The Biden administration and the release – and non-release – of various records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy held at the National Archives made the national news cycle towards the end of last year, as they made the decision to continue to withhold thousands of records for reasons of national security. What people do not know is that there are other critical assassination related records that are simply missing.
I stumbled upon this discovery while looking at the Lyndon Johnson’s daily diary collection at the LBJ Presidential Library. This diary amounts to a daily itinerary of Lyndon Johnson’s movements and meetings when he was Kennedy’s Vice-President and then when he became President. I was curious to see what it said about where LBJ was on November 21, 1963, the night before President Kennedy’s assassination, because various stories have been told about it.
One story, told by Madeleine Brown, a purported mistress of LBJ’s, was that he was at an “assassination party” at oil baron Clint Murchinson’s Dallas home the night before the assassination. This story once aired on a segment of the “Men Who Killed Kennedy” on the History Channel in 2003 to controversy and was recounted in a book titled Killing The Truth by Harrison Livingstone in 1993. I find the story hard to believe, but figured that Johnson’s daily diary could shed evidence on it one way or the other.
Well, it turns out that the dairy shows that Lyndon Johnson was actually with President Kennedy before the assassination that night. Both of the men went to the Rice Hotel In Houston, Texas that evening, with LBJ arriving at 4:50 PM. LBJ then had dinner with Jack Valenti and his wife and met President Kennedy in his suite at 8:00 PM. The two were together there for 45 minutes and then they left in a Presidential motorcade to the Albert Thomas Appreciation dinner, where both spoke. After that, they left to the airport and flew to Fort Worth, where both arrived at the Texas Hotel and went to sleep. LBJ got to his room at 11:30. He wasn’t in Dallas that night, so he couldn’t have been at an “assassination party” in that city on November 21, 1963.
After looking at that, though, I turned to November 22 and then November 23rd.
It is while looking at November 23rd, that I noticed something surprising.
That is the first day LBJ was President of the United States and the daily diary lists all of the phone calls he made or received on that day.
Here is the first page of the daily diary for that day. You can find the entry for November 23, 1963 in PDF form here.
There is nothing unusual here. We already know from other sources that on the morning of November 23, 1963 LBJ’s first White House meeting, in the situation room, was with National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy and CIA director John McCone. According to a book of transcripts of the taped conversation after the assassination, titled The Presidential Recordings: Lyndon B. Johnson * The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power, November 1963-January 1964, produced by the UVA Miller Center and edited by Max Holland, and several associate and general editors, at this meeting it was discussed that “disturbing information had been confirmed by the CIA in the hours since the assassination. Just weeks before November 22, Lee Harvey Oswald had traveled to Mexico City and visited the Soviet Embassy. This contact raised the ante on direct Soviet involvement, and it was agreed that McCone would personally brief Johnson for at least the next few days ahead about this development. Three hours later, McCone stopped by the EOB to tell Johnson more troubling news. Oswald, while in Mexico City had apparently visited the Cuban Embassy as well.”
Soon after that situation room meeting, at 10:01 AM, LBJ had a phone call with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover about the FBI’s investigation into the assassination. During this conversation, LBJ asked Hoover about Oswald’s visit to the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. These calls were taped and transcripts of the calls were made. According to a transcript made of this phone call, Hoover told him, “that’s one angle that’s very confusing, for this reason. We have up here the tape and photograph of the man who was at the Soviet Embassy using Oswald’s name. That picture and the tape do not correspond to this man’s voice, nor to his appearance. In other words, it appears that there is a second person who was at the Soviet Embassy down there.”
According to a memo from John McCone, the CIA transmitted this “confusing” information to the FBI. This continued to trouble Hoover, because in January 1964, when his subordinates sent him a memo saying that the CIA had promised to keep the Bureau informed of their operations inside the United States. Hoover wrote on the memo, in response, “OK, but I hope you are not being taken in. I can’t forget CIA withholding the French espionage activities in USA nor the false story re Oswald’s trip in Mexico City only to mention two of their instances of double dealing.”
For our discussion, though, immediately after this LBJ/Hoover telephone conversation, according to the daily diary, LBJ called McGeorge Bundy at 10:14 AM.
The conversation also does not exist in the Miller Center archive of Presidential tapes, which has operated in conjunction with the LBJ library on the tapes to help promote some of them, and it was almost certainly assassination related due to its timing – having come right after Hoover told LBJ that the FBI found that someone who had pretended to be Oswald visited the Soviet Embassy, soon after LBJ discussed this visit with CIA Director John McCone and McGeorge Bundy. One would not know that this Bundy conversation had ever even happened if one just relied on the Miller Center published book of tape transcripts from that day, as this page below from the table of contents shows.
Here is the next page in the LBJ daily diary.
After the Bundy conversation, at 11:50 former President Dwight Eisenhower came to LBJ and visited with him, during which John McCone came into the room and talked with them at one point. Here is a photo taken during of the former President’s arrival.
According to Robert Caro’s book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, LBJ told a group of Governors he invited to the White House, a few days later, “I sat here yesterday with the great President of this country who led our forces to victory. He came in yesterday to offer his help. He spent two and a half hours here. We did not discuss party or politics. We just discussed what needed to be done on this country to save it.”
If Holland is correct, John McCone gave an update to LBJ about the “Oswald” and Mexico City situation in the presence of Eisenhower, during the time they were together. Did this information prompt the former President to advise LBJ on what steps to take to save the country?
At 1:35 LBJ had a phone conversation with Edwin Weisl, Sr., a supporter and friend of LBJ’s for years, who was a lawyer in New York with connections to powerful Wall Street and Hollywood interests. They discussed the health of the financial markets and a need for stability and confidence in light of events. LBJ told him, “this thing… on the..the..this assassin Lee Harvey Oswald may have a lot more complications than you know about.” LBJ said that they need to “show that we’re going to preserve this system,” and that’s why he was concerned about the mood in the business world. Weisl told him that the assassination “came so suddenly that it created quite a panic. But I think with you in there, there’s great confidence on the part of business and investors.” He said a tax bill “would be the greatest restoration of confidence – not restoration, but the preservation of confidence – we can have.”
There is another 3:30 PM conversation with McGeorge Bundy that also does not exist in any of the archives on the next page of the diary.
This 3:30 PM conversation with Bundy is not listed in the National Archives database or in the Miller Center book.
It also does not exist in the LBJ Presidential Library too.
Here is the daily diary for Sunday November 24, 1963.
You can find a list of audio files for the calls and content for this at the LBJ Presidential Library at this link. There is a conversation with FBI Director Hoover at 8:55 that also is not there and then one afterwards with Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. The Miller Center book references these conversations and says that they are recounted in the William Manchester book The Death of a President and says that these conversations were not recorded by LBJ in a footnote.
There are four conversations on that day that are simply “machine noise” in the LBJ Presidential Library database. They may be phone conversations on 11/24/1963 that were later taped over.
This seems to have happened with the Hoover conversation on November 22, 1963, but a transcript was preserved of that phone call.
In one of these November, 24, 1963 calls there is an archivist note that reads, “‘CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING ON THIS’ ERASED ON SLIP.” For the others calls there is another note: “2 CALLS”; “PHONES OUT OF ORDER”; ALL YOUNG”; AGAIN.” A call to Whitney Young took place before these two noise filled tapes. Maybe those two were just problems with using the phone recording system in calling Mr. Young.
On Monday, November 25, 1963, though, we find that LBJ’s first phone call of the day is with McGeorge Bundy, and it’s a long one, possibly being over an hour in length.
This Bundy conversation also does not exist in the Miller Center archives, LBJ Presidential Library, and the National Archives database. The Miller Center book does not refer to this conversation in its book either, so it would appear any record of what transpired during it is missing.
This conversation with McGeorge Bundy is likely assassination related, because, after it, LBJ met with aides Walter Jenkins and Bill Moyers. Moyers had phone conversations about potential assassination investigations. After LBJ meets with his aides he called Hoover and talked with him about the assassination and proposed investigations into it. This was the topic throughout the entire morning for LBJ. There is also no recording of the Abe Fortas conversation in the various archives.
He had served as LBJ’s lawyer and most likely they discussed this topic too.
Two conversations Bundy has later that day with LBJ at 4:00 PM and then at 9:29 are transcribed in the book and available in the databases.
In the first of these conversations LBJ expressed concerns with Bundy about the financial markets being impacted by public worries over the assassination. Bundy told President Johnson that he spoked with Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon and William Martin, the head of the Federal Reserve, and both said that they saw no reason to worry. Johnson said that he thought “both of them might make some kind of a statement about – continuity, stability, or something, and express their confidence.”
In the second evening conversation, LBJ confirmed with Bundy that he still wanted French President Charles de Gaulle to take his previously scheduled visit to the United States for February of 1964. He ended this quick conversation by telling Bundy that “we had a good meeting with the governors.”
Bundy, said, “Oh, good!” and told the President “I heard the outburst, and I thought that was very touching.”
So, in the first 72 hours after the assassination of President Kennedy it appears that there are three conversations with National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy from the National Archives, LBJ Library, and Miller Center that are almost certainly assassination related that we have no recording for. One is a critical early morning conversation on November 24, 1963 that may have been over an hour in length, judging by the diary entry, and preceded critical assassination related meetings and conversations that LBJ had about it and how it should be investigated. As far as I can find there is no record or description of what transpired during that lengthy Bundy conversation. It seems to be missing to history.
I had thought all of the taped conversations related to the assassination were already available, because of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. The LBJ library has an extensive explanation of the handling of the tapes and says that “When Archives staff completed the White House Series in Dec. 2008, the decision was made to reprocess and add the Kennedy Series conversations, so that the recordings were represented with their true provenance . Though the conversations do not correspond exactly, due to changes in processing techniques, all of the content from the Kennedy Series now exists in the White House series.”
That last sentence makes me believe that these conversations are not being classified in secret.
Where are they?
Did LBJ think they were too hot to record and so didn’t record them?
Or did they just vanish somehow a long time ago?
In the end, though, the biggest mystery isn’t the tapes, but what was going on with this “Oswald” in Mexico City. Why did the FBI believe that they were given misleading information by the CIA about what took place there?
It is what these missing Bundy conversations may have revealed about those questions that is truly lost.
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