Sunday, 23 June 2024 19:12

Warren Commission Counsels Burt Griffin and Howard Willens Attempt the Impossible: Shoring up the Tottering Credibility of Earl Warren’s Investigation

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Loyal to the bitter end, former Warren Commission lawyer Burt Griffin has written the latest defense of the Warren Commission and its long-since-discredited findings.

By Gary L. Aguilar, MD and Cyril Wecht, MD, JD

Last fall former Warren Commission assistant counsel Burt Griffin put out a brief in defense of the government’s original 1964 findings regarding John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He was the third Commission counsel to do so. Former Warren Commission assistant counsel David Belin wrote one in 1988.[i] In 2013 assistant counsel Howard Willens did the same with his book History Will Prove Us Right.[ii]

Now Griffin has picked up the baton with a book of his own, JFK, Oswald and Ruby.[iii] What’s striking, though not surprising, is how little the last two authors seem to know (or are willing to admit they know) of what we’ve learned in the millions of once-secret files that have been unsealed during the past 60 years, particularly during the past 25. Were it not for these declassifications, we might not know that much of what Griffin and Willens asks us to accept as true simply is either not true, or not the whole truth.

For example, it isn’t true, as Griffin writes, that “The Warren Commission had not sealed its documents. Our intent was complete openness for the public.” (p. 306) This is an old untruth. It was first disseminated by the New York Times on the day the Warren Report was released. In the simultaneously released, October, 1964, New York Times’ edition of the Warren Report, Timesman Anthony Lewis reported, undoubtedly from a Commission source, that “The Commission made public all the information had bearing on the events in Dallas, whether agreeing with its findings or not. It withheld only a few names of sources, notably sources evidently within Communist embassies in Mexico, and each of these omissions was indicated.”[iv]

This was debunked decades ago. Despite the government’s having slowly released Commission documents in the years following the 1964 release of the Report, the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) discovered that, “at the time that Congress passed the JFK Act (1992), only 3,000 pages of Warren Commission material remained for the agencies and the Review Board to release.[v] “Only?” Moreover, in 2014 historian Philip Shenon reported that Willens was releasing never-seen Commission documents on the former commissioner’s personal website.[vi]

Nor is it true, as Griffin claims (p. 294) that Bobby Kennedy accepted the Commission’s conclusions. This untruth, first put forward in the Warren Report,[vii] was similarly debunked decades ago, a fact established beyond any doubt years ago by best-selling author David Talbot,[viii] whom neither counsel mentions. Also by historian Philip Shenon who long ago wrote that RFK “had never stopped suspecting that there had been a conspiracy to kill his brother,”[ix] and that Bobby “insisted in public that he believed the commission’s report and accepted that Oswald acted alone—but said precisely the opposite to the people closest to him.”[x] This information is readily confirmable with a simple google search of independent sources.[xi]

However, it is true, as Griffin and Willens report, that Lee Harvey Oswald was a marine radar operator at Atsugi Naval Air Base in Japan.[xii] But it’s far from the whole truth, or even the most important part of the truth. Which is that Atsugi was a CIA-run base from which U-2 spy planes flew high-altitude missions over the Soviet Union.[xiii] “Defector” Oswald would have tracked those flights. Given long-held suspicions the “lone nut” had undisclosed intelligence ties, this is scarcely an inconsequential detail. (See below.)

It's also true, as they report, that Oswald visited Mexico City six weeks before the assassination. The whole truth, which they withhold, includes the fact that someone impersonated this “unknown,” “unaffiliated” “lone nut” in CIA-taped calls that Oswald made to the Soviet Embassy while he was there. This part of the story was published by AP 13 years ago,[xiv] and has been frequently discussed by critics ever since. (See below.)

Both books establish one thing that is as true today as it was in 1964: one should not look to the Warren Report, or its attorneys who defend it, for the truth about November 22nd, 1963. It’s not that one encounters falsehoods, although there’s no shortage of those. It’s more that inconvenient evidence is omitted, or tendentiously spun to lead away from the truth. It’s a feature that defines the lawyers’ briefs Griffin and Willens have produced, as it did Earl Warren’s 1964 lawyer’s brief. Fortunately, not all former Commissioners sing along in the chorus with Griffin and Willens and Warren. In recent years some of them have sung a different tune.

Dissent among the ranks

Alan Dershowitz reported that one-time Commission attorney, Stanford law professor John Hart Ely, “has acknowledged that the (C)ommission lacked independent investigative resources and thus was compelled to rely on the government's investigative agencies, namely the FBI, CIA and military intelligence.”[xv] Both Griffin and Willens touch on this, but deemphasize it, despite the fact it was firmly established decades ago by subsequent government investigators. (See below.)

Anti-conspiracy author Gus Russo reported that Commissioner Hale Boggs “was known to have had strong disagreements with the Commission’s official conclusion,” and that “he wished he’d never signed on to the report.”[xvi]

Before he began singing in harmony with Willens, even Griffin admitted to doubts. House Select Committee on Assassinations’ (HSCA) Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey disclosed that, “When (the HSCA) asked (Judge Burt Griffin) if he was satisfied with the (Commission's) investigation that led to the (no conspiracy) conclusion, he said he was not.”[xvii]And he may not have been for the ¬historically accurate reason Griffin gave Gus Russo, “We spent virtually no time investigating the possibility of conspiracy. I wish we had.”[xviii] Griffin has apparently forgotten that wish, and now croons with the man who put him in on the Commission in 1964, Howard Willens, [xix] singing, ‘Trust us. We took a good look. History Will Prove Us Right.

The “Investigators”

Griffin’s revealing admissions to Robert Blakey and Gus Russo, though nowhere evident in his new book, are borne out by the record. The Commissioners were powerful political appointees who had full time jobs apart from their Commission work. They were in no position to do the requisite, painstaking, time-consuming investigative work. That was principally left to counsels such as Griffin and Willens. These recent law school graduates who were pulled from the Justice Department were the full timers. But they weren’t criminal investigators. and weren’t remotely what a murder investigation called for, particularly one of this magnitude.

Warren critic Dwight McDonald made an insightful comment in 1965. He described the young and inexperienced staff counsels who actually did the Commission's legwork as, “ambitious young chaps who were not going to step out of the lines drawn by their chiefs.”[xx] And they didn’t. What investigation got done was mainly conducted by FBI agents. Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had announced on the afternoon of the murder that Oswald alone had done it, watched closely over his underlings. Hoover’s verdict stuck. Just how the Bureau chief got his preinvestigation epiphany to stick can be understood by a particularly telling anecdote historian Gerald McKnight recounted.

While under oath before the Commission Hoover volunteered an answer to critics. They questioned why Oswald hadn’t taken the easier, clearer shot at JFK as his limo rolled along Houston St. toward his location in the Depository, rather than the tougher shot as he drove away down Elm St. McKnight writes, “Hoover’s explanation was as seductively simple as it was monumentally wrong: ‘There were some trees,’ the director noted, ‘between the window [of the sniper’s nest] on the sixth floor and the cars’ as they moved toward the TSBD on Houston Street.”[xxi] There were no such trees. Nor were they depicted in the 480-square foot mock-up of the assassination scene that the FBI prepared at Hoover’s request. None of the commissioners called Hoover out on this “mistake.” Nor did the senior FBI executive officers who edited Hoover’s Commission testimony before publication correct the Director. The FBI wasn’t yet finished.

Two years later the Bureau took after critic Harold Weisberg, who’d mentioned Hoover’s howler about the trees during a broadcast radio interview. When the top echelons at the Bureau heard Weisberg’s claim, they reportedly took a hard look at the evidence, and corrected the wacky conspiracist. “The Director’s testimony,” they officially reported, “was accurate.” As McKnight put it, “The director was right even if the photographs and the FBI’s own elaborate mock-up of Dealey Plaza proved otherwise.”[xxii] This sort of thing was pretty common. Assistant FBI Director William Sullivan once remarked that “Life in the circus was possible only if one unwritten but iron rule was unfailingly observed: The Director was always right.”[xxiii] This rule was followed by both the FBI and, as we’ve learned, the Warren Commission as well. It’s no wonder therefore that almost since the day it was released doubts have swirled around the Warren Report.

Commissioner Willens rejects this mistrust, arguing, “What the critics often forget or ignore is that since 1964, several government agencies have also looked at aspects of our work.”[xxiv] As if officials had reviewed and endorsed the Commission’s work. But it is Willens who has forgotten or ignored what critics have not. Namely, that “agencies” did take a look, particularly at those aspects that are essential in a murder investigation. They did not approve. Instead, they issued stinging critiques, principally for the Commission’s having gullibly relied upon, and been rolled by, J. Edgar Hoover, and to a lesser extent by the CIA and the Secret Service. The authors’ unwillingness to acknowledge these official findings, to say nothing of addressing them, is among the more notable weaknesses of their work.

Government vs. government

It's a given that investigators hired by the government normally are inclined to favor prior government investigators. To do otherwise would be an “admission against interest” - the government admitting against its own interest as a credible investigative source that its prior investigation lacked credibility. Staffed with the sort of seasoned, criminal sleuths the Warren Commission never had, the Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) looked at the Commission’s investigation, and did just that. In one of the more unexpected and unheralded scandals of the Kennedy saga, they blistered it. To their discredit neither Griffin nor Willens acknowledge these dour assessments.

They maintain that, despite Hoover’s initial opposition to the Commission’s creation, and the problems they had dealing with the prickly, imperious Director, a credible investigation was undertaken, and it reached a credible conclusion. That’s not precisely how experienced government investigators later saw it.

“It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin,” the HSCA concluded, “a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the of the assassination.”[xxv] In essence, the HSCA determined that the domineering Director had divined the solution to the crime before starting the inquiry. Knowing what was good for them, his underlings readily confirmed the boss’s epiphany with a “slow walk,” amusingly described by the head of the FBI’s General Investigative Division, Alex Rosen. Historian McKnight quipped that “privately (Rosen) characterized the whole sorry affair as the FBI ‘standing with pockets open waiting for evidence to drop in.’”[xxvi] The intimidated commissioners also knew ‘what was good for them,’ and so respectfully curtsied for reasons neither Griffin nor Willens tell.

Willens, in fact, sanitized one of the good reasons they had to go along with the FBI capo. He euphemized that Hoover had “ordered investigations of commission staff members.”[xxvii] No falsehood there. But as with Oswald at the CIA spy base in Japan, he omitted the most damning detail: Hoover had deployed one of his dirtier tricks to deal not only with lowly support staffers such as Griffin and Willens, but also with the Presidentially-appointed congressmen, senators, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – everyone on the Commission. “[D]erogatory information pertaining to both Commission members and staff (including Griffin and Willens) was brought to Mr. Hoover’s attention,” the Church Committee discovered (author’s emphasis). [xxviii] This evasion is of a piece with another one central to the question of conspiracy - Oswald’s assassin, Jack Ruby.

Neither author tells that the FBI had known of Jack Ruby’s ties to the mob since at least early 1964. The HSCA “found that Ruby’s links to various organized crime figures were contained in reports received by the FBI in the weeks following the shooting of Oswald.” They never pursued that information; never informed the Commission about those reports. The Commission then officially denied those links because of the FBI’s malfeasance. Appropriately, the HSCA concluded that, “the FBI was seriously delinquent in investigating the Ruby-underworld connections.”[xxix] Given the considerable ink both authors spilt on Ruby, the HSCA, and the HSCA’s “the-mob-did-it” chief counsel, G. Robert Blakey, Griffin and Willens were themselves also ‘seriously delinquent’ in omitting the Ruby-mafia story. Particularly Griffin, for he had “primary responsibility” in 1964 for investigating Ruby, whose name he put in the title of his book. (See back cover of Griffin’s book.) But how the FBI flubbed the mob connection is a fascinating tale in its own right. It’s one that shines a light on how the FBI kept the Commission in the dark.

The FBI averts its gaze and puts blinders on the eyes of the willing Commissioners

The Bureau had Jack Ruby's phone records in 1964. It failed to spot, or pretended not to spot, Ruby's suspicious, atypical pattern of calls to known Mafiosi in the weeks leading up to the assassination. The Commission's investigators didn't know enough, or have the capacity or courage, to look into Ruby’s possible mob connections. Basing its conclusions on FBI-supplied “character references” from, among others, two known-to-the-FBI mob associates (Lenny Patrick and Dave Yaras),[xxx] the Commission ultimately concluded Ruby was not connected to the underworld.[xxxi] And who was the Commission attorney who worked on the investigation of Jack Ruby and was denied this information? Burt Griffin,[xxxii] who nowhere acknowledges this in his book, nor does he admit Ruby’s clear ties to the underworld. (Commission attorney Leon D. Hubert, Jr. may have worked with Griffin on the Ruby detail. See Griffin, p. 68.)

Then in 1977 the HSCA exposed Lenny Patrick's and Dave Yaras's mob ties. And it performed the obvious, rudimentary task of actually analyzing Ruby's calls.[xxxiii] Making the obvious connection, one that fit other compelling, previously ignored evidence, it established that Ruby was mobbed up.[xxxiv] Among other tell-tail signs, he had run guns to both pro- and anti-Castro elements in Cuba in the late 1950s. This was a time when the Mafia was hedging its bets to protect its gambling casinos by supporting both Batista and his nemesis, Castro.[xxxv] Ruby had also gone to a Cuban jail to visit the mobster who had predicted JFK would be “hit,” Santos Trafficante. Unsurprisingly, neither Griffin nor Willens give these HSCA findings any play which, at least circumstantially, linked the mob to November 22nd, and were a pillar in Robert Blakey’s construct of the mob’s role.[xxxvi]

The Bureau “missed” the connection in 1964 because its senior mafia expert Courtney Evans was excluded from the probe. Evans told the HSCA: “They sure didn't come to me. ... We had no part in that that I can recall.”[xxxvii] [xxxviii] Instead, the Bureau turned to FBI supervisor Regis Kennedy, who then hilariously claimed Carlos Marcello, the New Orleans capo to whom Ruby had been linked, was a “tomato salesman and real estate investor.”[xxxix]43 It’s likely that the Commissioners also willingly averted their gaze, lest they agitate the sensitive FBI director.

Hoover lays down the law

“The evidence indicates that Hoover viewed the Warren Commission more as an adversary than a partner in a search for the facts of the assassination,” the HSCA concluded in 1978.[xl] Speaking in 1977, Commission chief counsel J. Lee Rankin admitted that in 1964 the Commissioners were naïve about Hoover's honesty, and were afraid to confront him when he wouldn't properly fetch for them. “Who,” Rankin sheepishly asked, “could protest against what Mr. Hoover did back in those days?”[xli]

Apparently not the high-profile nominees the President had appointed. And so, “The Commission did not investigate Hoover or the FBI,” the HSCA determined, “and managed to avoid the appearance of doing so.”[xlii] This had repercussions on possibly the most explosive rumor the Warren Commission had ever dealt with – the “dirty rumor” that Oswald had been on “our side” - that he had been an “undercover agent,”[xliii] perhaps, as Houston Post journalist “Lonnie” Hudgins suggested, an FBI informant.[xliv]

The Commission realized that it had to do the right thing. But it was in a tough spot. “There was general agreement within the Commission,” the HSCA remarked, “that they had to go beyond the FBI’s word on the informant allegation.”[xlv] The way the Commission ‘went beyond the FBI’s word’ was to send General Counsel Rankin over to ask Hoover about it. In his book Willens relates that on the day he was to meet with the Bureau chief, Rankin got a letter from Hoover “brimming with anger.”[xlvi] When he met with Hoover, Rankin said he was “quite cold and uncommunicative.”[xlvii]

Hoover fretted that investigative reporter Harold Feldman’s “Agent Oswald” story that had appeared in The Nation [xlviii] might push Warren “around the bend,” because in Hoover’s view, ‘The Nation was Warren’s bible.’”[xlix] The FBI’s capo dropped the hammer. He handed the Commission his signed affidavit declaring Oswald was not an informant, and he had 10 FBI agents also send in signed affidavits of denial. The “independent” commissioners promptly folded their tents. Case closed.

The HSCA reached the obvious conclusion: “The Commission did not investigate Hoover or the FBI, and managed the to avoid the appearance of doing so. It ended up doing what the members had agreed they could not do: Rely mainly on FBI's denial of the allegations [that Oswald had been an FBI informant].”[l] Griffin keeps a steely silence on this telling charade. And Willens spins it in a transparent attempt to wipe off the egg the HSCA had splattered on the faces of the commissioners.[li] Historian Gerald McKnight unearthed an aspect of this farce that’s illuminating.

The “dirty rumor” that Oswald had been a government informant was so threatening that on January 24, 1964 Warren and Rankin flew four Texas officials up to Washington to explore it in secret session. No transcript of the meeting was made. McKnight agrees with the view that Oswald was probably not a Bureau informant because Oswald’s alleged FBI “badge” numbers, “S172” and “S179,” were not designations the FBI ever used. However, from FBI files that seeped out about that secret meeting, McKnight also noted that the secret session was much more about Oswald’s possibly having been a CIA informant than an FBI one. And that Oswald “carried Number 110669,” a number that “was consistent with the CIA’s system of identifying its informers and sources.”[lii]

Other than Willens reporting that Hoover and his agents signed affidavits denying the “dirty rumor”[liii] that the “lone nut” had informed for them, he withheld from readers the “rest of the story” - that the CIA was implicated, and that the Commission had wilted. In the hundreds of pages in both books one finds Griffin and Willens repeating this pattern of selective reportage or outright omission.

Withholding the rest of the story

As noted, Griffin tells that Oswald was a radar operator at Japan’s Atsugi naval base (p. 107), but not that it was a CIA spy base.[liv] Willens makes no reference to this at all. Nor do either detail Oswald’s known association with numerous intelligence-connected individuals.[lv] Nor his surreal “defection” to Russia during which this former CIA spy base radar operator promised to reveal state secrets to the Soviets, after which the U.S. State Department paid for his return to the U.S. and didn’t arrest him. These omissions blind readers to some of the enduring reasons skeptics have for suspecting Oswald had closer ties to intelligence than ever officially acknowledged.[lvi]

The authors similarly spin Oswald’s trip to Mexico City six weeks before Kennedy’s murder. Griffin devotes all of chapter 31 to it. Both mention that the CIA had an extensive photographic and electronic surveillance system monitoring both the Russian and Cuban embassies. Oswald visited both more than once. Yet neither author says a word about some oft-reported and well-known findings: Despite the fact the CIA routinely and clandestinely photographed visitors’ comings and goings to both embassies, the Agency implausibly asserted it didn’t have a single photograph of Oswald entering or exiting either of them. (Robert Blakey suspected that they actually did have such images, but that someone else was in the photo(s) with Oswald. So the images were suppressed to avoid having to answer inconvenient questions.)

What’s more, as reported widely, including by the Washington Post in 1993, but not by either Griffin or Willens, someone had impersonated Oswald in calls made to the Russian embassy in Mexico City that were picked up and recorded in CIA wiretaps. Repeating CIA lies, some Commission loyalists have countered that no such recorded calls survived because the tapes had been taped over and recycled.[lvii] Inconveniently, Commission counsels Coleman and Slawson visited Mexico City in 1964 and said they listened to the supposedly destroyed tapes of Oswald. Again, nary a word of this from Griffin or Willens.[lviii] This half-truth is not unlike others.

For example, they admit that the FBI never informed the Commission of Oswald's threatening note to FBI Agent Hosty, which it destroyed. But they don’t mention that Agent Hosty reported that his own personnel file, and other FBI files, had been falsified.[lix] Nor that assistant FBI director William Sullivan told author Curt Gentry that the Bureau had destroyed other JFK documents.[lx] They also leave out that the Bureau never told the Commission about the mafia threats against both JFK and RFK that had been picked up in FBI wiretaps before the assassination, information that might have inspired the institution of new inquiries.[lxi] Hoover had the Commission checkmated.

Hoover sets the table

Neither author acknowledges that J. Edgar determined who the Chief Justice of the United States could have as his chief counsel. He vetoed Warren’s choice, Warren Olney, the man about whom Warren once said “I could bet my life for integrity.” Olney’s support for civil rights and his willingness to stand up against the FBI prompted The Director to run a successful, covert “stop Olney campaign.”[lxii] Rankin’s docility made him Hoover’s preferred choice. Moreover, Hoover had someone secretly spying on them before the Commission opened for business - then Commissioner, ex-President Gerald Ford.[lxiii] As the Washington Post headlined it, “Ford Told FBI of Skeptics on Warren Commission.”[lxiv] In a declassified FBI memo, Agent Cartha DeLoach advised Hoover that, “Ford indicated he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the Commission…He stated this would have to be done on a confidential basis, however he thought it should be done.” At the bottom of the memo, an appreciative Hoover scrawled, “Well handled.”[lxv] Again, no hint of these machinations from Griffin or Willens.

Thus, the Director’s intimidating and manipulating the Commission can’t be dismissed as a wacky conspiracy theory. It’s a well-documented, official government finding that the assistant counsels don’t cop to. They do, however, dilate on HSCA’s chief counsel, Notre Dame Law Professor Robert Blakey. A criminal investigator and prosecutor with vastly better credentials than anyone on the Commission, Griffin and Willens never tell readers that Blakey has made this very point himself:

“What was significant,” Blakey has written, “was the ability of the FBI to intimidate the Commission in light of the Bureau’s predisposition on the questions of Oswald’s guilt and whether there had been a conspiracy. At a January 27 [1964] Commission meeting, there was another dialogue [among the commissioners]:

“John McCloy: ‘… the time is almost overdue for us to have a better perspective of the FBI investigation than we now have … We are so dependent on them for our facts … .’

“Commission counsel J. Lee Rankin: ‘Part of our difficulty in regard to it is that they have no problem. They have decided that no one else is involved … .’

“Senator Richard Russell: ‘They have tried the case and reached a verdict on every aspect.’

“Senator Hale Boggs: ‘You have put your finger on it.’ (Closed Warren Commission meeting.)”[lxvi]

Despite admitting their misgivings about Hoover, neither counsel wants readers to know how the Commission repeatedly bowed to the inflexible, imperious Bureau chief rather than investigating independently. A noteworthy example of the legal and prosecutorial timorousness of the attorneys who ran the Commission makes this especially clear.

Commission lawyers keep their revolvers holstered

The Congress-enacted Joint Resolution 137 (Public Law 88-202) established the Commission. Among its provisions, it “authorized the Commission to compel testimony from witnesses claiming the privilege against self-incrimination under the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution by providing for the grant of immunity to persons testifying under such compulsion.”[lxvii] In other words, the Commission was empowered, if not encouraged, to use one of the rudimentary investigative tools that are often essential to any serious probe: granting witnesses immunity from prosecution to get at the whole truth.

The Commission was composed primarily of lawyers like Griffin. After Yale Law School, he had worked as a federal prosecutor for two years before Howard Willens invited him onto the Commission.[lxviii] He would normally have jumped at the chance to use such a tool. But neither he nor any of the more senior lawyers ever did. “The Commission,” the HSCA reported, “failed to utilize the instruments of immunity from prosecution and prosecution for perjury with respect to witnesses whose veracity it doubted.”[lxix] Even the Commission itself admitted it: “Immunity under these provisions was not granted to any witness.”[lxx] This was but one of its many deficiencies.

Government investigators give the Warren Commission a failing grade

The list of Commission shortcomings is vast. It runs to some 47 pages in the Bantam Books version of the HSCA’s Report (p. 289-336).[lxxi] It required much of HSCA’s volume XI to cover it.[lxxii] Read as a whole, the latter’s 500 pages deliver a crushing blow to the credibility of the Warren Commission’s investigation that produced the no-conspiracy conclusion which Hoover had announced before he had lifted an investigative finger.

“The evidence indicates that facts which may have been relevant to, and would have substantially affected, the Warren Commission’s investigation were not provided by the agencies (FBI and the CIA),” the HSCA determined.[lxxiii] “Hence, the Warren Commission's findings may have been formulated without all of the relevant information.”[lxxiv] Lest this scathing assessment be dismissed as the mewlings of some “disgruntled” government officials, this grim assessment was also held by another group of independent, experienced government investigators.

Two years before the HSCA issued its critique, the Senate Select Committee (aka “Church Committee”) reported on its own evaluation of Earl Warren’s signature achievement. While it didn’t investigate the assassination per se, it did study the manner in which the Warren Commission’s was conducted. Previewing the HSCA’s later findings, it similarly concluded that the problem was that “… the Commission was perceived as an adversary by both Hoover and senior FBI officials.” “Such a relationship,” the Committee dryly observed, “was not conductive to the cooperation necessary for a thorough and exhaustive investigation.”[lxxv]

Griffin touches on the Church Committee (p. 305), but doesn’t reveal what it thought of the Warren investigation. “The Committee has developed evidence which impeaches the process by which the intelligence agencies arrived at their own conclusions about the assassination, and by which they provided information to the Warren Commission … This evidence indicates that the investigation of the assassination was deficient and that facts which might have substantially affected the course of the investigation were not provided the Warren Commission or those individuals within the FBI and the CIA, as well as other agencies of Government, who were charged with investigating the assassination… Rather than addressing its investigation to all significant circumstances, including all possibilities of conspiracy, the FBI investigation focused narrowly on Lee Harvey Oswald. The Committee has found that even with this narrow focus, the FBI investigation, as well as the CIA inquiry, was deficient on the specific question of the significance of Oswald's contacts with pro-Castro and anti-Castro groups for the many months before the assassination.” [lxxvi] Even some from the days of Warren Commission later came to understand the significance of these glaringly obvious deficiencies, chief counsel Rankin among them.

If we’d only known

“Speaking of the CIA-Mafia assassination conspiracies against Fidel Castro, and other such information withheld from the Commission,” the HSCA reported, “Rankin stated: ‘Certainly if we had had that it would have bulked larger, the conspiracy area, the examination and the investigation and report, and we would have run out all the various leads and probably it is very possible that we could have come down with a good many signs of a lead down here to the underworld.’”[lxxvii] (Griffin acknowledges Rankin’s lament, p. 76.)

Similarly, “Former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach told the (HSCA) that he believed the CIA's and FBI's withholding of information regarding the existence of the CIA-Mafia plots from the Warren Commission constituted a serious failure to provide relevant evidence: ‘I think given that information, you would have pursued some lines of inquiry probably harder than you might have otherwise pursued them.”[lxxviii] Ironically, though it’s nowhere in his new book, in the late 1970s Griffin expressed the same opinion.

“Judge Griffin thought that the information about the CIA plots would have led the Commission to investigate more the Cuban/Mafia/CIA connections,” the HSCA said, “and, consequently, a possible connection between Ruby, organized crime, anti-Castro groups and Oswald.” “If we had further known that the CIA was involved with organized criminal figures in an assassination attempt in the Caribbean,” Griffin testified, “then we would have had a completely different perspective on this thing. But, because we did not have those links at this point, there was nothing to tie the underworld in with Cuba and thus nothing to tie them in with Oswald, nothing to tie them in with the assassination of the President.”[lxxix]


Today we do have those links that Griffin said he wished he’d had, links that would have led him to look at the “Cuban/Mafia/CIA connections.” We’ve had them for a long time. Yet they no longer ‘bulk larger.’ He pays them no heed; pays no honor to the “completely different perspective” he said such disclosures would have given him. Unfortunately, the CIA’s denying the Commission information on its collusion with the mafia in Caribbean murder plots was not its only act of bad faith. It continued into the late 1970s by compromising the HSCA’s investigation, as Jeff Morley has proven,[lxxx] and as HSCA Chief Counsel Robert Blakey has angrily confirmed.[lxxxi] And its bad faith continues: it’s withholding evidence to this very day.

Jeff Morley pointed out something Rep. Howard Griffith of Virginia said that’s relevant to the present discussion: “In civil law, when one party does not disclose evidence in its possession, a jury is allowed to draw an adverse inference that the missing information destroyed or not produced was unfavorable.”[lxxxii] Now, 60+ years after Kennedy was assassinated, it’s more than fair to draw the adverse inference that the missing information destroyed or not produced by the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service was unfavorable to the government’s claim Oswald acted alone. In like vein, one can similarly infer that commissioners Griffin and Willens have withheld evidence because it would have been unfavorable to their claim that History Will Prove Us Right.


On June 6, 2016 Howard Willens and since-deceased Commission staffer Richard Mosk published an article in The American Scholar, the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In “The Truth About Dallas” they aggressively defended their work and the conclusions of the Warren Commission.[lxxxiii] As previously mentioned, in buttressing their case they wrote, “What the critics often forget, or ignore, is that since 1964, several government agencies have also looked at aspects of our work,” and they specified the Church Committee and HSCA. What they denied the journal’s readers was that, as discussed above, both panels wrote scathingly of the Commission’s investigation.

To rectify that ‘oversight’ Cyril Wecht and I wrote a letter to the editor, ticking off several of the official critiques published here. The American Scholar published it in the December 5, 2016 issue.[lxxxiv] I then republished our letter on-line under the original Willens/Mosk article in the journal’s comments section. [lxxxv] I also put it in the comments section Willens then hosted on his website devoted to his article. Willens never replied to our letter as it appeared in the journal, or in the on-line comments section. Two days after I put our letter in the comments section of his website, the entire portion of his site devoted to “The Truth About Dallas,” including our letter, vanished.

Judge Griffin cites the Willens-Mosk piece in footnote #3 on page 361 of his book, but he says nothing of our still available, published riposte.




[i] David Belin. Final Disclosure: The Full Truth About the Assassination of President Kennedy.

[ii] Howard P. Willens. History Will Prove Us Right. New York, Overlook Press, 2013.

[iii] Burt W. Griffin. JFK, Oswald and Ruby. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company Inc., 2023.

[iv] Anthony Lewis. “On the Release of the Warren Commission Report.”

In: Report of the Warren Commission. T¬¬¬he New York Times Edition. New York. McGRAW-HILL BOOK COMPANY, p. xxxii.

[v] Assassinations Records Review Board: President's Commission to Investigate the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Warren Commission)

[vi] Philip Shenon. Was RFK a Conspiracy Theorist? Politico Magazine.10/12/2014.

[vii] Report of the Warren Commission. T¬¬¬he New York Times Edition. New York. McGRAW-HILL BOOK COMPANY, p.310.

[viii] David Talbot, Brothers.

[ix] Philip Shenon. A Cruel and Shocking Act. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2013, p. 431.

[x] Philip Shenon. Was RFK a Conspiracy Theorist? Politico Magazine, 10/12/2014.

[xi] A quick google search brought up, among others, Donald E. Wilkes, Jr. RFK and the JFK Assassination: Bobby Never Bought the Lone Gunman Theory.

[xii] Burt W. Griffin. JFK, Oswald and Ruby. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company Inc. 2023, p. 107.

[xiii] Donald E. Wilkes Jr. “The CIA and the JFK Assassination, Pt. 1.” University of Georgia School of Law.

[xiv] Deb Riechmann. “Call to Soviet Embassy after JFK assassination not from Oswald.”

[xv] Alan M. Dershowitz. Los Angeles Times, 12/25/91.

[xvi] Gus Russo. Live by the Sword. Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998, p. 374.

[xvii] R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour – The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 94.

[xviii] Gus Russo. Live by the Sword. Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998, p. 374.

[xix] Burt W. Griffin. JFK, Oswald and Ruby. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company Inc. 2023, p. 6.

[xx] Dwight Macdonald. A Critique of The Warren Report. Esquire Magazine, March, 1965.

[xxi] Gerald D. McKnight. Breach of Trust – How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2005, p. 148-149.

[xxii] Gerald D. McKnight. Breach of Trust – How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2005, p. 150.

[xxiii] Gerald D. McKnight. Breach of Trust – How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2005, p. 150.

[xxiv] Willens H, Mosk R., The Truth About Dallas. The American Scholar, summer, 2016, p. 59. on-line at: On

[xxv] The Final Assassinations Report – Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Bantam Books edition, 1979, p. 150.

[xxvi] Gerald D. McKnight. Breach of Trust – How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2005, p. 148.

[xxvii] Willens HP, Mosk RM. The Truth About Dallas. The American Scholar, 6.6.2016.

[xxviii] In: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, Book V, p. 47, on-line at:

Also cited by: Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover--The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 549.

[xxix] HSCA Final Assassinations Report, p. 243.

[xxx] Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover – The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 552.

[xxxi] HSCA Findings. “With respect to Jack Ruby, 2 the Warren Commission similarly found no significant associations, either between Ruby and Oswald or between Ruby and others who might have been conspirators with him. (8) In particular, it found no connections between Ruby and organized crime, and it reasoned that absent such associations, there was no conspiracy to kill Oswald or the president.” National Archives:

[xxxii] HSCA Vol. XI:72.

[xxxiii] “In 1946 the FBI was told that (Lenny) Patrick and Dave Yaras … were “‘torpedoes’ for syndicate.” In: R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 306.

[xxxiv] HSCA Final Assassinations Report, p. 173:  

[xxxv] Based on the work of the Church Committee and the House Select Committee, and his own interviews and research, author William Scott Malone explores Ruby’s mafia ties and the errands he ran for the mob in extenso.

See: William Scott Malone. “The Secret Life of Jack Ruby.” New Times, 1.23.78, p. 46-61.

[xxxvi] R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 312-323.

[xxxvii] HSCA Final Assassinations Report, p. 243.

[xxxviii] See also: “JFK Assassination Records.” National Archives, p. 243.

[xxxix] “[FBI agent Regis Kennedy told the HSCA that] he believed Marcello was not engaged in any organized crime activities or other illegal actions during the period from 1959 until at least 1963. He also stated that he did not believe Marcello was a significant organized crime figure and did not believe that he was currently involved in criminal enterprises. Kennedy further informed the committee that he believed Marcello would 'stay away' from any improper activity and in reality did earn his living as a tomato salesman and real estate investor.” In: HSCA, vol. 9:70-71.

See also Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover – The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 530.

[xl] HSCA Vol. 9:53.

[xli] HSCA Vol. 11:49.

[xlii] HSCA Vol. XI:41.

[xliii] Gerald D. McKnight. Breach of Trust – How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2005, p. 164.

[xliv] See 2/11/64 letter to Warren Commission General Counsel Rankin, from J. Edgar Hoover.

See also: McKnight 2005, op. cit., chapter 6 for an excellent, detailed discussion.

[xlv] HSCA Vol. XI:41.

[xlvi] Willlens, H.P. History Will Prove Us Right. New York: The Overlook Press, 2013, p. 54.

[xlvii] Willlens, H.P. History Will Prove Us Right. New York: The Overlook Press, 2013, p. 55.

[xlviii] Harold Feldman. Oswald and the FBI. The Nation, 1/27/64, pp. 86-89.

[xlix] Gerald D. McKnight. Breach of Trust – How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2005, p.136

[l] HSCA, vol. XI, p. 41.

[li] Willlens, H.P. History Will Prove Us Right. New York: The Overlook Press, 2013, p. 53-4.

[lii] Gerald D. McKnight. Breach of Trust – How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas University Press, 2005, p. 136.

[liii] Willlens, H.P. History Will Prove Us Right. New York: The Overlook Press, 2013, p. 545..

[liv] Burt W. Griffin. JFK, Oswald and Ruby. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company Inc. 2023, p. 107.

[lv] Donald E. Wilkes Jr. The CIA and the JFK Assassination, Pt. 1. University of Georgia School of Law.

[lvi] Philip H. Melanson. Spy Saga: Lee Harvey Oswald and U.S. Intelligence Hardcover. Praeger, January1,1990.

[lvii] “The CIA has always insisted that while a transcript exists, the tape was routinely destroyed before the Kennedy assassination. However, two staff lawyers for the Warren Commission say that CIA personnel in Mexico City played tapes for them of more than one conversation in the spring of 1964 and told them it was Oswald who was speaking.” Pinkus, W, Lardner G. FEEDING PERSISTENT SUSPICIONS - DISPUTES ABOUT WHAT PROBE UNCOVERED STARTED MOVEMENT THAT WON'T STOP. Washington Post, 11/16/1993.


[lix] James P. Hosty, Jr. Assignment: Oswald. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996, pp. 178--180, 184--185, 243--244.

[lx] Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover--The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 546, footnote.

[lxi] In: R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. xii.

[lxii] Philip Shenon. A Cruel and Shocking Act. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2013, p. 69.

[lxiii] 12/12/63 memorandum from C. D. DeLoach to Mr. Mohr. (“Ford advised that he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the Commission. He stated this would have to be on a confidential basis.”)

See also: Lardner, G. Documents Show Ford Promised FBI Data - Secretly - About Warren Probe. Washington Post, 1.20,78.

See also: Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets. New York: W W Norton & Co., 1991, p. 557.

[lxiv] Joe Stephens. Ford Told FBI of Skeptics on Warren Commission. Washington Post. Friday, August 8, 2008.

[lxv] See copy of original note:

[lxvi] In: R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour--The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York, Berkley Books, 1992, p. 29.

This testimony was also published in: Mark North. Act of Treason. New York, 1991, Carroll and Graf, p. 515--516.

[lxvii] Warren Report, p. x-xi.

[lxviii] Willens, Howard. History Will Prove Us Right. New York. The Overlook Press, 2013, p. 104.

[lxix] In: The Final Assassinations Report--Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives. New York: Bantam Books edition, 1979, p. 334. Also in: HSCA Final Assassination Report, p. 259.

[lxx] “Immunity under these provisions (testifying under compulsion) was not granted to any witness during the Commission’s investigation.” (In: Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964, p. xi.)

[lxxi] The Final Assassinations Report. New York. A Bantam Book. July, 1979.


[lxxiii] HSCA Vol. XI:59.

[lxxiv] HSCA, Vol. XI, p. 59. On-line at:

[lxxv] In: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations (Church Committee) , Book V, p. 47, on-line at:

[lxxvi] The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies, Book V, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, p. 6.

[lxxvii] HSCA Vol. XI:70.

[lxxviii] HSCA vol. XI, p. 71-73

[lxxix] HSCA Vol. XI:72-3.

[lxxx] Scott Sayare. How a dogged journalist proved that the CIA lied about Oswald and Cuba — and spent decades covering it up. New York Magazine. Nov. 9, 2023.

[lxxxi] Interview: G. Robert Blakey, Frontline, November 19, 2013.

[lxxxii] Jeff Morley. JFK Facts.

[lxxxiii] Howard P. Willens, Richard M. Mosk. The Truth About Dallas. The American Scholar. June 6, 2016.



Last modified on Thursday, 04 July 2024 18:41
Gary Aguilar

Gary L. Aguilar, MD, is one of the few physicians outside the government ever permitted to examine the still-restricted photographs and X-rays taken during President Kennedy’s autopsy.  He has published widely on the medical evidence in professional journals, books and on-line.  He has  lectured before academic medical, academic medico-legal, and non-professional public audiences on the subject. He is currently Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology, U.C. San Francisco, and the head of ophthalmology and the Vice Chief of Staff at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco.

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