I met John McCloy in his office on
the 46th Floor of the Chase Manhattan Bank, of which
he was Chairman. I had been interested in him ever since
C. Wrights Mills wrote about him as the central figure
in the power Elite. He had been born in Philadelphia
in 1895 and, fresh out of law school, he was assigned
the task of investigating the 1917 Black Tom munitions
explosion in Hoboken, N.J., for which he fixed responsibility
on the German government. He became Assistant Secretary
of War in World War II and in 1947 became president
of the World Bank, then U.S. military governor and high
commissioner for Germany (1949-52). He returned (1961-63)
to government service to act as President Kennedy's
principal disarmament adviser. He had his Secretary
hold his calls--he first time anyone provided me with
such uninterrupted time, and seemed completely confident
in every answer.
The interview proceeded, according
to my notes:
Q. How did the Commission get started?
A. First, we had to appoint a General
Counsel. Warren's first suggestion was not accepted.
But Mr. Rankin, his second choice, was accepted. For
our staff, I suggested several lawyers and they all
were approved. Next, we decided that we could not accept
the FBI Reports.
Q. Were there were substantial changes
from the FBI Report?
A. Yes. Our final Report was quite
Q. Did the FBI Report pre-empt areas?
A. Not really. We investigated and
opened many doors. It did, to some degree, influence
the direction of our investigation, but it did not stop
us from exploring any evidence we wanted to explore?
Q. Did the Staff work out well.
Ford said he had his own separate staff investigators.
A. Well, Ford and the other Congressmen
were only there part time. Dulles and myself were members
in residence. We had more contacts, but in general,
most of the contact was through Rankin.
Q. How did the executive sessions
A. Rankin was the only staff member
to sit in. We had disagreements, but under discussions
most problems worked themselves out.
Q. What about Connally bullet disagreement?
A. Russell threatened to dissent
from a report that said Connally and Kennedy were hit
by the same bullet. I wanted a consensus report and
suggested we reword it to say there was only "credible
evidence." There was an argument over adjectives and
"persuasive" finally won out over credible.
Q. Was Russell alone?
A. No. But he was most definite.
He knew Connally and knew that Connally knew firearms.
He gave weight to this. I had been with two men who
were shot without knowing it. So I believed it was possible
Connally was hit by same bullet as JFK, but I can't
be definite. I sighted the rifle at the Texas School
Book Depository etc. But Russell said he didn't believe
paper evidence. All the members had independent judgement
here, and as it wasn't essential to our case we let
Q. Were there any other disagreements?
A. There was a disagreement on what
to publish. It was like the Bridge At St. Louis. we
had uncovered a lot of stories of minor scandals, not
relevant to our investigation. We decided not to publish
Q. Did you have any pet area of
A. Yes. I was interested in the
espionage angle. I spent 10 years investigating Black
Tom explosions--that's how I got into Government. I
thought Oswald was trained in Espionage. I saw a pattern--mail
drops, micro dots, his code(?), his knowledge of sabotage,
etc. I thought he might be a sleeper Soviet agent who
went haywire. I think we put something of that in the
Report, I did, but it was toned down. The others said
my evidence was not "evidential." I still believe it
is possible some document will turn up showing Oswald
might have been an agent. Not necessarily a conspiracy
but an agent gone haywire.
Q. Did Russia cooperate with your
A. Not really, only pro forma. They
held back a lot. For them, it was all public relations.
Q. Did the seven members attend
A. Congress was in session, as was
the Supreme Court. Dulles and I attended the most--"in
residence." Warren worked hard but could not been at
all meetings. The other members-- they wont admit it-came
less frequently. They were in and out on Quorum calls.
Cooper was the best. Ford, Boggs and Russell came the
Q. Did you have an assistant?
A. Yes. Patrick Burns. I also sent
down young law clerks to help at the end.
Q. How did Warren work out?
A. He is a great administrator.
Stubborn as a mule, and never gives in on-a point.
Q. How did Staff and Commission
A. We worked independent of one
another. The staff was young and inexperienced. We knew
that these problems were exceedingly complicated and
could not be answered simply. We had all known and dealt
with the complicated problems of Government before.
Q. What was the role of Howard Willens?
A. He was one of [deputy attorney
general] Katzenbach's boys. Katzenbach him in there
to keep us on the right track There was already an independent
investigator (Redlich) and there were some clashes.
Willens was a bureaucrat and had a different perspective.
Willens had to be reprimanded several times by the chief
Once he kept material from us--evidence--
he locked it in his top drawer, afraid we weren't read
for it. He wanted to be the star-- thought this case
would make him. He is ambitious, and will probably write
a book. We finally forced him to give us the evidence.
He also reported to Katzenbach, gave him different story.
Q. Who wrote the Report?
A. The staff, Redlich & Goldberg,
wrote the bulk of the Report. But you should have seen
the first draft. We tore it apart. It was not legalistic.
We deleted adjectives, made it less categorical, and
more believable -- Lawyers were carried away. Wanted
to make everything definite, close every door. We rewrote
it and made it more legal.
Q. Why did you insert "It is impossible
to prove a negative" paragraph?
A. To make it more believable if
we said categorically there was no conspiracy. We don't
know if it would be believed. People are suspicious
of categorical statements. We don't know if someone
would show a link between Ruby and Oswald, or what.
This paragraph left the door ajar, but dispelled doubts
of a conspiracy. We had to show Foreign government we
weren't a South American Banana Republic AND WE could
deal with our own problems.
Q. What were these Foreign implications?
A. I went to Canada, France, Germany,
England, and told these people hot to co off half-cocked,
but to wait for our Report.
Q. Was Commission more interested
in Conclusion than details?
A. Yes. We let the staff worry about
"How." But all the members were interested in every
fact and we went into excruciating details when we were
Q. Why was Kennedy autopsy left
A. Taste. We didn't want to show
naked pictures of the President.
Q. Agreement on not publishing?
A. We agreed not to publish anything.
But Ford, scandalously, had already sold his story to
Life Magazine for a good deal of money.
Q. How did you decide to terminate
A. There was no political pressure.
But stories in European papers were putting pressure
on us and we decided to settle the cloud of dust.
We talked for over 2 hours. Clearly,
he held Ford and Boggs in low regard. He also made it
clear that five of the members did not attend most meetings.
And that the staff, divided in different factions, kept
evidence locked away. And, despite the report, he believed
that there was a espionage conspiracy: Oswald was a
Soviet sleeper agent though not necessarily an assassination
The issue was now becoming whether
the seven members of the Warren Commission had themselves
investigated deeply enough to put their names on a report
that claimed to be an exhaustive investigation. The
Commissioners had established "general guidelines,"
as Senator Cooper put it, but left the "nitty-gritty"
work of analyzing evidence, deposing witnesses, pursuing
clues, resolving technical conflicts in testimony, and
drafting chapters to its staff General Counsel Rankin.