Tuesday, 15 August 1995 23:41

Connick vs. Garrison: Round Three

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Jim DiEugenio follows the twists and turns in Connick's statements concerning the destruction of Jim Garrison's files, and the media's hand in obfuscating the facts.

From the July-August, 1995 issue (Vol. 2 No. 5) of Probe

connick Harry Connick ran against Jim Garrison twice, once in 1969 and again in 1973. He lost the first time and then, due to the bad publicity of Garrison's two frame-up trials, he defeated him in 1973. Connick took office April 1, 1974. He has been the DA ever since. As background to the rather curious events of the last two months, it is important to note who some of Connick's backers were in the 1973 race with Garrison and to mention at least one strange event that occurred during the '69 race.

In the 1969 race, on the eve of the election, a poll put out of New Orleans on October 15th placed Garrison ahead 49%-18%. Three weeks later, very close to election eve, a St. Louis company called DeWitt announced the results of another poll. This one put Connick ahead 49%-28%. Garrison won in a landslide. The poll was quite questionable, yet WDSU newscaster Terry Fletcher did a much publicized segment trumpeting its results. The day after the election even the Times-Picayune, no friend of Garrison's, wondered if the poll was a hoax intended to help Connick win. In 1973, Connick outspent Garrison by a wide margin, as had been the case in '69. In the second race, the local alternative papers like Gambit and The Courier badgered Connick to release the list of contributors to his campaign. After weeks of pressure, Connick finally released a partial list. The contributors included the major backers of the Superdome project, including his brother William (Superdome secretary). In other words all the big banking interests in the city. Two other contributors were Clay Shaw and Carlos Bringuier. Two others were Leonard and Bill Gurvich, who also ended up helping Shaw's defense. Both newspapers at that time, owned by Ashton Phelps, did much to help Connick. Connick won a close race.

Connick Drops the Ball

As Garrison suspected, once he was in office, Connick did nothing to preserve or pursue the Kennedy investigation. For example, in a televised debate during the '69 race Connick stated that although he was "inclined to say there is no merit to them" he would have to evaluate each of the charges involved in the case before dismissing them. Apparently, the evaluation did not take long since, to use one example, the case against Kerry Thornley was dismissed five months after he took office. Under Connick's watch there has been massive urban flight out of New Orleans into the suburbs like Gretna, Covington, and Metairie. The New Orleans police force has deteriorated to the point where stories about murder and cover-up run in big city newspapers. In fact, the August 12th issue of the Los Angeles Times ran an article in which a chief suspect in a serial murder case there is a policeman. New Orleans has become the city with the highest murder per capita ratio in the U.S.

The Missing Files

So on June 28th, when Connick stepped into the witness chair to testify before the ARRB at the old U.S. Mint at 400 Esplanade, most observers familiar with him and his career did not expect much in the way of candor or forthrightness. Even before the hearing, Connick tipped his hand by cozying up to Gerald Posner, mysteriously in town for a secret and "unrelated" project. No dummy, Connick complemented the Board on its effort to secure records. He said he had decided to turn over what he had left to them because "what you are doing is important and we think that what we can hopefully add. . . will clarify some of the clouded areas of the past and make sense out of what happened." Under questioning from the Board he implied that Garrison and his staff had "rifled" the investigative files since much was missing from them when he took office. He qualified that to Kermit Hall by saying "Our criminal code calls that theft." He took a parting shot at Garrison by saying that when he took over the office "it was a pretty sorry state of affairs", "things were run in a very slipshod manner", and "It was in bad shape".

It was a typical Connick performance: slick, sanctimonious, less than candid, mean-spirited and cheap toward his predecessor. But Connick made one mistake. By calling the disposal of records theft, he sent shock waves through some members of his former staff. Predictably, Connick did not reveal that he himself had participated in-ordered actually-the destruction of valuable records. According to an affidavit executed by a former Connick staffer the DA decided to destroy the records of the grand jury testimony during the Shaw investigation. When the staffer questioned this decision on the basis of historical significance, Connick said, "Burn this sonofabitch and burn it today!"

Fortunately for history, the staffer did not. He kept them in his garage in the intervening years and when Connick's accusation of "theft" was broadcast, he felt that the DA was setting him up to take the fall on the missing grand jury testimony. He called local television reporter Richard Angelico and gave him the testimony of the 40 witnesses. He swore out the affidavit on condition Angelico send them to the ARRB. Angelico did, but not before getting an interview with Connick in which, in another typical Connick performance, Connick smugly stuck his foot in his mouth (the entire report is in the accompanying transcript). It got worse when, the day after Connick denied he destroyed records, another former staffer, Ralph Whalen, stated in the local papers that he remembered Connick "destroying a bunch of Garrison stuff . . . some things that related directly to the Shaw case".

Subpoenas Galore

Suffice it to say, after stating on camera that he did not remember ordering the destruction of the records, Connick had been cornered. He now told the press that he had discussed the matter recently with top assistants and "Neither has any recollection of any orders to burn anything." This was a curious statement for him to say because on the next day, July 13th, he ordered his former investigator Gary Raymond-the staffer who had contacted Angelico-before the grand jury. Clearly, Connick had been embarrassed in front of his electorate and then he had been disingenuous with them. How else can one explain the apparent paradox of the DA "not remembering" any orders for destruction, yet issuing a specific subpoena for a specific name-Gary Raymond-to appear before the grand jury to testify on such matters. Raymond's name had not appeared in either the broadcast or any of the papers yet. On the same day, he also issued a subpoena for Angelico to appear before the grand jury. Later he was to subpoena the ARRB itself. He referred to Raymond as "the thief" in the case and Angelico as "the recipient of stolen property." During a press conference Connick, after saying in the Angelico segment that everything involved in the Shaw case should have been "retained and preserved in some way", now reversed himself. He said he did destroy records, but none that could have been useful to historians. He then defended his order to destroy the grand jury testimony by saying, "What's my responsibility, to put them in an iron box and adore them?"

The subpoena to Angelico was served on WDSU's corporate counsel so it was not valid: specific personal subpoenas have to be served on the person named. The subpoena to the ARRB, according to ARRB attorneys and the Justice Department, is not valid. Raymond did show up before the grand jury. Even though there were nine murder cases that week, Connick still attempted to muster enough grand jurors to hear Raymond. Connick could not get a quorum and Raymond was asked to come back the next week, July 20th. His session on that date was then canceled. As of today, the only person to have gone before the grand jury was Connick's first assistant. When she outlined what had happened, the members asked, "Well, what's the charge?" Her response reportedly was, "We aren't sure." The grand jury asked what she was doing there then, since they had important matters to attend to.

At this point and due to reports out of New Orleans that Connick was going to destroy other remaining records of the case, Jim Lesar wrote a long FOIA request to Connick. It read in part, "I am making this request to prevent you from carrying out your threat to destroy records relevant to an important chapter in American history." And further on, "Whatever records you or your office may possess pertaining to Garrison's investigation into President Kennedy's murder are of intense interest to students and scholars of the assassination."

Another strange thing then occurred. Hugh Aynesworth, longtime FBI asset on the Kennedy assassination, wrote a front page article based on the grand jury testimony for the July 16th Washington Times. Predictably, it focused on the testimony of Bill Gurvich, a plant inside Garrison's office, without , of course, mentioning that fact. At first, most felt that WDSU had sent the testimony to Aynesworth since Angelico had closed his report by saying that he would send the transcripts to an "assassination expert" in Washington for review. But in an interview with PROBE Angelico stated, "Why do think it was me. Connick and Aynesworth have been friends for a long time." Both Angelico and Raymond also revealed that Connick had kept a copy of the testimony for himself.

The story then took another twist. With the controversy swirling to a boiling point in New Orleans, with the local papers and TV carrying daily stories, with the public waiting for the results of the grand jury testimony and subpoenas, with T-shirts being printed with Connick's picture above the quote "What's the point Harry?", the DA left town. He went to New York. All further announcements were left to his office. But Connick did do one thing before he left. He sent out feelers to Raymond. He wanted to know what he wanted in return for a deal. Connick's position in New Orleans was weak.

Before the controversy erupted, Connick had agreed to send up the only investigative file left from the Shaw case to the ARRB. This was a five drawer file cabinet chockfull of extremely interesting, unique materials. In fact the day he testified, he called the ARRB and said he was arranging to have it sent up. This was in keeping with an interview he had given to researcher James DiEugenio in August of 1994. At that time he said that he would only give these files to an official government body. In fact the HSCA had indexed these files but, for some reason, had not requested them.

In the first week of August, Reuters ran a story based on an interview with author Gerald Posner. The story was picked up by the Washington Post and the New York press. This previewed and announced an upcoming article to be written by Posner for the New York Times Magazine in the Sunday August 6th issue. That piece was written at about the level of Posner's book, i.e. recycled, blatant disinformation. (See accompanying CTKA press release.)

Was Connick plotting with Posner during the ARRB hearing? Did he or WDSU (strong allies of Walter Sheridan during the Shaw prosecution) send the transcripts to Aynesworth? Did Connick talk with the always pro-Warren Commission staff of the The New York Times while he was in New York? Did they then arrange a damage control piece with the always accommodating Posner? It is curious, but predictable, that Posner's piece mentions not one word about Connick being under attack locally. As in 1967, the people in New Orleans got a much better view of things than did the American public. Was this the aim? Should we ask Connick? What's the point Harry?

Last modified on Saturday, 05 November 2016 13:39
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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