In 1983, the badly decomposed remains of missing Teamsters' Union leader James R. "Jimmy" Hoffa were found in a landfill in Piscataway, New Jersey, after local police received an anonymous tip accompanied by what police department spokesmen described as "substantiating evidence":
Mobstergate by Eric LippsThe nature of the evidence was such as to persuade the FBI to reopen the case of union official Fred Furino, whose body was found stuffed in a car trunk in June 1982. Furino's testimony had been sought by the U.S. Senate in connection with its investigation of Reagan Administration Secretary of Labor Raymond L. Donovan, and to seek the indictment of Donovan, along with several others, on conspiracy charges.
The scandal would widen as several other high administration officials were linked officially to organized crime, forcing their resignations. But it would explode into national crisis when long-buried details of the association of President Reagan himself with Mafia figures during his time with Hollywood entertainment conglomerate MCA. As further details emerged, the President's reputation was increasingly tarnished. Although investigators would conclude he personally had done nothing technically illegal, his links to a web of corruption found to have taken the lives of at least two people would prove politically devastating. Reagan had won the White House in part with the help of conservative labor bosses, including Hoffa himself; his ties, however indirect, to Hoffa's murder would spark a political revolt against him which even his legendary charisma could not overcome.
No one will ever know for certain whether the strain of what reporters came to call "Mobstergate" accelerated the course of what came to be diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease in President Reagan. However, his off-key performance in the first GOP presidential debate of 1984, in which he concluded with a disjointed ramble imagining driving down California's Pacific Coast Highway in a hundred years, was followed by an even worse performance in the next debate, prompting the President's handlers to cancel the third and final planned session. By the time of the Republican National Convention in August, the party was in an uproar: what had seemed likely to be a stroll to victory over Democratic nominee Walter F. Mondale increasingly looked like a political death march.
In furious negotiations out of sight of the TV cameras assembled to convey a patriotic spectacle to the nation, party leaders attempted to persuade Reagan to step aside "for reasons of health" in favor of his vice-president, George Herbert Walker Bush.
Reagan would not back down, however. Finally, he would shrilly accuse Bush of having orchestrated the entire sequence of events, including the murders of Hoffa and Furino, to "win in the back rooms what you couldn't win against me in 1980," when the two had competed for the GOP nomination.
This tirade would prove to be too much not only for Bush but for other members of the administration. Although with the collapse of the secret bargaining Reagan would receive the nomination, a week after the convention Bush and the Cabinet would present to Sen. Strom Thurmond, president pro tem of the Senate, and House Speaker Thomas J. 'Tip' O'Neill a letter invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment to remove Ronald Reagan from office on the grounds that he has become 'to discharge the powers and duties of his office.'
Neither Thurmond nor O'Neill had been present for Reagan's rant at the Republican convention, but both had seen his performance in the debates and had dealt with him since then. Both knew the toll 'Mobstergate' had been taking on the man once dubbed the "Teflon President". Both men feared a political firestorm if the letter were presented to the full Congress, yet also feared the consequences of allowing a mentally incompetent individual to remain in the presidency. At last, however, they agreed to invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment as requested.
"For the good of the nation," martial law was declared and the pending election "suspended until such time as it may be conducted in lawful order".The result was an upheaval like nothing seen since the Civil War, with legions of adoring Reaganites forming "citizens" militias' to "undo the usurpation of the presidency" and individual self-professed patriots taking matters into their own hands. When one such would-be hero managed to fatally shoot acting President Bush, causing the office to devolve onto the Democratic Speaker of the House, the nation exploded in rioting. Extremist Lyndon LaRouche claimed that the entire chain of events, including the "Mobstergate" scandal's murders, had been engineered by "the Communist masters of the Kennedy liberal revolutionary front" - and where he might once have been laughed off, now he finds millions of listeners.
On October 9, 1984, acting President Tip O'Neill was himself assassinated, causing the powers of the presidency to pass to Strom Thurmond. The aged right-wing senator at once declared that "for the good of the nation," martial law was declared and the pending election "suspended until such time as it may be conducted in lawful order".