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Duke Lane

Olney v. Rankin

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While I haven't yet read Gerald McKnight's excellent Breach of Trust, I have recently had occasion to peruse some of the executive sessions of the WC and hit on a matter that's gained some attention here. I speak of the supposed intrigue in the appointment of J. Lee Rankin over Warren Olney.

Some earlier postings from other threads here:

In one of the earlier posts John [simkin] in this thread John suggested I should read "Breach of Trust" by Prof McKnight which he said supports his proposition that members of the WC were selected because they were "susceptible to blackmail."
From Breach of Trust, p 42:

Katzenbach and Hoover initiated a "dump Olney" campaign, for which DeLoach was the point man. The Crime Records Division resorted to the "gray art" as opposed to the "black art" of outright blackmail - of collecting tidbits of information on Olney; pitching them with the calculated derogatory spin; and in DeLoach's words, identifying a "number of sources to confidentially brief" the commissioners on why the candidate was unfit for the position.

Sometimes the threat of blackmail is more effective than the actual act. I'm sure this was not lost on the members of the Commission as they witnessed what happened to Earl Warren's personal choice for chief counsel.

Sorry. Michael, as much as I admire McKnight's book and research, what happened to Olney is not blackmail either. Nor is it gray mail.

Blackmail would be if Olney had been appointed counsel and forced to do what he was instructed to do lest the derogatory information in his past be publicly disclosed. Or, if Olney had been asked to withdraw his name lest the information against him be made public, THAT would also be blackmail.

In this case Hoover used the information he had against Olney to prevent his appointment in the first place.

Hoover may have "blackballed" Olney but he clearly did not blackmail him.

... As you know from reading the book, Hoover was just incensed at what the WC was doing to the FBI. Yet, presumably, he never tried to blackmail Warren to change the direction of the WC. ... The record of the WC is bad enough. It just discredits critics of the process to add claims that are not supportable by the facts.

Also:

Very worthwhile reading here. James DiEugenio has reviewed Gerard McKnight's BREACH OF TRUST and joins the other positive reviewers of the book with a thoughtful and intelligent discussion of the issues the book raises....

........................................

Review: Breach of Trust

By James DiEugenio

...

I

One of the things Breach of Trust does that is singular in the field is to demonstrate just how J. Lee Rankin was put in place as Chief Counsel, and how influential he really was. Previous authors have noted how Earl Warren had tried to insert his friend and colleague Warren Olney III as Chief Counsel, how certain commissioners thwarted this, and how Rankin was then substituted. But no author has explained at this length and depth just why Olney was so objectionable, how and why he was shot down, and why Rankin was the replacement choice.

... As head of Justice's Criminal Division Olney also had a shared history with FBI Director Hoover that was altogether different. Hoover despised Olney. As one FBI agent remarked, "Olney was the only guy who had balls enough to stand up to Hoover." (p. 41)

... It turns out that both Hoover and Nicholas Katzenbach from Justice were determined to strike preemptively so Olney would not take office. Their source for Warren's plans for chief counsel was the FBI informant on the Warren Commission: Congressman Gerald Ford....

Katzenbach wanted Olney out because he perceived him as a maverick who he would not be able to control. And since he already had written his famous memorandum about convincing the public as to Oswald's role as lone gunman, he did not want Olney straying off the range on this issue. In fact, as the author notes, Katzenbach was so worried about this possibility that he installed his man from the Justice Department, Howard Willens, on the Commission to keep an eye out if Olney did become counsel. (p. 42)

It was overkill. Hoover and Katzenbach unleashed a lobbying campaign on the Commission to head off Olney. The point man for Hoover on this was Cartha DeLoach. DeLoach's prime inside asset for the "Dump Olney" program was Ford....

When Warren tried to push Olney through at the second executive session, it was Ford and John McCloy who joined forces to obstruct him. And McCloy just happened to have a short list of alternative choices on hand, one of which was J. Lee Rankin. An impromptu sub-committee was formed consisting of Ford, McCloy, Allen Dulles, and Warren. In a matter of hours, Rankin became the consensus choice. Warren really had no option in the matter since, as Ford told DeLoach, both he and Dulles threatened to resign if Olney was chosen. (p. 45)....

And finally:

In Gerald D. McKnight's great book, Breach of Trust, he looks at how Gerald Ford got on the Warren Commission. LBJ phoned up Hoover and asked him what he thought of the idea. Hoover said he had only seen him on television but he looked fairly good. Hoover was lying. Ford had been a FBI asset since 1946. Hoover helped him win his first election. Ford reciprocated in his maiden speech by asking Congress to increase Hoover's salary.

Hoover assigned Carta DeLoach to cultivate Ford as an asset. Interestingly, LBJ was very close to DeLoach. Recently released documents show that DeLoach had a series of meetings with Ford while he was a member of the Warren Commission. They worked together in making sure that Warren Olney III did not become chief counsel of the WC. Olney was considered to be too "liberal" and in the past had criticised the FBI. ....

If the transcripts of the December 5 and December 6 Executive Sessions are accurate, I'm tending to have to agree with Tim's view that these are "claims that are not supportable by the facts."

It was during the December 5 ES that Warren brought up the question of counsel for the Commission - after "General" Katzenbach had left the conference room (apparently, Attorneys General, like Surgeons General, are addressed in such a fashion, although they hold no military general's rank) - and his recommendation of Olney. Several pages of minutes are of Warren's recommendations for the man.

During that same meeting, several of the Commissioners voice reservations - not objections, necessarily - not about Olney personally (although to some extent wondering if it was a wise idea to appoint someone so close to the Chairman as counsel), but more the wisdom of not selecting among several names, and even whether it wasn't a bad idea to have either the American Bar Association or even the FBI make suggestions. Both of those ideas were rejected, again in part to underscore the Commission's independence and authority.

(Also raised during this session were the questions of both subpoena power as well as that to grant immunity to witnesses. Both were ultimately agreed upon and granted by Congress.)

Prior to adjourning, the Commission agreed to set up a "subcommittee" to further consider this question, said subcommittee to meet the following morning, and the whole Commission as was present to meet again in the afternoon.

On December 6, the first question discussed and resolved was that of the Commission's ability to grant immunity and issue subpoenae. In sum, it was agreed that it was better to obtain those powers at the outset rather than to have to go back to Congress to obtain them should they become necessary (on the grounds that Congress might then feel compelled to ask what information a witness was going to provide to necessitate immunity).

In reality, the Commission at this point hoped that they would not be interviewing witnesses at all or only selectively, and did not actually anticipate the need for either. In my own turn of phrase, it was nevertheless felt "better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it."

Allen Dulles had pressing matters to attend to, and announced that he'd have to leave in about 10 minutes shortly after the start of the session. At which point, about 2/3 of the way down the third double-spaced page of transcript, Warren again himself brings up Olney, suggesting that they discuss it before Dulles had to leave.

Warren begins by noting that "Mr. McCloy and Mr. Dulles and Congressman Ford all had some reservations about whether he [Olney] was the great ability to do this job. I'm sure that discretion is used here, but I told them I would not want to have anyone here that would not have the full confidence of the Commission. So as far as I'm concerned the question of Mr. Olney for counsel before the Commission is closed."

In the space of one day from the original suggestion by Warren, and within ten minutes of the start of the second session, and with the use of three short sentences, Warren withdrew Olney's name from consideration. Just like that. Done. "I would not want to have anyone here who would not have the full confidence of the Commission."

Some "dump Olney" "campaign" spearheaded by Ford and with Hoover as antagonist and DeLoach as "point man!" There doesn't appear even the time to get one started, much less the intrigue implied by some of the above.

Most of the Commissioners, on December 5, had expressed some familiarity with Olney, but few "knew who he was." He was a man Warren described as "utterly without political aspirations," someone who worked diligently in the background but made no effort to "make a name for himself" or become widely known. Some of them felt that the general counsel needed to be someone with a bit more "visibility" and media-relations prowess, someone to inspire confidence in the public if you will.

On December 6, after undoubtedly "making the rounds" the previous afternoon and evening, and of course meeting prior to the Executive Session, yes, they had a "short list" of names. One of them was Leon Jaworski, Special Counsel to the Attorney General of Texas (and later Watergate special prosecutor), was rejected simply because he's from Texas. Others were also discussed, and the Commission reached concensus on Rankin by page 6 of the minutes, and the Chairman had completely bought into the idea - if that's the way we want to phrase it - by page 10.

This sort of disproves the notion that "recently released documents show that DeLoach had a series of meetings with Ford while he was a member of the Warren Commission. They worked together in making sure that Warren Olney III did not become chief counsel of the WC," because they'd have had to have that "series" of meetings in a course of 24 hours, and it really doesn't seem as if there much need to have "worked together" to "make sure" of much of anything. Warren did not do more than field his choice's name, argue briefly for his appointment, and then withdraw it when he realized the other Commissioners weren't fully behind it.

Not, apparently, much time or need for a "campaign," either.

It's not a matter of record - at least, not of WC record - to whom the subcommittee members spoke with. If the "newly released documents" that have been referred to were, say, FBI memoranda or personal notes or whatnot, then it's not apparent that there was any move to "dump Olney."

Of course, like I said, I don't have the book (hasn't hit Half-Price Books yet!) and I don't know what "newly released documents" that are being referred to, but here at least is a conflicting account that doesn't seem to support such a move. What is there that suggests otherwise?

As to the question of Redlich:

... DeLoach and Ford also tried to get Norman Redlich removed as J. Lee Rankin's special assistant. Redlich was on the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, an organization considered by Hoover to have been set-up to "defend the cases of Communist lawbreakers". This information was leaked to a group of right-wing politicians. On 5th May, 1964, Ralph F. Beermann, a Republican Party congressman, made a speech claiming that Redlich was associated with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Beermann called for Redlich to be removed as a staff member of the Warren Commission. He was supported by Karl E. Mundt who said: "We want a report from the Commission which Americans will accept as factual, which will put to rest all the ugly rumors now in circulation and which the world will believe. Who but the most gullible would believe any report if it were written in part by persons with Communist connections?"

Gerald Ford joined in the attack and at one closed-door session of the Warren Commission he called for Redlich to be dismissed. Earl Warren and J. Lee Rankin both supported him and he retained his job. However, it is believed that this campaign had the desired impact on Redlich's desire to ask awkward questions.

I guess this will be the subject of further reading.

Edited by Duke Lane

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THE REDLICH INCIDENT

I was privileged to have received some material from another researcher in advance of its publication (details when available) regarding the attempted ouster of Norman Redlich from the WC staff. In a nutshell, here's the background and the deal:

... DeLoach and Ford also tried to get Norman Redlich removed as J. Lee Rankin's special assistant. Redlich was on the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, an organization considered by Hoover to have been set-up to "defend the cases of Communist lawbreakers." This information was leaked to a group of right-wing politicians. On 5th May, 1964, Ralph F. Beermann, a Republican Party congressman, made a speech claiming that Redlich was associated with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Beermann called for Redlich to be removed as a staff member of the Warren Commission. He was supported by Karl E. Mundt who said: "We want a report from the Commission which Americans will accept as factual, which will put to rest all the ugly rumors now in circulation and which the world will believe. Who but the most gullible would believe any report if it were written in part by persons with Communist connections?"

Gerald Ford joined in the attack and at one closed-door session of the Warren Commission he called for Redlich to be dismissed. Earl Warren and J. Lee Rankin both supported him and he retained his job. However, it is believed that this campaign had the desired impact on Redlich's desire to ask awkward questions.

There were some questions that staff counsel apparently felt unresolved regarding the assassination site; the information and answers they had gotten to date were provided by the FBI, and Hoover was apparently upset over their not simply accepting the Bureau's (his) pronouncements. The staff wanted to spend some time at Dealey Plaza sorting out the issues themselves. Hoover was backed into a corner and didn't appreciate it.

Suddenly, as if out of the blue, information surfaced that Redlich was a member of the national council of this Emergency Civil Liberties Council (ECLC). As John Simkin noted, it was classified as a "Communist front" because its charter was to "defend the cases of Communist lawbreakers." This classification was made by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) based on reports made to it by the FBI; the FBI, of course, had no hand in HUAC's reaching such a determination.

Apparently, the ECLC was dedicated, at least in part, to the dissolution of the HUAC, which it believed was overstepping its bounds. Part of its mission was, in fact, to advocate for people who were unfairly charged (or smeared) by the HUAC. Well, since HUAC had determined these people to be "Communists" (sans trial, of course), then ECLC would naturally be "defending Communists." Since only Communists would defend Communists, ECLC and its members must also be Communists. And any person or organization that would subvert the HUAC - which in turn was against "un-American activities" - in any way must therefore be subversive, un-American, and Communist.

It's a neat little package, don't you think?

With Redlich a member - or counsel to - its "national council," clearly there was a grave security breach here, in which it might also be possible for a "leading Communist (sympathizer)" to influence the outcome of the Warren Commission's investigation, possibly laying it at the feet of not "Communist" Oswald, but ultra-conservative American patriots, of whom Director Hoover was a patron saint.

Karl Mundt, who backed up Beerman in his call for Redlich's dismissal, sat on the the HUAC for several years, including as its chairman and consequently became close friends with Hoover (Cartha DeLoach reportedly characterized him as a "close friend" of Hoover's, one who "would go to the wall for him when the need arose"). The friendship - and the information exchange it brought to Mundt (he was possibly privy to at least some of Hoover's O&C files) - earned Mundt the enmity of Truman's Attorney General, who threatened any of this staff known to associate with or pass information to Mundt with being "out on their ass" (Truman himself is said to have denounced the HUAC as "most un-American thing in the country today").

Mundt served South Dakota in Congress from 1939 to 1948, when he resigned his Congressional seat to accept an appointment as Senator, an office he held until 1973; the HUAC was abolished as a standing (i.e., permanent) House committee in 1975. (Beerman served two terms in Congress from 1961-65; his 1964 re-election bid failed. One wonders if it might've been because of his failure to get "Communist" Redlich off the panel investigating "Communist" Oswald!!) :o

While there is a great deal more source material on "the Redlich incident," quite a bit will be gleaned from a first-hand reading of the transcript of the WC Executive Session of May 19, 1964. In it, you will see that it was indeed Jerry Ford - and only Jerry Ford - who actually made the call for Redlich's dismissal, but failing to get a second from any other Commission member, the question never was put to vote.

Chief Justice Warren's low-key but nevertheless exemplary defense of Redlich on the basis of due process (or lack thereof) is a must-read and might have served him and his Commission in good stead if he'd applied it to "defendant" they all gathered to "convict," for it must be said that, from the outset, the members of the Commission never once considered either that Oswald didn't do it, or that there was any cause for due process - at least to the extent it could be applied to a defendant in absentia - in his case.

As may be a surprise to several, WC counsel Joseph Ball was also a focus on this "Red Scare" based on his backing of a measure to abolish the HUAC. Rankin's vouchsafe of Ball removed him from the line of fire early; it was perhaps Redlich's being "quite the crusader" that kept him in the limelight, if not the need merely to have a scapegoat to show the Commission's willingness and resolution to "deal with" these kinds of problems to insure the integrity of their investigation and report.

Mundt's concern that "Who but the most gullible would believe any report if it were written in part by persons with Communist connections?" seems to have been the least actual cause for concern. After all, "Communist connections" or none, who believes it anyway? :lol:

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Duke

Thank you for the quality post.

I would appreciate your comments on some of my thoughts in regards to this particular subject.

My reading of the first couple of commission meeting minutes led me to visualize a bit of a turf war. You had the Commission Chairman, Warren, who made two major proposals, Olney and a simple review of the FBI investigation. In both matters Warrens positions were brushed aside for a more in depth investigation, with subpoena power without Olney. A prime proponent within this push seemed to be, as you pointed out, John J. McCloy. By winning on both points, it seems to me, McCloy put his stamp on the manner of how the investigation would be conducted and who would be incontrol of the investigation that was done.

A deeper backround investigation into the historical connections between McCloy and Warren shows that in many ways Warren's political rise to power (Relocation of Japanese-Americans during WWII, election as Governor of California, VP candidate in 1948, deal with Eisenhower to appoint Warren to the Supreme Court) has McCloy's fingerprints all over it.

Was Warren just a figure head while others held the real power behind the Warren Commission investigation and report?

Jim Root

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Jim, thanks for the response: I was beginning to despair of anyone having any interest in this at all!

My impression of McCloy is as a major "power behind the throne," although I claim nothing like the knowledge you have of the man. It was interesting to learn, for example, that while he was also a member of the WC, he was simultaneously involved with negotiating a treaty with the Soviets half-way across the world (in Berlin, as I recall; maybe a nuclear test-ban treaty?). His casual mention of having to fly to London in the morning to give a speech, only to return again later on the same day - hence his inability to commit to attending a possible WC meeting - attests to the wide-ranging influence he had, and those are but examples.

I'm not sure whom in today's world we might compare him to. I'm likewise not as familiar with how he came to be selected to be a part of the Commission as I am with Hale Boggs and Dick Russell's telephonic arm-twisting sessions with LBJ (and I've always been curious about Allen Dulles' selection). Nevertheless, someone who'd held the positions that McCloy had - without ever being elected to any! - could not have NOT held a lot of sway in those conference rooms: even with the lofty (and lifetime) title of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States - above and beyond the always-tenuous titles of Congressman and Senator - Warren had to acknowledge that McCloy was in every way his equal and in many his better. (The "retired" Dulles is another thing entirely.)

In any case, I don't perceive Warren as necessarily being the leader of the Commission, even despite his name being attached to it and the distinction of chairing its meetings and presiding over its hearings. I think there's little doubt that his name - or perhaps more accurately, his title - lent credibility and prestige to the Commission's work, but it certainly can't be said that he "ran" the Commission or even that he necessarily gave it any real guidance: imagine a lawyer, politician, former state attorney general, governor and sitting Supreme Court jurist - its Chief Justice - not thinking that subpoena and immunity powers might ever be needed! Where in that do you read the word "leadership" anywhere?

I think, though, to reduce his role to that of simple figurehead is a mistake: he was at least the equal of most of the other men on the panel, not only in title (and some might argue that his was superior to others') but in political ability: it's not the average, run-of-the-mill schmoe who can be elected to a governorship, any more than than to senator or representative. Or, if that's not so, he was at least no less of a schmoe than the rest (McCloy and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Dulles aside).

One of the things that I find particularly interesting about Warren in light of his Supreme Court standing, is the contrast between the concern and indignation over the FBI's leaking the major findings of its report on the assassination (CD 1) to the press, and his apparent frustration with Hoover's attempt to "sell" his "solution" to the public ahead of the Commission's work and the FBI's - as Senator Russell phrased it - having already "tried the case and reached a verdict on every aspect," versus his obviously having already "bought" the FBI's case himself: after all, there is never any discussion in any executive session about there possibly having been anyone other than Oswald involved.

One would likewise think that a judge would be more sensitive to the aspect of a defense and cross-examination, even IF the Commission wasn't a court of law. While Warren believed that they should gather ALL the pertinent facts - dissecting Oswald's youth and finances, for example - and be certain that their findings would have proper foundation, never once did he suggest that both sides of the matter be explored: putting together the "prosecution's" side of the case was apparently sufficient to establish the actual "facts." Were that true, I submit that we only think we have over-crowded jails now!

But I wax eloquent (or am at least being verbose!). I see well your point even while I'm not familiar with McCloy's possible influence in those other areas of Warren's life. Mayhaps you can suggest some good light reading on The Life and Times of John McCloy? Then I might have a different perspective. Something on The Real Earl Warren might even make a good accompaniment!

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In any case, I don't perceive Warren as necessarily being the leader of the Commission, even despite his name being attached to it and the distinction of chairing its meetings and presiding over its hearings.

Warren was one of the toughest, smartest and most ambitious politicians this country ever produced. He campaigned for president in 1948 and managed to get himself chosen as Republican Vice-Presidential candidate.

According to one of his biogrophers (White, G. Edward. Earl Warren, a public life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982) ISBN 0195031210) His manoevers to become Chief Justice in 1952 --with absolutely ZERO judicial experience -- was tantamount to blackmail of Eisenhower.

Earl Warren was quite a piece of work, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the power and influence he had in directing the "investigation" of JFK's murder.

Not for nothing, but there is a reason it is called the Warren Commission.

McCloy was genuinely a very busy man and had little time to devote to the investigation. Of course Johnson knew that when he made the appointment. The best book on McCloy is THE CHAIRMAN, by Kai Bird. McCloy had a seemingly brilliant career, but under Kai's scrutiny McCloy appears as an establishment toady whose "successes" were mostly failures dressed up by good PR work.

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Just a quick FWIW - the final chapter [24] in my volume 1 of "Controlling The Past" - a chapter titled, "A Tisket, A Tasket, A Red In Warren's Basket?" -deals specifically with the "get Redlich" movement. And not that it is of great significance, but I did construct this chapter in 1999, long before the posting generated by Duke Lane, someone whom I have corresponded with in the past and in my opinion an individual who possessed a good analytical mind when it came to dealing with matters of evidence.

Gary

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