Gaeton Fonzi died in late August. Arlen Specter died Sunday. Thus are gone within six weeks of each other two men whose paths crossed dramatically in connection with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was Specter, who as a junior counsel to the Warren Commission in the 1960s came up with the “magic bullet” theory, which was necessary to pin the crime on a lone assassin – Lee Harvey Oswald. It was Fonzi who, after interviewing Specter, was one of the first to write in a magazine article that the theory was impossible. Fonzi wrote how the normally smooth-talking Specter, stumbled and fumbled trying to explain his theory. Specter went on to a long career as a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, but was increasingly dogged by the criticism that, intentionally or not, he had blown an investigation of monumental importance.
Fonzi later got a close-up look at the assassination as a government investigator for two congressional committees in the 1970s. What he saw convinced him that there was a conspiracy to kill JFK, and a second conspiracy, largely orchestrated by the CIA, to cover up the nature of the crime.
First, in Gold Coast magazine in 1980, and 13 years later in his book The Last Investigation, Fonzi described the frustration of trying to solve a murder, when at every turn agents of the U.S. government blocked a serious inquiry into the background of the crime of the century. That book had little impact when published, but over the years has inspired many researchers who used his work as a template, so that upon his death The New York Times called his book “an iconic work” regarded as one of the best ever on the assassination.
Still, some people wonder if we will ever know the full details of the crime and why it has been so difficult for conscientious investigators to explain. Only in recent years has it become apparent that one reason, if not the central reason, was that almost from the day in Dallas in 1963, Robert Kennedy, and by extension over the years the Kennedy family, did not want the truth known.
In books such as David Talbot’s Brothers and James Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable it has become known that Robert Kennedy sensed the nature of the conspiracy almost from the day it happened. One of his first calls was to John McCone, director of the CIA, asking if his agency was involved. McCone, a Kennedy appointee, clearly had no idea. He was out of the loop of the network of men who hated JFK for his refusal to attack Cuba and to agree to remove missiles from Turkey during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
It appears that Robert Kennedy also sensed that those behind the murder had connections to a group he was personally overseeing, men with a mission to kill Fidel Castro. And he may have known Oswald was an intelligence agent set up by the conspirators to appear to be a Castro sympathizer to justify an attack on Cuba. Since President Kennedy had agreed to lay off Castro, he feared that if Oswald’s role as a CIA asset became known, it could destroy the effectiveness of the agency, create huge problems for himself and possibly lead to a deadly confrontation with the Soviet Union. It was exactly such an attempt to defuse the Cold War that had earned him and his brother the enmity of those high in the military and the intelligence community. It is revealing (although it was not revealed at the time) that Robert Kennedy used back channels to tell the Soviets that he knew they had nothing to do with the killing, that it was a domestic conspiracy.
Robert Kennedy publicly said nothing. He may have feared for his own life, with some justification. But those close to him have said he privately monitored investigations such as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. There were also hints that if he became president he might attempt to get at the truth. He never got there.
Some of this remains speculation. But what is not speculation, and bears heavily on the argument, is a memo written by Robert Kennedy’s second in command, Nicholas Katzenbach, three days after the assassination. It was to Bill Moyers, the new President Lyndon B. Johnson’s assistant. It is among documents that have surfaced over the years. Initially, it did not create much of a stir. But, as more about Robert Kennedy’s thoughts become public, and in the light of 50 years of frustration is the search for the truth, the memo is dynamite. Among the paragraphs are these:
“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 the trial.”
“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.”
He recommended “the appointment of a Presidential Commission of unimpeachable personnel to review and examine the evidence and announce its conclusions.”
Katzenbach ended by advocating a quick public announcement to “head off speculation or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort.”
Keep in mind this went out just three days after the assassination, when Oswald was still supposed to be something of a lone-nut mystery.
Katzenbach, who died last May, was Robert Kennedy’s right-hand man. Can anybody believe that this went out without RFK’s knowledge and approval? To this observer, it makes it clear the fix was in from the beginning, and Robert Kennedy, almost surely, for patriotic reasons, was part of it.
Robert Kennedy was as much a victim as his brother, and it is hard to solve a crime when the victim does not want it solved.