The LBJ Myths

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson in the Cabinet Room at the White House

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson in the Cabinet Room at the White House

Feasibly second only to Lee Harvey Oswald, another person is asserted by some to be responsible for the death of John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Based on unproven hypotheses similar to assertions of Oswald's definite guilt they claim Johnson is who most benefited from the President's death; however, that is not true. Others did benefit more; for instance, J. Edgar Hoover received a lifetime appointment to the FBI's directorship from President Johnson while the new president gained a looming shadow of accusation that has endured over five decades. His troubled one-term presidency is a paltry reward for such claimed actions and based on his varying mistakes and gaffes he is not the classic mastermind.

Johnson was the quintessential opportunist, yet that does not attribute guilt to him regarding President Kennedy's assassination unless substantial evidence demonstrates it. Both Johnson and Lee Harvey Oswald enjoy the presumption of legal innocence without a trial and if LBJ had murderous intentions, why not use poisons that could be attributable to Addison's disease? Perhaps using the "accident" scenario instructed by the CIA's "A Study of Assassination"i would offer minimal chance for exposure. The overt manner of President Kennedy's death infers sending a violent message, not a clandestine removal of a public figure with minimum trouble and chance for discovery.

Some have attempted during the intervening years to assign nefarious blame to Johnson for actions influenced and undertaken by different officials. Some blame Johnson for moving President Kennedy's body from Parkland to Bethesda hospital and they refer to the events as both getaway and theft. However, Mrs. Kennedy would not leave without the President's body; this places untenable pressure on the situation and not just Mrs. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson feasibly rendered this controversial decision. According to Director of Central Intelligence John McCone's private files, he is with Attorney General Robert Kennedy shortly after the President is shot and RFK reportedly agrees with the move.

CIA Director JOhn MCcone was a Kennedy Appointee

CIA Director JOhn MCcone was a Kennedy Appointee

McCone had warmed to Kennedy from repeated years spent meeting on the Cuban issue together and their shared Catholic faith. After a long discussion McCone told Kennedy "...that the best thing to do would be to bring the President's body up as quickly as possible, as quickly as it could be released, and that he couldn't possibly get down there for three or four hours, by the time he got aboard a plane and got down there, and he would be out of touch all the time that he was in the air. He (Robert Kennedy) agreed with this, and as a result either decided or agreed with the decision that the body should be brought up with President Johnson and Mrs. Kennedy as quickly as possible."ii While McCone indeed suppressed evidence of Central Intelligence Agency incompetence and illegal programs, this account emerges from his private files. Secured files he had no reason to believe would become public and thus allusions to nefarious action by Johnson are unproven and the explanation offered by McCone is reasonable. The removal of the body remains illegal, yet the explanation is seemingly not a planned tactic of conspiracy but time management.

Additionally, some attribute the quick swearing in of Johnson again to an unproven nefarious plot he authored but in the files of DCI McCone is a brief discussion of the matter with Robert Kennedy. "He (Robert Kennedy) talked with President Johnson and there was a question of the procedure for swearing in President Johnson...He (Kennedy) contacted his find out exactly who could administer the oath...He insisted that the swearing in be done immediately. I think President Johnson felt the same way. He (Kennedy) did not want the country to go for two hours and a half that President Johnson would be in the air without a President."iii Based on the primary evidence Robert Kennedy's principals, not Lyndon Johnson's power initiated the ceremony in Dallas.

Others claim Johnson attempted to evade the law by forming the President's (Warren) Commission, however President Johnson initially desired the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct a tidy investigation. Conversely, Nicholas Katzenbach and others at the Department of Justice ultimately may have inspired the Commission's formation against Johnson and Hoover's will.iv Stories leaked to the press further raised the political stakes prompting the Commission's formation and it was not Johnson's idea, but eventually forced upon him despite his want for a Bureau led investigation. The Commission investigation was deeply flawed, but not the mindless Johnson inspired construct some declare and this exposes the aforementioned claim as inaccurate.

US Supreme Court Justice Abraham Fortas

US Supreme Court Justice Abraham Fortas

Asserted to be among President Johnson's political manipulations is the appointment of Allen Dulles to the President's Commission. Primary evidence instead reveals "Abe [Fortas] has talked with Katzenbach and Katzenbach with the Attorney General (Robert Kennedy). They recommend a seven man commission- two Senators, two Congressman, the Chief Justice, Allen Dulles, and a retired military man..."v Katzenbach told the Select Committee "I doubted that anybody in the Government, Mr. Hoover, or the FBI or myself or the President or anyone else, could satisfy a lot of foreign opinion that all the facts were being revealed and that the investigation would be complete and conclusive and without any loose ends." Conversely, a variety of uninspected evidence, witnesses, and suspects were the Commission's historical legacy with many of its findings undergoing revision multiple times by various later official investigations.

While some have attempted to label Johnson a conspiracy mastermind, these passionate claims rely on no substantial evidence because if Johnson were the author of a murderous conspiracy, he would not challenge the official findings. Johnson had no reason to complain of official failures that did not implicate him and would have allowed deficient actions to suffice without question but that is not what he did. In private conversations, he disbelieved the Single Bullet Theory, noted possible Agency involvement in a conspiracy, and worried about a shot intended for vii viii These conversations are not indicative of guilt and Johnson's actions rather infer he was not involved but privately feared possible conspiracies targeting him as well. Akin to John McCone's private notes, the president was unaware the public would learn of all his contrary statements and fears of political conspiracy. DCI McCone noted Johnson is "...very much concerned over the full-page ads run by anti-Kennedy types just prior to and on the day of the Kennedy visit to Dallas.” If the new president were responsible for the death of his predecessor why continue to have officials pursue these matters beyond minimal inquiry? "He is likewise concerned over the flood of letters being sent to Dallas newspapers that the President's assassination was a good thing. DCI asked Dick Helms to see what information we can develop to explain this." Johnson seemed to find official answers incomplete and privately remained fearful and disturbed.

The historical picture formed by multiple scholars and researchers attributes dishonesty, greed, and malice to be among Johnson's many flaws. He was boorish, loud, not averse to violence, and known to burn political bridges easier crossed with diplomacy but the evidence regarding President Kennedy assassination does not indicate the involvement of Lyndon Baines Johnson presently. Shall those who propagated the former LBJ myths for decades and in some cases still do be as committed to seeing them dispelled? I have my doubts.
C.A.A. Savastano
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i. CIA Guatemala 1954 Documents, “A Study of Assassination” and transcript, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 4, George Washington University,
ii. Central Intelligence Agency, Miscellaneous Files, DCI Files, 1964, pp. 5-6, National Archives and Records Administration Identification Number: 104-10306-10017

iii. Ibid, pp. 4-5
iv. Federal Bureau of Investigation file, J. Edgar Hoover regarding Katzenbach call, Hood University, Harold Weisberg Archives (HWA), November 25, 1963, pp. 1-3
v. Hearings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Appendix Volume XI, The Warren Commission, March, 1979, p. 6

vi. Wilkes, Donald E. Jr., “JFK Killer Not Alone, UGA Professor Says”, (1994), Popular Media, Paper 117, University of Georgia Law,
vii. Federal Bureau of Investigation Memorandum, Letter from Cartha DeLoach to Clyde Tolson, HWA, April 4, 1967
viii. Phone Conversation between FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Lyndon Johnson in the Whitehouse, (n.d.) , History Matters,, November, 1963

Edited: July 2019

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