There’s something deeply wrong about taking down the reputation of a man, dead and defenseless for half a century, and hoisting in its place a manufactured disgrace to wave as ‘investigative journalism’ over a false narrative ~Diana West
… a ruthless writer … willing to jam far more salacious anti-facts through the gears of message-manipulation ~Diana West
A few weeks ago, Diana West “published Part One of ‘Fact-Checking Whitney Webb.‘” She was gracious enough to let me republish Part One here on Barely A Blog, having begun this “occasional series at Webb’s behest.” “‘Fact-check my endnotes,’ the author of One Nation Under Blackmail has said, her interviewers’ mouths agape with her clinical tales of sodomy and gommorah. Everything I’m saying/writing has a source.”
Really? OK. A more pertinent question is whether these sources are credible.
BY DIANA WEST
I began this investigation examining the sources for Webb’s X-rated claims that J. Edgar Hoover wore women’s clothing during homosexual orgies at a midtown Manhattan landmark, and was snapped in photos during homosexual encounters which (1) “intelligence” and “organized crime” used to blackmail him, and (2), in turn, impelled him to blackmail others.
In Part One, I demonstrated that Webb’s sources for these claims are non-credible.
Webb’s reply to these initial findings, I regret to say, fell into the ad hominem category — although I realize that applying a Latin phrase to a cartoon-strip thought-bubble on Twitter is something of a stretch. Tweeting to her quarter-mill followers, Webb called me a “Neocon historian” when I am neither; said I “smeared” her book when I exposed what was untrustworthy about her key sources; and then argued that I had ignored a video-rebuttal she made before I unearthed most of the evidence marshaled in Part One. Finally, and quite significantly, she failed to link to Part One to allow readers to judge the matter for themselves.
One more thing: Webb suggested to her Tweeps that my Part One on Hoover was suspect because it did not also discuss other persons in the Hoover orbit. “Telling that she won’t touch the evidence on Lew Rosenstiel and Roy Cohn,” she tweeted.
“Won’t touch”? Onto the evidence on Lewis Rosenstiel.
FBI Director Hoover is a historically significant figure. Lewis Rosenstiel? Who is Lewis Rosenstiel? On his death in 1976 at age 84, the headline over Rosenstiel’s obituary in the New York Times hailed the “founder of the Schenley empire.” Because half a century later, the Schenley empire is a lost empire, here follows a big chunk of that obit. Skim it, if you like; I’ve included more rather than less to provide some dimension to Webb’s stick figure in a black hat.
A domineering man with a quick temper, Mr. Rosenstiel was at one time the most powerful figure in the distilled spirits business. His fight for supremacy in his industry with the late Samuel Bronfman, head of Seagrams Ltd., were legendary and often erupted into bitter personal and corporate battles.
Called Lew by friends and “the chairman” by associates. Mr. Rosenstiel was a self-made man. Not only did he achieve great success in business without a college education, but he also taught himself how to play the piano and to paint in oils. He enjoyed performing, mathematical exercises and would sometimes engage his associates in the exercise of computing the advertising line rates of newspapers throughout in the country.
“I learn most from studying trends,” he once said. “I have ideas, but I also know you can run out of ideas.”
Hurt in Scrimmage
Lewis Solon Rosenstiel was born in Cincinnati on July 21, 1891, the only child of Solon and Elizabeth Johnson Rosenstiel. He attended the University School and Franklin Prep there and had two ambitions as a teenaager—to become an All-America football player and a physician.
These goals were put aside in 1907, after he was kicked in the face during a football scrimmage and his eyesight was affected. His doctors recommended that he leave school until the injury was completely healed, and he never returned.
Mr. Rosenstiel went to work for an uncle, David L. Johnson, who owned the Susquemac Distilling Company in Milton, Ky. One of his first jobs there was as a belt splicer on big dynamos for $3.50 a week. When he retired from Schenley, his salary was more than $250,000 a year, and he was a multimillionaire.
When Prohibition came in 1920, Mr. Rosenstiel turned to other jobs, including such unrelated activities as selling bonds and shoes. In 1922, while on a vacation on the French Riviera, he met Winston Churchill, who advised him to prepare for the return of liquor sales in the United States.
The following year he bought a group of closed distilleries, including one in Schenley, Pa., that had licenses to produce medicinal whisky. He also bought and sold whisky warehouse receipts and accumulated aged whisky inventories in preparation for Repeal.
Ready for Repeal
When it came in 1933; Mr. Rosenstiel was ready to spring into action. He incorporated the Schenley Distillers Company in that year—its name was changed to Schenley Industries in 1949—and it became a publicly owned company shortly thereafter.
Under Mr. Rosenstiel’s guidance, Schenley grew rapidly over the years to become one of the country’s major liquor concerns, selling both domestic and imported alcoholic beverages. Its major brands include Dewar’s White Label Scotch, I. W. Harper bourbon and Schenley Reserve blended whisky.
As a strong proponent of bourbon, he was the dominant force in the organization in 1958 of the Bourbon Institute, a trade association to promote its sale. “It’s the only American folk whisky,” he said. “Every other country has its national drink.”
He also led a successful industry-wide drive in 1959 to change the Federal liquor tax laws in a way that would benefit distillers. The change eased the tax burden on American companies that held whiskys for aging up to 20 years and helped them compete with premium-price liquors from abroad.
A prodigious worker, Mr. Rosenstiel thought nothing of calling his associates at any hour, day or night, to discuss business. “If you knew the whisky business, you had nothing to fear from him,” said one of his former employees yesterday. “Otherwise, you were in trouble.”
As for his personal life:
Mr. Rosenstiel gave approximately $100 million to educational, charitable and philanthropic institutions, principally through the Dorothy H. and. Lewis Rosenstiel Foundation. Among the beneficiaries were Brandeis University, the University of Notre Dame and the Mount Sinai Hospitals here and in Miami Beach.
Mr. Rosenstiel was married five times. His first wife was Dorothy Heller, his childhood sweetheart, who died in 1944. Two years later, he married Lenore Cohn, now the wife of Walter Annenberg, former Ambassador to Britain.
In 1951, he married a cousin, Louise Rosenstiel; the marriage ended after a brief time. Five years later, he married Susan Kaufman; that union ended in  after a series of complicated legal struggles. In 1967 he married Blanka Wdowiak, who survives him. A daughter by his second marriage, Elizabeth: six grandchildren, and a great-grandchild also survive.
In One Nation Under Blackmail, Rosenstiel is the missing link between national crime bosses and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. These are grave charges against both men. There’s another charge. Rosenstiel, Webb writes, was “obsessed with blackmail.” He was the “king” of blackmail. He hid microphones all over his “black-mail-ready townhouse” for “the alleged purpose of obtaining potential blackmail against his guests.” Rosenstiel, Webb would have us believe, was allegedly a potential blackmailer.
Webb also claims that the “blackmail-ready” Rosenstiel home at 5 East 80th Street in Manhattan welcomed mafia dons and organized crime bigs galore, including Frank Costello, Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante and Meyer Lansky. Also at the townhouse, Webb writes, the “bi-sexual” Lewis Rosenstiel bedded his divorce lawyer, Roy Cohn, when he was not triple-teaming with Cohn and J. Edgar in homosexual orgies at the Plaza Hotel.
Mob associate, (potential) blackmailer, total pervert: what are Webb’s sources? Remember Susan Rosenstiel? Readers of Part One will recall that the fount of those Plaza Hotel debauches was the fourth Mrs. Rosenstiel, Susan, her wildest tales against Lewis having been enshrined as non-fiction in 1993 by Anthony Summers in his behind-the-trousers Hoover bio, Official and Confidential. Summers is Webb’s guide on these and other matters. As recounted in Part One, numerous writers have by now weighed the Susan Rosenstiel stories, myself included, and concluded she was a non-credible source.
New readers, don’t take my word for it — take the short version of Susan’s rap sheet, instead.
1) In 1975, Susan Rosenstiel pleaded guilty to perjury, as UPI reported, “for testifying that $17,000 in borrowed jewelry had been stolen from her when she actually had pawned it.” That’s nearly $100,000 in 2022 dollars.
2) In 1971, the AP reported that Susan Rosenstiel pleaded guilty to attempted perjury in another jewelry-related case. (The original charge was three counts of perjury, but the judge allowed her to plead guilty to a single lesser charge.) In a nutshell, as Susan began to sue her bank over a disputed check, a grand jury determined that she was not being truthful. This case comes up below, so here is a little more information about it from the New Daily News, February 9, 1971:
3) In 1970, State Supreme Court in New York ordered Susan Rosenstiel to pay a jeweler for $150,000 in diamond and sapphire baubles (2022 dollars), which were sent to her “on approval” back in 1965; however, Susan never returned them to the store or paid for them. Over and above the cost of the jewelry, the court ordered Susan to pay the jeweler roughly a quarter million dollars more in damages (2022 dollars). The New York Daily News reported: “During the trial, Susan denied ever taking the jewelry, and denied being in the jewelry shop on the June 6, 1965 date, but Faraone [the jeweler] produced witnesses to testify that she had so been there.” And had so done that — i.e., taken the jewelry.
Since writing Part One, I’ve come across even more evidence of Susan’s widely recognized mendacity — widely recognized in court, that is — and specifically as it applies to her ex-husband Lewis. (This is not the time to sort through Susan and Lewis’s marriage (1956-1961), their bitterly contested (by Susan) divorce (1961-1967), or Susan’s continuing legal fight to contest the divorce (1967-1973?). I will just say I’ve never read anything like it.) Above and beyond the three guilty verdicts above, here’s another strike on Susan’s veracity from a 1973 opinion from the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
In discussing a case about attorneys’ fees — Susan’s divorce lawyers were seeking more in fees from Lewis — the judge was reviewing a “replevin action” Lewis had earlier and successfully brought against Susan, in which a court awarded him $150,000 (about $1 million in 2022 dollars) to replace furniture and other belongings Susan had “disposed of” without his permission. The judge went on to note that the court referee who investigated the matter “pointed out that Susan’s defense was founded largely on fabrications and falsehoods, including her wholly baseless claim that some of Lewis’ property had been destroyed in a fire when, in fact, she had caused it to be sold. Plaintiff [Susan’s lawyer] correctly points out that victory is not a prerequisite to recovery of legal fees. But Susan’s case in the replevin action was not simply a losing one, it was a sham.”
And there’s more. In a divorce-related ruling from District court, also in 1973 — by the way, eleven years after divorce proceedings began, and six years after Lewis received his divorce in Florida and remarried for a fifth and final time — another judge rejected the veracity of Susan’s claims. This judge was reviewing Susan’s two reasons for defaulting in Lewis’s Florida divorce proceeding. The first was her fear that her alimony would be subject to “modification.” The second was her fear of what she told the court were Lewis’s “vast underworld connections…”
… she was afraid that if she went to Florida her husband would utilize his alleged “vast underworld connections,” concerning the existence of which plaintiff is totally convinced, to cause her physical harm. This aspect of plaintiff’s testimony is so unsubstantiated and so totally incredible that the Court gives it no weight.
So unsubstantiated and so totally incredible…that twenty, thirty, fifty years later Susan Rosenstiel is the linchpin-“witness” of a perpetual campaign to ensure that the American people view the career, controversies, and contributions of the legendary FBI Director through a posthumous peep show of homosexual depravity, “blackmail” and “hypocrisy.”
It’s quite incredible that a person with such an extensive public record of perjury, fabrication, and falsehood could be successfully repackaged, via Anthony Summers’ Official and Confidential, as a trusted source of anything. It tells us something, though. We might even say Susan Rosenstiel finally serves a public good; she has become a litmus test that helps readers separate writers trying to shed light on history from those driving through this agenda.
Here, for example, are a few lines from a recent Webb interview which tell us she’s still drawing heavily on Susan to do dirt, if not porn, on Hoover:
… Hoover himself had demonstrable uh organized crime connections and was uh allegedly blackmailed by organized crime uh blackmail being of a sexual nature in that case because Hoover at this point is well known to have been a closeted homosexual …
May I take a moment to say — yuck? When Webb invokes Hoover’s “demonstrable organized crime connections,” she is invoking Lewis Rosentiel. What credible evidence does Webb marshal to make the case that Rosenstiel was the “king” of blackmail? That he had “organized crime” connections, especially to Frank Costello, the crime boss of the Luciano crime family, and Meyer Lansky, considered to have been the brains behind national crime networks? What is Webb’s sourcing for these and other accusations? Let’s pick up the story on p. 53 where Webb begins her discussion of “Rosenstiel’s documented ties to organized crime figures.”
“Documented ties”? Are there documents? Well, no. But keep going.
Webb introduces James P. Kelly, chief investigator for a subcommittee in Congress, who, on February 18, 1971, came before the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Crime to testify. For several years, this same committee had been examining crime, also organized crime, in New York, holding public hearings and issuing annual reports.
In his 39 pages of testimony, Kelly mainly expounds on Boston-area mob machinations and possible connections to a Boston liquor distributor, including Schenley liquor, named Joe Lindsey. It was Lewis Rosenstiel, however, who scored the New York Times headline, “Ex-Head of Schenley Industries Is Linked to Crime “Consortium.” Kelly testified that half a century earlier, Rosenstiel had been among a Prohibition-era group that smuggled Bronfman liquor from Canada into different parts of the United States. This consortium, Kelly said, included Joe Lindsey (Kelly’s main topic of interest), Joe Fusco and Meyer Lansky, the latter two being noted mobsters, especially Lansky.
It seems only sporting to carry Lewis’s reply in the Miami Herald to the question about any relationship with Lansky: “I never knew him; I never saw him; I don’t know him; I’ve never had anything to do with him, and that’s for direct quote.”
At this point in my research, I have a hunch that Kelly got the Prohibition-Rosenstiel story from Susan Rosenstiel. However, let’s assume we are looking at a non-Susan-allegation against Lewis — the first one in the “mob-linked” category I have come across. This makes Kelly’s testimony notable. Webb continues: “Kelly added that Rosenstiel was `particularly close’ to Lansky.”
Webb is correct in her reading of the New York Times story by Nicholas Gage; although it should be pointed out that she pumps up the assertiveness of the original line, which has Kelly relating that Rosenstiel “was reported to be“ particularly close to Lansky. Anyway, this little bomblet attributed by the Times to Kelly does not appear in the transcript of Kelly’s testimony. I’ve read through the scan of his testimony a half a dozen times to make sure, and still haven’t found the quotation, or anything remotely like it. In fact, Kelly seldom mentions Rosenstiel.
Webb follows up with two more mob-related claims:
1) “It later emerged,” she continues, “that they [Rosenstiel and Lansky] had `owned points together’ in mob-operated businesses.”
2) Rosenstiel “was also reportedly close to Frank Costello, who was said to have attended a business meeting alongside Rosenstiel “to give [the meeting’s attendees] a message that Rosenstiel was one of their people.”36
These two charges are central to Webb’s effort to “link” Rosenstiel to the mob. What is the evidence in endnote 36?
Webb’s endnote 36 lists Summers p. 285. He writes:
When Prohibition ended, committee investigators learned, Rosenstiel had appeared at a business meeting flanked by Frank Costello. “Costello was there,” a witness said, “to give them the message that Rosenstiel was one of their people.”
And what is Summers’ source? Good question. Summers’ endnotes are a disaster-area, as noted in reviews of his book. Summers, it seems, was just too good to put numbers, or other points of reference on the pages of his book; his endnotes, grouped together per chapter, force readers into guessing games that may or may not have solutions. That said, there are a few clues to attribution for the Costello-Rosenstiel claim on p. 285: These are “New York Crime Committee,” “1970,” and “a witness.” In the relevant chunk of endnotes, Summers lists five New York crime committee witness-testimonies: James Kelly (mentioned above), Yolanda Lora, John Harrington, Jeremiah McKenna, and Louis Nichols. Thanks to the helpful staff at the New York Legislative Library, I have been able to read all of them. None of them mentions any connection between Rosenstiel and Costello, and none of them describes anything at all resembling Costello telling a bunch of hoodlums that Rosenstiel is “one of their people.”
Where did this Runyon-esque little sketch come from? Summers’ imagination? It’s possible. It’s also possible that the “witness” Summers referenced was, yes, Susan Rosenstiel, who went before the crime committee in executive session in 1970. (All of the other witnesses Summers cites appeared in public hearings in 1971.) Perhaps Summers took the quotation from his 1988 (paid) interview with Susan and anonymized her, presto, as his 1970 crime committee “witness.” It’s impossible to know. In any case, we are left with a brick wall, not a source. Two things seem clear: Summers had no intention of making his endnotes stand the test of anything; and, there exists no credible evidence for the Rosenstiel-Costello joint-appearance.
What about the evidence that Rosenstiel and Lansky “owned points together” (a quotation in Summers’ book) in mob-operated businesses, including a Las Vegas casino?
Alas, Summers provides zero attribution on p. 285, for this damning quotation, and his endnotes are a cipher on the subject. It looks like this was pure hit-and-run. Having read the New York crime committee testimony of James Kelly, however, I can report that Kelly told a very similar story about someone else: Joe Linsey. Linsey “agreed to buy points” in a mob-associated travel agency in the Boston area, Kelly told the crime committee; he also said that Linsey balked at buying points in a Las Vegas casino. Perhaps Summers accidentally, or accidentally-on-purpose, turned Kelly’s testimony about Linsey into garbage about Rosenstiel, throwing in a Lansky connection for good measure. Which is reprehensible either way. Whatever Summers did or didn’t do, however, there exists no credible evidence for Webb’s claim that Rosenstiel and Lansky co-owned shady businesses, including in Las Vegas.
That sound of breaking glass you hear is mob-linkage falling apart.
If any readers have been wondering about this little reclamation project of mine, as in, Why? I hope an answer is taking shape. There’s something deeply wrong about taking down the reputation of a man, dead and defenseless for half a century, and hoisting in its place a manufactured disgrace to wave as “investigative journalism” over a false narrative.
Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I ha’ lost my reputation, I ha’ lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.
Is Webb’s King of Blackmail evidence legit?
The first thing to realize here is that no victim, no charge, no complaint of blackmail materializes in Rosenstiel’s kingdom. King Rosenstiel’s “blackmail” remains in the realm of maybe — or pretend — and the allegations are based on the existence of recording equipment on multiple levels of his Manhattan brownstone. Recording equipment = blackmail; get it?
Webb quotes Summers p. 297 to tell us:
“[S]everal sources reported to the 1971 New York [Joint] Legislative Committee on Crime that Rosenstiel’s Manhattan home had been [as Summers put it] “wired from roof to basement with hidden microphones, so that he could spy on visitors and staff.”
The system in Rosenstiel’s home has been installed by Fred Otash, an infamous private detective who had used electronic means to spy on the Kennedy family, Marilyn Monroe, and others. Otash later said that Rosenstiel’s home “was rigged to tape conversations for hours on end.”
Let’s start with “several sources.” It is true (joy!) that “several sources” confirmed the presence of recording equipment throughout the Rosenstiel townhouse in the New York crime committee’s 1971 hearings. These include Yolanda Lora, a paid “female companion” hired by Susan’s divorce lawyers to live with her at 5 East 80th Street for several months after Lewis had decamped to his Connecticut estate; John Harrington, former FBI special agent who oversaw Schenley Industries security as executive assistant to Lewis Rosenstiel (1954-1969); and Louis Nichols, former special assistant to FBI Director Hoover who later served as Schenley executive vice president (1957-1969). According to both Harrington and Nichols, the Rosenstiel townhouse was used as a kind of annex to Schenley’s midtown headquarters, and business might be conducted there day and into the night, depending on Rosenstiel’s whim.
But tape-recorders all over the house? Here is Harrington (line 5) on the placement of the tape-recorders.
To be sure, an unusual home-office set-up. On p. 68 of his testimony, Harrington was still elaborating on the way business was conducted at the townhouse: “Again, you have to look at 5 East 80th Street as a first floor, second floor, top. Mr. Rosenstiel would have conferences going at all places, appointments with five or six men, maybe, at the same time. So if, Mr. Bernstein, he had put you on the second floor and some other person on the third floor and a third person on the sixth floor and gone from one person to another, he would get finished with whatever business he had with that person and he would go.” (This is why I am not a captain of industry.) These meetings, Harrington explained, were recorded on visibly-placed tape recorders. The tapes were later transcribed and filed away by the secretarial pool at Schenley headquarters. According to Harrington’s testimony, Rosenstiel was “obsessed,” all right, but with business.
It was Yolanda Lora, Susan’s paid companion, who claimed to have seen what were concealed microphones “all over the house, I mean, all over the windows.” Neither Harrington nor Nichols recalled seeing them — not that they would, of course, if the devices were effectively concealed. For the record, here is Louis Nichols’s reply to the question of the existence of secret bugging devices in the Rosenstiel home. (The type is rather faint so I hope readers are able to make it out. Maybe later I’ll transcribe it.)
Bottom line, literally:
Q: Did you ever have any reason to suspect that there were any such [secret] recording devices?
A: No, I did not.
He said, he said; she said.
Who was correct? It’s possible they were both correct. The men may not have noticed what was pointed out to the woman. On the other hand, between the time Lewis Rosenstiel moved out of the townhouse in October 1961 and Yolanda Lora moved in in December 1961, there was an opportunity to tamper in any way with, as Webb might put it, the alleged scene of potential crime. It’s also possible, as Summers claims, that “infamous” Fred Otash really did install a system “rigged to tape conversations for hours on end.” Funny, though, that the Schenley team doesn’t appear to have to taken advantage of it. Here’s Harrington, beginning at line 15 below, explaining that the phones at 5 East 80th were not set up (“rigged”) to record conversations.
Maybe it’s just me, but as this intense but workaday picture of office life on East 80th Street emerges, the “King of Blackmail” seems to fall on his crown.
Let’s review Webb v. Lewis Rosenstiel. We have no good evidence for mobsterism; there’s no evidence whatsoever for blackmail, and we certainly have a plausible alternative explanation for the home “spy” system. What about the evidence that five-times married, four-times-a-father Lewis was a secret “bi-sexual” who engaged in sexual activity with homosexuals?
Well, there’s Susan …. ‘Nuff said. There is also a non-Susan item of evidence. Webb writes: “According to Nicholas Faith, discussions about Rosenstiel’s bi-sexuality among Schenley office employees were frequent enough for Rosenstiel to be referred to as `Rosie’ around the office.”
Good grief. “Rosie” has traditionally been a common nickname for men surnamed Rosen-anything: Rosie Rosenstial, Rosie Rosenblum, Rosie Rosenberg, Rosie Rosen. Maybe it still is.
Of course, then there’s this guy:
One of the many surprises that popped up in this research was that the New York crime committee hearings in 1971 were supposed to be the culmination of an 18-month-investigation into “one Lewis Rosenstiel.” No kidding. As public hearings opened on January 28, 1971, Chairman Hughes set forth “the direction in which we are moving.”
The hearings today and at future dates in the main relate to an investigation the Committee has been conducting for about eighteen months. The central figure is one Lewis Rosenstiel … and the testimony of this and future meetings of this Committee will relate to his business dealings and his associates.
I wonder if this struck people as a little odd that such a man, about to turn 80, could go through his entire high-stakes career without undergoing such scrutiny. We know, of course, it’s not odd at all; it’s Susan. Anthony Summers put it this way: “Many of the committee’s leads were supplied by Rosenstiel’s fourth wife, Susan.”
“Many”? As in … all of them? Could it be that these proceedings of the New York crime committee were another, more muscular round of the Susan Rosenstiel Ex-Husband Show? The answer really does seem to be yes. Just as Susan supplied the Homo-Hoover Drag/Orgy “leads” (also starring her ex-husband and his divorce lawyer) to Anthony Summers, which became the sex-sational selling point of his Hoover biography in the 1990s—Susan supplied the “leads” on mob-links to the investigators who trained the eye of the state on her ex-husband in the early 1970s. Susan, we might say, was Lewis-obsessed.
From the Miami Herald, February 18, 1971:
Susan Rosenstiel’s testimony before an executive session of the investigating committee has been the subject of an 18-month investigation by staff members of the New York committee headed by Hughes.
What we are looking back on, then, is a government investigation into a private citizen, undertaken in the public interest, which was largely if not solely dependent on the veracity of someone we now know to be a redundantly discredited source. Even in the early 1970s, the committee would have had early warnings about this. For example, Susan had already been exposed in that breath-taking 1970 Faraone jewelry ruling described above. Nonetheless, circa February 1971, Chairman Hughes was still backing her to the hilt.
Also from the Miami Herald:
“Her testimony in executive session last year has been checked and the committee has every reason to believe she is telling the truth about those matters that could be checked,” Senator Hughes said.
As 1971 went on, however, Chairman Hughes does not seem to have maintained this same level of confidence in Susan Rosenstiel’s testimony. I’d like to contrast his bold statements of early 1971, with the tiny pop of his committee’s annual report in September of the same year. In 103 pages summarizing the committee’s findings in the categories of criminal justice, plea bargaining, narcotics, organized crime and legislation, there is not one mention of Lewis Rosenstiel, let alone his “business dealings” and “associates.” In fact, there is only one sentence in the entire report that makes even an oblique references to what we now know was an 18-month-investigation into the mob connections his ex-wife brought before the committee.
Here is that sentence:
A series of hearings were also held to determine if there is an illegal relationship between big business and organized crime, and to investigate allegations indicating improper activities in various court systems in the state. (December 10, 11, 15, 16, 1970, January 28, 29, February 18, and March 4, 1971).
That’s it? What in tarnation happened? Why did the New York crime committee go silent, dark and full- amnesiac on Susan’s “many leads”?
Could the following note made by a staffer in another government investigation a few years later shed some light on this question? In 1974, Phil Bakes, a member of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force “listened to [Susan Rosenstiel] accuse Nixon, Lansky and her ex-husband of various crimes,” Jonathan Marshall writes in the endnotes of his book Dark Quadrant. Bakes “judged that she was `unbalanced and shows signs of paranoia. She is clearly out to get her husband who seems to figure in most every unsupported allegation.’ ”
Hold that thought.
I’d like to dig a little deeper into the politics of the day.
If the sound and fury of the 1971 New York crime committee ended up signifying zip, the investigative process along the way churned out plenty of negative publicity about Lewis Rosenstiel — “screamers,” newsies used to call them.
For some, however, J. Edgar Hoover was always the ultimate target, just as he is in Webb’s book today.
Consider the headline (below), which ran over a front-page take-out in the Des Moines Register on April 11, 1971: “SHOWDOWN: HOOVER VS. CRITICS.” The story was by Clark Mollenhoff, a leading newsman of the day. It ran five weeks after what turned out to have been the final Rosenstiel crime committee hearing. Given the amount of time that had elapsed, the story might have been an effort to breathe life into the stalled investigation.
Mollenhoff’s story presented the New York crime committee’s work as possibly Hoover’s “greatest problem.” One of Chairman Hughes’ goals, he wrote, was to “link” Lewis Rosenstiel with organized crime figures, such as Meyer Lansky, Jake Lansky, Frank Costello, Gerry Catena. This “could hurt Hoover” due to the “close friendship” between him and Rosenstiel. Sound familiar?
It’s unclear to me whether the two men, Rosenstiel and Hoover, were ever social friends — accounts differ. Certainly, their circles of friends and associates had notable overlap, along with what seems to me to have been similar beliefs in patriotism, law and order, and anti-communism. (Note: Webb’s sexed-up, mobbed-up book-creations are very often associated with the anti-communist movement.) In the 1950s, Rosenstiel’s philanthropic foundation, mainly in the business of supporting religious, medical and educational charities, donated The FBI Story: A Report to the People by Don Whitehead, as well as Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight by J. Edgar Hoover to public libraries across the country. It’s easy to forget, but that Hoover book was serialized in newspapers across the country. It was also the fourth best-selling non-fiction book of 1958 — the same year, by the way, Webb would have us believe that J. Edgar Hoover was wearing lace stockings and a dress at Plaza Hotel orgies.
More connections. In 1957, Lewis Rosenstiel hired away the No 3 man at the FBI, Louis Nichols, to become an executive vice president for Schenley; I read in one bio that this upset Hoover. Rosenstiel earlier hired a former FBI special agent named John Harrington as an executive assistant to oversee company security. (Both men gave testimony to the New York crime committee, mentioned above.) Approaching retirement, Rosenstiel donated $1 million to the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation, which, according to its charter, was set up in 1965 “to safeguard the heritage and freedom of the United States . . . to promote good citizenship . . . and to perpetuate the ideas and purposes to which . . . Hoover dedicated his life.” Louis Nichols was the foundation’s first director. Remember, this was the 1960s, a time when these men were “the Problem, not the Solution,” they were “uptight,” they were “square,” they were “Red-baiters,” they were Neanderthal throwbacks blocking the brave, new order of “cool” and “counter-culture,” of “groovy” now “woke.” In an unmistakable way, they still are.
Here’s a look at how Hoover remains a symbol for the fighting Right.
Joseph McBride is one of the leading attorneys defending January 6 political prisoners.
Clearly, there was a link between Rosenstiel and Hoover; but there’s no good evidence to support the charge that it was “mob link.” Nevertheless, this was the unholy grail then, as it is now, and it all seems to have gotten its start at that New York crime committee to which Susan Rosensteil funneled all those “leads.” As Clark Mollenhoff pointed out in the Des Moines Register:
Up to this point, there has been no real link between Rosenstiel and organized crime, but now the New York committee has a key witness, it is contended.
Seems clear to me there was no “real link” between Lewis and the mob “up to this point” because “key witness” Susan Rosenstiel hadn’t yet discovered how to turn her rage into power.
Those who are familiar with her story say it would be a devastating blow to Hoover if it is believed.
She has given first-hand accounts of meetings between Rosenstiel and Meyer Lansky….Mrs. Rosenstiel has told her story to investigators for the Hughes committee and to some congressional investigators.
The amount of corroborating evidence is the major question mark. If Rosenstiel were linked to organized crime, the next question would concern the FBI directors’s close long-time relationship with Rosenstiel and [former FBI senior and former Schenley executive Louis] Nichols.
There is a natural reluctance to accept the word of a woman who is bitter over an unsuccessful marriage, but if there is corroboration that New York investigation could be more devastating to Hoover than [anything else].
The amount of corroborating evidence was the major question mark, all right, but look at this: would, devastating, if, if, would, if, could, devastating. They could already taste it.
On February 9, 1971, shortly before Susan Rosenstiel was scheduled to appear publicly before the crime committee, she was indicted on three counts of perjury stemming from a 1969 case involving a lot of expensive jewelry and a disputed check, described above. Naturally, the press was all over the story — “Waiting Quiz Date, Mrs. Rosenstiel Hit on Perjury Counts,” piped the New York Daily News. Not surprisingly, there were questions about the sensitive timing of the indictment.
Just doing my job, said the DA, telling the News: “We had deferred presentation of the jury’s findings in an effort to cooperate with the Hughes committee. But there is a statute of limitations and we had to move at this time.”
Well, maybe he was just doing his job. Maybe Susan’s guilty verdict less than a year earlier in the totally outrageous Faraone jewelry case, also described above, was a factor. If Susan’s new indictment raised eyebrows, however, the crime committee’s made it clear it didn’t matter. Chairman Hughes, Newsday reported, immediately expressed strong support for his committee’s key witness.
We have taken Mrs. Rosenstiel’s testimony in executive session. We have every reason to believe she has been truthful. On the basis of what has been established … and on forthcoming evidence … her testimony will be corroborated. Her present problem (the perjury charge) is entirely unrelated to our inquiry and our investigation will continue. No judgment on her guilt should result from the charge. We do intend to call her as a witness.
Hearings, the newspaper reported, would resume the following week. And so they did resume the following week. Only they resumed without Susan. In the end, she would never testify in public hearings. Nor, for that matter, would Lewis Rosenstiel.
Webb roughly (very roughly) summarizes these events and explains:
Members of the Committee believed at the time that the [sic] “attempted perjury” charges had been instigated by Lewis Rosenstiel himself in order to prevent his wife from testifying, as he had previously used similar tactics to protect his corrupt dealings.51
Webb’s endnote 51 takes us to Summers p. 515, where he writes:
Outraged Committee officials believed the charge was instigated by Lewis Rosenstiel…Court records show the tycoon had used similar tactics in the recent past to pervert the course of justice.
Well, okay, if you say so, Anthony. And Whitney, keep on cutting and pasting; you’re good. But note the fine-tuning: Webb took Summers’ phrase, “to pervert the course of justice,” and repurposed it into “to protect his corrupt dealings.”
In the end, we have a mystery on our hands. Summers and Webb want to see the reptilian arm of Lewis reaching up from Miami Beach to stifle little songbird-wifey before she could sing for the New York committee; however, as I have shown, Susan Rosenstiel’s indictment alone did not deter Committee Chairman Hughes from his stated plan to bring her before the committee. “We do intend to call her as a witness,” he said. We just don’t know what happened after that.
Susan’s 1970 sealed executive session testimony was behind her; her anticipated public hearing was before her. The last thing people heard was Chairman Hughes expressing confidence in her — then poof — she disappeared in a cloud of diamond bracelets. Consider the possibility that it wasn’t the unseen hand of Lewis that made Susan disappear, but rather the public words of Louis Nichols, who testified in a contentious, all-day hearing on March 4, 1971 — the last of the crime committee’s Rosenstiel hearings.
At the end of the afternoon session, Nichols was permitted to read a prepared statement, an excerpt of which is below:
In the eleven years of my association with [Lewis Rosenstiel] in Schenley our relationship was such that I saw him daily in the offices, frequently traveled with him, and often spent evenings in his home, talking with him until the early hours of the morning. When he was out of town, seldom a day passed when I didn’t talk to him.
I have no knowledge of Mr. Rosenstiel’s ever having had any dealings with the underworld and I have never seen anything along these lines to raise my suspicions. I do not now have any such information and I do not consider there is any truth to charges that have been raised against him.
Then Nichols turns to Susan Rosenstiel.
Since late 1961, Mr. Rosenstiel has been subject to vituperation, falsehoods, half-truths and innuendoes by Susan Lissman Kaufman, the then Mrs. Rosenstiel. Questions and items in the press would force one to conclude she is the basis of this inquiry. Beyond that, she has made a series of harassing telephone calls to Mr. Rosenstiel in the late hours of the night. I will cite two.
On July 28, 1967, in the course of a conversation with Mr. Rosenstiel, she stated she would force him to his knees, she would bring charges against him which everyone would believe because she had been his wife, those charges would be printed in six hundred newspapers, and that he would never live long enough to clear his name after she got through with him.
This is a chilling story. As sworn testimony from a former senior FBI official, former chairman of the criminal section of the American Bar Association, former Schenley executive, it is weighted both by considerable gravitas and pro-FBI, pro-Lewis partisanship. We cannot corroborate his words; however, we can certainly see that the direct threats against Lewis which Nichols has attributed to Susan came true.
Nichols described a second phone call from Susan.
And as recently as last New Year’s Eve, she made some fifteen calls to Mr. Rosenstiel’s home between 11:30 pm and 1:30 am, and, among other things, boasted that she had been offered $1 million for her story and if she didn’t get the money “another way.” She then told a guest who had answered the telephone, she would have Mr. Rosenstiel put in prison ….
That didn’t happen. I don’t mean the phone call — although I can’t vouch for it, either — but Susan Rosenstiel did not have Lewis Rosenstiel put in prison, and not for lack of trying. I’ve learned that Susan Rosenstiel took her claims against her former husband to the New York State crime committee, to the US Attorney in New York (Robert Morgenthau), to the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. Clark Mollenhoff reported that Susan spoke with “some congressional investigators.” Louis Nichols testified that she went to the IRS with charges, causing her ex-husband to spend considerable time and money to refute them. With Susan managing to train all of this governmental firepower on Lewis, government investigators still refrained from pulling the trigger; Lewis Rosenstiel did not go to prison, or anything close. Summers and Webb would likely seize on this as solid proof of Rosenstiel’s criminality. Or maybe there was an outbreak of scruples, or, more likely, a more realistic understanding of the rules of evidence. Or, as in the case of the member of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, the dawning realization that Susan Rosenstiel was “clearly out to get her husband who seems to figure in most every unsupported allegation.”
Nichols reviewed some of Susan Rosenstiel’s record of fabrications and falsehoods before the committee, a portion of which is included above. Most of his statement pertained to other business, political and legal matters. After he concluded, there was this following exchange.
Q: Mr. Nichols, you have made some very harsh statements about the ex-Mrs. Rosenstiel. That is, Susan Rosenstiel.
A: I certainly have. They are understatements.
Q: It occurs to me — and I am speaking now as an attorney — that it borders at least prima facie on the libelous and the slanderous.
A: Truth is always a complete defense.
Well, it is and it isn’t. Truth turns out to be no defense against hearsay-narratives, the constant repetition of which creates a wicked kind of static that obliterates everything else. For anybody wondering why we’re still here (myself included), here’s what I mean — as Webb writes:
There is also evidence that not only did these parties at the Plaza hotel take place, but that they were used to obtain sexual blackmail, with Kaufman [Susan] asserting that her husband possessed pictures of Hoover wearing women’s clothes and that those images had been passed to Rosenstiel’s associate, mobster Meyer Lansky. Journalist and author Anthony Summers has noted that given Rosenstiel’s interest and ability to have his residences and businesses bugged, he was quite capable of having the sex sessions at the Plaza bugged or arranging for Edgar to be photographed in his female costume.”
Come to think of it, Susan Rosenstiel really wasted a lot of time in the 1960s and 1970s with government investigators who sought corroborating evidence on her comparatively humdrum claims of mob links and shady business practices; all she really needed was a ruthless writer or two, willing to jam far more salacious anti-facts through the gears of message-manipulation. That, and, oh, I forgot, a Frankfurt-School-fueled-sexual revolution. The general coarsening of human sensibilities between 1970 and 1993 and 2023 created the perfectly filthy mainstream in which Susan’s newly hatched charges against her former husband, Hoover, and Cohn (the X-rated Plaza Hotel orgies), could be disseminated across all media, and to unprecedented effect.
At least some of us now know it’s all a scam — the no-credible-evidence “parties at the Plaza,” the no-credible-evidence “sexual blackmail,” the no-credible-evidence “picture of Hoover” in drag, the no-credible-evidence “Rosenstiel associate, mobster Meyer Lansky,” the no-credible-evidence “images passed,” the no-credible-evidence “sex sessions at the Plaza,” the no-credible-evidence “bugged” sex sessions, the no-credible-evidence photography of “Edgar … in his female costume.”
In conclusion, I could say a lot of things, but I’d really rather not. I will say, however, that people who should know better call this “investigative journalism.”
DIANA WEST, author of American Betrayal, has been called “McCarthy on steroids,” high praise in my book, given my own admiration for “tail gunner Joe.” And given that, in 1954, when the nation was still patriotic, Joe McCarthy was the fourth most admired man in America. J. Edgar Hoover was fittingly much admired, too. Most important: Amid pervasive institutional rot, Diana here stands up for the now-quaint idea of rigorous and honest scholarly inquiry.
Read about Diana on her website. Suffice it to say, however, that Diana, who calls herself a “journalist,” is a “citizen historian,” a scholar and a sharp analytical thinker. She regularly pierces the (mostly) mirthless monotone of conservative commentary with prose as strong as paint stripper.