Return Home

Return to the Archives

A Commission Without Commissioners:
an Excerpt from The Warren Omission

by Walt Brown

Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Former Director of the CIA Allen Dulles, Senators John Sherman Cooper and Richard Russell, Representatives Hale Boggs and Gerald Ford, and international financier John McCloy: "The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy." The 'Warren' Commission.
The Warren Commission was made up of seven honorable men and yet became the most vilified fact-finding body ever assembled in the United States of America. While persuasive arguments can be made for the correctness or the falseness of both of the assertions in the preceding sentence, the Commission was, without doubt, the most unique group ever assembled, and therein may reside the germ which would blossom into the perception of abject failure in years to come.

The personalities became the focus of public attention as "The Warren Commission" when they were appointed by a besieged President on the Friday following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The first, and often overlooked uniqueness, was their respective political persuasions. Although appointed by a Democratic who had made a career out of log-rolling and political back-scratching, the Commission was composed of five Republicans and two Democrats, and those numbers do not reflect a bipartisanship on the part of LBJ born of recent grief.

When Presidents appoint, their party always receives the majority. It may be only a majority of one, but it is such a virtual certainty that it is taken for granted. As one minority member of the House Judiciary Committee investigating "Watergate" was often heard to say in 1974 (paraphrased), "You have the votes; let's get on with it."

That is in the nature of politics as practiced in Washington, D.C., and it is hardly an abuse that began in the lifetime of anyone reading this work.(1) Presidents from Andrew Jackson's time took note of its occasional ugliness, and "Civil Service Reform" was as much a catchword in the late nineteenth century as "Incumbents Out" has become at the tail end of the twentieth. Given LBJ's penchant for throwing his clout around and being proud of it, it strains belief that he would appoint a Commission of seven that contained not four, or even three Democrats, but a mere two.

Beyond that concern, if the Warren Commission had been a fact-finding group open to all applicants, with resumes and vitae necessary, the subsequent seven who filled the spots would have been quickly bypassed. Earl Warren's forte was hearing brief arguments from two sides, then researching past precedent and the Constitution, and being one-ninth of the subsequent decision. Earl Warren did not poke around for evidence; it was rendered in succinct oral argument. Cooper, Russell, Boggs, and Ford all worked in a venue where research and debate, strenuous as both might be, almost always led to a preordained legislative result. They were present for the creation, not the enforcement, of laws, and experience on a subcommittee debating the price supports on sorghum does not automatically qualify a legislator to render a verdict on the broad-daylight murder of the President of the United States, a verdict which must be based on all available evidence, presented in such a way that both sides of the coin are regularly visible.

Allen Dulles spent his life in a career where secrecy, violence, compartmentalization, and a "the end justifies the means" agenda prevailed, and where decisions were made and then executed. Any failure along the way, regardless of the size or scope of the error, could be fatal. It seems ironic that the sentence just written could have been carved into the marble over the door of the building where the Warren Commission had its "temporary" residence.

Where Dulles lived in a world of cloaks and daggers, John McCloy was of a fraternity where a misspoken word or misunderstood postulate could mean the gain--or loss--of amounts of money that would still seem staggering decades after his financial career peaked. Was he going to help render a verdict on the crime of the century that had the potential to create unthinkable economic chaos in the financial sector, or one that would not even cause Wall Street to hiccough? The answer is obvious.
Yet upon the shoulders of these seven men, previously untainted by political scandal (despite the opinions of individuals or groups not enamored of Earl Warren's court decisions, they were done with integrity), sat the future of the Republic. Would the truth be found, as vaunted American documents always promised in pious words, or would the truth be buried, as past practice dictated in societies alien to America, societies that America, "the last, best hope," attempted to improve by example?
Alas, dirt was heaped upon the truth, not removed layer by layer from it until the naked reality of the Kennedy assassination stood isolated for all to see. Primarily, it happened that way because the seven honorable men appointed by Lyndon Johnson to render a verdict to him, thereby preventing other investigative bodies from rendering verdicts to their respective constituencies were, as indicated, inexperienced with respect to the task facing them. Beyond that, however, at least six of them (Dulles, retired, being the exception) had such full-time responsibilities that an appointment to a Presidential Commission was little more than lip service. When one reads the smattering of questions they asked to the small percentage of the total witnesses called to testify under the banner of the Warren Commission, their ignorance of events becomes appalling. Lastly, and perhaps most distressing, is the fact that while their published papers suggest that they did not do all that they should have, even their mea culpa is a shabby falsehood.

They did not even do the work they would like us to believe they did, and that is one of their shabbiest "omissions."

Our focus here will be on the process, noting along the way that it was essentially dishonest to the point of being criminal. It should also be painfully obvious, although it is rarely noted, that the seven Commissioners did no investigating. The closest they came to that was on the occasion when two of them took testimony from Jack Ruby in the cell to which he had been moved after he killed Oswald so he could not be moved to that building. Elsewhere in Dallas, some Commissioners also "took the tour," spending a few moments for a photo-op on the sixth floor of the Book Depository. The cameras did not record any of them wandering down by the picket fence area to see if that seemed a likely ambush site.

In virtually all previous time studies of the Commissioner's labors, notice has been taken that of the 488 witnesses who testified, only 93 did so in the presence of any of the seven members of the Commission. From there, it is a relatively simple exercise to research Volumes I through V of the Hearings, and discover the time on task statistics of each Commissioner. Taking that approach, research indicates that Earl Warren attended the testimony of all 93 witnesses, Allen Dulles was present on 70 occasions, Gerald Ford on 60, John Sherman Cooper on 50, John McCloy on 35 occasions, Hale Boggs on 20, and Richard Russell on 6.

It is immediately troubling to think that the findings of the "Warren Commission" were based, in part, on the participation of one member who attended the hearings of 6 witnesses out of the total of 488. Equally troubling in that regard is that Senator Russell, from the appointment of the Commission on November 29, 1963, until September 6, 1964, when he served as ex officio chairman at a hastily convened session at the Dallas Naval Air Station to rehash last-minute testimony from Marina Oswald, asked a total of four questions.
More troubling than the concerns focused on Senator Russell are the glaring inaccuracies and misrepresentations printed as truth in the Hearings. More det ailed and careful research into the Commission's working papers reveals that the numbers quoted above, from Warren's 93 to Russell's 6, are incorrect and misleading. As such, they suggest a level of participation by the members of the Commission, (limited as such numbers are) that someone would like us to believe was far higher than their actual participation was.

An instructive sample is provided by the Commission's work habits of April 22, 1964. While it is impossible to reproduce all exact fonts, I shall reproduce as faithfully as possible the "data" published regarding that day, and then it will be examined for its accuracy or lack of it.

Wednesday, April 22, 1964


The President's Commission met at 9:10 a.m. on April 22, 1964, at 200 Maryland Avenue NE., Washington, D.C.
Present were Chief Justice Earl Warren, Chairman; Senator John Sherman Cooper, Representative Gerald R. Ford, John J. McCloy, and Allen W. Dulles, members.2

From these data it can be inferred, or, better, the reader can be led to believe, that on April 22, testimony was taken from four key individuals (three, if we recognize that T.L. Baker was marginal), and that five of the seven Commission member were "present."

The session began with "THE CHAIRMAN" calling the Commission to order. Chief Justice Warren then stated the day's purpose, which was, oddly, "Chief, we have asked you to come here this morning, you and some of your officers, for the purpose of taking their testimony concerning matters surrounding the arrest and death of Lee Oswald at the time of the assassination of the President." (3)

Aside from the fact that the officers called had knowledge related to the assassination of the President, and not solely limited to the death of Oswald, and that Curry's knowledge of Oswald's arrest and death was limited because he was not in the vicinity of either, this was the way the Commission blunted some testimony that might have led in directions not pointing directly at the "lone assassin."

But even that distorts the focus of the researcher. Only Commissioners Warren and Dulles were "present" at the outset of Curry's testimony. John McCloy arrived after 125 of the 683 questions had been asked; Ford arrived at question 130 and left at 450; and Cooper arrived at question 314 and left at 492, which translates into presence for about 26 per cent of the testimony. Earl Warren left after question 122. Thus five were "present," although only one was "present" throughout. One left quickly, two came and went, and one arrived late and remained.

Thereafter, the plot only thickens. Chairman Warren returned on the thirty-eighth page of forty-six pages of testimony of the second witness, Dallas Homicide Chief J.W. Fritz, hardly in time to preside, a chore handled by John McCloy4, who had arrived late for Curry but would remain for the entirety of the testimony of witnesses Baker and Day, and would preside for the last three witnesses. Ford and Cooper, who had come and gone during the testimony of Curry, were not seen again that day, making a total fabrication of the statement that they were present for the testimony of four witnesses, when, in fact, they heard a portion of the testimony of one. Dulles had slipped out at the end of Curry's testimony, and returned during the second hearing but, like Cooper and Ford, would be absent from the testimony of Baker and Day. Chief Warren, having arrived extremely tardy for Fritz, at least interrupted the intense interrogation to ask one question, before he again disappeared from the record, as evidenced by McCloy's continued chairmanship and the absence of any questions from, or evidence admitted by, "THE CHAIRMAN."

We were thus told on page 150 of Volume IV that four witnesses gave testimony in the presence of five commissioners. The truth is that the first witness gave testimony to all five, but in the presence of two, one, two, three, four, three, or two, depending on which point in the testimony one chooses as a reference. The second witness gave testimony to one, two, or three, as two were "absent," a clear distinction from "present." The final two witnesses gave testimony before staff counsel presided over by John McCloy, as all four other Commissioners were not "present."
If the situation detailed above were an isolated incident, or there had been a major event in Washington on that date to explain the Commission's attempt at deception, the thesis proposed here would be an attempt at cheap sensationalizism based on extremely selective extrapolation. It is neither.

While there are many such examples of this shabby suggestion of Commissioners being "present" when they were not, as the statistics below will demonstrate, another clear-cut example occurred on June 10, 1964. On that occasion, John Sherman Cooper was "present" for the testimony of Abram Chayes, Bernice Waterman, Dean Rusk, and Frances G. Knight, four witnesses who could speak from the legal point of view with respect to Oswald's return to the United States in 1962. The testimony begins on page 326 of Volume V. Chief Warren arrived during the testimony of the second witness, Dean Rusk, and left during that of Frances G. Knight. Commissioners Ford and Dulles were present for Chayes, Rusk, and Knight, but came and went during the hearing featuring Bernice Waterman. Commissioner Cooper, however, arrived on page 378, after 52 pages of testimony (86.6% of the total) had been taken, and then remained for the last 8 pages and 13.4% of the testimony. Thus the standard interpretation of Senator Cooper being present at 50 hearings is challenged in these two instances, demonstrating that where his presence was suggested at eight hearings, he was absent for six of them and present for parts of the other two.

In point of fact, the entire Warren Commission time study suggests, as the title of the chapter indicated, "A Commission Without Commissioners," as well as a conclusion that will be saved for the end of this chapter.

There were not 93 hearings involving the Commission and witnesses. There were 111 witness sessions, and this must be a carefully defined term. Some witnesses were called, gave testimony, and departed the pages of history, and are correctly considered as one session. Others, with more to "add to the record," such as that phrase has come to mean, might have testified in the morning, and then had their testimony resumed and concluded in the afternoon. This is still one witness session. But when Marina Oswald gave testimony on February 3, 4, 5, 6, June 11, and September 6, it cannot be counted as one session. It is divided in the Commission's own papers into the six different sessions it actually was. The same applies for multiple sessions, sometimes divided by weeks, of Marguerite Oswald, Robert Oswald, Cortlandt Cunningham, Ruth Paine, Robert A. Frazier, Robert Carswell, Lyndal Shaneyfelt, and Mark Lane. They simply cannot be counted as "a" witness.

It must be asked then, how many sessions did each Commissioner, in fact, attend? When viewed through the prism of the 111 witness sessions, the following data become significant with respect to the labors of the members of the President's Commission:


WC MemberHearings listed as "present"No. times not presentNo. of full hearingsNo. of partial hearings No. of hearings when member present, asked no questions"chair"

If the first casualty of war is fidelity, then it is clear that the first casualty of the Presidential Commissions was truth. On sixty-five occasions when a Commissioner was said to be "present," he was not; and please, let's not wring our hands over stenographic mistakes. Of the 384 occasions when Commission members were present, no questions were asked by one Commissioner or another in 95 instances, suggesting an uncomfortable silence--or additional absences--in 24.73% of instances of testimony. Put another way, in only 289 witness sessions out of a possible 777 [111 x 7], did a Commissioner ask a question to the witness, for a question percentage of only 37.19, or roughly three out of eight. The same numbers apply to full testimony attendance. Of a possible 777 "present(s)," Commissioners were only present in full for 260 sessions, or 33.46%, a bare one-third. If we hypothesize further and argue that the guilt of Oswald was established by the "Warren Commission," and insist that the Commissioners should all have been present for every witness, we then see 260 "full-present" sessions out of a possible 3,416, for a "full-present" percentage of 7.6%.

This must be understood in context. What value would be placed on a judicial proceeding in an American courtroom in which either the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, or certain jurors just came and went as they pleased? The answer is, of course, that no value whatsoever would be placed on such a proceeding, yet it is taken for granted that Commissioners came and went from the "investigation of the century" as if it were the Friday night poker game and quarters were on the table. Also recall that some of the questions, detailed elsewhere, served no purpose but to illuminate the asking Commissioner's lack of knowledge, usually basic knowledge, about the case under study. Also, in 95 instances, a Commissioner sat through the entire proceeding mute.

With respect to the actual number of questions asked by the seven members of the "Warren Commission," the numbers only worsen. The total number of questions put to all witnesses was 109,930. Yet the seven honorable men who delivered the Warren Report to President Johnson in September, 1964, only asked 6,964 of those questions, or 6.334%. It should also be recalled that the vast majority of Chairman Warren's 608 questions were procedural rather than substantive(5), as were some questions put by Commissioners when they were presiding in Warren's stead.


CommisionerNo. of questions% of WC total% of overall total
Allen Dulles215430.97.96
Gerald Ford177225.41.61
John S. Cooper92613.2.84
John McCloy79511.4.72
Earl Warren6088.7.55
Hale Boggs4606.6.41
Richard Russell2493.5.22

Taken together, Figures One and Two not only reinforce the title of this chapter, but they call into question the very nomenclature attached to the President's Commission. With respect to Figure Two, Allen Dulles was the clear leader in Commission questions, and while his specific inquiries did not exactly crack the case wide open, they were, with but few exceptions, questions or clarifications that had a purpose. Gerald Ford, who was second to Dulles in questions, asked far fewer substantive questions than Dulles. This is not to suggest that the future President only asked nuisance questions, but there were too many times when he added commentaries to the record that amounted to non sequiturs.

As for the remainder of the Commission, much of the questions from McCloy, and more so from Boggs and Cooper, amounted to repetitions of past questions, as the particular Commissioner arrived late at a hearing and asked one or more questions already asked. At other times, their questions read like clarifications, as it would not be an unfair characterization to suggest that the Commission Counsel, and certainly the particular witness, even some of the non-Rhodes scholars, knew far more about the subject in question than did the Commissioners, who frequently interrupted just to orient themselves to the witness's place in the overall puzzle.

Richard Russell asked only 4 questions prior to his September 6, 1964 questioning of Marina Oswald. Three of the questions were put to Dr. Charles Gregory, who performed surgery on Governor Connally, and the fourth was a procedural inquiry put to Douglas Dillon, who, as Treasury Secretary, had overall cabinet jurisdiction over the Secret Service.
Earl Warren asked many openers along the "Will you rise and be sworn?" or "Do you wish counsel to be present?" lines. He would then pass the testimony to a staff attorney, and would later interrupt to ask each Commissioner "present " if he had any questions for the witness. Warren interrupted a few witnesses to ask a question or two, and his questions on such occasions were not unreasonable.

Yet from careful reading of the five pertinent volumes of the Hearings, as well as from Figure 2, it becomes clear that of Commission members, Allen Dulles was the Grand Inquisitor.

Figure One in part explains that. Most simply put, Allen Dulles was there the most. In studying the data after it was collected, I tried a variety of matrices to generate a workable index to give a more precise interpretation to the raw data in Figure One. I finally settled on a point system, which awarded a Commissioner two points for each full witness session attended, plus one point for each partial session. Having generated those totals, I then subtracted a point for each witness session at which the given Commissioner asked no questions. The results are reflected in


Earl Warren (52 x 2) + (36 x 1) = 140; 140-36 = 104
Allen Dulles (65 x 2) + (13 x 1) =143; 143-8 = 135
John S. Cooper (36 x 2) + (21 x1) = 93; 93-15 = 78
Gerald Ford (46 x 2) + (35 x 1) = 127; 127-13 = 114
John McCloy (34 x 2) + (5 x 1) = 73; 73- 6 = 67
Hale Boggs (20 x 2) + (13 x 1) = 53; 53-12 = 41
Richard Russell (7 x 2) + (1 x 1) = 15; 15- 5 = 10

A comparison of the index created in Figure Three with the question totals in Figure Two provides the following correlation:



The correlations suggested in Figure Four are too obvious to overlook, and, having proved the chapter hypothesis, offer an even more chilling concept to consider: should we be more accurate in nomenclature and overlook the person who filled the chair and concentrate on the person who did the most?

If we do that, all such future discussions on this subject must revolve around the question of THE DULLES COMMISSION.


1.For a "personal" study of dirty tricks from two centuries past, cf. Walt Brown, John Adams and the American Press (Jefferson, NC., 1995).
2. 4H 150.
4.McCloy's opening line as Chairperson for Fritz's hearing, interestingly enough, was, "You know the purpose of what we are here for, captain [sic]?" 4H 202
5.It could be easily argued that Warren's substantive question total would be less than Senator Russell's total, putting Warren last.

For ordering information on the book The Warren Omission by Walt Brown (Delmax Publishing, 1996), please see the Home Page.

Top of the Page

Return to the Archives

Return Home