Monday, August 20, 2012

NANA Seeks HSCA Records of Richard A. Sprague, Esq.

NARA Seeks HSCA Records of Richard A. Sprague 

                 Richard A. Sprague - First Chief Counsel to the House Select Committee (HSCA)

When Richard A. Sprague, Esq. was first appointed chief counsel to the HSCA a newspaper article reported that he had his staff read Peter Noyes paperback book Legacy of Doubt.

In this pulp paperback book Noyes said that Jim Braden's 1948 Camden NJ arrest record was being with held by the Camden Police because the city was controlled by organized crime. Since my father was a lieutenant in the Camden PD at the time, I showed him the reference and the next day he handed me the original file. He said the records were kept in a dark, damp and dusty corner of the basement and the secretaries didn't respond to Noyes' request because they didn't want to get dirty. 

I hand delivered a copy of this file to Sprague's Philadelphia office and forgot about it until after the HSCA dissolved, when I received a phone call from G. Robert Blakey, who said that he had learned from Peter Noyes that I had obtained Braden's Camden arrest report, and asked for a copy.

When I told him that I had given Sprague a copy, Blakey said that Sprague didn't turn over his files to him when he left the HSCA. 

At the time I was glad Sprague didn't turn his files over to Blakey because because Blakey had declared the HSCA records "Congressional Records," even though most of the records came from other than Congressional sources, and then said, "I will rest on the judgement of historians in 50 years." 

I still gave Blakey a copy of the Braden arrest report, but wasn't about to let judgement rest on historians in 50 years, and co-founded (with John Judge), the Committee for an Open Archives (COA), and lobbied Congress to release the JFK assassination files. 

When I testified before the Assassination Records Review Board (Oct. 11, 1994) I mentioned the Braden file and Blakey's comment about Sprague's records to them, but I don't think they really paid much attention to any of the witnesses, as they certainly didn't follow up on it. 

.....Lastly, I want to share with you an experience that I have had with a file concerning Mr. Jim Braden. He was arrested in Camden in 1948,CamdenNew Jersey. When his story about how he was arrested atDealey Plaza was published in a book called Legacy of Doubt, the author, Peter Noyes, attempted to obtain this file from the Camden Police Department. He was unsuccessful, but a few years later I obtained this file, the original Camden Police document. When the House Select Committee was established, I personally handed this file or a copy of the file to the first chief counsel, Mr. Sprague, Richard Sprague fromPhiladelphia. After the House Assassination was dissolved and no longer existed and its files were locked away, I received a call from Mr. Blakely, the second chief counsel, who learned that I obtained this file, and he asked me for a copy of it, and I was shocked that he had not seen it since I had already hand-delivered it to his Committee. But he informed me that (some of) the files that Mr. Sprague had obtained were not totally passed on to his Committee when he took over the Committee. So I am just suggesting to you that there are files out there in private hands, including Mr. Sprague's files, that should be brought back and made a part of the (public) record.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Mr. Kelly.
Any question from members of the Board?

After calling the NARA's attention to the references in The Kennedy Detail that Gerald Blaine had kept copies of the Tampa SS advance reports that were reportedly destroyed after being requested by the ARRB, I also asked for the Richard A. Sprague records. 

Apparently, because there was a researcher also named Richard Sprague, the ARRB and archivists confused the two and never obtained the HSCA records of Richard A. Sprague, Esq., the distinguished Philadelphia prosecutor and first chief counsel to the HSCA. 

Now, I've received this note from the NARA, and hope that others follow up on the Blaine SS records and these Sprague HSCA that are just now. or shortly will be, made part of the JFK Assassination Records Collection. 

In any case, it is kind of disheartening to know that the members of the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) as well as their staff, simply ignored my testimony, and the NARA is only now getting around to locating and retrieving these important records. I'm sure that they also ignored other requests for specific records as well.

The main point being, as with the Clifton AF1 tapes, the Blaine SS advance reports, the Sprague HSCA records and the RFK files at the Kennedy Library, there are still significant assassination records out there and we should put on a full court press on identifying them and trying to obtain them, as well as convince the government to release the remaining withheld JFK assassination records by 2013 in honor of the 50th anniversary of his murder. 

Bill Kelly 

JFK Assassination Records Collection 
August 2012 

Mr. Kelly,

Thanks for bringing Mr. Richard A. Sprague’s files to our attention.  We searched the collection and concur that the collection does not contain a record series of Sprague’s files as Chief Counsel of the HSCA.  We also searched the records of the ARRB and did not find evidence that the review board discussed acquiring his records.  We’re contacting Mr. Sprague at the address you provided regarding a potential donation of his files.


Special Access and FOIA Branch

Dick Russell, from “On the Trail of the JFK Assassins” ( Skyhorse, NY 2008)  

Chapter 6. The Takedown of the House Investigation

With all the interest generated by the Schweiker probe, the following March 1976 more than 100 congressional lawmakers sought the creation of a House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to look anew at the deaths of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Although the House Rules Committee initially squelched the attempt, on September 17 the full House passed the resolution.

Richard A. Sprague was named acting counsel and director of the HSCA. He was the former assistant District Attorney of Philadelphia, having led the investigation of Tony Boyle (former head of the United Mine Workers) that resulted in a murder conviction. Regarded as tough and uncompromising, before he would accept the new job Sprague had demanded and been assured complete freedom to conduct the investigation he saw fit. By November, he’d hired a staff of 170, drawing many of them from homicide bureaus and DA’s offices across the country. He’d also asked for a starting budget of $13 million, and begun issuing subpoenas. 32.

32. Sprague background: New Times, December 1976, “The Man Congress Picked to Investigate the Assassination.” by Jerry Policoff. Also, New York Times – December 10, 1976, “Assassination Study Requests $13 Million” by David Burnham.

One of the first individuals called to testify was David Phillips, who in 1963 had been in charge of the CIA’s Cuban operations in Mexico City. Phillips claimed that a CIA wiretap had recorded Oswald speaking with the Soviet Embassy three times, but the tapes had been “routinely destroyed” within a week after Oswald’s late September trip to Mexico. However, Sprague came across an FBI memo from the day after the assassination, referring to Dallas agents having listened to the tape and being “of the opinion” it was not Oswald’s voice. 

CIA photos of “Oswald” in Mexico City did not match either. So Sprague demanded all information about CIA operations there and full access to any employees involved with tape recordings, photographs, or transcripts. First the Agency balked, and then told Sprague he would first need to sign a CIA Secrecy Agreement. He refused, saying he would issue subpoenas.

And that was where things soon began to go sour for Sprague and the House Select Committee. At the close of 1976, the HSCA announced that preliminary investigations had uncovered enough unresolved questions to keep moving forward. Then, on January 2, 1977, New York Times reporter David Burnham wrote a lengthy article claiming that Sprague’s “judgment and actions have been subject to formal criticism on a number of occasions” by Pennsylvania authorities. A few days after that, Representative Don Edwards, of California, - an ex-FBI man who chaired the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights – warned that some of the HSCA’s investigative techniques were “wrong, immoral and very likely illegal.” He was referring to alleged plans to secretly record potential witnesses remarks with hidden body transmitters and then do Psychological Stress Evaluation tests. 33.

33. Edwards quote: New York Times, January 6, 1977, “Assassination panel Is Warned on Its Techniques” by David Burnham.

Burnham continued his negative reporting on Sprague and the committee. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suddenly ordered a new trail in the murder case in which Sprague had successfully convicted Tony Boyle, Burnham inferred that it had been the result of a fix. The House Rules Committee, in early February, approved re-establishing the HSCA but only for two months and with a restricted investigative mandate. Not long after this, Texas Congressman Henry Gonzalez – chairman of the committee – suddenly demanded Sprague’s immediate resignation, saying he had “engaged in a course of conduct that is wholly intolerable for any employee of the House.” Burnham would later detail Gonzalez’ charges that Sprague had violated House rules by continuing to work as a private attorney and refusing to file a statement of his outside income, while also failing to provide the FBI information about himself in a background check.”  34

34. Sprague and Gonzallez: Washington Post, February 11, 1977. “Representative Gonzalez Trying to Fire Sprague” by George Lardner, Jr.; New York Times, February 12, 1977, “Assassination Panel’s Fate in Doubt As Sprague Faces New Allegations” by David Burnham: Congressional Record, Remarks of Henry Gonzalez, February 16, 1977, “The Reasons For the firing of the Chief Counsel and Staff Director.”

For the next six weeks, Gonzalez continued to press his surprising crusade against Sprague. He shut off the HSCA staff’s long –distance phones and rescinded their clearance to pursue classified information.

On March 18, 1977, Sprague wrote a memorandum “To File” recounting that an attorney, William Illig, had contacted him “after a luncheon meeting with his client, Dr. Burkley.” Retired Navy Vice Admiral Dr. George Burkley had been personal physician for President Kennedy. He rode in the Dallas motorcade, was present at Parkland Hospital, traveled with JFK’s body aboard Air Force One, and attended the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital. The Warren Commission never called him as a witness.

The physician had advised attorney Illig, wrote Sprague, “that although he, Burkley, had signed the death certificate of President Kennedy in Dallas, he had never been interviewed and that he has information….indicating that others besides Oswald must have participated. Illig advised me that his client is a very quiet, unassuming person, not wanting any publicity whatsoever, but he, Illig, was calling me with his client’s consent and that his client would talk to me in Washington.”

Sprague never had the opportunity. After he agreed to resign two weeks later, on March 30, the House voted to keep the HSCA in existence for another year. 35

35, Sprague resignation: Rolling Stone, April 7, 1977, “Why Is the Assassinations Committee Killing Itself?”

Soon named as new chief counsel was G. Robert Blakey, a Cornell University law professor. Blakey’s first step was to require all remaining staff to sign confidentiality agreements. Several were either fired or talked into quitting because the FBI wouldn’t clear them. Others weren’t allowed access to classified materials, pending CIA clearance. Those staffers who were permitted to read CIA documents had to submit any notes they took to the CIA for review. 36

36. Blakey: New Times, September 4, 1978, “A Great Show, A Lousy Investigation” by Jerry Policoff and William Scot Malone.

The HSCA’ s new medial panel never took Dr. Burkley’s testimony.

And, while the Blakey – led HSCA did conclude that a probable conspiracy pointed to the involvement of several Mob figures, the CIA would basically get a free pass in terms of complicity.

On May 25, 1978, I walked into Sprague’s office in Philadelphia with a tape recorded. I wanted to know how he looked back on his short, unhappy tenure a chief counsel for the committee. Published here for the first time is a transcript taken from our interview:

In hindsight, how do you view what happened to you and the Committee?

SPRAGUE: I view it from a number of different angles. I am absolutely convinced that the Congress of the United States, as a totality, has not the slightest interest in a thorough, in-depth investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr.

Putting the two together as a package deal was really to make the Black Caucus feel that they had input into the Democratic Party, and to make the people pushing the Kennedy probe feel that at last they’ve got their way. There was a presidential election coming up [won by Jimmy Carter in 1976] and it was good politics. I think that’s the reason it went through in the waning hours of that particular Congress. And the appointment of [Tom] Downing as the first chairman, knowing that he was retiring, is indicative of the fact that there was no real intent. Furthermore, when the new Congress convened, [House Speaker] Tip O’Neill and others kept saying, “Well show us why it should continue” – yet we hadn’t even really commenced the investigation. I am convinced that there are a number of Congressman who are also subject to pressures and so are effective blocks to an investigation. Some of these pressures come from investigative agencies of the federal government, others by various groups around this country. As a result, the Congress as an instrument, is not really the place to have such a probe.

A second thing I feel is that for some reason – and to me it’s the most fascinating part of my whole Washington experience – there is some manipulation of the press that’s successful enough that it’s not interested in a real investigation either. There was total dishonesty in the reporting of the newspapers that I would otherwise have confidence in, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, but in this area that degree of integrity and impartial reporting was not to be. Now whether it’s because of subtle pressures upon them, or independent motivation by them, I do not have the answer. But, as a result, this attitude by the press was most successful in taking advantage of the attitude of Congress in general, and by individual Congressman who were manipulated such that the press could achieve a tone to help kill an investigation.

The other area that I see with hindsight is that there is a greater ability to manipulate public opinion by certain agencies of government than I would have believed possible.

D.R.: David Burnham particularly took you apart in the New York Times. Did you ever come across any reason he would have had? He intentionally seemed to have distorted a number of things.

SPRAGUE: I go beyond David Burnham. It would be an interesting analysis by someone going to college, to go into to the whys and wherefores of the reporting by the press. In Burnham’s case, it’s not just that he distorted or said things that weren’t so. It’s so obvious it was conscious. It was to such an extent that it had to be apparent to those on his paper who were in a superior position.

Let me illustrate here what I mean, because to me it’s the most concrete example. One, as a prosecutor, I have never wiretapped and never secretly recorded any conversation with anybody. I wanted us to obtain recording equipment, for the propose of our people in the field interviewing and getting the person’s permission to tape record for the purpose of accuracy. If the person said no, we would not record it. The record will show that’s exactly the way we used them. Three or four weeks after we made that request to Congress, stories were carried in the Los Angeles Times , the Post, and particularly by Burnham that I’d bought this recording equipment to surreptitiously record what witnesses were going to say. To this day, nobody has ever in fact produced anybody who said we did that. We must be the first group crucified not for what we did, but for what a reporter says we are going to do!

I immediately saw the potential of what could be created out of that. I had a meeting with the committee and stated exactly what I’ve said to you, and we called a press conference. Burnham was there, along with the Los Angeles Times and Post reporters, and the guy form the Washington Star [Jeremiah O’Leary, who would soon be named by Carl Bernstein as a CIA asset]. They didn’t even carry our response. However, because of what had appeared before, Congressman Edwards out in California puts out this letter in which he crucifies us on the basis of their original stories for our improper constitutional manner of proceeding with the investigation. Burnham and the others carry big stories on Edwards’ attack. We called another press conference, said again exactly what I’ve just said, and again our response isn’t carried. Now it seems to be that someone in a supervisory position at the New York Times, for example, would say to Burnham, “All right, Edwards is saying this, but what does the committee say?” Yet it seemed to be of not interest to the superiors. It’s also interesting that those attacks, without our response, then engendered other attacks carried in the press, again without our response, which then led to editorials. Not one editorial writer in the United States contacted our committee to ask for our side of it.

It is striking to note that, right after I resigned, Burnham was taken off the whole thing and someone else was put in his place. Was he put on the story to do a hatchet job? There is certainly an appearance of that. On a story getting this kind of national attention, I don’t think anyone could get away with that distorted reporting without the connivance of superiors.

D.R.: Of course, the Times and many others media have a long history of not wanting anything more to come out about the assassination.

SPRAGUE: That’s right. I’ve become more interested in the media than the assassination. I’m a great believer, or have been, that it’s up to you to get good people into public office. But if the public can’t get impartial, thorough news, how can I damn the public? And where do you get this responsibility by the media?

D.R.: What do you think happened to Congressman Henry Gonzalez? He seemed to flip.

SPRAGUE: I see that as an anomaly kind of situation. Despite all the attacks from Gonzalez, to me he is just a pathetic character in the broader drama here. I ascribe to Gonzalez a number of things, but predicate on an inferiority complex. Here’s a Mexican-American guy who’s been pushing and pushing for the Kennedy investigation, and finally the Congress goes through the charade, though not really intending to [do it]. Who do they make chairman of the committee but, as far as he’s concerned, a blueblood – [Tom] Downing. This is an affront to Gonzalez. Well, Downing is a lame duck who’s retiring and just about everybody on the committee would say to me, “There must be someone other than Gonzalez as chairman when Downing leaves.” A number of them went to Tip O’Neill to express that, because they said Gonzalez just does not work with people. TO what extent this got back to Gonzalez and raised further problems in him, I do not know,

Now what happens when Gonzalez is appointed chairman? Right off the bat, he wants to show that power emanates from him. I was starting to look into matters involving the FBI and the CIA. When this recording thing came up, Gonzalez, instead of responding, “what a bunch of nonsense,” said: Don’t blame me, I wasn’t chairman then, it was Downing. Gonzalez had been one of our biggest supporters of the budget, when we initially submitted it. But when people started attacking the budget, again, he said, Oh, that was a stupid thing that happened under Downing. This became, I think subconsciously for Gonzalez, a way of getting back at his colleagues for appointing Downing. You know, had they appointed him in the first place, none of these problems would have occurred.

Then, of course, with the [budget] pinch that occurred, Gonzalez again flexing his muscle – wants to get rid of some people who are working for us. Who does he pick on first? The Downing people that have been hired. Let me say this, he had some legitimate complaints about certain people. However, at this time most on the staff were working without any pay, on the promise that yes they will get reimbursed. I felt that if people are working for you on faith, that is no time to say to someone, “I’m firing you.” I made it clear that there’s a moral obligation to at least keep people on until they’ve been reimbursed for their time. I said that to the committee. Now here is Gonzalez, thwarted in the beginning by Downing and with his first pronouncement as chairman, his chief counsel and the committee go against him. I think that, with his particular sensitivities, that set Gonzalez off. I don’t think it’s anything more than having been rubbed the wrong way. I don’t see him as part of any conspiracy toward killing anything off.

D.R.: In the course of your limited investigation, did you ever have the feeling that what you were dealing with in investigating Kennedy’s death went beyond the assassination and into very sensitive areas of intelligence?


D.R.: In what way?

SPRAGUE: You know, it’s interesting. This gets back to the press. When I was appointed, the New York Times wrote a very favorable editorial. The Times had always been very favorable to me in the Boyle prosecution in the Mine Workers case. This whole business a la Burnham, and the distortions, and then an editorial attacking my appointment for not having been thoroughly investigated, has to be taken in terms of time sequence. At that later stage of the game when the attacks started, I was raising questions concerning the connections, if any, between Oswald and the CIA, pre-Kennedy assassination. I was raising questions about the reliability of information that Oswald was in Mexico City, as opposed to being in Dallas that September. I was raising questions as to whether the information that the CIA had presented of the wiretaps [in Mexico] and so forth was, in fact, reliable. I was starting to raise questions concerning why it was that Oswald, as a defecting American returning to the United States from the Soviet Union, is not debriefed by the CIA. And who made the decisions not to touch him?  

And I was making it clear, at this time, that I would not sign any of the agreements with the CIA and FBI that other committees had signed (and that they want in general, and which the present committee has signed) – a non-disclosure agreement. They give you access to certain things provided they have control over your staff and can then control what thereafter gets released. I took the view that, for this to be a thorough, hard-hitting, impartial investigation, they could not control the staff or what gets disclosed. The purpose of the investigation is ultimate disclosure. I was also making it clear that I wanted to subpoena information from these agencies, as well as the people involved in the decision-making process, and I would not bargain in this area.

Because of where I was at, and the timing of these attacks, that convinces me that the motivation came to kill me off. They don’t care about an investigation if it does not really tread on toes. Sprague, they felt, was going to tread on toes. Blakey, who is there now, is not going to tread on toes. Whatever they do today, you couldn’t get a ripple out of the press across this nation. If I sneezed, it made headlines. And I think that they are very concerned about the way it might appear in terms of intelligence operations and an Oswald, in connection with the assassination, not saying it had any connections.

D.R.: You interviewed David Phillips. Did you believe him?

SPRAGUE: I had questions about Phillips. As an investigators, I don’t accept what anyone says. I want to draw them out and hear them, but I want to then proceed and see where there is a corroboration – and where there is evidence that disproves as well – and then I’ll decide after that.

D.R.: What about George de Mohrenschildt?

SPRAGUE: You have to understand, de Mohrenschildt had been in touch with us for a period of time, from Europe. He then came over here, and I observed his attempt to use things first as a publicity vehicle. However, that did not mean that I did not want us talking to him. We were trying to locate him, when his death occurred. The night of his death, that’s the night I ended up resigning. One of the last things I was setting in motion, when I got word about this, was that we immediately contacted the District Attorney down in Palm Beach, Florida, someone I had known, and I was arranging to send some people down there. To me, that was an area to be working on immediately. But I never got any further.

There are a lot of strange characters in this whole thing, and that’s the shame of it – that there could not be a thorough, hard-hitting, full examination. It is most surprising that there can’t be. Why shouldn’t there be? I am convinced that the present committee is just going through a charade right now. They’re going to have public hearings, but they’re already writing the report.

D.R.: Do you know that for a fact?


D.R.: What do you come away feeling about the assassination? Do you believe it must have been a conspiracy?

SPRAGUE: I did not get far enough to come away with any such opinion. I came away with the feeling that agencies of the United States government have an interest in preventing a full investigation, because at least I offshoots they are connected with some of the characters involved in the assassination. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’m convinced that there is more of a connection between those agencies and Oswald than has ever surfaced.

You have to understand, I was just there six months. Here we’re talking about the murder of a president and a civil rights leader. You don’t even have a secretary yet, so what are you going to do? Obviously first you’ve got to find and recruit staff, spend time interviewing them. You’re getting flooded with mail by applicants from around the country. So when the Congress asks at the end of three months, “What have you done?” it’s idiotic. The only thing you’ve done basically is to formulate what kind of staff you’re going to have. Now the one thing that I did do, I started hiring some people and, rather than have them sit around while I’m continuing with this administrative matter, I did put them into some very brief hit-and-miss areas of work. But I never got beyond that.

D.R.: Did you ever go to Mexico City?

SPRAGUE: I sent people there…..

D.R.: Did you ever interview the CIA’s former chief of Counterintelligence James Angleton?

SPRAGUE: No, that ‘s another one we were supposed to get to. Just like with the Yablonski case, people said right after the murder why don’t you interview Tony Boyle? That would have been ridiculous at the time, because I did not have the wealth of information which I would need.

D.R.: And Santo Trafficante, Jr., the Florida Mob boss

SPRAGUE: That’s another interesting example of media distortion. We took him before the committee publicly, and he took the Fifth Amendment. We were blasted by the press as a side-show, and for doing it publicly. What they made no attempt to ascertain was, Trafficante’s lawyer is the one that insisted on the public hearing. The reason was, he thought if we did it privately, we would lake word that Trafficante was talking. And he wanted it clear that he’s not talking.

Look, I was not an assassination buff and I am not one. The advantage I thought that I could bring to this was a professionalism. I had no preconceptions. It did not matter to me whether there was a conspiracy or not, or whether there was involvement by government agencies or not. What did matter to me was the fact that there was enough lack of confidence in what the public felt occurred, and by the public about government integrity a la Watergate and everything else. I felt, this is a good opportunity to show the public that we can have decent public officials do a thorough, honest, impartial job. But the evaluation process was not to be done sitting off in a room, it was to happen via a public hearing, so that others could evaluate it- are we missing points, are we covering them? If we did, it would get credibility. I don’t think the committee now has the courage to take a position on something like immunity.

D.R.: Were you going to be able to do it?

SPRAGUE: I was going to fight for it. Done deal.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Nice article, Bill.

- Steve