It has never been any secret that many serious people at the top of the U.S. government did not believe that President Kennedy was killed by a proverbial “lone nut.” But the elites of Washington have always preferred to ignore such suspicions.
Until today, when former New York Times reporter Phil Shenon reports in Politico magazine on the conspiratorial suspicions of one David Slawson, a retired law professor who investigated JFK’s assassination for the Warren Commission and now admits he got it wrong.
Slawson’s views are not unprecedented in elite power circles of Washington. Far from it.
JFK’s successor Lyndon Johnson always believed JFK had been killed by his enemies. JFK’s widow, Jackie Kennedy, and his brother Robert, suspected conspiracy from the very start, confiding their doubts only in the closest of friends. According to a recent biogoraphy, Jackie could not accept the official account of the hail of gunfire that fatally wounded her husband.
Such suspicions were expressed by CIA officials decades ago. Two weeks after the assassination CIA Director John McCone told Bobby Kennedy that film evidence showed the president had been hit by gunfire from two directions. Mexico City station chief Win Scott who oversaw the surveillance of the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald six weeks before the assassination, later wrote a memoir in which he said Oswald was the instrument of others.
Former President Harry Truman’s reaction to Kennedy’s murder was perhaps the most telling of all. He called for the abolition of the CIA and its secret operations in a column for the Washington Post.
Yet such stories were unknown or ignored. They were the stuff of “conspiracy theorists,” and who could be more contemptible? In the corridors of power in Washington and the newsrooms of the New York Times and the Washington Post (where I worked for 15 years) the documented suspicions of these insiders were confidently dismissed. The overwhelming consensus was that there was no good reason to doubt the official theory of Kennedy’s murder. To talk about, think about, or express an interest in the causes of Kennedy’s death was generally regarded as a sign of political irrationality, if not mental illness.
That is about to change thanks to Shenon’s landmark interview with Slawson who recants his belief in the “lone nut” theory of Kennedy’s death. His change of heart shows suspicions of a JFK conspiracy have finally penetrated into the consciousness of the bright young men who were selected to refute them.
In 1964 Slawson exemplified the lawyers chosen to investigate JFK’s murder. The product of the finest universities and law school, they were the ones who could put to bed the “rumors” and the “speculation” about the crime of Dallas. They were superior to what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics.” They were smart, honest, and they knew how Washington worked. And they trusted the very best men of the CIA.
Now they know better. Howard Willens, a colleague of Slawson’s on the Commission, told JFK Facts last year, “I was naive, to say the least, about the CIA.” CIA deputy director Richard Helms and counterintelligence chief James Angleton were “untruthful” with investigators, he admitted.
Slawson told Shenon it had never occurred to him that the CIA “tried to sabotage us.”
Now Slawson, one of the original apostles of the lone gunman gospel, has now rejected his former faith.
“Slawson’s most startling conclusion: He now believes that other people probably knew about Oswald’s plans to kill the president and encouraged him, raising the possibility that there was a conspiracy in Kennedy’s death—at least according to the common legal definition of the word conspiracy, which requires simply that at least two people plot to do wrongdoing. ‘I now know that Oswald was almost certainly not a lone wolf,’ Slawson says.”
Slawson’s not the only one. Shenon, author of a recent book about JFK’s assassination, seems to be undergoing the same sickening epiphany as Slawson: Maybe the official story isn’t true.
That’s a thought a lot of people outside of major news organizations and outside of the Beltway have had for a very long time ago. But let’s not begrudge Slawson his recantation. It is welcome, if overdue.
Slawson now believes the Warren Commission
“was the victim of a ‘massive cover-up’ by government officials who wanted to hide the fact that, had they simply acted on the evidence in front of them in November 1963, the assassination might have been prevented. ‘It’s amazing—it’s terrible—to discover all of this 50 years late,’ Slawson says.”
The JFK story is amazing. It is terrible. And it is amazing and terrible that it took so long for a major Washington news organization to acknowledge “the massive coverup” that continues to this day.