On November 25 1963, the day of the Kennedy funeral, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach sent a memo to Bill Moyers of the new Johnson White House. He had begun writing it the day earlier, within hours after Oswald’s death at the hands of Jack Ruby.
The second paragraph stated: “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial.”
Given that the authorities could not possibly by November 25 know these things to be true, and Katzenbach later admitted he knew very little at this stage, the memo is clearly advocating a political course irrespective of the truth of the assassination.
The motivation for this political course may be glimped in the succeeding paragraph: “Speculation about Oswald’s motivation ought to be cut off, and we should have some basis for rebutting thought that this was a Communist conspiracy or (as the Iron Curtain press is saying) a right-wing conspiracy to blame it on the Communists. Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about too pat–too obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.). The Dallas police have put out statements on the Communist conspiracy theory, and it was they who were in charge when he was shot and thus silenced.”
Katzenbach’s memo advocated a public FBI report to satisfy this “objective,” though he noted the possible need for “the appointment of a Presidential Commission of unimpeachable personnel to review and examine the evidence and announce its conclusions.” He ended by advocating a quick public announcement to “head off speculation or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort.”
To many observers, the Katzenbach memo provides the blueprint for the cover-up which followed.
On July 15, 1967, NBC allowed New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison to respond to an NBC program that was highly critical of Garrison’s pursuit of alleged Kennedy assassination conspirators in New Orleans.
Washington Post, Meet the respectable JFK conspiracy theorists, Philip Shenon, Sept. 19, 2014. Philip Shenon, a former Washington correspondent for the New York Times, is the author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination. Describing someone as a “conspiracy theorist” is usually meant as an insult, suggesting tin-foil hats and babbling rants on late-night radio talk shows. But when it comes to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the list of important, seemingly credible public figures who count themselves as conspiracy theorists is long and impressive.
Fifty years ago this coming week, the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the panel led by Chief Justice Earl Warren and better known as the Warren Commission, published an 888-page final report that identified Lee Harvey Oswald as the sole gunman in Dealey Plaza and said there was no evidence of a conspiracy, foreign or domestic.
Those findings were meant to put an end to the swirling conspiracy theories about the president’s murder. Yet the theories persisted. Americans had difficulty accepting that the most powerful man in the world could be brought down by a troubled young man wielding a $21 mail-order rifle. And in the wake of the Vietnam War, Watergate and so many other scandals and national tragedies that followed the assassination, people grew increasingly skeptical that the government could be expected to tell them the truth. By the late 1960s, opinion polls showed that most Americans had rejected the findings of the Warren Commission’s report. An April 2013 poll by the Associated Press found that 59 percent of Americans believed there was a conspiracy in Kennedy’s death.
The bold-faced names among the conspiracy theorists have included the president who established the commission. Lyndon Johnson said in the final years of his life that he believed that the Warren Commission was wrong and that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was behind the assassination. Another surprising conspiracy theorist: the slain president’s brother, former attorney general Robert Kennedy, who publicly supported the Warren Report even as he told friends and family he was convinced that Castro, the Mafia or even some rogue element of the CIA was responsible for his brother’s death. Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry told a television interviewer that “to this day, I have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.”
And this month, on the eve of the report’s 50th anniversary, the roster of seemingly credible Americans willing to identify themselves as Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theorists has grown to include someone from within the Warren Commission itself: Charles N. Shaffer Jr., a former Justice Department prosecutor who served on the investigation’s staff in 1964 (he says he was dispatched by Attorney General Kennedy as “Bobby’s spy”) and went on to a headline-making career as a Washington-based criminal defense lawyer.
In interviews I have been conducting for a new edition of my 2013 book on the assassination, Shaffer told me there probably was a conspiracy in President Kennedy’s death, which makes him the first commission insider to say so publicly. He said he has no doubt that Oswald was the lone gunman in Dealey Plaza. Nor does he question the single-bullet theory, developed by the commission’s staff, which holds that one bullet passed through the bodies of both Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally. But he now suspects that the assassination was the work, ultimately, of organized-crime figures who somehow manipulated Oswald into gunning down the president in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, and then directed strip-club operator Jack Ruby to silence Oswald by killing him two days later.
The mob theory has long been a popular one among conspiracy theorists, although other former commission staffers, as well as Ragano’s family and a number of independent researchers, dismiss it. Howard P. Willens, a senior member of the commission’s staff, told me he is convinced that Shaffer, a close friend, is wrong. “No number of commonly held suspicions amounts to one fact,” he said.
Burt Griffin, a retired Ohio judge who also served on the commission’s staff and was responsible for investigating Ruby’s background, said he, too, is certain there was no Mafia conspiracy. “I’ve tried to keep abreast of the allegations that the Mafia was involved in the assassination,” he told me. “It’s nonsense. Zero evidence of any contacts with Oswald.” Critics have suggested that Ragano made up his story to sell books or as an act of vengeance against his former client.
American Vision, Did John F. Kennedy’s death Impact You? Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, Oct. 2, 2014. This last weekend the AARC Conference drew over 200 to the Bethesda Hyatt Regency on the 50th anniversary of the Warren Report. Kennedy’s violent death in 1963 shocked Americans, undermining public trust. The Warren Commission’s purpose was to ease the minds of Americans, not to discover the truth. At the time most Americans needed reassurance, accepting what they were told. In the years since more shocks have fallen, and reassurances are now thin. Records, now public which refute facts originally provided, are raising more questions for Americans from every walk of life. In 1963 Andrew Kreig, was sitting in his high school history class when he learned the President had been shot. He believed the assurances given until four years ago. Now both an attorney and investigative journalist, he realized these holes in the official story, rigidly ignored by the mainstream media, of which he was so long a part, must be answered.
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