Essays - Summer 2016

The Truth About Dallas

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Looking back at the investigation of the Kennedy assassination and the controversies that dogged it from the start

President and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field in Dallas, the morning of November 22, 1963; an hour after this photo was taken, JFK was dead. (Cecil Stoughton/JFK Presidential Library and Museum)

By Howard P. Willens and Richard M. Mosk

June 6, 2016


More than half a century has passed since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas and the months-long investigation by the Warren Commission. Those of us who served on the commission cannot forget those difficult, momentous times. Our conclusions seemed unassailable, yet ever since the commission’s report was released, we have constantly had to defend our findings. Critics and conspiracy theorists have questioned our competence and integrity, and even our commitment to finding the truth. On occasion, we have, either individually or together, responded to these challenges—in books, articles, and public lectures and debates. As the critical literature continues to grow, we would like to lay out one last time how we arrived at our conclusions, and why we are as confident as ever about what happened during those fateful days in Texas.

Because Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald two days after the November 22, 1963, assassination of President Kennedy, the prime suspect in the fourth presidential assassination in our history could not be publicly tried. That was not the case with those accused in the deaths of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. The shocking nature of JFK’s murder, and the live national coverage that followed it, gave President Johnson little choice but to do something to address the intense public sorrow, anger, and curiosity that swirled through the nation and the world. He decided to appoint a prestigious, bipartisan presidential commission to determine the facts, in the hope that authorities in Texas and congressional committees would defer their own investigations. The president managed to persuade a reluctant Earl Warren, the Supreme Court’s chief justice, to lead the effort, and the famous commission bearing his name was born.

The members of the commission were Senators Richard B. Russell and John Sherman Cooper, Representatives Hale Boggs and Gerald R. Ford, former CIA director Allen W. Dulles, and diplomat and lawyer John J. McCloy. After reviewing preliminary reports from the FBI and other agencies in early December 1963, the commission decided that a substantial staff of lawyers had to be assembled as well. Ultimately, 22 lawyers were selected—including the two of us. J. Lee Rankin, a former U.S. solicitor general, was named the commission’s general counsel.

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Howard P. Willens and Richard M. Mosk were members of the Warren Commission staff. Willens is a Washington lawyer and the author of History Will Prove Us Right. Mosk sat on the California Court of Appeal and wrote numerous articles on the Warren Commission investigation. He died in April.

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