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LBJ and the Warren Commission

Selected Telephone Conversations Concerning the Special Commission to Investigate the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (the Warren Commission).

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963. Shortly thereafter, the House of Representatives and the Senate considered independent investigations of the assassination and the murder of Kennedy's putative assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. To trump these congressional efforts, President Lyndon Johnson decided to form a presidential commission to investigate the assassination and Oswald's death. These conversations document the formation of the commission -- identified by the popular title "The Warren Commission" -- because the chairman was Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The selected conversations you will hear document Johnson's extraordinary persuasiveness. The matchup of personalities called on all of Johnson's ability. Appeals to patriotism, family, and honor were interspersed in his conversations. Some people were honored, others were reluctant despite the Johnson treatment. In the end, all served. These conversations explain how Johnson cobbled the committee together. (The conversations are in chronological order.)

A comment about the recordings. These recordings vary dramatically in audio quality. The recordings were made on Dictaphone Dictabelt equipment. You will hear many imperfections. Sometimes the audio may be inaudible. This is not the fault of your RealAudio Player. The problem lies in the source material. Do not be discouraged, for there are riches to be found here that will illuminate those sad and frightening days following Kennedy's death.

November 24, 1963

Bill Moyers (the President's Special Assistant) and Eugene Rostow (Dean of Yale Law School). Rostow suggests a presidential commission but no Supreme Court justices.

November 25, 1963

LBJ and J.Edgar Hoover (Director, FBI). Johnson wants to avoid a presidential commission and briefs Hoover on his view that a Texas inquiry would be adequate with the full cooperation of the FBI.

LBJ and Joseph Alsop (columnist). LBJ explores the idea of a Texas investigation of the assassination. Alsop urges Johnson to appoint a special blue-ribbon panel and avoid the unsettling prospect of the U.S. Attorney General (Robert Kennedy, brother of the slain President) participating in an investigation of his brother's death.

November 28, 1963

LBJ and Sen. James Eastland (Dem.-Miss.) Johnson explores the idea of a presidential commission.

November 29, 1963

LBJ and Rep. Hale Boggs (Dem.-La.). Johnson explores the idea of a presidential commission rather than separate Senate and House investigations.

LBJ and Sen. Everett Dirksen (Rep.-Ill.). Johnson explores the idea of a presidential commission then goes on to discuss Senate business.

Second conversation between LBJ and Rep. Hale Boggs (Dem.-La.). Boggs reports on efforts to start a House investigation of the assassination and plans to establish a presidential commission.

LBJ and Abe Fortas (Washington attorney and LBJ confidant). Fortas and LBJ discuss possible composition of the commission.

Second conversation between LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover (Director, FBI). LBJ briefs Hoover on the presidential commission and solicits reactions to possible membership. Hoover reports on Lee Harvey Oswald's visit to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City and information on Jack Ruby. Hoover also briefs LBJ on ballistics results, reconstructs assassination events, and shares intelligence reports on Oswald. LBJ and Hoover discuss safety concerns, including the use of a bullet-proof car at the LBJ ranch. Johnson expresses confidence in Hoover's judgment.

LBJ and Sen. Richard Russell (Dem.-Ga.). LBJ discusses the release of the FBI report and floats the idea of Russell's service on a presidential commission to investigate the assassination. Russell declines. LBJ and Russell discuss commission membership. Russell weighs the merits of a Supreme Court justice serving on the commission versus other candidates.

LBJ and House Speaker John McCormack (Dem.-Mass.). LBJ discusses commission membership with McCormack. Issues include regional and ideological balance. Rep. Otto Passman (Dem.-Tex.) joins the conversation.

Second conversation between LBJ and Sen. Everett Dirksen (Rep.-Ill.). LBJ briefs Dirksen on presidential commission in lieu of separate congressional investigations. They discuss membership.

LBJ and Allen Dulles (former director, CIA). LBJ asks Dulles to serve on the commission.

Second conversation between LBJ and Abe Fortas (Washington attorney and LBJ confidant). Fortas reviews a draft announcement of the commission. LBJ invites Fortas to serve.

LBJ and Rep. Les Arends. LBJ consults with House leadership prior to release of statement.

LBJ and Rep. Charles Halleck. (Rep.-Ind.) LBJ consults with House leadership prior to release of statement. Johnson indicates his wish for Warren to chair the commission, though Warren has declined to serve. Halleck opposes Warren's appointment. Halleck agrees to avoid a separate House investigation of the assassination.

LBJ and Dean Rusk (Secretary of State) LBJ consults with Rusk on commission membership.

LBJ and House Leader Carl Albert (Dem.-Okla.) LBJ consults with the House majority leader on commission membership.

LBJ and Rep. Gerald Ford (Rep.-Mich.) LBJ invites Ford to serve on the commission.

Second conversation between LBJ and Joseph Alsop (columnist). Consults with Alsop about commission membership prior to release of the announcement.

Second conversation between LBJ and Sen. James Eastland (Dem.-Miss.) Johnson seeks Eastand's reaction to the appointment of Earl Warren to chair the commission. Johnson claims reluctance to appoint Warren but regards it as a necessity.

LBJ and Sen. Tom Kuchel. Johnson reviews commission membership and then explains how he convinced Warren to serve.

Second conversation between LBJ and Sen. Richard Russell (Dem.-Ga.). LBJ reports that he has publicly announced the commission and has appointed Russell and Warren to serve. Russell is upset since he indicated to Johnson that he did not wish to serve. Russell declares that he cannot serve with Warren.

Note: This particular clip contains some very weak audio segments. Johnson reports on his ability to persuade Warren to serve (point to 15:30 of the RealAudio file) and then brings Russell into line with all the others on the commission.