Testimony of James Rankin

Los Angeles, California -- September 17, 1996
CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Next we're going to hear from Mr. James Rankin. Mr. Rankin is the son of the former General Counsel to the Warren Commission, the late J. Lee Rankin. He will testify about his father's personal papers related to his work for the Warren Commission. Welcome, Mr. Rankin.


Son of Former General Counsel to the Warren Commission the

Late J. Lee Rankin

MR. RANKIN: Good morning, Chairman and members of the Assassination Records Review Board. I am pleased and proud to be here today. As you said my father was General Counsel of the Warren Commission. Some of you may know he was also Solicitor General in the Eisenhower administration and he was the Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, which gave advice to President Eisenhower. Later he was corporation counsel for the City of New York under Mayor John Lindsey. So he had quite a public legal career.

I have some prepared remarks, but I would first like to inject a personal note. My father never discussed his work with his family. None of us knew that he had 17 cartons of records related to the Warren Commission until about six months ago. He had a total of 80 boxes of his professional correspondence and papers, 17 of which are Warren Commission things.

As the family has looked at these -- my brother is the only one that's looked at these carefully besides Mr. Gunn, we realized he had a central role in the Commission's investigation and report. So, as I said, my brother and Mr. Gunn are the only ones who have reviewed this and my comments are based upon what I've learned from them. My brother has prepared a summary of the contents of these cartons, which I'm going to leave with the Board.

During his tenure on the Warren Commission my father acted as a principal intermediary between the members of the Commission and the very talented Commission staff, some of which are here today. In this capacity he was in the unique position of witnessing both the liberations of the Commission and the research work, analysis and drafting performed by the staff.

I will describe briefly some of the Warren Commission materials that father retained. First, and I brought them with me today -- I'm going to turn them over to Mr. Marwell at the end of my remarks -- are lose leaf notebooks kept by my father's secretary, Julie Idee, which are daily logs of every telephone call and every conference that my father had during the time he worked on the Warren Commission. They also report frequently the time each staff member reported for work and left, often leaving after 9:00 o'clock at night.

Secondly, there are many original memoranda prepared for my father by staff members of the Warren Commission. Although it is my understanding that most, if not all of these memos are available as copies at the National Archives. My father's collection includes many signed originals. Some of the originals are by people who have become eminent in the world of politics and law. For example, there are signed originals by Senator Arlen Specter, Professor Norman Redlick, Professor John Healey, Mr. David Bellham, who is here today, Professor Wesley Liebeler, and others.

Third, the papers contain numerous drafts of the various chapters of the Warren Report. Many of these drafts contain original handwritten comments by Gerald Ford, Allen Dulles, John McCloy, Senator Richard Russell, and of course my father. These drafts provide an extremely valuable look at the development of the analysis and the understanding of the Commission members over time. It is my understanding in all that some of the drafts previously have been available in the archives. My father's papers contain many more drafts and also include the original handwritten annotations.

Finally there are many miscellaneous papers that range from press clippings to financial information about the Commission and its pledge. Information on the publication of a final report who was to get original copies and so forth.

One item from my father's Warren Commission journals, which I am retaining, is a leather bound copy of the report which has been inscribed by several of the Commission members. Inscriptions are quite revealing in terms of the role my father played in the Commission's work. Since they are short I would like to read them and will include a copy of these inscriptions in the donated materials.

These are the inscriptions. "For J. Lee Rankin in grateful appreciation of his dedicated service and leadership in the preparation of this report," signed Earl Warren. "For J. Lee Rankin, a great American who made this report possible. From his friend Hale Boggs. To Lee Rankin in deep appreciation of the pain staking objective and wise handling of this historic investigation. It was in the best tradition of a lawyer-like analysis and presentation of the facts. John J. McCloy. To the Honorable Lee Rankin. Your searching inquiry, thorough preparation, exhaustive examination but all accompanied by objectivity and fairness made our work thorough, fair and I believe a correct finding. With admiration, Sincerely John Sherman Cooper. For Lee Rankin in appreciation for the superb work and tremendous leadership which was invaluable to all of us. Without your dedicated unselfish service this job could not have been done. I am most grateful for the opportunity to know you well. Gerald Ford." And finally, "To J. Lee Rankin. As our General Counsel you have the tough job of pulling together a great mass of evidence and persuading seven stubborn men. This you did with calm and just plain hard work. I enjoyed every minute of my work with you and am proud of the report of which you are the main artisan. All best wishes Allen Dulles."

My family and I would like to contribute all of my father's papers that relate to the Warren Commission service to the American people to be included in the National Archives. We would also like to mention that the remainder of his papers are being donated to the University of Nebraska Law School where my father graduated with his law degree.

Thank you. I would like to turn these things over to Mr. Marwell.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you very much, Mr. Rankin. These materials will certainly enrich the records that the Review Board has been compiling and we thank you very very much on behalf of the Review Board. I wonder if members have any brief questions for Mr. Rankin while he's up here.

DR. NELSON: I have no questions, but I think this is a marvelous thing to enrich history and its view. Those of us who deal with documents, love annotated documents. They're very very rich and we are very grateful to you. Thank you.


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