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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

"Earl Warren: On the Mob's Payroll" by Tom Bethell

This article appeared in the Washington Monthly on March 1976:

On the second page, Bethell writes about the Garrison investigation:

"I was in charge of Garrison's "Archives" throughout this investigation -- his research man, so to speak -- and so I was well placed to observe the course of his investigation. As is by now perhaps well known, Garrison did nothing to disturb the Warren Commission's central findings. Garrison did allege that Lee Harvey Oswald had entered into a conspiracy with two men, David Ferrie and Clay Shaw, and after Ferrie and Oswald were both dead Shaw was charged with conspiracy to assassinate the President; he was acquitted two years later, and all serious, or even half-way serious students of the case agree that Shaw was, in fact, innocent. No credible evidence ever existed that any two of Garrison's three alleged conspirators even knew one another. I think it can honestly be said that Garrison did not turn up one scrap of information relevant to the assassination not already known to the FBI or Warren Commission.
A personal recollection may perhaps be illuminating here. Garrison would make public statements saying what a "fraud" the Warren Commission had been, but this is not what those of us actually engaged in the investigation thought. I can well remember discussions with Louis Ivon, Garrison's chief investigator, and James Alcock, his chief trial assistant. What astounded (and appalled) us was that we were unable to find one person in New Orleans who had known Oswald and who had not been interviewed by the FBI, and interviewed within about a week of the assassination. The trouble was that Garrison and others (myself included) had come to the conclusion that the Warren Report was a pushover as result of reading Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment and Harold Weisberg's Whitewash series, and other similar books. In these books there was no hint that the Commission's work had been so extensive. The revelation, when it came, as it slowly but surely did, was privately demoralizing to Garrison's staff. But not, I think, to Garrison himself, who lived in a world of his own and was blithely unaware of any such concern by his aides. I'll never forget one day Garrison had gone on television and said that Lee Harvey Oswald was innocent. This did nothing to help our case against Clay Shaw, which was based on a conspiracy with Oswald. Jim Alcock, who had to try the case, was so worried by this that he mentioned it to Garrison. "Oh, you can argue it differently in court," Garrison said magnanimously, with a wave of a hand. It was the Big Picture he was after."

Tom Bethell also said this in his diary. Here is his entry from August 30, 1967:

"Critics of the Warren Report are nearly always not aware of the extensiveness of the FBI's investigation. I was in the position till I went to Dallas, and more especially the National Archives and read through their voluminous reports. Sciambra has reported the same experience as a result of his trips to Louisiana towns, and certainly Garrison must be in the same position. E.g., early in the investigation he wrote a notation on a memo to get copies of the hotel register where Oswald stayed in Mexico City, and also Dallas YMCA records. Both were published in the 26 volumes."

Here is his entry from March 15, 1968:

"Also, Alcock, Ivon and Sciambra have all attested at different times to the efficiency of the FBI's investigation. It is hard to think of anyone of any relevance who was not interviewed by them within a week or two of the assassination. (In fact, most were interviewed within a few days.) This has been, I am sure, a source of great disappointment to the DA's office, although Garrison himself has never admitted as much. When all the books and articles came out criticizing the Commission, I think many people in the office thought they were exploring virgin territory when they looked into Oswald's background, because these books had tended to over-emphasize the short-comings of the FBI. They gave no indication of how extensive their investigation had been. Far from finding virgin territory, they found that the FBI had been there ahead of them every time -- three years ahead of them. I don't think anyone was expecting this. I know I wasn't; it was clear that many of the people working on the investigation, such as Louis Ivon, acquired a certain sneaking respect for the FBI, as I did too."

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