EH Hunt helped LBJ Kill JFK?

An audio tape has been released of Watergate conspirator and longtime CIA operative E. Howard Hunt confessing on his deathbed to helping Lyndon B. Johnson assassinate John F. Kennedy.  I have no special expertise on this topic, but this seems on its face hard evidence to dismiss. I would dearly love to see a betting market on this topic, but since almost a half century has already passed, we may well have to wait another half century or more to see a clear resolution.

The topic is fascinating because such claims have long been dismissed by “establishment” media and academia, yet a minority of passionate advocates keep the topic alive.  There are plenty of potential biases each side can use to explain why the other side disagrees.   So at what odds would you bet?

Added: The lack of media coverage of this is odd (exceptions here, here, here.)

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  • Well, when I clicked on the sound, all I got was a very groovy light show, but no sound.
    Anyway, I guess we should accept that there is probably some sort of tape, and that it was
    played. However, it is always possible that either St. John faked it and claimed that it
    was from his dad, or that his dad went bonkers and senile at the end and fantasized the
    whole thing. OTOH, if it really is true, it is stunning. I am not going to put odds on it,
    even though Robin is really into that sort of thing. Just not my bag.

    Regarding its broader likelihood, I am someone who went from accepting the standard story to
    seriously accepting some modified conspiracy theory around 1975 involving mostly the mafia,
    but possibly with Cuban-related CIA elements (the stuffing of John Roselli into a garbage can
    just before he was to testify before the House Assassinations sub-committee, he the reputed main
    link between those two groups through Las Vegas, was always rather suspicious), to later
    deciding that the evidence that it was Oswald all alone was pretty convincing, despite all the
    weird loose ends. One thing that actually pushed me more in that direction was actually visiting
    Dealy Plaza in 1987, and seeing how small the place is and how hard it would be for someone to
    fire from the infamous grassy knoll in any sort of concealed way.

    I knew someone who was a staffer on the House Assassinations sub-committee, and they told me
    that the mafia theory was the one that always seemed the most likely, although, again the Cubans
    could have gotten involved with that. The CIA link is the one that looks shakier, except for the
    parts of the agency involved with the whole Cuban fiasco, which many were upset about. JFK was plenty friendly with at least some folks at CIA and their crowd. He was much less friendly with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Hoover reportedly holding over his head information he had about JFK’s WW II liaison with a Nazi agent, among other scandalous stuff. In the old competition between CIA and FBI, JFK was definitely a pro-CIA guy, whereas LBJ was more a Hoover guy, once remarking famously that he would “rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

    This latter point is especially relevant if one is going to take this LBJ plot idea seriously, which I confess I have trouble getting my belief around much. LBJ was not wired into the CIA or the mafia; he was pro-FBI. Nor was he wired into this Cuban crowd particularly, unless it was all hush-hush and successfully kept secret all these years, despite all the many investigations that have gone on and on. Why did we not hear any whispers of this during the 1975 House Assassinations investigations? I guess at the bottom line, I am having trouble buying this new theory. Probability? Less then 50% for me, but I suppose not impossible.

  • dba

    um… do you not know who Alex Jones is? If you did, you wouldn’t have bothered posting that link I hope. “Overcoming bias” is one thing… giving voice and equal weight to complete nutjobs is another. And this is not pure ad hominem, anyone who has read Alex Jones’ “arguments” or watched any of his “documentaries” (I’ve done both) knows that it is a waste of time to take him seriously.

  • James Blair

    Is this sufficently not-Alex Jones?

  • I don’t know much about this topic, just did some googling:

    Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives

    “I.B. Scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy. Other scientific evidence does not preclude the possibility of two gunmen firing at the President. Scientific evidence negates some specific conspiracy allegations.

    “I.C. The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy.”

    It was interesting to me that this 1979 review by the U.S. government rejected the lone gunman theory. I’m not sure that message has really gotten out.

    Or maybe it has. A 2003 poll found: “Forty years later, suspicions of a conspiracy endure: Seven in 10 Americans think the assassination of John F. Kennedy was the result of a plot, not the act of a lone killer — and a bare majority thinks that plot included a second shooter on Dealey Plaza.”

    However I don’t know that I find a deathbed confession all that convincing, especially by a notorious figure like Hunt. One could certainly imagine other motivations than a desire to leave posterity with a better grasp on the truth. It would be interesting to see evidence of how often deathbed confessions prove to be accurate.

  • BTW it would be quite easy to create an FX claim related to the issue. The main problems would be circumscribing the exact nature of the conspiracy. Is it enough that others knew of Oswald’s plan? Should there be more than one gunman? Was Ruby (Oswald’s killer) supposed to be in on it? How important is the LBJ connection, vs say a Joint Chiefs/CIA operation? And how about whatever else Hunt says, is all of it supposed to be true?

    The other problem is deciding the judging criteria. Broadly speaking we would probably ask what the appropriate consensus opinion is at some point in the future. But identifying that consensus may be difficult. Public opinion or government positions are apparently already rejecting the lone gunman theory. From what I’ve seen, historians tend to be somewhat wishy-washy on this matter, preferring to focus more on the sociology of the controversy than taking sides. But perhaps in the fullness of time an identifiable historical consensus will emerge.

  • Hal, since an opinion poll and an official Congressional committee both reject the lone gunman theory, I wonder if one can find any official consensus measure that accepts the lone gunman theory. If the lone gunman is eventually proved wrong, will the establishment be able to claim that is what everyone knew all along?

  • Whether or not there was a conspiracy or two gunmen, I have problems with this account, now having read the Rolling Stone link by St. John Hunt. The guy is a jobless ex-meth freak who needs money. What better way to get it than to peddle a tale like this. He could easily have written this out and put together the tape, if there really is one, and claimed it was done by his father. After all, old E.H. has an autobio coming out that does not push this theory. Sounds highly likely that this is St. John cooking it up for money.

    The key link is Cord Meyer. Now, maybe Meyer was all worked up about his wife having an affair with JFK, but that crowd all had affairs with each other. I find it hard to believe that Meyer would have taken such an attitude. Furthermore, he was not an LBJ ally. He was definitely in the JFK Georgetown social set. This thing does not wash, even if the mafia hired a second gunman and used some Cubans along the way who had CIA connections.

  • Barkely, it is beyond the power of most jobless ex-meth freaks to make a convincing fake audio tape, that people who know the man do not think is obviously a fake.

  • michael vassar

    It seems to me that if the consensus among the public AND the most relevant congressional committee and most self-appointed experts all agree and their positions oppose the established “mainstream” or “consensus” opinion this implies that the nature of “mainstream” or “consensus” opinion is somewhat non-obvious and deserves investigation. OTOH, the public and the most relevant military committee may agree on the existence of UFOs, and/or even on abductions, but this doesn’t mean that I take the existence of UFOs seriously.

  • Douglas Knight

    I wonder if one can find any official consensus measure that accepts the lone gunman theory.

    the Warren Commission

  • Robin,

    Perhaps. However, as I said, I did not hear a tape when I went to the link. I got a light show. Now, I presume there is a tape. But I have not seen anybody anywhere besides St. John who claims to have known E.H. and who has listened to the tape and said that it was definitely E.H. No such person was quoted in the Rolling Stone story, most of which was all about poor St. John, how his dad mistreated him, how he toured with Buddy Guy (Rolling Stone is a rock music mag, after all), all of his various drug and sex escapades and so on. All of that does not prove that he is lying or that it is false. It just says that one really needs some serious corroboration about this tape, and so far in all of this I have seen no one besides St. John himself doing such a corroboration.

    Besides, the guy was in the rock music business and the son of a smart spook. Who says that he does not have the skills to put together some kind of faked tape? I remind you, his drug of choice is the sort of thing that induces paranoia and in the short run makes one more functional, like lots of coffee. Paul Erdos was a notorious speed freak.

  • Ian B Gibson

    I was just wondering if it’s logically possible to have a ‘mainstream’ opinion that is only shared by a minority?

    If not, it would appear that the mainstream opinion is that there was a conspiracy, regardless of the official story.

  • Douglas Knight

    Ian B Gibson,
    Certainly. Evolution is an example. Tyler Cowen recently brought up astrology. I’m not sure how much I’d count any of them as a belief. At least with astrology it manifests itself in actions: consulting horoscopes and astrologers, and maybe even in changing other actions.

    I find the compartmentalization of societal sanction of belief much more bizarre than individual compartmentalization of belief. That is, I find it bizarre that there are “mainstream” beliefs held by so few people. Some would say that “mainstream” beliefs are those imposed by some sort of elite, perhaps a media elite. I’m sure that’s part of it, but newspapers print horoscopes, too. I imagine that reporters are more likely to believe in evolution, but typical in their belief in astrology.

    But I don’t even know the facts, let alone an explanation. Who enforces the ban on astrology in the news? Is it people in the news business? A vocal minority in the audience? The same people who believe in it in other contexts? Why do they allow a horoscope page?

  • Robin,

    Just looked at your added media links. None of them contain reports of any reliable third parties who attest that indeed the tape is Hunt for sure. All we have is the four and a half minute tape that was apparently played on April 27 on Coast to Coast. St. John says he will post the whole 20 minute version on his website, but last I checked, ain’t nothin’ up there.

    The third of your links is about a new book, which references the tape, although not clearly confirming its authenticity. What is reported in the story on the book focuses on RFK’s search for the various mafia and CIA-linked Cuban plotters, but says nothing about LBJ.

    Again, I am fairly open to the idea of some kind of mafia-Cuban-semi-CIA plot to do in JFK, but this could have involved Oswald as the lone shooter without all this grassy knoll stuff, and as I said above, I became a lot more skeptical about that whole tale after I finally saw the grassy knoll itself in Dealy Plaza 20 years ago. Oswald out the window was quite sufficient, and he had a lot of strange connections.

    But the link to LBJ remains the least likely and the most preposterous. Was he linked to this mafia-Cuban crowd? Not that I have heard of previously. And that he was linked to Cord Meyer seriously also remains off the wall, although Meyer did have personal reasons why he might have hated JFK, that the latter was having a major affair with his wife who died under mysterious circumstances (including rumors that she and JFK did acid together, old CIA acid at that reputedly).

  • Barkley, I am not claiming the issue is settled, not by a long shot. It just seems odd for this confession to get so little coverage, not even damning negative coverage.

  • Douglas Knight

    Barkley Rosser,
    why were you ever sympathetic to multiple gunmen? Has anyone ever used multiple snipers in an assassination? Snipers get a window of only a few seconds after the first shot. If they need backup, they’re not good enough to synchronize.
    Or are the theories that there was a gunman on the grassy knoll and no shots from the depository?

  • Douglas,

    JFK’s head is seen to jerk in the wrong direction at one point in Zapruder’s film, and the evidence regarding bullets and bullet paths is messy and may be consistent with the second gunman, plus some claim to have heard a shot from the grassy knoll.

    But, I agree, multiple assassins are unusual and clearly have problems of coordination and so forth. And, I did not say I believed the theory, merely that I was more open to it than I was after visiting the site and looking at the reports further. The conspiracy theories can operate pretty fully with Oswald alone, assuming they are true, which I do not know at this point.

  • As the most voluminous commenter on this thread, let me make a (probably) final set of comments. This is partly due to the fact that I realize that I am probably older than most readers and contributors to this blog, indeed, I suspect that most were not even born when JFK was shot.

    However, I was in 10th grade when it happened, one of those who can remember the moment I learned of it, sitting in an English class. The teacher was very late to class. When she finally walked in, she went to the board and wrote on it in large letters, “RIP,” and then walked out again without saying anything, not returning that day. We all had to figure out what had happened, which did not take too long.

    I was a more or less libertarian Republican in those days and not a fan of either JFK or his family (thought they were crypto-monarchists). However, it was a terrible shock, and it was really the first such enormous, out-of-the-blue shock, although Pearl Harbor was big, despite the rising tide of conflict with Japan, and Sputnik being launched was another, which I also remember. But, the nation pretty much shut down for the aftermath of the JFK assassination, with everybody watching everything on TV, including John-John (now dead also) saluting the caisson and all that. I know that some sociologists have remarked that this was the event that made TV our “national culture.”

    So, people were traumatized. The Warren Commission Report was pretty much universally accepted at first. Most had thought initially it would be a right-winger, given Dallas’s rep in those days, but for all his weirdness, Oswald and his pro-Castro sentiments and former Soviet existence made a sort of sense, although his sudden killing by Jack Ruby was a shocker. But disturbing details such as Ruby’s mafia connections did not come out until later. Ruby was just pictured as somebody understandably distraught who lost it (and, of course, he was conveniently gunned down by the police right after his shooting of Oswald).

    It was several years later that the doubts began to surface. I first saw articles pointing out loose ends and apparent contradictions only in 1966, but after that it became an ongoing cottage industry. I certainly came to have my doubts, although I never signed on definitively to any theory, mostly just lost my faith in the official story, with it clear that it was going to be very hard to determine “the truth,” with so many key players just plain dead.

    I would note again, since people have already noted it, that the 1978 (not 1975, as I originally said) House Assassinations Committee report really played much more to the mafia theory. Again, I knew insiders on that committee. They really did not buy the CIA theory at all, although did not rule out the participation of some of the Cubans who did some CIA stuff, with indeed Hunt a suspected link in all that. But it was the mafia that was the greater suspect. They had real, material motives for doing JFK in, not just revenge over a love affair. RFK was after them hard, even though JFK had shared a lover with a major mafia don. The mafia lost a lot of money when Castro took over Cuba and were pissed at the botch of the Bay of Pigs, and so the link with the Cubans was obvious (and the setting up of a schlump who was pro-Castro even more obvious). That a mafia guy, Roselli, took a hit before testifying is even more telling.

    So, I think that theory looks the most likely, if the official story is incorrect. I continue to see no evidence and little credibilty for an LBJ role, or even that CIA’s Cord Meyer was the main man behind it, with or for LBJ or not. Santo Trafficante or one of his allies, or just Oswald all by himself, as is the official story, looks the most likely to me.

    And as for this new tape, let’s hear some serious corroboration from some actually credible third parties before we put too much credence into it.

  • Douglas Knight

    Sorry to ignore the thrust of your comment, but “conveniently gunned down by the police” is not correct. Ruby survived to ’67 and even talked to Warren.

  • Whoa

    Why is this the the first I’ve heard of this? It’s probably false; but isn’t that the sort of thing that should make a news story?…

  • Douglas,
    I stand corrected.

  • Doug S.

    The Last Word on the Kennedy Assassination: