Telephone conversation between President Johnson and Senator Richard Russell. November 29, 1963 8:55 p.m.
President Johnson: Dick?
Senator Russell: Yes.
LBJ: I hate to bother you again but I wanted you to know I that I made an announcement.
RR: Announcement of what?
LBJ: Of this Special Commission.
RR: Oh, you have already?
LBJ: Yes, may I read it to you. "The President announced that he is appointing a Special Commission to study and report upon all the facts and circumstances relating to the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent violent death of the man charged with the assassination. The President stated that the Majority and Minority leadership of the Senate and the House had been consulted with respect to the proposed Special Commission. The members of the Special Commission are: Chief Justice Earl Warren, Chairman; Senator Richard Russell, Georgia; Senator John Sherman Cooper, Kentucky; Rep. Hale Boggs, Louisiana; Rep. Gerald Ford, Michigan; Honorable Allen Dulles, Washington; Honorable John S. McCloy, New York. The President stated the Special Commission is to be instructed to evaluate all available information concerning the subject of inquiry. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, pursuant to an earlier directive of the President is making complete investigations of the facts. An inquiry is scheduled by the Texas Court of Inquiry, convened by the Attorney General of Texas under Texas law. The Special Commission will have before it all the evidence uncovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and all the information available to any agencies of the Federal Government. The Attorney General of Texas has also offered his cooperation. All federal agencies and offices are being directed to furnish services in cooperation to the Special Commission. The Commission will also be empowered to conduct any further investigation as deemed desirable. The President is instructing the Special Commission to satisfy itself that the truth is known as far as it can be discovered and to report its findings and conclusions to him, to the American people, and to the world."
RR: Well, now Mr. President, I know I don't have to tell you of my devotion to you, but I just can't serve on that Commission. I'm highly honored you'd think about me in connection with it, but I couldn't serve on it. With Chief Justice Warren--I don't like that man. I don't have any confidence in him. I realize he is a much greater man in the United States than anyone and so you get John Stennis.
LBJ: Dick, it has already been announced and you can serve with anybody for the good of America and this is a question that has a good many more ramifications than on the surface and we've got to take this out of the arena where they're testifying that Khrushchev and Castro did this and did that and kicking us into a war that can kill 40 million Americans in an hour and you would put on your uniform in a minute. Now the reason I've asked Warren is because he is the Chief Justice of this country and we've got to have the highest judicial people we can have. The reason I ask you is because you have that same kind of temperament and you can do anything for your country and don't go giving me that kind of stuff about you can't serve with anybody--you can do anything.
RR: It is not only that, I just don't think the Chief Justice should have served on it.
LBJ: Well the Chief Justice ought to do anything he can to save America and right now, we've got a very touchy thing and you wait 'til you look at this evidence, you wait until you look at this report. Now don't--I'm not going to lead you wrong and you're not going to be an old--
RR: I know that, but I have never--
LBJ: You've never turned your country down. This is not me, this is your country. And the members of the Special Commission are the Chief Justice Warren, Senator Richard Russell, and I go right down the list now. I've got Allen Dulles, John McCloy, but you've got, you're my man on that Commission and you're going to do it and don't tell me what you can do and what you can't. Because I can't arrest you and I'm not going to put the FBI on you but you're goddamned sure going to serve, I'll tell you that, and A.W. Moursund is here and he wants to tell you how much all of us love you. Wait a minute--
RR: Well, Mr. President, you ought to have told me you were going to name me.
LBJ: I told you, I told you--today I was going to name the Chief Justice when I called you!
RR: You did not--
LBJ: I did--
RR: You talked about getting somebody from the Supreme Court. You didn't tell me you were going to name him.
LBJ: I told you, I told you I was going to name Warren and you said it would be better to name Harlan.
RR: Oh, no--and I said Clark wouldn't do.
LBJ: No, that's right and I've got to get the highest Justice I can get. He turned Bobby Kennedy down! Bobby, they talked to him and he just said he wouldn't serve under any circumstances. I called him down here and I spent an hour with him and I begged him as much as I'm begging you. I just said, now here's the situation. I want to tell you.
RR: You've never begged me. You've always told me.
LBJ: No, I haven't. No I haven't.
RR: Mr. President, please now.
LBJ: No. It is already done. It has been announced.
RR: You mean you've given that.
LBJ: Yes sir. I gave the announcement. It is already in the papers and you're on it and you're going to be my man on it and you forget that. Now wait a minute AW wants to say a word to you and I'll be back.
AW: Hello, Senator? Well we're just sitting here talking and he says I've got one man on there that's smarter than all the rest of them put together--
RR: You don't have to butter me up.
AW: I ain't buttering you up, Senator. You know I'm not that kind of a fellow. I just heard that and I wanted you to know it. Hell, he's depending on you, you know that. And he just got through saying, he said I've got one man on there that's smarter than all the rest of them put together--
AW: That's the truth and you know it.
RR: Well, AW, I don't know when I've been so unhappy about a thing as I am this.
AW: Well, I know, but you can take 'em, God Almighty you've taken them for years and the hard ones and the tough ones and you can take care of it and you can take care of yourself--
RR: How are things down in Texas... kill any deer down there this year?
AW: But you come see us. But don't say you can't do anything cause you're the best "can-do" man there is.
RR: Oh no, oh no [laughing]
LBJ: Dick? Now, we're going into a lot of problems. I saw uh, we had lunch together and I saw Sanders and I've seen a good many people. Saw Wilkins today, had a long talk with him. Now these things are going to be developing. And I know you're going to have your reservations and your modesty--
LBJ: Now wait a minute, I understand that. But now your President's asking you to do these things and there are some things I want you in besides Civil Rights. And by God you're going to be in them because I can't run this country by myself.
RR: You know damned well my future is behind me and that is not entering into it at all.
LBJ: Well, your future is your country and you're going to do everything you can to serve America.
RR: I just haven't, I can't do it-- I haven't got the time.
LBJ: All right, we'll just make the time--
RR: With all my Georgia items in there.
LBJ: Well, we'll make the time, there's not going to be any time to begin with. All you'll do is evaluate a Hoover report he has already made.
RR: I don't think they'll move that fast on it.
LBJ: Well, OK, well then we won't move any faster than you want to move but you're going to lend your name to this thing because you're head of the CIA Committee in the Senate and you're going to have Fulbright and Hickenlooper on it because this thing is breaking faster than you think! And I've already talked to Hickenlooper and Fulbright and asked them to go with you, sit on your Committee because I don't want these things torn up. Secretary of State came over here this afternoon. He's deeply concerned, Dick, about the idea that they're spreading throughout the communist world that Khrushchev killed Kennedy. Now he didn't. He didn't have a damned thing to do with it.
RR: Well, I don't think he did directly. I know Khrushchev didn't because he thought he'd get along better with Kennedy.
LBJ: All right, but we've got to have some people--
RR: I wouldn't be surprised if Castro had--
LBJ: All right then, okay. That's what we want to know and people have got confidence in you. And you can just be surprised or not surprised. They want to know what you think. And A.W. Moursund is one that wants to know what you think.
RR: You're taking advantage of me, Mr. President, but of course--.
LBJ: No. No. No. I'm not taking advantage of you. I'm going to take a hell of a lot of advantage of you my friend, cause you made me and I know it and I don't ever forget. And I'm going to be taking advantage of you a good deal, but you' re going to serve your country and do what is right and if you can't do it, you get that damned little Bobby up there and let him twist your tail and put a cockle burr under it. Where is he?
RR: I don't know--he's in Atlanta tonight.
LBJ: Well, you just tell him to get ready because I'm going to need him and you just tell him that.
RR: I saw he and Vandiver this afternoon, for about thirty minutes they came by here--
LBJ: Well, just tell either one of them that I just would like to use them any place because I'm a Russell protégé and I don't forget my friends and I want you to stand up and be counted and I don't want to beg you, by God to serve on these things that amount to something.
RR: I know but this is a sort of rough one.
LBJ: No, it is not rough, what is rough about this? I talked to Jim Eastland. Jim Eastland said this is the best thing that ever happened. I talked to Tom Dodd, I've talked to everybody and not a damned one of them. All those folks are going to be part of this.
RR: Yes sir, I'm sure they will.
LBJ: They had a full-scale investigation going Dick with the TV up there, they had the House Un-American Activities Committee in it--
RR: Well all of that was a lot of crap and they shouldn't have done it.
LBJ: Well of course, but how do I stop it? How do I stop it, Dick? Now don't tell me that I've worked all-day and done wrong.
RR: I didn't say you'd done wrong, I just said they ought not to have had that kind of a hearing and they ought to have stopped it and it could have been stopped some other way. I could have stopped it in the Senate.
LBJ: What do you think I've done wrong now by appointing you on a Commission?
RR: Well, I just don't like Warren, I don't like--
LBJ: Well, of course, you don't like Warren, but you'll like him before it is over with--.
RR: I haven't got any confidence in him.
LBJ: Well, you can give him some confidence. God damn it! Associate with him, now you're not--you've got nothing to. I'm not afraid to put your intelligence against Warren's. Now by God, I want a man on that Commission and I've got one--
RR: I don't know about the intelligence, of course [tape error] and I feel like I'm being kidded. But if you think--
LBJ: Well, if you think, [tape error] now Dick do you think I'd kid you?
RR: If it is for the good country you know dammed well I'll do it and I'll do it for you for that matter. I still feel like it sort of getting wrapped up.
LBJ: Dick do you remember when you met at the Canton Hotel in 1952? When we had breakfast there one morning. [tape error]
RR: Yes I think I do.
LBJ: All right. Do you think I'm kidding you?
RR: Now I don't think you're kidding me [laughing], but I think well, I'm not going to say anymore, Mr. President. I'm at your command and I'll do anything you want me to do.
LBJ: Well you damned sure going to be at my command. You're going to be at my command as long as I'm here.
RR: I do wish you be a little more deliberate and considerate next time about it, but this time, of course, if you've done this I'm going to do it and go through with, and say I think it is a wonderful idea.
LBJ: Well, I'm not going to be any more deliberate than I've been about this cause I've been pretty deliberate but I'm going to have you on a good God-damned many things that I have to decide and you're going to be America's representative, and I don't want any special obligation. I just know you' re going to call them as you [tape error] see them and I've served under you and I don't give a damned if you have to serve with a Republican, if you have to serve with a communist, if you have to serve with a Negro, or if you have to serve with a thug, or if you have to serve with A. W. Moursund.
RR: I can serve with a Communist, and I can serve with a Negro, I can serve with a Chinaman--
LBJ: Well you may have to serve with A. W. Moursund.
RR: And if I can serve with A. W. Moursund, I would say, Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to serve with you, Judge Moursund, but uh, well, we don't discuss it any further Mr. President, I'll serve.
LBJ: OK, Dick and give Bobby my love and tell him he'd better get ready to give up that fruitful law practice he's got--
RR: He's been appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals now you see. I got him on there--
LBJ: Oh God Almighty.
RR: He's making as much money as I am.
LBJ: Well about Vandiver?
RR: Well, he's running for Governor next time and will be elected.
LBJ: Hmm. Well, who in the hell is going to help me besides you?
RR: Well, those boys will help you if you need them.
LBJ: Well I need them!
RR: God damn it, they're harder for you then I was, don't you remember?
LBJ: No, no, I never did, nobody ever has been more to me than you have Dick, except my mother.
LBJ: No, no, that' s true. I've bothered you more and made you spend more hours with me telling me what's right and wrong than anybody except my mother.
RR: I've done more than anybody wants to do.
LBJ: No, I never made you do anything that was wrong. I never made you do anything wrong.
RR: I didn't say wrong. I said more things I didn't want to do, but Bobby and Ernie are two of the most loyal friends you've got on earth.
LBJ: I know that.
RR: They both called me up and said you've just got to do whatever Mr. Johnson says.
LBJ: No, I don't want you to do that. I just want to counsel with you and I just want your judgment and your wisdom and I don't expect us to agree on--
RR: For whatever it's worth you've got it, but--
LBJ: I'm going to have it because I haven't got any daddy and you're going to be it, now just forget that.
RR: Well, Mr. President, you know. I think you know me.
LBJ: I do. I do. I know you for your country and period. Now you just get ready to do this and you're my man on there, and period.
RR: Well if you hadn't announced it, I would absolutely be--
LBJ: No, you wouldn't. No, you wouldn't.
RR: Yes, I would. Yes I would.
LBJ: I told Warren, Warren told me he wouldn't do it under any circumstances didn't think the Supreme Court Justice ought to go on it, he wouldn't have any thing to do with it. He said a man that criticized this fellow that went on the Nuremberg trial, Jackson, he told me what he thought about Goldberg. He thought he was terrible [unintelligible] and I said let me read you one report. And I just picked up one report and read it to him. And I said okay, now, forty million Americans are involved here.
RR: I may be wholly wrong, but I think Mr. Warren would serve on anything you'd give him any publicity on.
LBJ: Well you want me to tell you the truth? You know what happened? Bobby and them went up to see him today and he turned them down cold and said "no." Two hours later I called him and ordered him down here and he didn't want to come. I insisted he come, he came down here and told me no twice and I just pulled out what Hoover told me about a little incident in Mexico City and I say now, 'I don't want Mr. Khrushchev to be told tomorrow and be testifying before a camera that he killed this fellow and that Castro killed him and all I want you to do is look at the facts and bring in other facts you want in here, and determined who killed the President and I think you'd put on your uniform of World War I, fat as you are, and do anything you could to save one American life. And I'm surprised that you the Chief Justice of the United States would turn me down.' And he started crying and said, well I won't turn you down. I'll just do whatever you say, but he turned the Attorney General down.
RR: Well, you ought not to be so persuasive.
LBJ: Well, I think I ought to.
RR: I think you did wrong in getting Warren and I know damned well you did wrong getting me but I hope to do the best we can.
LBJ: I think that's what you'll do. That's the kind of Americans both of you are. Goodnight.