Dec. 16, 1963: Behind closed doors, the Warren Commission is baffled

With the FBI’s report on Kennedy’s assassination, the Commission undertook to select staffers and figure out how to approach its work.

Chief Justice Warren complained about the leaks of the FBI report:  “I have read that report two or three times and I have not seen anything in there that has not been in the press.”

The Commissioners then held a wide-ranging discussion of JFK’s assasination, including:

–the medical evidence. (John J. McCloy: “This bullet business leaves me confused”);

–Marina Oswald and whether she might flee to Mexico,

–the ease of Oswald getting a wife out of the Soviet Union and obtaining a passport in New Orleans,

–Jack Ruby: (Hale Boggs: “One of the keys to this whole thing is Ruby.”)

Senator Richard Russell summed things up thusly: “There’s nothing absolutely normal about any phase of it.”

Toward the end of the meeting, former CIA Director Allen Dulles passed out a book on the history of presidential assassination and attempts in America, noting that only the attempt on Truman’s life was a plot.

“The Lincoln assassination was a plot”, McCloy countered. Dulles refused to concede the point.

The Commissioners saw a clear need to obtain reports and files from the Secret Service, Dallas Police, CIA, and other agencies. Dulles brought up getting materials on Oswald’s Soviet stay into the hands of the CIA “to explain the Russian parts.”

Senator Russell commented:  “I think you’ve got more faith in them than I have. I think they’ll doctor anything they hand to us.”

The phrase “nothing absolutely normal about any phase of it” has stood the test of time.

Read the entire transcript of the Dec 16 1963 Warren Commission executive session.

9 thoughts on “Dec. 16, 1963: Behind closed doors, the Warren Commission is baffled”

  1. After re-reading this WC Executive Meeting, the glaring omission is Commission investigators. Unlike the Lincoln assassination, where an active field investigation was conducted by the military, the JFK Assassination was distilled through the Warren Commission, by Committee lawyers, relying on reports from other agencies of the US Government, and those within the State of Texas. As of the date this WC Executive session was held, Oswald and Ruby greatly perplexed the Commission. These Washington insiders saw baffling systemic inconsistencies in Oswald’s Russian episode. McCloy, a seasoned hunter, raised questions regarding the FBI’s improbable shooting sequence and the lone-nut ‘magic bullet’ thesis. Although Ruby, to some Commission members, was the ‘key’ to the assassination, other members cautioned against going in full throttle on Ruby, since his trial was still pending. Dulles, perhaps unwittingly, gave too many indications he was still well informed regarding current CIA activities. My analysis of the tenor of this meeting, given the collective domestic and international experiences of the group, certain ones had their specific covert agendas to advance; those Commission members knew a coup d’etat had taken place. Allen Dulles was chief among those on the Commission who knew.

  2. The Warren Commission Contrivance is a version of looking “Through a Glass Darkly,” meaning they contributed to what Senator Richard Russell summed up as: “There’s nothing absolutely normal about any phase of [Kennedy’s assassination]” or the subsequent cover-ups. While one of the Commissioner’s opined that “Ruby is the key to the assassination,” it occurred to me that the CIA climbed in bed with other clandestine organization (Mafia,anti-Castro Cubans,Hate-groups, Anti-communist fronts,etc.) for intelligence/asset purposes. Some argue Allen Dulles played a benign role on the Commission, but his role was that of fox in the hen house. Dulles repeatedly recommended CIA controlled personnel, organizations, and material for Commission use. Dulles was fired by Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs/CIA planned-to-fail invasion of Cuba. Kennedy effectively ended Dulles’ career in government service. Dulles continued to practice law at Sullivan and Cromwell, a very old, well connected, “establishment” law firm in Washington, D.C., very involved with United Fruit company in Cuban exploitation and intrigue.
    Regarding CIA relationships with other unsavory organizations, there had to be practical reasons and mutual benefits for such relationships to solidify. The 1963 mafia had a global reach with access to large liquid sums of cash, illegal merchandise flow, and many personnel of various and sundry skill-sets. Among those skill-sets was/is the ability to murder marked people anywhere on the planet through contractors (mechanics). Both Johnson and Hoover and Secret Service, may have deduced a coup d’etat took place, and decided they were outsmarted by the conspirators – after all, they just took down the President of the USA. Hoover and Johnson were Washington survivors. It is better to bow to power than to be assassinated. Johnson was very crafty in his choices of personnel for the Commission.

  3. Kind of interesting to read all that “housekeeping” chat at the beginning. Amazing to me that they didn’t yet have such essential office infrastructure as a telephone line (not to mention the actual telephones) in place yet, also that it seems no one had given thought to how they were going to get all-important support staff, especially the court reporters, and Warren himself actually had to ask his fellow commissioners from Congress for recommendations as to which service to hire from. Someone in Warren’s position shouldn’t have had to bother with those kinds of details, which gives you an idea of what a forlorn enterprise this outfit really was.

  4. Sept 18 1964: The final WC executive session instigated by Sen. Russell. Russell helped Harold Weisberg track down the transcript to this meeting. He recalled that they had discussed problem areas in the WC’s findings during that meeting. He “was shaken” when Weisberg told him that the transcript he received (prepared under the direction of J. Lee Rankin) made no mention of the discrepancies Russell and other members had pointed out that day. Apparently the only transcript that existed was a fake one prepared by Rankin. Soon after this revelation, Russell “broke his long friendship with Lyndon Johnson…” (Whitewash IV p20-22; Washington Post 10/11/1968)

  5. Thanks for this.

    I’ve read all the (formerly classified) Warren Commission Executive Session transcripts. The early ones like this contain the most substance. The later ones contain just a few words.

    Here in the first one we see three themes developing, which play throughout the W.C. proceedings. First, Allen Dulles trying to sell the lone nut theory. Second, Richard Russell expressing a sense of unreality about what he’s seeing; a sense that something’s not right with the picture presented. Third, John McCloy having doubts about what would become the “magic bullet”.

    McCloy is the most interesting commissioner to me. He knew Washington, D.C., but wasn’t a politician by trade; he was an NYC lawyer. IMO, he asks the best questions in the Executive Sessions. Ultimately, he signs onto the Warren Report. Ultimately, his friendship with Allen Dulles trumps his search for the truth.

  6. On page 52 of the transcript Allen Dulles passes out a book that he says will predict the outcome of their investigation- lone gunman. He says other than the attack on President Truman, all assassination attempts against American Presidents fit the lone assassin pattern. John McCone retorts that the Lincoln assassination was a conspiracy, to which Dulles replies that one man was so dominate ‘it almost wasn’t a plot’. I think this transcript shows that Allen Dulles had an agenda to promote the lone assassin theory of the case from the inception of the Warren Commission.

  7. What Russell suspected, I think, was that the Russians (rather than the American agencies) might doctor the record they handed over. Such suspicion would have been understandable. Earlier in the meeting, Allen Dulles complained that the material which the Russians had already provided was “entirely incomplete.” ( In fact, information about the extensive KGB surveillance of Oswald in Minsk did not become available until 1992. (,

    1. I very much doubt that Senator Russell thought Allen Dulles had any naive faith in the Soviets. The GA senator was clearly referring to the CIA, and his comment was also a not-so-veiled barb hurled at the Agency’s former director.

    2. Support for Russell’s skepticism being directed towards the Soviets can be found by going back to page 38. As for incomplete Soviet files, this is still the case. And for US intel.

      Nobody pushed for this “back when” because the Soviets would never reveal all. An initial set of questions answered would give rise to another and eventually involve operational intelligence. And that would not have been forthcoming. This would have set off cries of “COVER UP” and etc. The only way to avoid really dangerous tensions was to do what was done: go cheerfully whistling past the graveyard.

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