Charles Shaffer, Warren Commission staffer who changed his mind

Charles N. Shaffer Jr. did just about everything right in representing John W. Dean III, the onetime White House counsel whose riveting testimony before a Senate committee in 1973 directly implicated President Richard M. Nixon in the Watergate break-in and coverup, leading to Nixon’s resignation the following year.

But Shaffer, who died at age 82 at his home in Woodbine, Md., on March 15, may not have felt that way about his work as a staff member of the Warren Commission in 1964.

In an interview with author Philip Shenon following the publication of his 2013 book on the assassination, Shaffer said he had come to believe that there probably was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK, which, Shenon noted in an article for the Washington Post, made him “the first commission insider to say so publicly.” (According to Shenon, however, Shaffer continued to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman in Dealey Plaza and did not question the single-bullet theory laid out in the commission’s report.)

“The Warren Report was an honest report, based on what we knew at the time,” Shenon quoted Shaffer as saying. “But nothing should have been written in stone. There were developments that convinced me that maybe we missed something.”

One of those developments, apparently, was the assertion of mob lawyer Frank Ragano, in his 1994 memoir, that Santo Trafficante Jr., the Tampa-based Mafia boss, had confessed to him in 1987 that he and Carlos Marcello, his counterpart in New Orleans, were responsible for the assassination.

Shaffer, Shenon wrote, knew Ragano and thought his account seemed credible. “If you credit what Ragano says, there was a conspiracy,” Shaffer told him. “It sounds right.”

Shaffer told Shenon that Chief Justice Earl Warren’s biggest mistake as the chairman of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy was his refusal to allow Jack Ruby, the strip-club operator who killed Oswald two days after the assassination, to testify in Washington. (Ruby had pleaded to be taken from Dallas to Washington, saying, “I want to tell the truth, and I can’t tell it here.”) Shaffer branded Warren’s decision “ridiculous,” saying that in so doing the commission missed a “golden opportunity” to see if Ruby was willing to expose a conspiracy.

Before joining the Warren Commission’s staff, Shaffer worked as a Justice Department lawyer and assisted in the prosecution of Teamsters president James R. Hoffa in 1964 for jury-tampering, which led to the union leader’s first and only criminal conviction. Shaffer told Shenon that he was detailed to the commission by JFK’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to be “Bobby’s spy” on its staff.






11 thoughts on “Charles Shaffer, Warren Commission staffer who changed his mind”

  1. The Warren Commission deliberately ignored or in a number of cases failed to acknowledge or call up witnesses of suspicious activities leading up to the assassination; and ignored the many accounts of suspicious activity around the picket fence area. There are examples of misrepresentation of witness accounts and testimony; and of failure to ask pertinent questions that required to be asked. That there was a Commission agenda bias for a lone nut conclusion is without question.
    Is it any wonder Earl would not allow Ruby to testify in Washington with potentially groundbreaking information that could assist the investigation (afterall this was the assassin of Lee Harvey Oswald). Warren along with his bevy of outstanding pillars of unquestionable character presided over an inquiry of Omission.

  2. True, BUT. The mafia did not have the power to orchestrate the coverup. They participated, obviously with the Ruby hit on Oswald. They could have participated with a shooter or two with CIA blessing and assistance.
    I lean to Military > CIA principles. At least two, probably three, teams of three. A shooter, a spotter and a guard.
    Dare say a Crossfire?
    Interesting that Ferrie was interested in the trajectory of shells ejected from a rifle in the summer of 63.

  3. Should we begin with the new idea that the Warren Omission was established to find the truth. They were not tasked with revealing the truth (they succeeded). The truth was known when Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald in the DPD basement surrounded by a cordon of armed police officers/detectives. The truth was known and suppressed when Ruby asked to be taken to Washington, D.C. to testify. The truth was known when the tenets of sound homicide investigation were exempted in favor of obsfucation, deception, propaganda, and high crimes and misdemeanors by “honorable” men [Warren Ommissioners]…”honorable men” is the same term used by the MAFIA.

  4. Understand why former WC staffers can get themselves to admit that all the circumstantial evidence before the crime goes straight to the CIA. Just shows the different attitude of a different era. No one then could believe government agents could conspire to kill the commander-in-chief.

  5. Is anyone REALLY surprised that the WC should have not been “written in stone?” Is anyone REALLY surprised that the CIA and the FBI were less than forthcoming with the information they had and continue to hold on the assassination? Is anyone REALLY surprised that you should NOT use politicians to investigate politicians? (Inmates should not run asylums.) Is anyone REALLY surprised that Gerald Ford was a lapdog for other, more powerful men in Washington in the 60’s? Is anyone REALLY surprised that Allen Dulles was selected by LBJ to be part of a disinformation committee, given Dulles’ past and his dealings with overthrowing foreign governments, etc?

    I guess what I should be thankful for is the dedication displayed on both sides of this debate and their unyielding dedication to continue to dig for the WHOLE truth. The Good Lord knows our government FAILED us during this critical time period. It is also apparent that our government, or at least a large, hidden part still continues to operate to this day. That is the REAL reason I am on this site. I am hopeful—probably naive or stupid are better words—-that one day this country will finally find the path is was supposed to have taken over 200 years ago. I would like to think that my young step-daughter will inherit a better America than the one left to me.

    So, while I disagree with Photon and Jean on this site, I am extremely THANKFUL for their time and insight. Because it is only through an open dialogue that we can hope to try and avoid another Vietnam and Iraq War 1 and 2 because of politicians with hidden agendas and dubious ties to companies like Halliburton.

    Having said that, how can Slawson and Shaffer REALLY think that the CIA and the FBI were going to completely cooperative? In never occurred to them to go beyond what they were told? If Shaffner REALLY believed that Warren’s decision was “ridiculous,” how come that admission can not be found in the WC? Whatever happened to standing up for what you believe in, even if it means consequences to your career? Whatever happened to personal integrity? How come you can not find ONE dissenter in the WC, or for that matter, ONE WC staffer who resigned when confronted with a situation as described by Mr. Shaffner? Why does a deathbed always seem to be a GREAT confessional?

  6. Arnaldo M. Fernandez

    The WC Report wasn´t honest since —according to the current state of the evidence— it stands as a case study of how not to conduct a high profile murder investigation. It was biased against LHO from its very inception and what it missed would take another 26 volumes of evidence. About the only right fact in WC Report was that Jack Ruby shot LHO at Dallas Police Headquarters, since it couldn´t be missed after having been captured live on TV.

  7. Wasn’t WC member Gerald Ford with Warren during Ruby’s plea to be taken to Washington to testify what he(Ruby)knew? I’m sure Ford would have tried to override Warren had the latter decided to bring Ruby to Washington. As would Allen Dulles. The onus, then, would have been on the Chief Justice to say “It’s my Commission, what I say goes”. I find it interesting that Shaffer appears to think the WC final report should not have been “written in stone”. I agree with him on that.

    1. You’re incorrect, Paul. It was Warren’s commission and what he said usually happened.

      He wouldn’t let them examine the autopsy photos.
      He wouldn’t let them interview Sylvia Duran.
      He wouldn’t let them interview Nosenko.
      He wouldn’t let them investigate Patrick Dean and other members of the DPD the staff found suspicious.
      He decided that their internal memos would be destroyed, but was talked out of it by Goldberg.
      He decided that their hearings and exhibits would not be published, but was overruled by Rusell and the other publicly elected commissioners.

      1. Thanks Mr. Speer. I never knew Warren was responsible for all of those things. I’ve thought before given the time and level of corruption in California at the time he was Governor he might be beholdin’ to others so to speak. He could be a good read, as I’m a descendant of Warren’s. Any suggestions?

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