By Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008
Confidential FBI files released this week to The Washington Post detail the inner workings of a secret back channel that Gerald R. Ford opened in 1963 between J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and the Warren Commission's independent investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The existence of the private conduit has long been known, first disclosed in documents released 30 years ago. Now, newly obtained, previously classified records detail one visit Ford made to one of Hoover's deputies in December 1963 -- three weeks after being named to the commission.
Declassified FBI memos on Ford's interactions with the bureau are among scores of documents in the FBI's previously confidential file on the former president, , who died in December 2006. At the request of The Post, the FBI this week released 500 pages of the bureau's voluminous file.
A December 1963 memo recounts that Ford, then a Republican congressman from Michigan, told FBI Assistant Director Cartha D. "Deke" DeLoach that two members of the seven-person commission 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 Sept. 24, 1964, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination.
Much of the material in the FBI file concerns intelligence about Ford's 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 it 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 lend him an "Agent briefcase" with a lock, so Ford could safeguard the document.