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Jonathan Abt


Jim Root
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Within the Warren Commission Report are many conclusions that, upon reexamination, may have been at best misleading and quite possibly part of a cover up.

A year or so ago I wrote the following paper. For myself it was an opportunity to gather information on a small part of the Warren Report. What I found was misinformation and some posible reasons why the misinformation may have been produced. You decide.

ATTORNEY FOR THE DEFENSE, JONATHAN ABT

Can anything be logical about the actions of the man who was charged with shooting the President of the United States? The Warren Commission suggests that Lee Harvey Oswald was a “lone nut” assassin, not a rational person. If Oswald had a motive its content was lost to history at the exact moment that Jack Ruby recklessly ended Oswald’s life on the morning of November 25th 1963. But like so many anomalies in this case, Oswald, the irrational nut, knew whom he wanted as his attorney, Jonathan Abt. And, while Lee Harvey Oswald let everyone know why he wanted Jonathan Abt, the Warren Commission was hesitant to share that information in their conclusion!

The name John Abt was mentioned repeatedly by Oswald while he was in the custody of the Dallas Police. There exists about forty pages of written documentation, filed by the men who interrogated Oswald, that appear in Appendix XI of the Warren Report that attests to this interesting, yet under investigated, subplot within the assassination drama.

Each person present tells a similar story.

Captain Will Fritz:

“Oswald asked if he was allowed an attorney and I told him he could have any attorney he liked, and that the telephone would be available to him up in the jail and he could call anyone he wished. I believe it was during this interview that he first expressed a desire to talk to Mr. Abt, an attorney in New York.”

Lee Harvey Oswald turned 24 years old in October of 1963, just a month before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For myself I found it surprising to see that Oswald knew the name of the attorney that he wanted to represent him in the earliest of interviews with detectives. He also knew where attorney Jonathan Abt lived. My mind began to contemplate, “How many 24 year olds, living in Texas, would know the name of an attorney in New York?” It is true that Oswald had lived in New York at one time but how did he know about this particular attorney, Jonathan Abt?

During a subsequent interrogation, Captain Will Fritz would reveal that Oswald knew even more about Jonathan Abt than just his name:

“He (Oswald) reminded me that he did not have to answer any questions at all until he talked to his attorney, and I told him again that he could have an attorney any time he wished. He said he didn’t have money to pay for a phone call to Mr. Abt. I told him to call ‘collect.’ If he liked, to use the jail phone or that he could have another attorney if he wished. He said he didn’t want another attorney, he wanted to talk to this attorney first. I believe he made this call later as he thanked me later during one of our interviews for allowing him the use of the telephone. I explained to him that all prisoners were allowed to use the telephone. I asked him why he wanted Mr. Abt, instead of some available attorney. He told me he didn’t know Mr. Abt personally but that he was familiar with a case where Mr. Abt defended some people for a violation of the Smith Act….”

The Smith Act, actually the Alien Registration Act, was adopted by congress at 54 Statutes at Large 670-671 (1940) on June 29, 1940. Authored by Representative Howard W. Smith of Virginia, it was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt. Smith, a fifth term congressman at the time, would continue to serve in congress untill1967.

The intent of the Alien Registration Act was to make it illegal for any person to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government of the United States. The law also required all foreign residents of the United States that were over the age of 14 to register as aliens.

Within five months of passage (November of 1940) over 4,741,971 persons had complied with the obligations of the Act. Each registered alien was required to make a statement that included their occupational status and information about their political beliefs. It was the first statute since the Alien and Sedition act of 1798 to make the mere advocacy of ideas a federal crime. (Michael Steven Smith, About the Smith Act Trials) The government’s ability to register and process so many individuals in such a short span of time was a reflection of the crisis that was, at that time, destroying the world order. John J. McCloy, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of War at this time, advocated the collection of information on potential saboteurs within the United States. The Smith Act provided the vehicle to accomplish his goal.

John J. McCloy had made his reputation as the attorney that broke the Black Tom case (dealing with German sabotage during World War I at the Black Tom pier in New York). His decades spent unraveling the covert operations of German espionage during World War I made him an ideal candidate to help Secretary of War Stimson upgrade the military intelligence apparatus.

In 1941 the Smith Act was used to prosecute leaders of the Socialist Workers Party. At the time the United States was being driven toward an alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany which had invaded Russia. The Communist Party in America fully supported its use by the government of the United States against their “Trotskyist” political opponents. The later use of the Smith Act would involve Jonathan Abt.

Historians who disagree with the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report have criticized the officers that questioned Oswald. An argument is made that since the various Dallas Police detectives and the FBI and Secrete Service agents present did not tape record or keep their detailed notes of all the Oswald interrogations, the written reports must be incomplete. The truth is that at the time of Oswald’s arrest, the Dallas Police Department did not own a tape recorder. For better or worse the majority of information that survives, survives within the numerous volumes of the Warren Commission Report. It is these written reports, made by the people who witnessed the interrogations and heard the words of Lee Harvey Oswald while he was in custody, that I find so interesting. Rather than speculating on what might have been lost, I am intrigued by what is contained in the supporting records of the Warren Commission that were not included in the final summary report.

The accumulated reports were transcribed from notes kept by the interrogators as well as their own personal recollections, all within hours of the interviews with Oswald. I have chosen to look more closely at what is in the written reports and interviews but did not survive into the final draft of the Warren Commission Report than to speculate on what might or might not be missing. Their statements demonstrate that Lee Harvey Oswald repeatedly referred to Abt as a Smith Act Attorney and that his desire to have Abt for this reason was made abundantly clear to all present. What reasons can be ascribed to this coincidence?

The record shows that between 4:45 and 6:30 P.M. on the day of the assassination, Captain Will Fritz of the Dallas Police conducted his second interview with Lee Oswald. The interview took place in Captain Fritz’s office:

Oswald.

“…I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt. I don’t know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago, where he represented the people who had violated the Smith Act…I don’t know him personally, but that is the attorney I want….If I can’t get him, then I may get the American Civil Liberties Union to send me an attorney.”

During the same interview Oswald repeated his request with these words:

“…I want to talk with Mr. Abt, a New York attorney…”

During the 1948 presidential election race, Harry Truman’s Republican rivals were accusing the Democrats of being “soft” on Communism. (Michael Steven Smith, About the Smith Act Trials) At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the delegates added a plank to their platform that stated;

“We pledge a vigorous enforcement of existing laws against Communists and enactment of such new legislation as may be necessary to expose the treasonable activities of Communists and defeat their objective of establishing here a godless dictatorship controlled from abroad.“

To counter this threat Truman turned to J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

J. Edgar Hoover had first developed his reputation as a tough investigator and prosecutor by deporting radicals and immigrants during the 1919 Palmer Raids. For Hoover the harassment of the radical fringe would become a professional trait. It was J. Edgar Hoover that suggested to Truman that the Smith Act could be used against members of the Communist Party. On July 20th, 1948 eleven members of the American Communist party were arrested and charged under the Alien Registration Act.

The Smith Act defendants were not charged with the actual commission of a crime. As strange as it may seem today the charges were designed to prove that “they conspired to organize as the Communist Party and willfully to advocate and teach principles of Marxism-Leninism.” It was then construed to show that by the mere fact that they had organized as a Communist Party that they therefore advocated, “overthrowing and destroying the government of the United States by force and violence” sometime in the future.

For Truman, behind in the polls, the Presidency itself was at stake. Truman needed these prosecutions to deflect the criticism of his Republican rivals. The federal government successfully prosecuted the defendants and Harry Truman defeated his challenger Thomas Dewey and his running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Earl Warren (later chairman of the Warren Commission) in one of the closest elections in United States History.

Chief Justice Earl Warren would later overturn these same Smith Act convictions.

Between 10:30 A.M. and 1:10 P.M. on November 23rd Oswald was again interrogated in Captain Fritz’s office when he stated:

“I said I wanted to contact Attorney Abt, New York. He defended the Smith Act cases in 1949, 1950, but I don’t know his address, except that it is in New York….”

On Saturday afternoon, November 23, 1963, around 3:30 PM Oswald made a telephone call to Ruth Paine

Ruth Paine:

I said, “Well, hi.” And he said he wanted to ask me to call Mr. John Abt in New York for him after 6:00 PM. He gave me a telephone number of an office in New York and a residence in New York…He said he was an (the) attorney he wanted to have…

Oswald’s mother confirmed Ruth Paine’s story when the Warren Commission questioned her. Marguerite Oswald recalled the call she received from Ruth Paine.

Marguerite Oswald:

…the telephone rang, and it was Mrs. Paine. She said, “Mrs Oswald, Lee called and he was very upset because Marina was not with me, and he asked me to get a lawyer for him, a Mr. Abt.”

At 6:30 P.M. on November 22nd Oswald was a part of a police lineup for three witnesses to the Jefferson Davis Tippit murder. The three witnesses were Cecil J. McWatters, Sam Guiyard, and Ted Callaway. Once again Oswald is quoted as saying:

“I want to get in touch with a lawyer, Mr. Abt, in New York City…”

Early the next morning, at 1:35 A.M., November 24, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was arraigned for the Murder with Malice of John F. Kennedy when he said:

“Well, sir, I guess this is the trial…I want to contact my lawyer, Mr. Abt, in New York City. I would like to have this gentleman. He is with the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Mr. Abt was never a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He was general counsel for the Senate Sub-Committee on Civil Liberties from 1935-1937, and was later a legal advisor for the Progressive Party from 1948-1951. He worked with and knew Alger Hiss and has been, many times, labeled as a communist.

But Lee Harvey Oswald was absolutely correct on his other statement; a study of John Abt’s biography demonstrates that he had indeed represented people accused of violating the Smith Act. Oswald, it seems, was familiar enough with the Smith Act cases that had begun fifteen years earlier, when Oswald was eight years old. He had knowledge of Mr. Abt that he knew where Jonathon Abt could be located (New York). Oswald knew that these particular cases had actually occurred more than a decade earlier.

On November 23, 1963, H. Louis Nichols, President of the Dallas Bar Association, contacted Oswald for a brief discussion at 5:30 P.M.:

Oswald

“….Do you know a lawyer in New York named John Abt? I believe in New York City. I would like to have him represent me. That is the man I would like.”

Assistant counsel for the President’s Commission, Mr. Samuel A. Stern, interviewed James W. Bookhout on April 8, 1964. Bookhout was a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation stationed in Dallas at the time of the assassination. He was present at several of the interrogations of Oswald at the invitation of Captain Will Fritz. On the morning of November 24, 1963, James Bookhout participated in an interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald conducted by Captain Fritz and was later questioned about his knowledge of this event. Also present at the Oswald interrogation were T.J Kelly and David B. Grant, of the U.S. Secret Service, Robert I. Nash, a U.S. Marshall and Detectives Billy L. Senkel and Fay M. Turner of the Homicide and Robbery Bureau of the Dallas Police Department.

Mr. Bookhout:

Yes. It was in this interview that he (Oswald) mentioned he wanted to contact Attorney Abt (spelling) A-b-t, New York City. I recall Captain Fritz asked him if he knew Abt personally and he said he did not, but he explained that he knew that Abt had defended the Smith Act cases in 1949, or 1950, and Captain Fritz asked him if he knew how to get ahold of Mr. Abt, and he stated that he did not know what his address was, but he was in New York.

On April 17, 1964, just nine days after James Bookhout was interviewed by Warren Commission attorneys, J. Lee Rankin, general counsel for the Warren Commission, and Wesley J. Liebeler, assistant counsel of the Presidents’ Commission interviewed John Abt. (Warren Commision Report) Wesley J. Liebeler was also the Warren Commission Attorney that interviewed General Walker.

Unfortunately for history, the interview was amazingly short. J. Lee Rankin neglected to probe into Abt’s involvement in the Smith Act cases, even when the opportunity afforded itself. The total transcript of Jonathan Abt’s interview contains less than two pages of questions and responses. The longest statement made by Abt dwelt with how, because he and his wife were at their mountain retreat, he had missed the calls that Lee Harvey Oswald had made to him from the Dallas Police Department jail. Were the Warren Commissioners and the American public denied an opportunity to understand that a possible Oswald defense was to center around Jonathan Abt’s knowledge of the Smith Act?

Reading the transcript of Abt’s testimony, I was surprised, not by what was there but once again, by what was missing. Lee Harvey Oswald repeatedly stated that he desired Jonathan Abt as his attorney because Abt had represented clients in Smith Act cases. But the questioning by the General Council for the Warren Commission went in a different direction:

Mr. Rankin.

“Mr. Abt, did you learn that Lee Harvey Oswald was interested in having you represent him apparently because of some prior connection of yours with the American Civil Liberties Union?”

Mr. Abt.

“No. My assumption was, and it is pure assumption, that he read about some of my representation in the press, and, therefore, it occurred to him that I might be a god man to represent him, but that is pure assumption on my part. I have no direct knowledge of the whole matter.”

(Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. X, p. 116)

Mr. Rankin then asked:

“You have told us all that you know about it?

Mr. Abt.

“Yes. I may say that I had no prior contact with Oswald, knew nothing about him, did not know the name, and this request came as something entirely new and surprising to me when it came.”

Mr. Rankin.

“None of your clients had ever communicated to you about him prior to that time you heard about it over the radio?”

Mr. Abt.

“No; I had no recollection of even having heard the name, his name, before that time.”

Mr. Rankin.

“Thank you.”

At this point the interview was ended. The Warren Commission gathered no further information about Johathan Abt nor was there any speculation about why Lee Harvey Oswald would be so insistent upon having an attorney that was familiar with the Smith Act. An act designed to prosecute for advocating the over-through of the Government of the United States.

What can we speculate about any possible Oswald defense?

The mother of Lee Harvey Oswald Marguerite Oswald, and his wife, Marina Oswald visited Lee at 1:10 P.M. November 24, 1963 for about 20 minutes. At this meeting Oswald again reiterated his desire to have Abt as his attorney.

“Everything is fine. I know my rights, and I will have an attorney. I already requested to get in touch with Attorney Abt,…”

In 1993 we learned more about the thoughts of Marina Oswald when her friend and biographer, Priscilla McMillan appeared on the television show Frontline.

Historian Priscilla Johnson McMillan was a reporter in Moscow in the 1950’s and interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald shortly after his defection to the Soviet Union. Later, after the Kennedy assassination, McMillan befriended Oswald’s widow, Marina, and the two spent considerable time together. In 1977, McMillan wrote “Marina and Lee,” an intimate portrait of the Oswalds’ life together. In an interview conducted in conjunction with the first broadcast of Frontline’s “Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?” in 1993, Priscilla Johnson McMillan made this statement:

“Lee, in jail, told Marina that she had friends, that they would help her. He told her that there was someone in New York who would help him. He was counting on John Abt, lawyer for the American Communist party, to be his lawyer. He telephoned Ruth Paine and asked her to call Abt. Marina thought, when she saw Lee in jail, she could see that he was frightened. But then she thought that he would use the trial to proclaim his ideas, and to say that what he had done was justified by History.”

Frontline also interviewed Robert Oswald, Lee’s older brother, about Abt:

“I asked him about this lawyer in New York…and I told him I would get him one down here, meaning in Texas. He said no, he wanted that one up there. I didn’t press it any further. He was seeming to be pretty adamant about it. …”

Was the assassination of John F. Kennedy an attempt to overthrow the government of the United States? If so, it failed. It did succeed in showing the world that our Constitutional government was not only resilient but that it could, again, survive another cataclysmic event just as it had done numerous times before.

I believe Lee Harvey Oswald knew his history well enough to know that a single event would not change our government. But we can question why Oswald would be so intent on having Abt act as his attorney. Since the record shows that he repeatedly stated the reason he wanted Abt was his connection to the Smith Act Trials, I began to wonder, was Oswald going to use his trial to accuse someone, or group, of violating the Smith Act? I remembered that Oswald had left information behind that would have been found if he had been apprehended for assassinating Edwin Walker. Did he have a motive? Did he believe he need a trial?

Did Oswald have a reason to believe that someone or some group was attempting to over-through the government?

Remember:

“She (Marina) testified that Oswald said that General Walker ‘was a very bad man, that he was a fascist, that he was the leader of a fascist organization, and when I said that even though all of that might be true, just the same he had no right to take his life, he said if someone had killed Hitler in time it would have saved many lives.”

If a trial had taken place would anybody believe that Kennedy had violated the Smith Act in some way that could justify taking the life of the President?

The strange thing is, Major General Edwin Anderson Walker would seem to be the more obvious choice if Oswald’s intent was going to be to accuse someone of attempting to overthrow the government. But it would also seem to be irrational to believe that Oswald would be siding with Walker and his “right wing” accusations that were being leveled against the Kennedy Administration. Is there any connection? The question began to haunt me.

In 1951 twenty-three Communists were indicted using the Smith Act. By 1957 the number had grown to over 140. It would take a number of Supreme Court decisions in 1957 to finally halt the parade of prosecutions. The two most important were Yates v. United States and Watkins v. United States. In Watkins the Court ruled that a defendant who had opted not to use the Fifth Amendment could still use the First Amendment against “abuses of the legislative process.” The vote was six to one, with Chief Justice Earl Warren writing the majority opinion.

Is it a coincidence that Earl Warren was associated with the use of the Smith Act to prosecute communists, first as a candidate for the vice-presidency in 1948 and then as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1957? In 1963 many conservatives in the United States considered Warren, the former Republican Governor of California for eight years, a left wing radical. Did Justice Earl Warren influence the commission to eliminate any mention of the Smith Act cases from the final report of his commission?

When Jack Ruby fired his fatal shots the American public lost the opportunity to witness the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. The jury of public opinion lost our opportunity to hear more about the possible defense strategy that would be used to defend Lee Harvey Oswald when the telephone calls to Jonathan Abt went unanswered.

On Sunday morning November 25th 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was himself assassinated while being transferred to a more permanent jail site to await prosecution. At the time of his death, Lee Harvey Oswald had very few items in his possession. One item of significance was a sheet of paper with two phone numbers written on it. Those phone numbers belonged to Jonathan Abt.

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Within the Warren Commission Report are many conclusions that, upon reexamination, may have been at best misleading and quite possibly part of a cover up.

A year or so ago I wrote the following paper.  For myself it was an opportunity to gather information on a small part of the Warren Report.  What I found was misinformation and some posible reasons why the misinformation may have been produced.  You decide.

ATTORNEY FOR THE DEFENSE, JONATHAN ABT

Can anything be logical about the actions of the man who was charged with shooting the President of the United States?  The Warren Commission suggests that Lee Harvey Oswald was a “lone nut” assassin, not a rational person.  If Oswald had a motive its content was lost to history at the exact moment that Jack Ruby recklessly ended Oswald’s life on the morning of November 25th 1963.  But like so many anomalies in this case, Oswald, the irrational nut, knew whom he wanted as his attorney, Jonathan Abt.  And, while Lee Harvey Oswald let everyone know why he wanted Jonathan Abt, the Warren Commission was hesitant to share that information in their conclusion!

The name John Abt was mentioned repeatedly by Oswald while he was in the custody of the Dallas Police.  There exists about forty pages of written documentation, filed by the men who interrogated Oswald, that appear in Appendix XI of the Warren Report that attests to this interesting, yet under investigated, subplot within the assassination drama.

Each person present tells a similar story.

Captain Will Fritz:

“Oswald asked if he was allowed an attorney and I told him he could have any attorney he liked, and that the telephone would be available to him up in the jail and he could call anyone he wished.  I believe it was during this interview that he first expressed a desire to talk to Mr. Abt, an attorney in New York.”

Lee Harvey Oswald turned 24 years old in October of 1963, just a month before the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  For myself I found it surprising to see that Oswald knew the name of the attorney that he wanted to represent him in the earliest of interviews with detectives.  He also knew where attorney Jonathan Abt lived.  My mind began to contemplate, “How many 24 year olds, living in Texas, would know the name of an attorney in New York?”  It is true that Oswald had lived in New York at one time but how did he know about this particular attorney, Jonathan Abt?

During a subsequent interrogation, Captain Will Fritz would reveal that Oswald knew even more about Jonathan Abt than just his name:

 

“He (Oswald) reminded me that he did not have to answer any questions at all until he talked to his attorney, and I told him again that he could have an attorney any time he wished.  He said he didn’t have money to pay for a phone call to Mr. Abt.  I told him to call ‘collect.’ If he liked, to use the jail phone or that he could have another attorney if he wished.  He said he didn’t want another attorney, he wanted to talk to this attorney first.  I believe he made this call later as he thanked me later during one of our interviews for allowing him the use of the telephone.  I explained to him that all prisoners were allowed to use the telephone.  I asked him why he wanted Mr. Abt, instead of some available attorney.  He told me he didn’t know Mr. Abt personally but that he was familiar with a case where Mr. Abt defended some people for a violation of the Smith Act….”

The Smith Act, actually the Alien Registration Act, was adopted by congress at 54 Statutes at Large 670-671 (1940) on June 29, 1940.  Authored by Representative Howard W. Smith of Virginia, it was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt.  Smith, a fifth term congressman at the time, would continue to serve in congress untill1967.

The intent of the Alien Registration Act was to make it illegal for any person to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government of the United States.  The law also required all foreign residents of the United States that were over the age of 14 to register as aliens.

Within five months of passage (November of 1940) over 4,741,971 persons had complied with the obligations of the Act.  Each registered alien was required to make a statement that included their occupational status and information about their political beliefs.  It was the first statute since the Alien and Sedition act of 1798 to make the mere advocacy of ideas a federal crime.  (Michael Steven Smith, About the Smith Act Trials)  The government’s ability to register and process so many individuals in such a short span of time was a reflection of the crisis that was, at that time, destroying the world order.  John J. McCloy, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of War at this time, advocated the collection of information on potential saboteurs within the United States.  The Smith Act provided the vehicle to accomplish his goal.

John J. McCloy had made his reputation as the attorney that broke the Black Tom case (dealing with German sabotage during World War I at the Black Tom pier in New York).  His decades spent unraveling the covert operations of German espionage during World War I made him an ideal candidate to help Secretary of War Stimson upgrade the military intelligence apparatus.

In 1941 the Smith Act was used to prosecute leaders of the Socialist Workers Party.  At the time the United States was being driven toward an alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany which had invaded Russia.  The Communist Party in America fully supported its use by the government of the United States against their “Trotskyist” political opponents.  The later use of the Smith Act would involve Jonathan Abt.

Historians who disagree with the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report have criticized the officers that questioned Oswald.  An argument is made that since the various Dallas Police detectives and the FBI and Secrete Service agents present did not tape record or keep their detailed notes of all the Oswald interrogations, the written reports must be incomplete.  The truth is that at the time of Oswald’s arrest, the Dallas Police Department did not own a tape recorder.  For better or worse the majority of information that survives, survives within the numerous volumes of the Warren Commission Report.  It is these written reports, made by the people who witnessed the interrogations and heard the words of Lee Harvey Oswald while he was in custody, that I find so interesting.  Rather than speculating on what might have been lost, I am intrigued by what is contained in the supporting records of the Warren Commission that were not included in the final summary report.

The accumulated reports were transcribed from notes kept by the interrogators as well as their own personal recollections, all within hours of the interviews with Oswald.  I have chosen to look more closely at what is in the written reports and interviews but did not survive into the final draft of the Warren Commission Report than to speculate on what might or might not be missing.  Their statements demonstrate that Lee Harvey Oswald repeatedly referred to Abt as a Smith Act Attorney and that his desire to have Abt for this reason was made abundantly clear to all present.  What reasons can be ascribed to this coincidence?

The record shows that between 4:45 and 6:30 P.M. on the day of the assassination, Captain Will Fritz of the Dallas Police conducted his second interview with Lee Oswald.  The interview took place in Captain Fritz’s office:

Oswald.

“…I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt.  I don’t know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago, where he represented the people who had violated the Smith Act…I don’t know him personally, but that is the attorney I want….If I can’t get him, then I may get the American Civil Liberties Union to send me an attorney.”

During the same interview Oswald repeated his request with these words:

“…I want to talk with Mr. Abt, a New York attorney…”

During the 1948 presidential election race, Harry Truman’s Republican rivals were accusing the Democrats of being “soft” on Communism.  (Michael Steven Smith, About the Smith Act Trials)  At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the delegates added a plank to their platform that stated;

“We pledge a vigorous enforcement of existing laws against Communists and enactment of such new legislation as may be necessary to expose the treasonable activities of Communists and defeat their objective of establishing here a godless dictatorship controlled from abroad.“

To counter this threat Truman turned to J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

J. Edgar Hoover had first developed his reputation as a tough investigator and prosecutor by deporting radicals and immigrants during the 1919 Palmer Raids.  For Hoover the harassment of the radical fringe would become a professional trait.  It was J. Edgar Hoover that suggested to Truman that the Smith Act could be used against members of the Communist Party.  On July 20th, 1948 eleven members of the American Communist party were arrested and charged under the Alien Registration Act.

The Smith Act defendants were not charged with the actual commission of a crime.  As strange as it may seem today the charges were designed to prove that “they conspired to organize as the Communist Party and willfully to advocate and teach principles of Marxism-Leninism.”  It was then construed to show that by the mere fact that they had organized as a Communist Party that they therefore advocated, “overthrowing and destroying the government of the United States by force and violence” sometime in the future.

For Truman, behind in the polls, the Presidency itself was at stake. Truman needed these prosecutions to deflect the criticism of his Republican rivals.  The federal government successfully prosecuted the defendants and Harry Truman defeated his challenger Thomas Dewey and his running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Earl Warren (later chairman of the Warren Commission) in one of the closest elections in United States History.

Chief Justice Earl Warren would later overturn these same Smith Act convictions.

Between 10:30 A.M. and 1:10 P.M. on November 23rd Oswald was again interrogated in Captain Fritz’s office when he stated:

“I said I wanted to contact Attorney Abt, New York.  He defended the Smith Act cases in 1949, 1950, but I don’t know his address, except that it is in New York….”

 

On Saturday afternoon, November 23, 1963, around 3:30 PM Oswald made a telephone call to Ruth Paine

Ruth Paine:

I said, “Well, hi.”  And he said he wanted to ask me to call Mr. John Abt in New York for him after 6:00 PM.  He gave me a telephone number of an office in New York and a residence in New York…He said he was an (the) attorney he wanted to have…

Oswald’s mother confirmed Ruth Paine’s story when the Warren Commission questioned her.  Marguerite Oswald recalled the call she received from Ruth Paine.

Marguerite Oswald:

…the telephone rang, and it was Mrs. Paine.  She said, “Mrs Oswald, Lee called and he was very upset because Marina was not with me, and he asked me to get a lawyer for him, a Mr. Abt.”

At 6:30 P.M. on November 22nd Oswald was a part of a police lineup for three witnesses to the Jefferson Davis Tippit murder.  The three witnesses were Cecil J. McWatters, Sam Guiyard, and Ted Callaway.  Once again Oswald is quoted as saying:

“I want to get in touch with a lawyer, Mr. Abt, in New York City…”

Early the next morning, at 1:35 A.M., November 24, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was arraigned for the Murder with Malice of John F. Kennedy when he said:

“Well, sir, I guess this is the trial…I want to contact my lawyer, Mr. Abt, in New York City.  I would like to have this gentleman.  He is with the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Mr. Abt was never a member of the American Civil Liberties Union.  He was general counsel for the Senate Sub-Committee on Civil Liberties from 1935-1937, and was later a legal advisor for the Progressive Party from 1948-1951.  He worked with and knew Alger Hiss and has been, many times, labeled as a communist.

But Lee Harvey Oswald was absolutely correct on his other statement; a study of John Abt’s biography demonstrates that he had indeed represented people accused of violating the Smith Act.  Oswald, it seems, was familiar enough with the Smith Act cases that had begun fifteen years earlier, when Oswald was eight years old.  He had knowledge of Mr. Abt that he knew where Jonathon Abt could be located (New York).  Oswald knew that these particular cases had actually occurred more than a decade earlier.

On November 23, 1963, H. Louis Nichols, President of the Dallas Bar Association, contacted Oswald for a brief discussion at 5:30 P.M.:

Oswald

“….Do you know a lawyer in New York named John Abt?  I believe in New York City.  I would like to have him represent me.  That is the man I would like.”

Assistant counsel for the President’s Commission, Mr. Samuel A. Stern, interviewed James W. Bookhout on April 8, 1964.  Bookhout was a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation stationed in Dallas at the time of the assassination.  He was present at several of the interrogations of Oswald at the invitation of Captain Will Fritz.  On the morning of November 24, 1963, James Bookhout participated in an interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald conducted by Captain Fritz and was later questioned about his knowledge of this event.  Also present at the Oswald interrogation were T.J Kelly and David B. Grant, of the U.S. Secret Service, Robert I. Nash, a U.S. Marshall and Detectives Billy L. Senkel and Fay M. Turner of the Homicide and Robbery Bureau of the Dallas Police Department.

Mr. Bookhout:

Yes. It was in this interview that he (Oswald) mentioned he wanted to contact Attorney Abt (spelling) A-b-t, New York City.  I recall Captain Fritz asked him if he knew Abt personally and he said he did not, but he explained that he knew that Abt had defended the Smith Act cases in 1949, or 1950, and Captain Fritz asked him if he knew how to get ahold of Mr. Abt, and he stated that he did not know what his address was, but he was in New York.

On April 17, 1964, just nine days after James Bookhout was interviewed by Warren Commission attorneys, J. Lee Rankin, general counsel for the Warren Commission, and Wesley J. Liebeler, assistant counsel of the Presidents’ Commission interviewed John Abt.  (Warren Commision Report)  Wesley J. Liebeler was also the Warren Commission Attorney that interviewed General Walker.

Unfortunately for history, the interview was amazingly short.  J. Lee Rankin neglected to probe into Abt’s involvement in the Smith Act cases, even when the opportunity afforded itself.  The total transcript of Jonathan Abt’s interview contains less than two pages of questions and responses.  The longest statement made by Abt dwelt with how, because he and his wife were at their mountain retreat, he had missed the calls that Lee Harvey Oswald had made to him from the Dallas Police Department jail.  Were the Warren Commissioners and the American public denied an opportunity to understand that a possible Oswald defense was to center around Jonathan Abt’s knowledge of the Smith Act?

Reading the transcript of Abt’s testimony, I was surprised, not by what was there but once again, by what was missing.  Lee Harvey Oswald repeatedly stated that he desired Jonathan Abt as his attorney because Abt had represented clients in Smith Act cases.  But the questioning by the General Council for the Warren Commission went in a different direction:

Mr. Rankin.

“Mr. Abt, did you learn that Lee Harvey Oswald was interested in having you represent him apparently because of some prior connection of yours with the American Civil Liberties Union?”

Mr. Abt.

“No.  My assumption was, and it is pure assumption, that he read about some of my representation in the press, and, therefore, it occurred to him that I might be a god man to represent him, but that is pure assumption on my part.  I have no direct knowledge of the whole matter.”

(Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. X, p. 116)

Mr. Rankin then asked:

“You have told us all that you know about it?

Mr. Abt.

“Yes.  I may say that I had no prior contact with Oswald, knew nothing about him, did not know the name, and this request came as something entirely new and surprising to me when it came.”

Mr. Rankin.

“None of your clients had ever communicated to you about him prior to that time you heard about it over the radio?”

Mr. Abt.

“No; I had no recollection of even having heard the name, his name, before that time.”

Mr. Rankin.

“Thank you.”

At this point the interview was ended.  The Warren Commission gathered no further information about Johathan Abt nor was there any speculation about why Lee Harvey Oswald would be so insistent upon having an attorney that was familiar with the Smith Act.  An act designed to prosecute for advocating the over-through of the Government of the United States.

What can we speculate about any possible Oswald defense?

The mother of Lee Harvey Oswald Marguerite Oswald, and his wife, Marina Oswald visited Lee at 1:10 P.M. November 24, 1963 for about 20 minutes.  At this meeting Oswald again reiterated his desire to have Abt as his attorney.

“Everything is fine.  I know my rights, and I will have an attorney.  I already requested to get in touch with Attorney Abt,…”

In 1993 we learned more about the thoughts of Marina Oswald when her friend and biographer, Priscilla McMillan appeared on the television show Frontline.

Historian Priscilla Johnson McMillan was a reporter in Moscow in the 1950’s and interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald shortly after his defection to the Soviet Union.  Later, after the Kennedy assassination, McMillan befriended Oswald’s widow, Marina, and the two spent considerable time together.  In 1977, McMillan wrote “Marina and Lee,” an intimate portrait of the Oswalds’ life together.  In an interview conducted in conjunction with the first broadcast of Frontline’s “Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?” in 1993, Priscilla Johnson McMillan made this statement:

“Lee, in jail, told Marina that she had friends, that they would help her.  He told her that there was someone in New York who would help him.  He was counting on John Abt, lawyer for the American Communist party, to be his lawyer.  He telephoned Ruth Paine and asked her to call Abt.  Marina thought, when she saw Lee in jail, she could see that he was frightened.  But then she thought that he would use the trial to proclaim his ideas, and to say that what he had done was justified by History.”

Frontline also interviewed Robert Oswald, Lee’s older brother, about Abt:

“I asked him about this lawyer in New York…and I told him I would get him one down here, meaning in Texas.  He said no, he wanted that one up there.  I didn’t press it any further.  He was seeming to be pretty adamant about it. …”

Was the assassination of John F. Kennedy an attempt to overthrow the government of the United States?  If so, it failed.  It did succeed in showing the world that our Constitutional government was not only resilient but that it could, again, survive another cataclysmic event just as it had done numerous times before.

I believe Lee Harvey Oswald knew his history well enough to know that a single event would not change our government.  But we can question why Oswald would be so intent on having Abt act as his attorney.  Since the record shows that he repeatedly stated the reason he wanted Abt was his connection to the Smith Act Trials, I began to wonder, was Oswald going to use his trial to accuse someone, or group, of violating the Smith Act?  I remembered that Oswald had left information behind that would have been found if he had been apprehended for assassinating Edwin Walker.  Did he have a motive? Did he believe he need a trial? 

Did Oswald have a reason to believe that someone or some group was attempting to over-through the government?

Remember:

“She (Marina) testified that Oswald said that General Walker ‘was a very bad man, that he was a fascist, that he was the leader of a fascist organization, and when I said that even though all of that might be true, just the same he had no right to take his life, he said if someone had killed Hitler in time it would have saved many lives.”

If a trial had taken place would anybody believe that Kennedy had violated the Smith Act in some way that could justify taking the life of the President?

The strange thing is, Major General Edwin Anderson Walker would seem to be the more obvious choice if Oswald’s intent was going to be to accuse someone of attempting to overthrow the government.  But it would also seem to be irrational to believe that Oswald would be siding with Walker and his “right wing” accusations that were being leveled against the Kennedy Administration.  Is there any connection?  The question began to haunt me.

In 1951 twenty-three Communists were indicted using the Smith Act.  By 1957 the number had grown to over 140. It would take a number of Supreme Court decisions in 1957 to finally halt the parade of prosecutions.  The two most important were Yates v. United States and Watkins v. United States.  In Watkins the Court ruled that a defendant who had opted not to use the Fifth Amendment could still use the First Amendment against “abuses of the legislative process.”  The vote was six to one, with Chief Justice Earl Warren writing the majority opinion.

Is it a coincidence that Earl Warren was associated with the use of the Smith Act to prosecute communists, first as a candidate for the vice-presidency in 1948 and then as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1957?  In 1963 many conservatives in the United States considered Warren, the former Republican Governor of California for eight years, a left wing radical. Did Justice Earl Warren influence the commission to eliminate any mention of the Smith Act cases from the final report of his commission?

When Jack Ruby fired his fatal shots the American public lost the opportunity to witness the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.  The jury of public opinion lost our opportunity to hear more about the possible defense strategy that would be used to defend Lee Harvey Oswald when the telephone calls to Jonathan Abt went unanswered.

On Sunday morning November 25th 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was himself assassinated while being transferred to a more permanent jail site to await prosecution.  At the time of his death, Lee Harvey Oswald had very few items in his possession.  One item of significance was a sheet of paper with two phone numbers written on it.  Those phone numbers belonged to Jonathan Abt.

Jim, I agree. This is worthier of more attention than it has received.

For one... I think Ruth Paine may know more than she has let on about this aspect.

When Harold Ware (a communist cell leader involved with Hiss) was killed in a car accident near Baltimore in 1935, Abt succeeded him as leader of the Washington communist underground. Abt not only took that role over from Ware, he also married his widow, Jessica Smith. Smith was on the national board of the AFSC

and had been to Russia for 2 years for the AFSC to study familne relief and farm collectivization. Both she and Corliss Lamont were involved with the National Council of American Soviet Friendship.

To my knowledge, no one has ever asked Ruth Paine if she knew Smith (and therefore also Abt).

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Greg

Oswald was in a big legal mess, to say the least. If he was being set up, he either knew it or he did not. To me, the fact that he was so adament about Abt rather than getting just any attorney, makes me believe that he had some insight into the problem he was encountering.

The fact that he wanted an attorney that had worked on cases dealing with those charged with attempting to overthrow the government of the United States leads me to believe that he was already planning his defense.

The fact that the Warren Commission seems to have wanted to mislead the general public about Abt's backround (Oswald's request for Apt the Smith Act Attorney vs Abt the ACLU Attorney) has me seeing this as another piece of the puzzle.

Jim Root

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  • 4 weeks later...

Paul Troglia

You have suggested that you would like to be the attorney that would proscecute Oswald for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. If Oswld would have lived we can assume he may well have had Jonathon Abt, a man who had defended men whose convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court, as his attorney. Thought you might enjoy some information gleaned from information contained within the 20+ volumns of the suppporting documanetation for the Warren Report that dealt with this subject.

Jim Root

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  • 2 months later...

Greg

Thanks for bring this subject up again. Over the past several months I have had an opportunity, with the help of this board, to rethink alot of the old information that I have gathered.

When I first read the Warren Report, over ten years ago, the Walker story was the major thing that jumped out at me. As I have researched the General I have been surprised about how many other connections I have found while attempting to piece together a consistant case for a conspiracy. The story of Jonathan Abt was, to say the least, a strange piece to this puzzle. Why did the Warren Commission distort the truth about this man?

Perhaps because it could, in an indirect way, lead to the truth?

Oswald the Socialist, Abt the American Communist. Smith Act, first used against the Socialist then against the Communist. Backyard photgraph, one Socialist magazine and one American Communist publication, two weapons.

Was Oswald telling us something?

Jim Root

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Greg

Thanks for bring this subject up again.  Over the past several months I have had an opportunity, with the help of this board, to rethink alot of the old information that I have gathered.

When I first read the Warren Report, over ten years ago, the Walker story was the major thing that jumped out at me.  As I have researched the General I have been surprised about how many other connections I have found while attempting to piece together a consistant case for a conspiracy.  The story of Jonathan Abt was, to say the least, a strange piece to this puzzle.  Why did the Warren Commission distort the truth about this man?

Perhaps because it could, in an indirect way, lead to the truth?

Oswald the Socialist, Abt the American Communist.  Smith Act, first used against the Socialist then against the Communist.  Backyard photgraph, one Socialist magazine and one American Communist publication, two weapons.

Was Oswald telling us something?

Jim Root

Hi Jim.

I beleive this is a photo of John Abt

abt.jpg

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I beleive this is a photo of John Abt (Robin Unger)

You are correct Robin. I can't post images at the moment so I will send you a shot of Abt. You may like to post it here.

Cheers,

James

Hi James here's your John Abt pic.

Abt1.jpg

I am also having trouble posting pics, i linked to this one from my website.

Edited by Robin Unger
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Jim,

Just some random thoughts... one of the people brought to trial under the Alien Registration (Smith) Act was Harry Bridges - leader of the Longshoreman's Union and tormentor extraordinaire of J Edna Hoover.

LHO's brother, John Pic, was working for the Port Security Unit at the time of young Lee's stay with him in New York.

The Port Security Unit was brought into being to round up subversives on the water-front as part of combined effort with FBI and ONI.

Harry Bridges is mentioned in testimony by Paul Raigorodsky as marrying his daughter. He then quickly adds it has nothing to do with the longshoremen, and just as quickly asks to go off the record.

Then there's the Murrets and wayward seafarer, Horace Twiford... and Lee himself hanging around the docks.

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Greg

In an earlier post you spoke about John Abt's wife Jessica Smith. In rereading this post you mention that she was on the national board of the AFSC. Just out of curiosity do you know if she was associated with the Biddle family? If so, can you enlighten me as to how or in what ways?

The Warren Commission's attempt to suggest that Oswald wanted an ACLU attorney, in my mind, has little basis in fact. It is for this reason that I have tried to look into ways that Jonathan Abt's life crossed paths with some of the other characters associated with the assassination in general and the Commission in particular. There does seem to be some coincidences. What thoughts have gained your attention in this area?

Does it seem peculiar to you that Oswald was consistant in wanting Abt the "Smith Act" attorney?

As I think about this further, is it another coincidence that Abt just happened to be out of town and unavailable the weekend of the assassination while Oswald attempted to contact him and only him, to act as his attorney?

Jim Root

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