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James DiEugenio reviews BREACH OF TRUST..


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In one of Peter Dale Scott's latest lectures at a conference in Canada he further explores his analysis of common threads in Meta-Events - one of which is the appointment of a chief counsel or chief of staff who controls an inquiry - specifically Lee J. Rankin of the Warren Commission and Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission.

Jim also points out the significance of McKnight's research and writings about Rankin, which are worth dwelling on some more:

Review: Breach of Trust

By James DiEugenio

I was rather predisposed against reading Gerald McKnight's Breach of Trust. ......This is an extraordinarily worthwhile effort. What the author has done is not repetitive. He has collated the most up to date information, much of it released by the Assassination Records Review Board, and taken us deeper into the inner workings of the Commission than any other writer I know. Previously, writers like Mark Lane and Sylvia Meagher showed us some of the rather odd conclusions the Warren Commission came to in light of the evidence before it. What Breach of Trust does is not just show us how wrong the Commission was, but why and how they did what they did. In this regard, I cannot imagine a future author going much further.

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. This part of the book begins on page 41 with a description of the Warren Commission's first executive session of December 5, 1963. McKnight briefly describes Warren's professional relationship with Olney from his days in California, showing just how effective and collegial they were in pursuing some of Warren's progressive goals. In the next paragraph, McKnight provides the transition to the opposition with three pungent sentences:

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)

Among Olney's sins on Hoover's scorecard were his public pronouncements about the presence and influence of the Mafia. Second was the fact that he was a liberal on the civil rights issue. 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. (Another achievement of the book is the demonstration of just how big an informant Ford was for Hoover. It is more than what was hinted at before which, in turn, shows how brazenly Ford lied about this in televised interviews.)

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. (McKnight does a nice job penciling in the long "give and take" relationship between Hoover and Ford that made them such amiable chums.) Considering what was at stake, there is little doubt as to why this troika went into overdrive to accomplish their mission. For as McKnight states, "Had Olney served as Chief Counsel it is very likely that the Warren Commission Report would have been an entirely different historical document." (p. 44)

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)

II

Why was Rankin an easy choice? In addition to being a friend and colleague of McCloy, he was the opposite of the anti-Christ Olney in one central regard: he was almost as cozy with Hoover as Ford was. As McKnight describes it: "The choice of J. Lee Rankin, a conservative Republican, was greeted at FBI headquarters with elation." (Ibid) As Solicitor General, Rankin had defended the FBI in court. He was on a first name basis with Hoover. To quote the author again, "Rankin was a supremely cautious bureaucrat, a consummate insider, not a boat-rocker like Olney." (Ibid) The choice of Rankin was crucial for the FBI and Katzenbach since it greatly improved their chances of having both the initial FBI report on the assassination and Katzenbach's premature memo validated with little friction or confrontation.

As general counsel his management style was rigidly centralized. One former assistant counsel complained that staff contact with the Commission members "was all done through Rankin." All staff contact and communication with the FBI had to be approved or was channeled directly through Rankin's office... Rankin proved resourceful at every turn...successfully guiding the whole enterprise toward the predetermined destination laid down in the November 25 Katzenbach memo. The heading that Rankin followed for nine months...was lifted right off Hoover's chart, and it pointed to Oswald...as the assassin. (Ibid).......

The author ends this chapter on Hosty by showing how accommodating Rankin was to Hoover. Rankin told the Bureau that the Secret Service was angry with them about this clear lapse. The Bureau went to the top level of the Secret Service and got them to rein in the testimony of Robert Bouck before the Commission. Bouck never mentioned Hosty. (p. 280) The FBI was pleased with Rankin's efforts. As assistant director Alex Rosen wrote, the Commission seemed satisfied with Hosty's presentation. (p. 281).......

1. It was Rankin's idea to classify the executive sessions Top Secret. (p. 89).....

7. The Commission was so sensitive to the rumors of Oswald's government agent status that Rankin tried to falsify the record of the January 22, 1964 meeting. (pgs 128-135).....

8. Rankin covered up the information the Commission had that Oswald may have been given a CIA source number. (pgs. 137-140)

10. Rankin plotted in advance to avoid an accurate stenographic record of the 9/18/64 executive session in order to disguise Sen. Russell's dissent about the single bullet theory. Thereby falsely presenting it as a unanimous decision. (pgs. 294-95)

And even this still does not do complete justice to this extraordinary, magisterial book. One that should serve as a model for what can be achieved in the field with the new declassifications by the ARRB. What McKnight has done has deepened our understanding of just how badly the Warren Commission served the public. But by explaining also how and why it happened, he gives us a new version, one in stereo and high definition. At the end of Rush to Judgment, Mark Lane wrote that the Warren Report dishonored " those who wrote it little more than those who praise it." This book makes you feel the sting of that dishonor more than any other book that I know. But, as with the best work in the field, it helps us transcend that shame with the beauty and power of pure understanding. And with that achievement, this volume joins my list of the top ten ever written in the field.

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JAMES DIEUGENIO

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  • 1 year later...

As I've said elsewhere, I'm not convinced of this "dump Olney" business. See the thread Olney v. Rankin for details, and tell me where I've got it wrong.

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