 terms from 1955 to 1979, when he chose not to run again. He was the son of former Rep. Dwight Rogers and the uncle of Romney Rogers, current City of Fort Lauderdale commissioner.
Paul Rogers is best remembered as a prominent voice on medical issues, but he was also known as a steady, perceptive representative whose judgment was valued on many subjects. An example jumped off the page of one of the books I have been re-reading in anticipation of next year’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, which first appeared in two long articles in Gold Coast magazine in 1980. Fonzi had just finished five years working as an investigator for two government committees that, responding to doubts about the Warren Commission’s conclusion that a lone nut killed the president, had reopened the investigation into the crime.
Fonzi, one of the few investigators in the field, did most of his work in South Florida. He was the first man to connect the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, to a highly placed CIA officer. Fonzi, whose information came from a prominent anti-Castro Cuban, made a compelling case that Oswald was a CIA operative, but one of such little value that his own murder became part of the plot. That tells you everything you need to know. Fonzi’s work was a dramatic breakthrough that has led numerous subsequent researchers, working with witnesses who have come forward over the years and supported by gradually declassified documents, to persuade most Americans (70 percent and growing) that there was a government conspiracy to murder a president.
Early in his book Fonzi went into detail about the CIA’s activities with anti-Castro elements, which became such an extensive and well-funded network that it bordered on a government of its own. President Kennedy distrusted the agency after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and actually replaced its head, Allen Dulles, with a man he thought he could trust. Still, he suspected he was not in control of the country’s intelligence apparatus. He was, in a sense, at war with his own administration, specifically the intelligence agencies and military leaders who wanted to launch a nuclear war with the Soviet Union while it could still be won.
In 1963 few people knew that, and even members of Congress had no idea what the CIA was doing. For the most part, they did not give a damn. An exception was Paul Rogers. From Fonzi’s book:
There were few who had the foresight or knowledge to understand the significance of what was happening at the time, but one who did was Paul Rodgers [misspelled], a Democratic representative from Florida. As early as February of that year, Rodgers, citing some “serious kinks in our intelligence system,” had called for a Joint Congressional committee to oversee the CIA. “What proof have we,” he asked with uncanny presience, “that this Agency, which in many respects has the power to preempt foreign policy, is not actually exercising this power through practices which are contradictory to the established policy objectives of this Government.
Paul Rogers did not realize how important those words would become in the light of history. Nor did he realize that the “contradictory” practices might include the murder of his president. I actually reviewed Fonzi’s quotation of Paul Rogers in 1980. I did not catch the misspelling (a rare mistake by Fonzi) or even attach much importance to Rogers’ comment about the CIA, for at the time I probably did not know Paul Rogers existed. Years later the name meant something after I learned that the late Robert (Buddy) Lochrie, who became one of Fort Lauderdale’s more prominent citizens, had worked for 12 years for Rogers in Washington, and eventually became his chief of staff. Lochrie praised the man highly, and when a man as respected as Buddy Lochrie in turn tenders respect, you listen.
A footnote to this story, for those who wonder why witnesses took so long to come forward with information on the assassination: In fact, many came forward immediately, but they were ignored by the Warren Commission. Others were simply scared when witnesses began dying mysteriously. In illustration, almost any Cuban-American familiar with the era knows the name of Fonzi’s informant who connected Oswald to the CIA. His name has been in numerous books. But when I contacted him last year, he was reluctant to talk, almost 50 years after the event. He told me he had said enough.