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'Tip' O'Neill blunt, candid in autobiography proofs

BOSTON -- Retired House Speaker Thomas P. 'Tip' O'Neill Jr. says in his memoirs that it was 'sinful' President Reagan was elected and he 'never really liked' Robert F. Kennedy, The Boston Herald reported Sunday.

'Man of The House' also has O'Neill revealing a failed FBI attempt to trap him into accepting an 'Abscam' bribe and questioning the Warren Commission's conclusion a single gunman killed John F. Kennedy, the newspaper reported.

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O'Neill's often blunt recollection of 50 years in office also blames the Reagan administration for engineering the Iran arms-for-hostages swap in a desperate effort to hold control of the Senate in the 1986 elections.

O'Neill, who retired last year after 34 years in Congress, is writing his memoirs -- to be published in September -- with the help of William Novak, who also helped Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca write his best-selling autobiography.

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'It was sinful that Ronald Reagan ever became president,' the Massachusetts Democrat reportedly wrote. 'Most of the time he was an actor reading his own lines, who didn't understand his own programs.

'He wasn't without leadership ability, but he lacked most of the management skills that a president needs,' O'Neill said of fellow Irishman Reagan. 'But let me give him his due: He would have made a hell of a king.

'I blame the president for allowing ... selfishness to become respectable,' wrote O'Neill, who said he was convinced Reagan's White House staged the 1983 invasion of Grenada to offset public dismay over the terrorist attack that killed 241 U.S. Marines in a Beirut barracks.

'I never really liked him,' O'Neill writes of Robert F. Kennedy. In 1986, O'Neill endorsed the assassinated senator's son, Joe, for the House seat the speaker vacated.

'To me, he was a self-important upstart and a know-it-all. To him, I was simply a streetcorner pol,' O'Neill wrote of Robert Kennedy. 'We weren't friendly.'

About John F. Kennedy, whose seat in Congress he won in 1952, O'Neill said that for a man who left 'a shining legacy' as president, 'I've never seen a congressman get so much press while doing so little work.'

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O'Neill wrote that Kennedy aide Kenny O'Donnell -- now dead -- told him five years later he had heard a second set of gunshots on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas when the president was killed, but failed to tell the assassination investigators.

'I used to think that the only people who doubted the conclusions of the Warren Commission were crackpots. Now, however, I'm not so sure,' O'Neill wrote. 'There will always be skepticism in my mind about the cause of Jack's death.'

O'Neill wrote he was tipped to and avoided a 1979 FBI effort to trap him -- and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. -- into accepting bribes in the 'Abscam' sting in which seven congressmen and one senator were snared.

'I find it difficult to believe that William Webster, the head of the FBI (now CIA director), had nothing better to do than to arrange for the entrapment of members of Congress,' he wrote.

O'Neill writes of other political figures:

-Richard Nixon: A 'brilliant guy,' but had a 'quirk in his personality that made him suspicious of everybody' and helped destroy his presidency. 'A leery and nervous president who ran a closed shop.'

-Lyndon Johnson: 'A friend who made a tremendous difference for a lot of people in this country. ... If it hadn't been for Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson could have gone down in history as another Roosevelt.'

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-Jimmy Carter: A man of 'intelligence ... tremendous moral strength,' whose ignorance of Washington's ways wrecked his presidency. 'I miss Jimmy Carter, but talent (alone) isn't enough.'

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