Exclusive: Gerald Ford, JFK and the FBI
Two members of the Warren Commission were initially not convinced that President John F. Kennedy had been shot from the sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository, according to confidential FBI files released this week to The Post's Joe Stephens.
The files detail the inner workings of a secret back channel that Gerald R. Ford, then a Michigan congressman who was one of seven members of the Warren Commission, opened in 1963 to J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. The declassified FBI memos are among scores of documents in the file on President Ford, who died in December 2006. At the request of The Post, the FBI this week released 500 pages of the bureau's voluminous file.
Although it has long been known that he secretly spoke with the FBI, the newly obtained, previously classified records detail one visit Ford made to one of Hoover's deputies just three weeks after joining the panel.
A December 1963 memo recounts that Ford told FBI Assistant Director Cartha D. DeLoach that two members remained unconvinced that Kennedy had been shot from the sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository. In addition, three commission members "failed to understand" the trajectory of the slugs, Ford said.
Ford told DeLoach that commission discussions would continue and reassured him that those minority points of view on the commission "of course would represent no problem," one internal FBI memo shows. The memo does not name the members involved and does not elaborate on what Ford meant by "no problem."
Ford also told DeLoach that Chief Justice Earl Warren, who headed the commission, had told its members that "they should strive to have their hearings completed and the findings made public prior to July 1964, when the Presidential campaigns will begin to get hot. He stated it would be unfair to present the findings after July." They missed their deadline, concluding in a report issued on September 24, 1964, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination.
Much of the material in the overall FBI file on Ford concerns intelligence about his political adversaries when he was president, especially organizations that the bureau thought might disrupt Ford's appearances around the country. But the file also sheds light on the investigation into Kennedy's assassination and the FBI's relationship with Ford, and shows how the bureau strove to curry favor with powerful politicians.
Another memo in the file, previously released with Warren Commission materials in 1978, details how Ford approached DeLoach in 1963 and offered to secretly inform the bureau about the inner workings of the then-ongoing Warren Commission investigation.
"Ford indicated he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the Commission," DeLoach wrote. "He stated this would have to be done on a confidential basis, however he thought it should be done."
Five days later, DeLoach had a second meeting with Ford and filed another confidential memo. DeLoach recounted that he "carefully" informed Ford that the FBI had released none of its investigative findings to the media. Instead, he said, it looked as though commission members were beginning to leak portions of the FBI report.
"I referred to this week's issue of 'Newsweek' magazine which contains a rather clear analysis of the report," DeLoach wrote. "I told Congressman Ford that 'Newsweek' was owned by the 'Washington Post' and that apparently some one was trying to curry favor. I told him we, of course, did not get along very well with either the 'Washington Post' or 'Newsweek.' He [said] that he was in the same boat, that he liked neither one of these publications."
The conversation, which has apparently not been previously reported, concluded with Ford saying he would like to take a confidential FBI report on the assassination with him on a family ski trip to Michigan. DeLoach offer to loan him an "Agent briefcase" with a lock, so Ford could safeguard the document.
Elsewhere in the FBI file on Ford, records show that as a young man, in 1942, Ford had applied to become an FBI agent. A background check at the time was favorable, the file says, "except for information that he was an isolationist and active in organizing an American First committee while at Yale University." Ford later withdrew his application.
In 1965, Ford asked FBI technicians to check the phone line at his home in Northern Virginia for tampering; they found none. In another instance, Ford asked the FBI to look into the background of his personal maid; she came up clean.
The FBI file shows Hoover routinely tried to ingratiate himself with Ford by sending him personal notes -- congratulating Ford on his re-election or his winning of an award, offering condolences on the death of Ford's parents, thanking Ford for saying nice things about the bureau on the floor of Congress. There are repeated references in the file to Ford having "enjoyed cordial relations" with the bureau, and notes pointing out that the FBI had named Ford to the bureau's "Special Correspondents List."
One memo notes: "Though we did experience some difficulty with all the members of the Warren Commission, Ford was of considerable help." It points out Ford once requested an 8-by-10-inch photograph of Hoover, although its intended use was unknown.
The intensity with which Hoover's FBI sought to gain favor with those who could later be of use is made clear in one memo written by a subordinate in 1963.
"In view of Congressman Ford's friendly attitude toward the FBI, and the fact that he is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and will probably be reappointed to this Committee in the next session of Congress, it is felt he should be presented a copy of the Director's new book, 'A Study of Communism.' The House Appropriations Committee, of course, is very important to us, and it is felt such a gesture would be very beneficial in connection with our Hill contact program."
Before presenting the book to Ford, the file shows, Hoover autographed it.
In 1964, Ford and his wife, Betty, attended a party at DeLoach's home. The next morning, Hoover followed up with an obsequious note, delivered by special messenger:
"My dear Congressman: I want to let you know how much I enjoyed talking to Mrs. Ford and you during the party at DeLoach's home last night. Particularly, I was very pleased to discuss in this informal manner some vital issues of interest to you as well as the FBI. Let me say that I found your observations to be both helpful and germane. It is always encouraging to know that we have alert, vigorous Congressmen, such as you, who are aware of the needs and problems confronting our country, and I wish you every success in meeting your grave responsibilities.
Whenever you have an opportunity, I would be happy to have Mrs. Ford and you drop by FBI Headquarters for a special tour of our facilities, and of course, I would like you to feel free to call on me any time our help is needed or when we can be of service.
With kind personal regards,
J. Edgar Hoover."
By The Editors |
August 7, 2008; 12:20 PM ET
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