The fading taboo against Warren Commission critics

“When it comes to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the list of important, seemingly credible public figures who count themselves as conspiracy theorists is long and impressive,” Phil Shenon writes in today’s Washington Post

And now a former Warren Commission investigator has come out to say he no longer believes in the Commission’s finding. Charles Shaffer, former prosecutor who served Robert Kennedy’s representative to the Warren Commission, is a “Mafia done it” man.

Shaffer’s opinion isn’t particularly well-informed, but it is important. Shenon’s story matters more as a sign that the taboo against saying JFK was killed by his political enemies is fading, even in the upper ranks of the Justice Department, even in the newsroom of the Washington Post. 

Shaffer bases his opinion on the statements of Mafia attorney Frank Ragano who says that crime boss Santos Trafficante boasted of killing Kennedy. The problem is that Ragano’s statements cannot be corroborated.

A faithful reader calls attention to Anthony Summers’ judicious treatment of the matter in his excellent book, Not in Your Lifetime.

“While some have expressed belief in Ragano’s account, this author finds the Trafficante ‘confession’ story dubious. The author looked into whether Trafficante was where Ragano said he was on the day Ragano said he met with him, and decided it was unlikely, if not impossible. Exposing Ragano as a liar, however, would not dispose of the ‘Mob dunnit’ theory — nor of the notion that Trafficante and Marcello played some part in Kennedy’s murder. For more detail on the author’s probe of the Ragano story, see “Ghosts of November,” Vanity Fair, December 1994.”









  1. Dan says:

    The Shenon piece makes mention that the CIA did not inform the Warren Commission of CIA/Mafia plots to assassinate Castro. In fact, Allen Dulles knew of these plots and did not inform his fellow commissioners. Shenon cites the CIA/Mafia plots as possible motive for retaliation by Castro. However they are important for another reason as well- the CIA/Mafia plots were part of the CIA Executive Action program that trained riflemen to assassinate by sniper fire, using both CIA and Mafia personnel. The CIA/Mafia plots should have been a focus for investigation to determine if they were connected to the events in Dallas.

  2. BradR says:

    The fact that a Warren investigator believes that there may be a Mafia connection is more important than blowing off why he believes it.
    I doubt that Shaffer or anybody else on the Commision knew about Oswald’s uncle being part of the Marcello organization or how influential he was with Oswald.
    I believe that the Mafia ties were coming out when Garrison launched his witch hunt that involved everybody but the Mob. How convenient for the gentleman described by Garrison as only a N.O. businessman. That comedy set back conspiracy investigations for years, until Garrison apologists like Stone and DiEugenio completely dismissed the Oswald and Ruby documented connections to the Mob and endorsed Garrison’s transparent attempt to divert attention away from Marcello, Hoffa, Trafficante and the rest.
    I believe that this was put out by John Davis in the early 90s with a bunch of other investigators, since overshadowed by the more sensationalist theories.

    • anonymous says:

      ” Garrison launched his witch hunt that involved everybody but the Mob”

      Didn’t Garrison’s witch hunt involve the CIA? The District Attorney of New Orleans, believed the assassination had been the work of CIA.

      Everybody but the Mob? Wasn’t it the Warren Commissions mr. Hoover of the FBI that denied the very existence of the mob?

    • Alex S says:

      Let’s be serious… Ruby was dripping with mob ties, but trying to make Dutz Murret the key to a plot linking Oswald to Marcello has always been the weakest point of any mob-did-it theory.

      Garrison case aside, there is nothing “sensationalist” about positing Oswald ties to the intelligence community and right-wing political operatives. Even if he was unwitting of the milieu in which he moved, it was a milieu defined by CIA/military intel ties, NOT racketeering.

  3. Neil says:

    I’m happy to see the Washington Post once again take the lead on publishing articles written by Warren Commission critics but that was a poorly written article. It seems to imply that the only “respectable” Conspiracy Theorists are government insiders. Worse, he wastes space talking about a Warren Commission staffer who believes Frank Ragano.

  4. Frank says:

    From the article:

    “Warren bears much of the responsibility for his commission’s failures. Years later, he would admit that, in his own mind, he ruled out a conspiracy within days of the president’s murder. As a result, he frequently blocked staff lawyers from pursuing lines of investigation that might have pointed to co-conspirators.”

    Ah, the sweet sound of truth. More to come I’m sure.

    • Photon says:

      If you read the article his ” long and impressive list” isn’t long at all-and the principal figure Shaffer still believes Oswald was the lone gunman.
      After 50 years not a shred of physical evidence linking Oswald to the Mafia, CIA, Cubans (pro and anti-Castro) or frankly anybody.
      If Oswald didn’t pull the trigger, who did?

      • Frank says:

        “If Oswald didn’t pull the trigger, who did?”

        Firstly why assume he didn’t? That and other conspirators are not mutually exclusive. This was probably a diversionary remark by you to derail the thread. Why devolve into useless assumptions specific to that point within this broader context of a botched job by the Warren Commission? The point isn’t were the conclusions correct, the point is they can’t be valid given an admittedly (by Earl Warren no less!) stunted and incomplete investigation. That is why the report was never accepted. It reeked of its own incompleteness.

        Secondly, if Warren had not “frequently blocked staff lawyers from pursuing lines of investigation that might have pointed to co-conspirators”, then we would know much, much more than we know today. Bad job, WC. Waste of taxes.

        Lastly, that single acknowledgement by Warren alone is enough to fully justify the immediate declassification and release of the many documents still being withheld to this very day. Don’t you agree? Certainly you should, but we all know you won’t.

        Meanwhile, we all watch and wait.

      • Arnaldo M Fernandez says:

        Your argument is the classical Only Game in Town fallacy. The key is not who did it, but rather that Oswald couldn´t do it. See:

      • Photon, I presume you mean “pull the trigger” that was the fatal shot? The only reason people claim it was Oswald is that that’s what John Edgar Hoover wanted people to believe. Doesn’t mean he was the one. He certainly didn’t fire the fatal shot…it was too difficult an angle from the TSBD.

  5. Allen Lowe says:

    the mob thing makes no sense; you have to look at the question of motivation on the part of investigators – a Mafia conspiracy would have been troublesome but not threatening to the stability of the government. So one can assume that, if it were likeley, police and WC investigators would have gone after it – but an internal, government conspiracy is another matter, and much more threatening, in both a political and physical sense. Who wants to go after the guys in their own organization who were able to murder the president? Not LBJ (who told this, in so many words, to John Kenneth Galbraith), not the Warren Commission, and not the liberals in the US government who have shown, over the years, how easily they can be intimidated and out-maneuvered.

  6. Arnaldo M Fernandez says:

    Ironically, Shenon’s piece “Meet the respectable JFK conspiracy theorists” would exclude him from the meeting. His criticism against WC is based on the debunked hypothesis about the Castro connection. Shenon even spun a yarn about Elena Garro de Paz twist party with Oswald in Mexico City as the occasion taken by Castro intelligence to recruit Oswald for killing Kennedy. Shenon is actually cleaning the WC cruel and shocking act of framing Oswald, despite what is known thanks to books like Inquest or Breach of Trust.

  7. Avinash says:

    Even John Kerry had expressed doubts about the WC a few months back.So did Clinton and Gore in the 1990’s.

    • And of course LBJ expressed similar doubts just after the Report came out. LBJ later went on to say that he has no doubt Oswald fired shots, but that others could well have been involved.

  8. Jerri kindig says:

    I have been reading a great book on facts associated with the Kennedy Assassination. It’s called When The Past Came Calling by Larry Kaplan. It’s captivating reading of things that I had never heard of, and things that surrounded the assassination and the aftermath. is his site. It’s really worth the read, so much information out there to find and educate ourselves with.

  9. Ramon F Herrera says:

    Logistic note (not for publication). The link above (“Ghosts of November”) is not well formed. It has an spurious right bracket at the end. This is the proper URL:

    De nada….

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