Howard Willens corrects my mistakes

Howard Willens writes via email to correct a couple of mistakes in my Nov. 12 post, “Howard Willens weighs in on RFK’s suspicions of conspiracy.”  Let me quote him in full.

Willens: “You tell your audience that I prepared a document for the Attorney General labelled “Sworn Statement.” You obviously did not look at the actual document, which is labelled “Statement of Robert F. Kennedy.” Are you going to correct this error?

1) Yes, I am going to correct this error. I did look at the actual document, and it is indeed labelled “Statement of Robert F. Kennedy.” My assertion was based on the fact that the first paragraph of the statement refers to the Attorney General “having been duly sworn.” When I wrote the draft was “labelled” as a sworn statement, I meant labelled in the sense of prominently identified. My word choice is obviously poor, and my formulation was not accurate. It has been corrected.

Willens: “In addition, you report that the Attorney General ‘met with the Commission’ on June 4. He certainly did not meet with the Commission — in fact, whether he should or not was the subject of the meetings I describe in my two memoranda on this subject. It was on June 4 that I met with the Attorney General and Katzenbach; I forget whether Ed Guthman was at this final meeting. Are you going to correct this error?”

2) Yes, I am going to correct this error. By saying “Commission” I did not intend to refer to the seven commissioners but to the commission generically, meaning staffers. Again, my word choice was careless. The post has been corrected.

That said, I don’t think these errors fatally undermine my argument.

In the first instance, I wrote that RFK’s aides received a draft statement for RFK’s signature that referred to him being “sworn” and his aides rejected it. Willens says RFK himself did not reject the proposal for a “sworn” statement, which is true. I say his aides, acting on his behalf, rejected the proposal for a “sworn” statement — which is also true.

Phil Shenon emphasized this point in his Politico piece, and I agree with him. Readers can assess for themselves which statement is more significant to the issue of RFK and the conspiracy question.

In the second instance, the distinction between RFK meeting with “the Commission” or “a Commission staffer” is important, but it does not affect my point that RFK asked for further changes in the draft statement at this meeting. This request, I argued, indicated his desire to limit his testimony. The fact that RFK was not speaking to the Commission members themselves when seeking the changes, does not affect the fact that he sought them.

After correcting these errors, Willens goes on to write:

“Why you dredge up Katzenbach’s November memo is beyond me, except to discredit him I suppose. It has nothing to do with the issue at hand, namely, whether the Attorney General refused to submit an affidavit to the Commission or to appear to give sworn testimony. Contrary to your suspicion, there was no discussion at the meeting with Katzenbach and Guthman about a “sworn” statement or an “unsworn” one.”
To take the latter issue first, I do not suspect and did not write that I suspect that Katzenbach and Guthman had a “discussion” about whether the statement would be sworn or not. I wrote that Katzenbach and Guthman may have rejected the draft proposal for a “duly sworn” statement because they did not want to commit their boss to a sworn statement. They could have rejected the statement without being explicit about the reason for their rejection. I wrote that Willens had not considered this possibility. I still hope he will.
As for the “issue at hand,” Willens narrowly construes it as whether the statement would be sworn or not. I think the issue at hand was whether RFK’s statement about the possibility of conspiracy would be sworn or not. Willens cannot understand why I “dredge up” Katzenbach’s  November 25, 1963, memo in this context.
I hope I can assist his comprehension. In the memo the deputy attorney general stated — before the JFK assassination investigation had even begun — that “the public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin.” Willens says this has “nothing to do with the matter at hand.”
I disagree. I didn’t quote this memo to “discredit” Katzenbach. I quoted this memo so that readers can understand the mindset of a man who was representing RFK on the issue of how he should respond  to the Commission on the question of conspiracy. Within hours of the murder of the accused assassin by a man with organized crime connections who loathed Bobby Kennedy, Katzenbach sought to head off any consideration of the possibility of conspiracy and to convince the public of a proposition that was far from proven. When Willens met with Katzenbach seven months later, Katzenbach’s hasty conclusions about the conspiracy question and the need to convince the public that Oswald acted alone had not changed. His views were, in my opinion, relevant to the matter at hand. Willens disagrees. Again, readers can decide for themselves.

As I stated in my post, I hope that Willens will address the two additional questions that he posed but did not address in his post on  To wit:

(2) Should Robert Kennedy have provided the Commission with the information he had regarding the CIA’s plans to assassinate Castro? and (3) At the time he was assassinated in 1968 did Robert Kennedy believe that his brother’s death was the result of a conspiracy contrary to the conclusion of the Warren Commission.

In his email to me, Willens wrote, “It seems obvious that any discussion of the second and third questions I identified would be similarly fruitless.”

I disagree. I think it is obvious that this exchange has been fruitful. It has corrected my mistakes and clarified our differences. I still hope Willens will share his views on questions 2) and 3).




  1. Eric Hollingsworth says:

    I believe that RFK suspected conspiracy, if not in the assassination itself, then in the exploitation of the assassination in the furtherance of what we would call nowadays a neocon agenda. There could be no more, at the time, prominent exponents of that agenda than Allen Dulles and John McCloy. Respectively, but not exclusively, they were reponsible for the preservation of Nazis and the engenderment of the extractive model of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

    So why were they given seats on the Warren Commission, when their actions were antithetical to JFK’s stated positions? I think the most important facts to keep in mind are that RFK was still Attorney General, in charge of the FBI, and that for the most part, the Johnson administration was still the Kennedy administration, including many people who were personally loyal to JFK.

    The public spectacle of Dulles and McCloy (who originally, and on record, suspected conspiracy) backing the Lone Gunman theory must have dealt a crushing blow to those who were salivating over the potential spoils of Cuba and beyond. If nothing else, it was a masterful counterstroke against those who would have used JFK’s assassination to lead the U.S. in the opposite direction from his clearly stated goals.

    In such a light, the Katzenbach Memo is no mystery, it is merely part of an attempt to protect JFK’s legacy. The real question is how Dulles and McCloy were swayed to participate in a coverup that must have set their plans back by many years.

    • Jonathan says:

      The anti-Castro Cubans wanted to exploit JFK’s murder, but it’s clear they weren’t behind the murder, any more than were the nuke-the-Soviets crowd.

      Oswald had been set up as the LONE assassin, the lone perp. A loner who had no associates. It was good enough for the plotters that JFK was dead and a lone nut was solely responsible.

      The Oswald-in-Mexico-City story was cooked up clumsily in a poor effort to implicate Cuba and the Soviet Union in JFK’s death. Anyone who buys this story is going to have red herring for dinner.

      JFK was dead, and that was always the purpose of the assassination.

      Cui bono? Not the mob, not Jimmy Hoffa. Not Cuba. Not the USSR. The arms makers? They win no matter who’s in the white house. The military? Hardly. The CIA? Hardly.

      • “Cui bono? Not the mob, not Jimmy Hoffa. Not Cuba. Not the USSR. The arms makers? They win no matter who’s in the white house. The military? Hardly. The CIA? Hardly.”~Jonathan

        Well then … who’s left?

        > Jimmy Hoffa was not “the mob”, he was just one member.

        > The arms makers win no matter who’s in the white house? Oh to the contrary, not if the cold war unfreezes to détente.

        > The military is in the same boat as the the arms makers, that’s why the term “military industrial complex”, and they would have had their power cut back by the same token by a general peace.

        > The Soviets? Now that is a very complex question. It was an excuse by Johnson to be sure, that their may have been Soviet or Cuban involvement. But if we look deeper into the larger game, the Soviet military industrial complex is in a parallel situation to the western counterpart. To be clear however, I do not think there was such Soviet involvement.

        > Not Cuba. Surely not, but the Anti-Castro Cubans clearly had motive.

        I think asserting there was no benefit to the CIA, is the most absurd of all on the list. And I think that the reason for my finding it so is too obvious to even go into it.

  2. David Regan says:

    I would be curious to hear Mr. Willens explanation of the April 27, 1964 memo from Norman Redlich to J. Lee Rankin.

    While attemting to determine timing of the three shots in relation to frames of the Zapruder film, Mr. Redlich states, “Our intention is not to establish the point with complete accuracy, but merely to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was the sole assassin”.

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