If Whitey Bulger isn’t an informant, then my wife stands a reasonable chance of becoming the next pope.
Of course, neither of those things are remotely true. When Jay Carney, Whitey’s lawyer, announced Wednesday that Whitey wasn’t a rat, he was merely repeating what Whitey has been saying since his arrest in sunny Santa Monica almost two years ago.
According to those long-winded letters Whitey penned from jail, his claim rests on the sort of sophistry at which he is expert. Whitey contends he wasn’t an informant because he never testified against anyone or put anyone in prison. In those letters, Whitey says he bought information from the FBI but never gave them anything. Or as he put it, the FBI were his informants. Whitey says he was an analyst for the FBI.
In a jailhouse conversation with his brother Jack, Whitey elaborated on his delusion, expressing shock that his FBI handler John Connolly was writing reports and attributing to Whitey information about friends and rivals. Claude Rains did the same thing in “Casablanca,” expressing shock that there was gambling going on in Rick’s Café, moments before he was handed his previous night’s winnings.
“This really is ‘Casablanca,’ ” said David Boeri, the WBUR reporter who knows as much about Whitey’s byzantine mind as anyone. “They didn’t have a script when they were filming ‘Casablanca.’ They just made it up as they went along.”
Whitey’s contortionist semantics remind me of the lecture I was treated to in a Miami courtroom five years ago by that well-known etymologist John Martorano. Most of us know Martorano as an admitted murderer of 20 people, but he puts Noam Chomsky to shame when it comes to dissecting the meaning of language. When Connolly’s defense attorney suggested to Martorano that he was a rat for spilling the secrets of Whitey, his former partner in crime, while testifying against Connolly, Perfesser Martorano took deep offense.
“You can’t rat on a rat,” Martorano insisted. “A rat,” he went on, “is somebody who tells on somebody things they shouldn’t tell on.”
So, according to Martorano, he isn’t a rat, but Whitey is. If you follow that logic, congratulations, because you’re way ahead of me.
This is not just a Southie thing or an Irish thing in which being an informer is worse than being a killer. It’s more than a criminal denying the truth of something for which the public record is indisputable. This is deeply personal for Whitey because being an informer flies in the face of his narrative, that he was a gangster, yes, but a gangster with scruples. And such a gangster doesn’t kill women, and he certainly doesn’t trade information on other criminals to save his own skin.
Whitey is obsessed with using his upcoming trial as a forum to dispute those two things in particular: that he wasn’t a rat, and that he didn’t strangle Debra Davis in 1981 and Deborah Hussey in 1985. As difficult as it will be to raise reasonable doubt about his roles in those murders, Whitey will need to summon all his considerable powers of persuasion to convince anybody except the dangerously naïve that he wasn’t an informant.
The one thing Whitey has going for him is that the FBI that protected him was deeply corrupt. So nothing that was done with Whitey was done by the book. Proper procedures were never followed.
So Whitey’s Sisyphean task is not entirely beyond the realm of possibility. All he needs is one juror. One very credulous juror. And all Jay Carney has to do is come up with a convincing screenplay. Here’s looking at you, kid.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.