Author Topic: Program Transcript: Gerald D. McKnight  (Read 5160 times)

Alan Dale

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Program Transcript: Gerald D. McKnight
« on: August 02, 2014, 04:35:56 am »
Courtesy of Mary Constantine


Welcome to JFK Lancer Conversations, an on-line interview program featuring discussions with prominent authors, historical researchers and notable personalities associated with the study of President Kennedy's assassination.



DURATION: 1:09:17

ALAN DALE: Welcome to Conversations. My name is Alan Dale. On November 29th 1963 President Johnson announced the creation of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, which would forever be known as the Warren Commission. Its final report, presented to the President on September 24th 1964, and made public three days later, declared that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in the attack which resulted in the death of President Kennedy and the wounding of Texas Governor John Connally, and that Jack Ruby had acted alone in murdering Oswald. Our topic today is criticism. Winston Churchill said: "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary: it fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things."

Warren Commission member and future president Gerald Ford described their report by claiming: "The Monumental Record of the President's Commission will stand like a Gibraltar of factual literature through the ages to come." 

Thirty years later, after an ocean of dissent and criticism of the official findings, Norman Mailer compared the Commission's work to: "A dead whale decomposing on a beach." The late Harold Weisberg quoted Warren Commission member Senator Richard Russell as saying very simply: "We have not been told the truth about Oswald." 

In 1998, in a chapter titled 'The Problem of Secrecy and the Solution of the JFK Act', the Assassination Records Review Board, which was created to collect and review the documents relating to the assassination, pointed out in its final report doubts about the Warren Commission's findings were not restricted to ordinary Americans. Well before 1978 President Johnson, Robert Kennedy and four of the seven members of the Warren Commission all articulated, if sometimes off the record, some level of skepticism about the Commission's basic findings.

And today, in the year 2014, a majority of Americans share that skepticism.

Our guest is one of the world's leading authorities on the Warren Commission, its methods and practises. His meticulous research, published in a new edition of his book 'Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why' is an essential resource for all who are invested in seeking to know the truth about how the Government of the United States responded to the assassination of President Kennedy. It's an honor for me to introduce Professor Gerald D McKnight. Thank you for being with us.

GERALD McKNIGHT: My pleasure, Alan. My pleasure.

ALAN DALE: Professor, would it be an apt re-statement of the name of the President's Commission if we referred to the "Prejudiced Commission on the assassination of President Kennedy"?

GERALD McKNIGHT: We certainly could. We certainly could get away with that without – I think without much fault-finding if you, you know, if people knew what went on there, yes. It was a - from the very beginning, I mean the Commission - if I could just make one point, I mean, right here. The Commission, presumably, is going to produce this report, based largely, and almost exclusively, on the FBI Commission Document 1, and they're going ahead in that fashion. One major, almost astonishing fact is that the Warren Commission never bothered to bring under its attention, or at least in any published way, the fact that it in terms of one of the things it looked at in terms of documentation was JFK's death certificate.

So here we have the Commission that is supposed to write the report based on largely – almost exclusively – on FBI investigation, and they cannot find the time or the interest or the reason – the rationale – for looking at JFK's death certificate, which understandably in the long run is going to be a problem because the death certificate, written by Dr Burkley, before the politics of this issue entered into this business. What the Burkley death certificate pointed out was particularly - which is key here - that the wound in Kennedy's back was at the third thoracic vertebra. Well, this is before politics entered into the discussion here, and what that meant – the Warren Commission is going to talk about three shots: two shots hit; one shot misses.

Now the basic point is – and I'm going to offer this right now – is that there is a key piece of evidence, and I don’t care where you would stand on this issue – a key piece of evidence that the Warren Commission – this is the Commission that was contracted to write the report – never bothered to collect; never bothered to look at. That in itself is – one would have to say it provokes a puzzling attitude about how things were going. I thought maybe I'd throw that in here now, just as an indication of how – of really how this whole investigation was constructed.

And I would add to that, I mean, if I'm talking about the Commission I also would talk about the FBI. The FBI turns out its report, Commission Document 1: that report is out and into the hands of the Commission in December, and the FBI, making its report, never bothered to collect from the Secret Service the Bethesda Naval Hospital report on the Kennedy autopsy.


GERALD McKNIGHT: They just said: "We don't need it right now." That report was ready: the Secret Service had it; offered it to the FBI. The FBI – Alex Rosen, who was about the third man in the power chain within the FBI; third from Hoover I guess, he said: "We don't really need that now to write our report. And of course they wrote the report, and we can talk about it, but the thing is that before the report ever became public they had leaked the conclusions of the report to press people all over the country.

ALAN DALE: Right. Very deliberately.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Oh, absolutely, and the FBI was quite good at that, because they did have their own favorite reporters.

ALAN DALE: And are we referring to December of '63 for the FBI Commission Document 1, and that's a 39-page document – am I correct, thirty-nine pages?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, mmhmm.

ALAN DALE: And among those thirty-nine pages how many words are devoted to an actual description of the assassination? You said it's sixty words?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Very little. We're talking about economy here; economy of language. And that was, yes, that was CD 1 and right, there's – CD 1, I think if you were honest with yourself, if you were to read CD 1, which is supposed to be, as Katzenbach said when he looked at it when he received it, he wrote back to the FBI and he called this report "sensational". Katzenbach plays a huge role here, a very huge role. 

ALAN DALE: Right, Deputy Attorney General, probably stepping up with much more detailed responsibilities because of Robert Kennedy's grief.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Absolutely. Bobby Kennedy is trying to hold the family together. He's taken it over in that sense. He really is, he's the Attorney General – I mean de facto Attorney General in this particular situation, and took tremendous – I think he took – he was not hesitant about moving in and taking over responsibility. I think within three or four days after the assassination he was already putting together a tentative outline of what the Report should look like. So I mean there was no grass growing under Katzenbach's feet in this situation. And you know the thing that always – what shall I say – I guess, well, rubbed me the wrong way - is that Katzenbach was part of the Kennedy team, for Chrissake.


GERALD McKNIGHT: I mean he, you know, this guy was in his own way a rather remarkable guy: he was World War II, he was Air Force, he was shot down, he was a German POW, he escaped, he got back to the United States, he continued his service in the Air Force. I mean, you know, the guy had – the guy was remarkable. And then he became part of the Kennedy family: I mean he was up at Hyannis Port playing with his kids - Bobby's kids - football games.

ALAN DALE: And Bobby's kids referred to him as Uncle Nick.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Uncle Nick, yes.

ALAN DALE: And he was the administration's point man, confronting George Wallace. So he was an extraordinary person. But we focus on the letter; his letter – was it to Bill Moyers? Have I forgotten?   

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, it was to Bill Moyers, two days later.

ALAN DALE: Well tell me about that letter.

GERALD McKNIGHT: The chronology quickly, in terms of this situation, is that on the 22nd of course we have the – we have Kennedy being shot: the 23rd of November, Oswald of course is in custody, and on the 23rd there – paraffin tests were run on Oswald on - probably late in the evening of the 22nd: 23rd the results came back from the paraffin test, and the paraffin test showed that he had paraffin-positive, which is, you know, the test of whether he fired a weapon or not.

His hands were positive; his cheeks were negative, which meant that, particularly in terms of the weapon we're talking about, the Mannlicher Carcano which the FBI asserted that he used in this situation, that that Mannlicher Carcano when it was turned over to FBI agents to test it, the condition of that weapon – you probably know about this – the condition of that weapon was so horrendous that these FBI guys said: "We refuse to use this weapon until we clean it up; we strengthen – we shim - the scope; we clean the weapon out, because if we use it now it's going to blow up in our faces." I mean, they spent a good deal of hardware and a good deal of time in getting that weapon into a condition where someone could look at it and say: "Yes, OK, it could…"

ALAN DALE: And am I correct there was also a succession of ballistics, or a succession of shooting tests, where all, without exception, all of the tests indicated an enormous cloud, or at least a significant and measurable cloud, of the materials that would be measurable in a paraffin test?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Absolutely. That's exactly right, and I'll say something about that later on. A year later something about that particular aspect of the situation. The point is on the 23rd – and I think most readers would know something about this; certainly know a little bit about the criminology; but for those who don't, on the 23rd Hoover was preparing to go with Tolson up to Baltimore to play the ponies; they did that on weekends…

ALAN DALE: That's right, yes.

GERALD McKNIGHT: …but before he left he had a telephone call with Lyndon Johnson. And in that telephone call what he said to Johnson was – and this is what he was saying, because by that time, by Saturday morning at ten o'clock - it was at 10~10.10 – something like that – 10.30 - the results – he was able to get the results of the paraffin tests. And of course the results of the paraffin tests simply demonstrated that Oswald didn't shoot anybody, and so he had to say – as he had to say to Johnson, that the case against Oswald is – I think his quote was "not very very strong".


GERALD McKNIGHT: And that was based on forensic evidence. I mean there we have this brick wall, a forensic evidence brick wall; I mean Oswald did not use that rifle to shoot anybody.

ALAN DALE: Yes, it's very interesting what a difference a day can make, because by the evening the next day…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Next day Oswald is gone and that's it: there will be no trial; there'll be no investigation; there'll be no back-and-forth over the evidence…

ALAN DALE: But there will be an "Official Truth"; there will be an "Official Truth" that early on. I want to go back to just one moment. You – your new version…


ALAN DALE: …or new edition rather, of 'Breach of Trust', which is available right now, includes something that I find truly remarkable, referring to Admiral Burkley, who was – we have no reason to question his loyalty to President Kennedy; he was President Kennedy's physician; he participated in some capacity as a liaison between Robert Kennedy and the theater in which the – an – autopsy on President Kennedy was being performed.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Mmhmm, he was there!

ALAN DALE: He was there; he was there and he was aware of what was taking place. Something that drew my attention from your preface to the paperback edition, and if I can quote it, it says: "In 1967 Admiral Burkley agreed to take part in an oral history interview for the John F Kennedy Library. When asked whether he agreed with the Warren Report's description of the shooting, Burkley's terse response was: 'I would not care to be quoted on that.' " Now isn't that a powerful statement?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yeah. Yeah, he was embattled, and I don't know whether Johnson, you know, called him and gave him the 'Johnson Treatment'; in other words: "We are in a…" 

ALAN DALE: Yeah, well he promoted him for one thing. Johnson kept him in the fold, you know.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Oh yes, yes. He held – I forget what he was – he was boosted up from either Rear to Vice or Vice to Rear.

ALAN DALE: Vice Admiral I think.


ALAN DALE: He became Vice Admiral.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Vice Admiral. And he is only the second presidential physician who was of that particular status.

ALAN DALE: Yeah, the other one was Teddy Roosevelt I think.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Also he was not only the president's physician, but he was promoted up to Vice Admiral. I don't think that – I don't know Burkley, clearly, and I don't know what kind of person he was, but I think he was a person of some substance. But before we forget it we might – I mean, here's Burkley; he saw the dead body, he saw the – what would we call it? I guess the medical "heroics" - at Parkland Memorial Hospital when they were working on the President and all they could do was relieve him somewhat in his breathing in terms of a tracheotomy over the bullet hole in his neck: a frontal bullet wound; a bullet from the front; and they were working on that.

Well he saw that; he had to know that, and he's also the one who wrote the death certificate, and the death certificate has the – has Kennedy's non-fatal back wound at third thoracic vertebra, which from a shot from the rear on a downward trajectory at third thoracic vertebra is not going to exit the neck.

ALAN DALE: And a shallow wound as far as we can tell, right? A shallow wound, that the attending autopsist – the physician – was able to feel the end of the wound with his pinkie?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, that was it. When you get down, when you get right down to basic and irreducible facts, or a difference here, what we have, with the FBI we have the fact that there were three shots: two of them hit Kennedy.

ALAN DALE: And one hit Governor Connally.

GERALD McKNIGHT: And a separate one hit Governor Connally.

ALAN DALE: So three shots: three hits, that's the FBI's report as of December, right?

GERALD McKNIGHT: That's the FBI. And then for your listeners and all, we could just simply say when you look at the – that's the FBI report – when you look at the Warren Commission we have three shots: two hits: one miss.

ALAN DALE: And that's because of the entrance of James Tague, the bystander?

GERALD McKNIGHT: That's right; the FBI refused to even acknowledge the fact that this man walked…

ALAN DALE: Oh, yeah! Well, you've written - you've included some marginalia that - apparently Hoover was famous for writing in margins of things, and he didn't buy that at all. So we have no resolution; we've no resolution in terms of the irreconcilable distinction or conflict between the FBI and the Warren Commission's conclusion. How many people who believe it was Lee Harvey Oswald in an unaffiliated act – how many people acknowledge that fact: that the FBI and the Warren Commission are at irreconcilable differences?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, in '67 there was an effort – I'm trying to think of him – a lawyer who had close contact with Hoover who interceded here and wanted to – it was 1967; I'm trying to think of the lawyer's name. He was a wheeler-dealer, an insider, and he knew everybody, and he knew Hoover, and he came to Hoover and he said: "Is there anything you can do any way to elucidate on the positions here, and maybe try to square the circle in terms of what they said and what you said?"

ALAN DALE: And how did Hoover respond?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Hoover said: "I don't think so." [Both laugh.] "I don't think so"; he did not go for the bait. I think – I wonder if the bait really wasn't this lawyer who was being an intermediary for President Johnson…

ALAN DALE: Yeah, I think that's correct, right.

GERALD McKNIGHT: …who probably in '67 was a little bit – maybe himself – I mean, considering the fact that he plays a major role; he's a part of the grand architect of this thing in Dallas, you know, I mean I… That, I think, will come out one day: that Lyndon Johnson was a leading figure in the Kennedy assassination. I regard him, anyway - I may sound crazy, but I regard him as an American Caligula. The most dangerous man who ever occupied the presidency of the United States, and a man who was not well wrapped, mentally.

ALAN DALE: Well, there's a wonderful book written by a physician who was a close friend of Hubert Humphrey's, called 'Hubert'. I haven't seen the book in a number of decades, but I remember reading it when it came out, and it was one of the most, I thought, revealing depictions of Hubert Humphrey's perspective about the irrationalities, the unbelievable powerful mood swings, the incredible "handle with care" that was required in the dealings in the inner circle round Lyndon Johnson.

I just found this from your book 'Breach of Trust': "In October of 1966 President Johnson called on an old friend, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, to approach the FBI Director about undertaking a series of lengthy articles or a book…

GERALD McKNIGHT: That was it! That's what I was referring to.

ALAN DALE: …concerning the captioned matter, and the request was…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, that's what - it was '66, OK? I thought it was '67. Abe Fortas, OK!

ALAN DALE: Late '66. And so they approach Clyde Tolson, and Tolson parades out reasons why the Director could never oblige any such request. This is amazing to me, because really the request clearly is indeed coming from Johnson, who wants some kind of bow put on this, something to make it tidier. And Fortas then advanced a more modest request: would the Director consider writing one brief article, restricted – this is a quote - "restricted solely to the controversy raised by critics with respect to the differences as shown in the autopsy between FBI reports and the final conclusion of the Warren Commission. Hoover declined Fortas' request."

GERALD McKNIGHT: Right. It's like somebody leaving a turd on the dining room table. I mean, you know, really, in terms of - if you're paying any attention at all, even if you bring in naïveté to this whole issue, when somebody explains that to you, you say: "Well, if it were a dog held in the street, or if it were some regular normal person, you know, what would it matter really, in this age?" But we're talking about the President of the United States, which, one has to say, really does elevate the discussion to some degree, anyway.

ALAN DALE: Well, one of the things that I get out of your magnificent book is, you know, we're all familiar with intrigues and complexities and the politics with regard to the internals of the Warren Commission itself, but something that you've really helped to clarify for me are the conflicts, the political distortions, the maneuvering, the contortions between the FBI, the President of the United States, the Justice Department, and the Warren Commission. So there's a much bigger controversy really in terms of the relationships between those four elements in particular. Justice Department, President, FBI and the Warren Commission: everybody is at odds with each other.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Let me ask you this, Alan. Now you clearly have spent some time on 'Breach of Trust'; with the book. One – and I ask this – this is sort of just a general question, but I'm aiming it at you as a person who's pretty well-grounded in this historic situation. When you were looking at 'Breach of Trust', and I ask this to you, but I'm thinking of a larger audience.

ALAN DALE: Absolutely.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Because one of the things that I – are in the book 'Breach of Trust' - I rarely ever see – of course I really don't see too many book reports of – reviews of 'Breach of Trust'. I guess I've seen a couple that were sent down by Briggs at the University of Kansas Press, but in the book, in the hardback copy – I don't know what it is in the paperback copy there is – at the end of it – there is an Appendix A.

ALAN DALE: Yeah, the tickler; that's the tickler document, right?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, the tickler file.

ALAN DALE: Absolutely.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well – and the thing about that, what I call here – I mean I'll just point this out; maybe your listeners will benefit from this – is that I call this – it's accidental, totally, because tickler files are interior; these are FBI interior files. These are never to be – and in this particular case somebody screwed up, or somebody had a mad on that day; anyway, this…

ALAN DALE: We got lucky. That's what happened: I think we got lucky.

GERALD McKNIGHT: We got lucky. And Mark Allen, who – and what is sort of funny about this in a way, is that Mark Allen, when he got this tickler file he really didn't ever try to make anything out of it. I mean I think he just… I don't know what it was with him, but if you look at this tickler file, what I call – in large part I just call this thing as a – I call it the DNA of the FBI.

ALAN DALE: Yeah. Well, it's an internal document; it's four pages, and in those four pages is basically everything that we would have wanted to know about the FBI's attitude about this.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Exactly! An explanation of why we never got to know in terms of what the devil – I mean, just check Alex Rosen, who was number four man, I guess; I said three or whatever – number four man in the hierarchy.

ALAN DALE: Under Belmont, right, or under William Sullivan? I don't know; it's Tolson and then Belmont and then Sullivan?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, it's – it's on the second page I think, and really what it is is the FBI's attitude in terms of handling the case, and what Alex Rosen says, he says the FBI's handling of the case, he explains it this way: "Standing with pockets open waiting for evidence to drop in." I mean, you know, that's classy; that's classy stuff.

ALAN DALE: You know, and it – but one of the things that it kind of reminds me to examine, and I so appreciate you raising this, because it's something that would not be something we might think of to discuss, especially if our objective – my objective with regard to this program is to make it accessible to people who are not necessarily experience in terms of delving into the deepest aspects of the related subject, so we want this information to be accessible to people who are not walking encyclopedias about all this stuff, and that tickler document, you're right; we never hear anybody refer to it.

One of the things that it sort of complements is the understanding that the FBI was receiving quite a lot of the information that they were going on, that they were working with, from the CIA, and that even though it's not explicit in that document it does – it sort of corroborates the idea that, as opposed to this the greatest – what was it Gerald Ford said about this? "Gibraltar of factual literature". Where? Where? Where would that be? But in the meantime you are aware that John Whitten…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Ford was Hoover's man on the Commission, I mean more than anybody else, and he was just feeding him information every opportunity he got, and then the FBI let him have certain FBI toys when he went golfing or stuff – I don't know, but anyway.

ALAN DALE: I don't know either.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yeah, Ford's a miserable – anyway, we have an aircraft carrier now that's going to cost us, what? 4 billion dollars? – I don't know - or 12 billion dollars? I don't know; it's going to be named the Gerald Ford aircraft carrier, and right now it's full of problems; they can't get it out on the water.

ALAN DALE: Gerald Ford's…something.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, anyway, I didn't know we were going there.


GERALD McKNIGHT: Do you want to do anything about Oswald's 45 – last 45 hours or anything?

ALAN DALE: Well, this is exactly what I'd like to do. Allow me to take a brief intermission, Professor. We're speaking with Professor Gerald D McKnight about his extraordinary and valuable book 'Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why'. Please stay with us: we'll be back in just a moment.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2014, 04:53:43 am by Alan Dale »
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Alan Dale

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Re: Program Transcript: Gerald D. McKnight
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2014, 04:37:12 am »
ALAN DALE: We're speaking with Professor Gerald D McKnight: his book is 'Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why'. There's a brand new 2013 edition. And Professor, you began the book – the first chapter you called: 'Assembling the "Official Truth" of Dallas'. Relevant to the "official truth" of course, the central figure is this young man, 24-year old Lee Harvey Oswald. Tell me about Lee Oswald's last 45 hours of life.

GERALD McKNIGHT: OK. The first mention of Lee Harvey Oswald – of Oswald's name – comes across the radio for Air Force Two. Air Force Two at that time, for folks a little bit rusty on their history of this period, or just simply haven't spent time with it, is that most of the Kennedy cabinet on the 22nd of November – and this may have something to do with the planning of this whole thing – not that the Kennedy cabinet was aware, but…

ALAN DALE: Correct. I gotcha.

GERALD McKNIGHT: …but most of them were in an airplane heading for Japan. I think about – Bobby Kennedy was not there, and there were two other cabinet members; I think one was the Postmaster General and somebody else of lesser significance.

ALAN DALE: And the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, was not there.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, you're right, McNamara was not there.

ALAN DALE: But Secretary of State, all kinds of other people; Pierre Salinger, who was… They'd left Hawaii and they were en route to Japan.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, they were en route to Japan, and Dean Rusk was the senior member of that group which was taking them out to a meeting. Well, what happened was that as that plane was approaching Japan – I don't know what time it was exactly; I think it was about - but clattering across the radio comes a report that the President – there's been a shooting in Dallas and…

ALAN DALE: Yeh. Three shots fired at President Kennedy's motorcade.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, and that message came from the Situation Room, and the guy in charge of the Situation Room was at that particular time was Kennedy's Assistant for National Security Affairs, and that was McGeorge Bundy. Now there's a lot one could say about McGeorge Bundy in terms of his politics. Bundy – I would just say this; it's questionable where Bundy's real loyalties rested. For example Arthur Schlesinger in 'A Thousand Days', on page 250, berates him for what he said was his betrayal of JFK when it came to the Bay of Pigs planning.

So he's still around at this time, and he's the one who's sending this message out to Air Force – I'll call it Air Force Two, because it isn't carrying the president. And so after the announcement went out that it was a shooting in Dallas and that the President was involved, about 15 minutes later Bundy comes back on again, and 15 minutes later we find out that Lancer, or the President, has been shot. He is dead, and the person who is being held now and is suspected of being the assassin is a man by the name of Oswald, and that Oswald had been to Russia.


GERALD McKNIGHT: And we are there and that's where the situation is. Now what's interesting about this, I was up doing research a long time ago up at the University of Harvard – Harvard University - and one of the things I was looking at, I did know - I did hear - that Pierre Salinger, who because of his position as JFK's Press Secretary, was going to get access – had access to the original transcript of the Air Force One tapes between – by that I mean that's the plane now that would be carrying LBJ, Jackie Kennedy, and members of the Kennedy team from Love Field to Dallas - that Pierre Salinger had access to these tapes, and particularly phone traffic between Air Force One and then Air Force Two, that had the cabinet complement that was heading towards Japan. Schlesinger having access to this, wrote – did a manuscript on this…

ALAN DALE: Salinger.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Salinger, yes. Who did I say?

ALAN DALE: Well, that's OK.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Anyway, Salinger is who I'm talking about, yes.


GERALD McKNIGHT: …incorporated some of this material in a manuscript he left at Harvard University, and it was allegedly supposed to be available. When I was up there doing work at Harvard I asked to take a look at this thing, and they told me it's missing. So that's very interesting, because one would really love to know with Air Force One – now this would be with Johnson on Air Force One now, as he's now left Dallas…

ALAN DALE: Left Dallas on the way back to Andrews Air Force Base.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Back to Andrews – who he was talking to. Well it seems clear to me that certainly one of the first people he began talking to was J Edgar Hoover, and the reason I say that is because two FBI agents were directed to go to Bethesda Naval Hospital, and this is before Air Force One ever landed, so he had to be talking to Hoover. And not only Hoover in terms of getting in touch with the Baltimore office and saying send two FBI agents down to Bethesda Naval Hospital because that's where the autopsy's going to take place. As you know, and I'm sure the people listening here know, that this autopsy was conducted at the Naval hospital, and it was conducted by the military, and that's sort of key, and it would be lovely to have found out in addition what the discussion was between LBJ and Hoover, and who else he was speaking to on the way back.

ALAN DALE: Yeah. I believe Bill Kelly's doing some important work on these tapes. Bill Kelly's a JFK researcher: he's broken some things…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, I know Bill Kelly by reputation.

ALAN DALE: And I believe that – I think that Pierre Salinger, with regard to his – his book was called 'With Kennedy' – at least the first one, and I believe – it's possible I'm mistaken, but I think William Manchester in 'Death of a President' and Teddy White, who had the extraordinary…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, you're right about White…

ALAN DALE: That he also may have had access to these materials which now seem to have disappeared.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes. Yeah. Well, all I'd say here is that we go from that – anyway, I mean, that's an area that one almost salivates thinking about. Boy, I'd love to have gotten a hold of those transcripts.

ALAN DALE: Well, you know you're touching upon all kinds of things that are - I mean, we couldn't even begin to do justice just to that part of the story. The other part of the story is how a description, that has hardly any resemblance whatsoever to Lee Oswald, is introduced to the police investigation within 15 minutes of the shooting, and all of a sudden we've got 5' 10", 165 pounds, and the - we can't even begin to deal with that, I think.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, that's the CIA's Lee HENRY Oswald.

ALAN DALE: That's right.

GERALD McKNIGHT: I won't go into that but that's Lee Henry Oswald, and that's the business that he was 5' 10" and about 165 pounds, 30 years old; all that business, there is that. So anyway – and you're right, if I tried…

ALAN DALE: So that's a good segueway into what you've described as "Oswald in The Frame." Can you tell me what that means?

GERALD McKNIGHT: OK. Oswald – by 12.45 Oswald's name is – and by 1.40 Central Standard Time Oswald is being named by the Dallas Police as the shooter who killed Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally. So we have Oswald in the lock-up. I could begin, I guess, in terms of the way this thing was handled, with the – take the line-ups for example. On the 22nd he was subjected to I think it was either three or four line-ups. In the line-ups he's the only one in the line-up wearing handcuffs; he was wearing a dirty tee-shirt, in which he was arrested.

ALAN DALE: Oh, and he was scuffed up, he had a black eye.

GERALD McKNIGHT: He had a mouse over his left eye…

ALAN DALE: What's wrong with this picture?!

GERALD McKNIGHT: … and his face was scratched. Most of the others in the line-up were Dallas cops wearing suits.

ALAN DALE: Yeah. They’re straight. Yeah.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Now Oswald did complain about the unfairness of these line-ups, but to no avail.


GERALD McKNIGHT: What I did find interesting though, Alan, is that there were - within the – working for - part of the Warren Commission team were these young folks; young guys, all of them graduated from the top law schools, serving on the Commission. Some of them, on this business of the line-ups, were absolutely aghast at the unfairness of this, and they complained that Oswald's rights were compromised. Of course nothing came of this as far as the Commission was concerned. I don't even know if the Commissioners ever heard about this, and if they did they would have dismissed it.

Oswald interrogation sessions on the 22nd: I think he was subjected to five separate interrogations; on Saturday he was subjected to three more sessions of interrogation, and then on Sunday he was interrogated for one hour before he was taken down to the basement of the Police Station to be transported to the County Jail. The interrogation time for Oswald overall was about I think – for the time he was with the Dallas Police - was over 12 hours and 30 minutes. And that would have been 12 hours and 30 minutes on the 22nd. On the 23rd he was subjected to I think another 7.5 hours, and on the last day, on Sunday, he was subjected I think to – he was interrogated for about an hour. That's pretty significant in terms of - in terms of interrogation.

ALAN DALE: And these interrogations are ostensibly being conducted – or at least supervised – by Will Fritz, but the FBI is certainly present, and there's no…

GERALD McKNIGHT: At least nine men! At least nine FBI agents were in these interrogation sessions. And of course the Secret Service, Kelley particularly. So I don't know if they had rooms big enough to hold all these people!

ALAN DALE: Apparently not big enough to hold a stenographer or a tape-recorder.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yeah! So there's Oswald, he's dressed in a ratty tee-shirt, he's got a mouse over – eye-scrape – and the whole business. But as I say, there is one minor elevated ethical interest here, is that there was some complaint from staffers like John Hardy, a Yale Law School graduate, magna cum laude and all that, who complained. He didn't complain, now, to Warren; this guy is just a staffer.

ALAN DALE: No. He may have complained to J. Lee Rankin or somebody like that; somebody that was…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well he complained – he probably complained - to somebody down lower in the chain, but he wasn't the only one. So I would just simply say you know, hooray, good for him. So here we have this business – here we have the business of Oswald's interrogation, and I think everybody knows; if they don't, that this extraordinarily lengthy period of discussion with Oswald, and you've got all these - you've got the Secret Service, you've got the FBI in the room.

Then we find out after that, when it came to the interrogations, there was no tape-recorder. That's the thing that floors you, and so we have this situation; we have this lengthy interrogation of the man who killed the President of the United States…

ALAN DALE: Allegedly!

GERALD McKNIGHT: Allegedly. And no-one thought of – then the question is: why was not he on tape? And then we get this story back, from Fritz particularly; I guess he had to be – he was forced to say this. The business - his argument was well, he had applied for the last two years for money to buy a tape-recorder and the City had turned him down, so he had no tape-recorder.

So here we are: the American people are asked to face – were facing – the greatest trauma – certainly the most transforming political event of the 20th century I think, in terms of the consequences of what happened in Dallas, and quite possibly, I would say, come to think of it, in the world, when you think about Vietnam. Kennedy might have ended our involvement in Vietnam and that would have made a hell of a lot of difference in terms of what our military would be like and what the country would be like right now, I'm pretty certain of that.

ALAN DALE: Yeah, I agree.

GERALD McKNIGHT: So the American people are asked to accept the only official suspect in the Kennedy assassination was himself silenced, and there's no record explaining his alleged actions. Well, excuse me, what really happened? After Oswald's own assassination by Ruby on Sunday the Secret Service moved in, swept up Marina Oswald, her two infant children, Robert Oswald, Oswald's brother and Mrs Oswald, Oswald's mother. And it made sense: get them out of Dallas. My god, I mean, their son has been murdered, and who knows what kind of revenge will be taken against the family.

ALAN DALE: So they check them into a motel, right?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, they go outside of Dallas; they end up at a motel in Arlington – Six Flags Motel. After dinner – they have a dinner, everybody sits down, they have a dinner; it's lovely. After dinner the Secret Service interrogated Marina Oswald for eight hours. The interrogation, all of it is on tape!

This taped record was sent off immediately to Secret Service Headquarters in Washington DC. These tapes have never surfaced. I can give you the source here – I've given you the source – it's to "Director and SAC (Special Agent in Charge), Washington Field, from SAC Dallas FBI; Oswald files 10582555/412 and 10582555/0412B1. The reason I say that is because I've never seen this before; I think I'm the first to drag this up; I'm not sure but I think so.

ALAN DALE: I've never heard of it, yeah.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Any event, that's the situation.

ALAN DALE: So we have this kind of interesting irony; that the FBI was sufficiently concerned about the value of whatever Marina Oswald would have to say through her translator, or whatever, but there's no similar concern about the value of whatever the accused would have to say? So that no-one bothers to record that? That's odd, isn't it?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, yes. I think it's a very kind way of putting it! I mean let's say it's - yes, let's just - we'll go with that, we'll say it's odd.

ALAN DALE: It's odd, isn't it? One of many oddities – no shortage. Let me ask you…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, so I guess the question is what happened to that eight hours of tape? And I guess we're talking about one of two things that happened: that the tape is being held somewhere – it could still be Government property being held somewhere – or it's down the memory hole; it's lost.

ALAN DALE: Or it could have been in James Angleton's safe, like all kinds of other strange things. I'm curious about your – I know we're running short on time and I don't want to abuse this privilege of being allowed to speak with you…


ALAN DALE: There are a couple of quick things I want to touch upon. One is Senator Arlen Specter, obviously, was just a junior counsel; he was really – my perception of the position that he was in, and correct me if you think otherwise, but I honestly feel sort of slightly sympathetic towards him, at least to a limited extent. I feel that he was in a very, very difficult scenario, and that if he hadn't complied with what the specifications as were represented by all the of the forces at work to define an official version come hell or high water – I'm talking specifically about the shooting sequence – surely they would simply have replaced him with someone further down the line who would do whatever was necessary. Do you feel that it may be he's in a difficult situation and we should sort of shrug?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, I think it was clear where this thing was going; that is the writing was clearly on the wall. And I think the only – yes, I think in terms of Arlen Specter nobody could ever say Specter didn't have ambition, I mean, you know, he shifted from Republican to Democrat…

ALAN DALE: That's right, eventually.

GERALD McKNIGHT: …and all of that. And I was planning on doing a chapter – I don't know if it'd work or not – doing a chapter on both he and Ford, who I regard as two of the most disagreeable sons-of-bitches on the – among those on the Commission, because they did things that they knew were – I mean Gerry Ford was of course nothing more than a stooge for Hoover on the Commission, and Specter was thinking – I'm sure he was thinking about what? He was thinking about his political future.

ALAN DALE: Yeah. And he's disposable, I mean he's not…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Remember the guy who was – the Attorney General – there was a guy on the Commission early on; he left in March. He was a New Yorker, and – oh god, I can't remember – he had a top position in New York, he was on the Commission, he could smell what way this thing was going, and in March he gave an argument that he had to go back to his law firm and he left. I cannot think of his name; it doesn't come to me. But he got out. When of course he got out he was – he had already been a top lawman in the Government in New York, and so he would have no problem in terms of mobility, that sort of thing. And what happened in September, September of '64? It was September the 23rd 1964. As a result of a request by a guy by the name of Mel Stuart, who was the Executive Vice-President for Wolper Productions Incorporated – I never did see this film; it was called 'Four Days in November'; you may have seen it?

ALAN DALE: Yes, I have, yeah. I think it was – it's possible that this is the one that was narrated by Gregory Peck, who'd won the Academy Award for 'To Kill A Mockingbird' a year or so earlier.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, I'm sure they - a lot of money went into it, and they expected to get this out in October, which would have been almost - maybe three weeks, maybe a month after the Warren Commission Report came out. I don't know when the 26 volumes came out; I don't think they were simultaneous.

ALAN DALE: No, they were not, no.

GERALD McKNIGHT: But anyway, so it was called 'Four Days in November'. Well anyway, Mel Stuart, the Executive VP, got in touch with Rankin and he said: "Do you think you could convince Hoover" – FBI Director Hoover – "to have the FBI look at our transcript for the program to alert us if we've made any serious errors in this?"

ALAN DALE: Double-check, right.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Double-check it! And Hoover I'm sure probably grouched about this and that, but then Rankin got to him, and said, this is all PR stuff anyway. So Hoover said OK, so they took a look at the transcript. Well one of the things I found very interesting – and I think this probably – I've never said this before either – I just say that because I don't know if I've said it before – that's why I'm saying it here because I thought it would be interesting.


GERALD McKNIGHT: Is that when they looked at the transcript – the one who looked at it was Augie Belmont. He really is the guy who ran the investigation, because Hoover was, you know, taking naps in the afternoon, and Tolson had already had a stroke and was recovering from that, if in fact he ever did – I'm not sure whether he ever did.

Anyway, so this is inside; this is totally insider stuff; this is not going anywhere. I mean these guys never believed in Freedom of Information in that situation. They looked at it, so there's commentary, but one of the things that's most interesting that strikes me here is that – and this was key here – the FBI, and particularly the guy's name – the chief guy who worked on this kind of scientific evidence, about guns and shooting and that sort of thing – guy named Gallagher.

Gallagher is not called before the Warren Commission until the very end – it is in September of '64; he's the last one to present himself. And he's in a one-on-one with Redlich, who was a good man on the Commission. And in that exchange there is nothing said about the rifle and the weapons – the alleged rifle and the ammunition that was used in the killing. There is nothing said about that, and that's despite the fact that an examination had been done on this stuff.


GERALD McKNIGHT: So Gallagher comes on, he spends some time with Redlich and they just pat each other on the back, and they talk about inconsequential stuff, and then that's it; they close it down. Well anyway, Belmont – this is now all of course QT; this is now all stuff that's not going to go public – they look at the movie script, and in the movie script it says: "Paraffin tests carried out by the FBI link Oswald with the assassination weapon." Belmont responds to this this way; he said, quote: "This is erroneous as the tests were essentially negative." He then goes on to say, quote: "In addition, highly mechanical examinations made by the Atomic Energy Commission and our laboratory showed the paraffin tests could not connect Oswald with the rifle."

ALAN DALE: Period!

GERALD McKNIGHT: Case closed! Period. Case closed. Roll up the flag or bring it down, one or the other. Set sail or do something.

ALAN DALE: Yeah, that's amazing. Professor, I want to correct something that I said a moment or so ago; I just happened to have means by which I can look this up. I was correct in remembering that Gregory Peck did indeed narrate something from the same period as 'Four Days in November', but the film that - 'Four Days in November' was actually nominated for an Academy Award I believe in 1965…

GERALD McKNIGHT: Was it really? Go figure.

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny.


Alan Dale

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Re: Program Transcript: Gerald D. McKnight
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2014, 04:38:23 am »
ALAN DALE:…but Gregory Peck was not associated with that, he was associated – he was the off-screen narrator of a film called 'Years of Lightning, Day of Drums', and so I wanted to make certain that – I remember the 'Years of Lightning, Day of Drums'; I'm not absolutely certain that I've ever seen 'Four Days in November'.

GERALD McKNIGHT: No, I haven't seen either.

ALAN DALE: Before we conclude I want to – I usually, when I have an opportunity such as this I always like to ask a kind of a very simple two-part question. The first is how did you learn – the day of, how did you learn about these terrible consequential events; where were you when you got the news? And the second question – the second part is when did you first realize that there was reason to question what your government was telling you?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yeah, OK. Good questions, good questions because they bring in biography, and we were all, whether we knew it or not, or whether we cared or not, we were all impacted by November 22nd '63. I was doing a Master's degree at Penn. State, and I was on my way from where I was living up there with my mother, there were just two of us. I was on my way to class when I passed what was at that time probably one of the bigger department stores in College Park, and there were a lot of people standing outside this window, which was their television window – you know, they had televisions inside. And they were all – I mean, we're talking about two-three, three-four people deep. I thought: "What in the hell are they giving away here?" So I stopped, and all of a sudden, Boom! and I thought: "Holy Hell!" I mean I wasn't even thinking about Kennedy in Dallas or anything. I mean, I did have – look, I had been in Korea, I had been in Graves Registration.

ALAN DALE: Yeah, '51 and '52, right?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yeah, that was '52 - late '51, '52. That was, for an 18 – was it 18 or 19? I don't know what the hell I was at the time. But Graves Registration in late '51-52, the nature of that war over there was largely masses of Chinese troops who were confronted by smaller numbers of Americans, and so there were a lot of dead bodies; a lot of casualties. A lot of these young Chinese students went into battle without arms; they were waiting for somebody in front of 'em to get shot and…

ALAN DALE: Oh, wow!

GERALD McKNIGHT: That's how bad it was. So you had to – you know, I wasn't – I mean I was over there: I didn't want to be over there, but there I was. The thing that saved my ass, I think, is the fact the guys in my outfit were – a lot of the guys in my outfit were guys in their late twenties, early thirties. They were World War II Marine veterans; they'd seen it all. Man, they had seen it all! So here they are finishing up their tour, 20-year vets, you know, that kind of thing; and so when you get a young guy like me they sort of looked after me, took care of me, you know. And since they had all this time, they weren't going to be bullshitted by any Second Lieutenant who was 25 years old and just… So there was that, but just to see that and just to be part of something like that. So I wasn't a naïve young person; I'd seen that and…

So anyway, there it was: there was the Kennedy business, and I didn't even know how I felt about Kennedy at that time; I can't remember, but I do remember that, and then I do remember going to class and the teacher – I can't remember her name – lovely woman who was teaching a Renaissance Reformation course, and probably in her own life had never stepped out beyond Renaissance Reformation, that time period, you know.

And so I can't remember her name, but I remember being in class; I remember somebody opening the door, now this was after I had known about the Kennedy – about Dallas – and somebody opened the door and said: "Mrs Whatever" – "Dr Somebody" - whatever it is; "President Kennedy has been shot and was killed in Dallas." And she looked up from her lecture notes – I'll never forget this; this was astonishing – she looked up from her lecture notes and she smiled sweetly at this person and she said: "Thank you" and then she went right on!

ALAN DALE: Oh my god, that's – I never heard of one like that before. Wow!

GERALD McKNIGHT: Right on teaching. So anyway, so that's – there we were with that, and then the next thing was just simply a stroke of, I guess I would call it good luck. Later, after I got my Master's at Penn. State I ended up in a PHD program here at Maryland, and graduated with a PHD some time in the 70s – can't even remember when it was – and was looking for work. Went up to Maine; there was a position at up there - University in Maine: I went up, interviewed for it and it looked, you know, looked fairly favorable.

And I went home again and I got home, back to where we were living down in College Park, and I thought to myself: "Jesus Christ, Maine! What am I going to do in Maine? Write the History of the Potato again or something?" I didn't know what the hell I would do up there. So I didn't take the job, and I ended up teaching part-time at The University of Maryland. I was teaching - did teach a year at Howard and then I taught a year - was teaching at night school, or whatever they called it then, at University of Maryland and then ultimately, looking for work, and finally I got a job – I got a full-time job – half-time job – at the college here, Hood College.

ALAN DALE: And is that how you encountered… Harold Weisberg?

GERALD McKNIGHT: That's how, that's all – it was either of two ways, either just total dumb-ass luck, number one, or second of all somebody up there is rolling the dice up in the heavens up there and they say: "Oh, let's get this character – let's do something for him, or put him in a position where he may be able to do something." So the thing about it was two things: first of all I then – openly I then would move up here to Frederick and unbeknownst to me I ended up living three minutes away from Harold Weisberg.

ALAN DALE: Isn't that something!

GERALD McKNIGHT: OK? Which had its pluses, and it had some minuses – some day I'll sit down and tell you about that!

ALAN DALE: We need to do a separate show just on that, really, honestly.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Oh, yeah, listen, I owe Harold a hell of a lot.

ALAN DALE: We all do.

GERALD McKNIGHT: I mean, he was an impossible son-of-a-bitch, but on the other hand he was remarkable, and he just threw his cellar, which is…

ALAN DALE: Full being?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes. His 58 file cabinets, whatever the hell it was, was down the basement. But the other thing I'd have to say too is because this was another one of these unplanned for – and my own self, I mean I had no idea, but the woman who was the chairman of the Department at the History Poli Sci, a woman by the name of Virginia Lewis, a strange creature – I mean she was about 6'3", built like – I don't know – a misshapen army tent! I mean there was nothing about her that was attractive as a woman…

ALAN DALE: A Secret Service follow-up car, right? Called the Queen Mary?

GERALD McKNIGHT: … but she was a Kennedy person and she knew Kennedy.


GERALD McKNIGHT: OK? Now he was running then - he was in the Senate then I think, and when I got to know Harold, and I'd get over there and we'd talk and all that sort of thing, and I thought when I saw that basement of his with the 50 file cabinets and with the open-door policy, I thought: "Holy Hell!" I said to Virginia, I said: "Man!" I said, "How about if we get a course started on the Kennedy assassination?" She said: "Beautiful. You set it up." Now, you've got to understand and I don't have to tell you this; you have to understand, now had I been teaching at University of Maryland, or University of Virginia, or some of these…

ALAN DALE: Or virtually anywhere else, yeah.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Anywhere else. … and the Chair of the History Department called me in and said: "Well, McKnight, you've been here for a year, your teaching seems to be OK, the students seem to like you; you seem to be getting along. What are your professional plans?" Well, if I said to him: "My professional plans are just to move ahead and do some research on the Kennedy assassination and maybe get a book out of this", you now what they would have said to me?

ALAN DALE: "Goodbye"?

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yes, they would have said, yes, either: "Goodbye!" or: "Oh really? I think maybe we ought to set aside some time and discuss this in terms of your..." You know: "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?" And there it is.

ALAN DALE: Wow! It's a great story.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Yeah, and you know the thing that – I didn't even think about it, but I think about it sometimes here, is that, you know, if you do some decent work – what is important I think to the fraternity of people who are working - I could call it that, or this convocation of people, whatever you want to call it – that sometimes, if you get somebody who's writing on the subject and they have a PHD in History or something, it helps I think, add – and I just simply say that because I think it's important – it helps to add, I think, a little bit of legitimacy to the whole process, you know what I mean?


GERALD McKNIGHT: I think that's – as long as you don't become offensive, like – what's - what the hell is – I'm trying to think of that guy's name…

ALAN DALE: Well, look, we don't have to name names; we both could, I can assure you of that. But, well, that's what we touched upon the other day in a conversation about this sort of extraordinary internecine conflict among people who ostensibly share in common that they do not accept, and do not believe, the official version of these stories, this terrible story.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Mmhmm. Actually Max Holland.

ALAN DALE: Mm, yeah, but really, that's – there's very little else that we share in common. It's really time for us to end, and I'm reluctant to do so because I'm so grateful to you for this opportunity.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, Alan, you'll have to come out here some evening and, you know. When you get some time, give me a call.

ALAN DALE: I'm available later this – tonight. As a matter of fact I'm available later this afternoon. Is – before we conclude, let me just ask you this one very brief thing. You know you're a real veteran of this story. Are you optimistic about where we are at this point, fully 50 years after the fact now? Do you believe that there will be some kind of ultimate resolution?

GERALD McKNIGHT: I think – I hadn't thought about it too much, but I think there's inertia here. I think there is. Of course somebody like – I'm 81, I don't know how much more time left.

ALAN DALE: But you don't sound a day over 80, and I mean that sincerely.

GERALD McKNIGHT: Well, I shall treasure that. Yes. Not a day over 80, yeah, that's right! And these other guys, these other guys are not spring chickens either, I mean like Dave Wrone, who I know very well, he's my age. He's also a Weisberg student.

ALAN DALE: Absolutely. I'd like to thank you so much for spending this time with us.

GERALD McKNIGHT: My pleasure.

ALAN DALE: It was helpful; it was informative to me. I think your book is one of the essential materials, 'Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why'. Thank you for being with us.
Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny.