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Formation of the Warren Commission

President Lyndon Johnson on the telephone on the day the Warren Commission was announced, 29 Nov 1963.
President Lyndon Johnson on the
telephone on the day the Warren
Commission was announced,
29 Nov 1963.

President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. One week later, on November 29, his successor President Johnson announced the formation of the Warren Commission. The process by which Johnson reached this decision and selected the Commissioners was shrouded in some mystery for years and has gradually become more clear, particularly in the 1990s with the release of the Johnson phone call tapes.

Johnson initially resisted calls for investigations beyond the FBI report, which was being written that first week – see his phone call with Washington Post columnist Joe Alsop. The long-told story that Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and Justice Department lawyers were pushing for the "blue ribbon commission" is now shown to be only part of the truth. The Johnson phone calls reveal that some powerful men outside the government played an important role in the push for a Presidential commission. Besides Alsop, these men include Eugene Rostow, Dean of Yale Law School, and Dean Acheson, one of the elder statesmen of the Cold War.

In some of the phone calls that week, LBJ alluded to the possibility of 40 million Americans dying in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. This fear was apparently related to the issue of Oswald’s visit to Mexico City and the allegations of Communist conspiracy emanating from that city. A phone call with Senator Russell on November 29 adds light to the story of how LBJ convinced Chief Justice Earl Warren to serve despite Warren’s great reluctance.

See Walkthrough - Formation of the Warren Commission

RESOURCES:

Essays

The Creation of the Warren Commission, by Donald Gibson.

The Fourteen Minute Gap, by Rex Bradford.

The Fourteen Minute Gap: An Update, by Rex Bradford.

The Tale of the Tapes, by Vincent J. Salandria.


Documents

Warren Report, Foreword

HSCA Report, Volume XI, p. 3
Creation of the Warren Commission

HSCA Report, Volume III, p.642
HSCA Testimony of Nicholas Katzenbach

Katzenbach Memo

In this memo of Nov 25 to the White House, Assistant Attorney General Katzenbach asserted that "the public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin..... Speculation on Oswald's motivation ought to be cut off..... Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about too pat--too obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.)."

 

LBJ Phone Calls

23 Nov, 10:01 AM - LBJ & Hoover
LBJ and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover discuss the case on the morning after the assassination. This tape has been erased - see the Fourteen Minute Gap essays.
transcript  audio

24 Nov, afternoon - Moyers & Rostow
Dean of Yale Law School Eugene Rostow suggests a Presidential Commission to aide Bill Moyers.
transcript  audio

25 Nov, 10:30 AM - LBJ & Hoover
LBJ and Hoover discuss the state of the case and the calls for additional investigations.
transcript  audio

25 Nov, 10:40 AM - LBJ & Alsop
Washington Post columnist Joe Alsop advises LBJ to appoint a high-level Commission.
transcript  audio

28 Nov, 3:21 PM - LBJ & Eastland
LBJ gets Senator Eastland's agreement to call off a Senate investigation.
transcript  audio

29 Nov, 1:40 PM - LBJ & Hoover
LBJ runs down the names of potential Commissioners for Hoover's approval.
transcript  audio

29 Nov, 8:55 PM - LBJ & Russell
LBJ tells his old Senate mentor Dick Russell that he has named him to the Commission, over Russell's objections. At the end of the call, LBJ tells Russell how he convinced a reluctant Warren to agree to serve.
transcript  audio

See transcripts of all recorded LBJ phone calls between Nov 22 and Nov 30, 1963.

Related Starting Points

Multimedia

John Newman, author of JFK and Vietnam and Oswald and the CIA, discusses the extroardinary "Katzenbach memo" and the profound effect the story of Oswald's visit to Mexico City had on the government's response to the assassination (running time: 3:49).
high-resolution   low-resolution

(Video clip source: Into Evidence DVD)

Books of Interest

    The Kennedy Assassination Tapes
Max Holland
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
 
    The Kennedy Assassination Cover-Up
Donald Gibson
Nova Science Publishers, 2000
 
    The Vantage Point
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Hold, Rinehart and Winston, 1971
 
    The Memoirs of Earl Warren
Earl Warren
Doubleday, 1977


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