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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 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
transcript   audio
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.

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

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

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

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

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

29 Nov, 8:55 PM - LBJ & Russell
transcript   audio
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.

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

Comments On This Page


    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
    Holt, Reinhart, and Winston, 1971
     
        The Memoirs of Earl Warren
    Earl Warren
    Doubleday, 1977

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