Katzenbach Memo

Nicholas Katzenbach in 1967.
Nicholas Katzenbach in 1967.

On November 25 1963, the day of the Kennedy funeral, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach sent a memo to Bill Moyers of the new Johnson White House. He had begun writing it the day earlier, within hours after Oswald's death at the hands of Jack Ruby.

The second paragraph stated: "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 trial."

Given that the authorities could not possibly by November 25 know these things to be true, and Katzenbach later admitted he knew very little at this stage, the memo is clearly advocating a political course irrespective of the truth of the assassination.

The motivation for this political course may be glimped in the succeeding paragraph: "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."

Katzenbach's memo advocated a public FBI report to satisfy this "objective," though he noted the possible need for "the appointment of a Presidential Commission of unimpeachable personnel to review and examine the evidence and announce its conclusions." He ended by advocating a quick public announcement to "head off speculation or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort."

To many observers, the Katzenbach memo provides the blueprint for the cover-up which followed.

Katzenbach Memo
Read the Katzenbach memo in full



The Creation of the Warren Commission, by Donald Gibson.

How the Media Assassinated the Real Story, by Robert Hennelly and Jerry Policoff.

Oswald, the CIA, and Mexico City, by John Newman.

The Fourteen Minute Gap, by Rex Bradford.

The Warren Commission's Failed Investigation, by Michael T. Griffith.

Other Links

Tape: Call on JFK Wasn't Oswald - AP story by Deb Reichmann of 21 Nov 1999, on JFK Lancer. Katzenbach is quoted in this story about the Oswald Mexico City tapes.



Memo of phone call from Hoover to White House of 24 Nov 1963. The HSCA reproduced this document in which Hoover said "There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead" and went on discuss the need to "convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."

Memo from Belmont to Tolson of 24 Nov 1963. This memo from the day before Katzenbach's memo records the FBI's plan to "set out the evidence showing that Oswald is responsible" for the assassination, and also lay out his Marxist/Soviet/Cuban connections.

Memo from DeLoach to Mohr of 9 Dec 1963. This memo records a later meeting with Katzenbach concerning release of the FBI report on the assassination.

Schweiker-Hart Report, Section III.B: The FBI Response. This section of the Church Committee's Book V gives a brief chronology which includes the Katzenbach memo.

HSCA Testimony of Nicholas Katzenbach. Testimony concerning the memo itself begins on page 652.

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