As of January 20, 1964, the Warren Commission had yet to hear from its first witness. On that day, the head of the Commission, Chief Justice Earl Warren, held his first staff conference with the recently hired lawyers, some of whom would later go on to become prominent political figures. (Arlen Specter became a US senator, and William Coleman became Secretary of Transportation, for example.)
In the meeting, Warren explained why he took the job after declining it. According to one memo of the meeting, Warren said: Read more
John Whitten is a rare hero of the JFK story. He was a senior CIA official who sought, behind the scenes, to conduct an honest investigation of what the agency knew about accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, before President Kennedy was killed.
But at a meeting on Christmas Eve 1963 deputy director CIA Richard Helms and counterintelligence chief Jim Angleton shut down Whitten’s efforts to investigate Oswald’s contacts among pro- and anti-Castro Cubans and relieved him of his responsibilities for investigating JFK’s assassination.
Whitten’s story, which I first reported in the Washington Monthly in 2003, illuminated the inner workings of the CIA in the days and weeks after JFK was killed. It is the story of a “good spy” whose pursuit of the truth about JFK’s death cost him his career. Read more
“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment,” wrote former President Harry Truman on the one-month anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. “It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.”
Truman never linked JFK’s death to the clandestine service but the timing of his piece, published in the Washington Post, was suggestive. Already Soviet bloc news outlets were speculating Kennedy’s murder–and the murder of the only suspect while in police custody–pointed to U.S. government involvement in the assassination.
“This quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue–and subject for cold war enemy propaganda,” Truman wrote. Read more
The first newspaper accounts of JFK’s autopsy, published on December 18, 1963, gave a consistent account of the gunfire that was widely believed at the time (and became the basis for the postcard from Dallas reproduced here). But these accounts, published in the Washington Post and New York Times, vary dramatically from what pathologists later said. This version of the gunfire that struck JFK would be abandoned and forgotten by the two newspapers and defenders of the official story, all of whom later settled on a very different ballistic theory.
The original story of gunfire that was abandoned.
One possibility for this major discrepancy is that the Post and the Times stories were based on the original autopsy report that was later rewritten surreptitiously.
The Times story came from the Associated Press and was attributed to “a reliable source familiar with the autopsy findings.” The Post story was based on “the unofficial report of pathologists,” The stories were consistent with each other, both asserting that: Read more
On December 9, the FBI completed its five-volume report on JFK’s assassination. The 400-page report was long on Lee Harvey Oswald’s background and the evidence tying Oswald to the shooting, and notably short on evidence regarding the assassination itself. Regarding the basic account of the shooting, Warren Commissioner Hale Boggs after reading it remarked, “There’s nothing in there about Governor Connally.”
Boggs’ statement was not literally true, but the lack of explanation of the basic evidence of the shooting was really even worse –for example, the FBI Report never once mentioned Kennedy’s throat wound, the one which Parkland Hospital doctors had called a wound of entrance. The FBI’s “three shots, three hits” scenario ignored the throad wound, and also failed acknowledge the wounding of bystander James Tague. A report that failed to mention all of the victims’ wounds had credibility problems from the start. Read more
The national media, much less diverse and fragmented in 1963 than today, joined the campaign to assuage doubts and dispel “rumors” about JFK’s assassination. Pollsters were already finding that a majority of Americans suspected conspiracy. Life Magazine’s Dec. 6 issue was devoted primarily to photo coverage of the Kennedy funeral, but also included a piece by Paul Mandel entitled “End to Nagging Rumors: The Six Critical Seconds.”
The article began with a quote from Dallas DA Henry Wade: “I would say without any doubt that he is the killer”, and referred to Oswald as “the assassin.”
Life Magazine had earlier purchased rights to Abraham Zapruder’s famous home movie of the murder in Dealey Plaza, and in a November 29 issue had shown frames from that film in black-and-white. Now the Mandel article tried to reconcile the film with Oswald’s guilt. Read more
On this day in 1963, the Warren Commission had its first meeting behind closed doors in Washington. As the seven commissioners began to discuss how to proceed, they grappled with the question of whether they should endorse the FBI’s upcoming report on JFK’s murder, or conduct their own investigation. After some discussion, they chose the latter.
Once President Johnson decided to back the idea of a Presidential Commission, he moved swiftly. By Friday, November 29, his selections had solidified, reluctant participants arm-wrestled into service, and the Commission was announced. It was to be headed by the most reluctant participant of all, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, and the story of how Johnson got him on board is revealing.
First, the names had to be run by the all-powerful FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Johnson was coy, asking if Hoover was “familiar with this proposed group they’re trying to put together?” Read more
Three days earlier, President Johnson had resisted the idea of a Presidential Commission inquiry into President Kennedy’s assassination, telling Joe Alsop “we don’t send in a bunch of carpetbaggers” and “the President must not inject himself into, ah, local killings.” To which Alsop had replied “I agree with that, but in this case it does happen to be the killing of the President.” Read more
President Johnson’s address to a joint session of Congress called on the nation to “let us continue”, an echo of Kennedy’s inaugural “let us begin anew”. Johnson began what would become a masterful use of Kennedy’s memory and his own considerable legislative skills in passing such seemingly intractable legislation as the 1964 Civil Rights bill. This is one of the greatest ironies of the assassination: it enabled LBJ to accomplish what Kennedy probably could not have.
On Tuesday the 26th, President Johnson met with many of the heads of state who had come to Washington for Kennedy’s funeral. The idea of a Presidential Commission to address the assassination was not yet settled. Meanwhile, in Mexico City another allegation of Communist conspiracy involving Oswald emerged, adding to the earlier CIA reporting that Oswald had met with a KGB officer associated with “Department 13″ – sabotage and assassinations. The efforts to blame communists for JFK’s assassination, sometimes emanating from CIA sources, would cloud the case for decades. Read more
On the Monday following the tragic and fast-moving events in Dallas, President Kennedy’s body was laid to rest in Arlington cemetary. A host of foreign dignitaries took part, including British Prime Minister Home, French President Charles de Gaulle, and many others.
Meanwhile the federal government’s response to the assassination was taking shape. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach sent the White House a memo proposing a course of action. He went right to the point in its second paragraph:
“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.”
On the Sunday morning following the assassination, Kennedy’s body lay in state at the Capitol rotunda, for mourning visitors to see.
Meanwhile in Dallas, a handcuffed Lee Harvey Oswald was led into the basement of the Dallas city jail for transfer to the county jail. Suddenly, on live national television, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd of reporters and fired one fatal gunshot into Oswald’s abdomen.
This stunning deed shocked and baffled the nation–and eliminated a key witness to the events that led to JFK’s murder. Not known for his sense of humor, FBI Director Hoover informed the White House in a memo that began: “There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead.” Read more
In the wee hours the day following JFK’s assassination, the confusion-clouded military autopsy of the slain president was concluded and the body delivered to the White House. In Dallas Lee Harvey Oswald remained in policy custody, undergoing interrogations of which no recordings were made. President Johnson began his first day as the new President.
In his first phone call with famed and feared FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Johnson received some surprising news. As “curious history” noted on another post this morning, “Hoover clearly states that the man in Mexico didn’t look like Oswald nor did the voice match. He states that it is a “different man”.
“Curious history” asks: “What do you make of that? The transcript is part of the LBJ library and seems as a credible source.”
Indeed, it is a credible source. The transcript of the call contains the following exchange: Read more
The site is dedicated to improving media coverage and public understanding of JFK's assassination, educating the young, and demanding the release of records still held in secret by U.S. government agencies.
Jefferson Morley, author and former Washington Post reporter, is the moderator of JFK Facts.
Morley has written about the JFK story for national publications including the Post, New York Times, New York Review of Books, Slate, Salon, TheAtlantic.com, and the Washington Monthly. He won the 2009 PEN/Oakland Censorship Award for his JFK reporting. He is author of "Our Man in Mexico; Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA" (University Press of Kansas, 2008).
Rex Bradford is the webmaster of JFK Facts, He is creator of MaryFerrell.org, the most comprehensive Web site of government records on the assassinations of JFK, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.