Warren Commission and Lyndon Johnson

Members of the Warren Commission present their report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to President Lyndon B. Johnson on Sept. 24, 1964, at the White House. Pictured, from left, are John McCloy; J. Lee Rankin, general counsel; Sen. Richard Russell; Rep. Gerald Ford; Chief Justice Earl Warren; President Lyndon B. Johnson; Allen Dulles; Sen. John Sherman Cooper and Rep. Hale Boggs.
Cecil Stoughton/White House/Lyndon B. Johnson Library

McCloy and the Warren Commission

John J. McCloy was the Scarlet Pimpernel of American corporate capitalism.

John McCloy

After World War II, Nelson Rockefeller, aware of John McCloy’s multiple contacts within government, invited McCloy to join his family law firm that was founded in 1866. The name would eventually be changed to Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy in 1962. Headquartered in New York, Milbank LLP (globally known as “Milbank”) still exists as a leading international law firm with offices in twelve countries and more than $1 billion in revenues annually.

So began McCloy’s post-war climb to both prosperity and power until he would be dubbed “the most influential private citizen in America” (by Harper’s magazine), “the conscience of America (by DIE ZEIT magazine) and “the godfather of the new Germany (Federal German president Richard von Weizsaecker). He began as Rockefeller’s unofficial envoy in Washington, while serving as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1946 to 1949, and again from 1953 to 1958.

John D. Rockeller Jr. was the largest stockholder of Standard Oil. In autumn of 1946, when anti-trust lawyers joined forces with Harold Ickles to petition the Justice Department to claim the Rockefellers had violated terms of a 1911 dissolution decree, it was McCloy who was able to dissuade Ickles, Abe Fortas and Thurman Arnold to drop the case. In 1947, McCloy was rewarded when he was appointed president of the World Bank. Two years later he would replace Lucius Clay at the High Commissioner for Germany, a position that accorded him almost dictatorial power over affairs in Berlin.

As was made obvious by the preceding DESK MURDERER section of this website, many of McCloy’s backroom manoeuvres would concern matters of life and death–not just money. For instance, following his stubborn reluctance to seriously address the ongoing requests to instigate the bombing of the railway tracks, McCloy was successful in revoking the civil rights of American citizens of Japanese racial origin and placing them in internment camps, unsuccessful in his efforts to convince President Harry Truman not to drop atomic bombs on Japan (McCloy was worried about economic fallout, not nuclear fallout) and he succeeded in helping his boss Henry Stimson persuade Truman to reject the Morgenthau Plan that would have severely curtailed the industrial capacity of Germany.

One of McCloy’s least-publicized successes was his stubbornly persistent effort to provide American aid to one of his beleaguered clients, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ( محمدرضا شاه ) aka King of Kings, Light of the Aryans. This ultra-wealthy client who doubled as Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian Armed Forces was better-known in the West as the Shah of Iran. 

The Shah of Iran Fiasco

McCloy and the Iranian Hostage Crisis

That little-known story about how John McCloy had a direct role in inciting the Iran Hostage Crisis now has a denouement.

More than forty years later, a New York Times reporter named Peter Baker published a NYT article on March 18, 2023 in which he served as a conduit for the confessions of a once-prominent Texan politico named Ben Barnes in which Barnes revealed his role in an even darker twist to the Iran Hostage Crisis. Barnes, at age 84, chose to spill the beans because President Jimmy Carter had chosen to seclude himself at home in receipt of hospice care, at age 98, away from the public, in order to die. Barnes was feeling guilty about keeping the lid on his role in successful, ulta-secret, Republic effort to sabotage Carter’s re-election bid for President.

Return of the hostages from Iran

Return of the hostages from Iran. Photo courtesy Associated Press

“History needs to know what happened,” Barnes said. “I think it’s so significant and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter put it on my mind more and more and more. I just feel that we’ve got to get it down some way.”

What follows herein is merely a summation of Baker’s NYT article than anyone can access via the Times‘ on-line library for a fee. Temporarily it has been made accessible via this address but we do not anticipate this link will be functional in perpetuity: A Four Decade Secret: One Man’s Story of Sabotaging Carter’s Re-election.

Jimmy Carter’s road to a second-term in the White House was clearly blocked by the the apparent inability of the United States’ inability to rescue 52 Americans who were trapped inside the United States embassy in Tehran. Even though it was a pair of Republican fixers (McCloy and Kissinger) who had incited the capture of the embassy by insisting that Carter must allow the Shah of Iran  in the United States on humanitarian grounds (ostensibly so he could be mercifully accorded the best-possible medical care), the Republicans were therefore delighted to accuse Carter of weakness when the American embassy staff was taken hostage and he could not find a way to liberate them.

Kissinger 1979

Kissinger 1979

It was during this tense period of political impasse that a young Ben Barnes was invited to accompany former Texas governor John B. Connally Jr. on a secret mission to serve the upcoming Republican candidacy of Republican Ronald Reagan (Carter’s opponent in the imminent Presidential election) later that same year. Even though Connally Jr. had been a Democrat, he had sought the presidency himself as a Republican candidate, but had lost that race to former California governor Ronald Reagan of California. Connally Jr. was hoping to become secretary of state of defence if Reagan could beat Carter. This explains why Ben Barnes, still wet-behind-the-arms, was invited by Connally Jr. to accompany him on a secret mission to visit Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. This “strictly private” lobbying mission left Houston on July 18, 1980 and returned to Houston on August 11, 1980. One can easily argue it was crucial in terms of deciding the outcome of the 1980 presidential election.

According to Barnes, the purpose of their series of visits to the various Middle East capitals over a three-week period — using a private Gulfstream jet owned by Superior Oil — was to ask these six governments to convey the same blunt message to Iran:


Barnes recalls there was some contact with the Reagan camp early in the trip. Barnes was then present when Connally subsequently met with William J. Casey, a Reagan supporter, for three hours at the American Airlines lounge at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport for a debriefing. At that time, Casey was chairman of Reagan’s presidential campaign. He later became director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Barnes cites the fact that Casey wanted to meet with Connally as soon as possible as proof that Connally was not acting solo, and therefore others were intent on delivering a message to the Iranians to keep the American hostages until after the U.S. Presidential election, to give the impression that President Carter was ineffectual. “I’ll go to my grave believing that it was the purpose of the trip,” said Barnes, quoted in the New York Times article. “It wasn’t freelancing because Casey was so interested in hearing as soon as we got back to the United States.”

To prove that Barnes was not making up a fanciful tale, he identified four individuals to whom he had told this story over the years: Mark K. Undergrove [LBJ Foundation], Tom Johnson [Los Angeles Times publisher, CNN president], Larry Temple [LBJ and Connally aide] and H.W. Brands [Texas-based historian]. All four confirmed their conversations with Barnes. “As far as I know,” Johnson said, “Ben never has lied to me.” The others agreed. Beyond verbal confirmations, Brands included three largely-overlooked paragraphs about this secretive mission in a biography of Reagan he published in 2015.

Of course, Iran did hold the hostages until just after the election, won by Reagan.

Just after President Carter officially left off, minutes after noon on January 20, 1981, the western world learned the wonderful news that all American hostages were coming home from Iran.

Connally, of course, was largely an unassailable target for decades after he had been shot in Dallas with President Kennedy in the presidential motorcade in November of 1963. Having overcome gunshot injuries in his back, chest, wrist and thigh, he won two more terms as Texas governor and served as President Nixon’s secretary of the Treasury. Connally had already been acquitted of charges of perjury and conspiracy in 1974. In his biography of Connally, Lone Star, James Reston Jr. describes the relationship of Barnes to his mentor Connally as “more a godsend than a friend.” Elected to the Texas Legislature at age 21, Ben Barnes was a self-made man who paid for his own college fees by selling vacuum cleaners door to door. Possibly his empathy and sympathy for President Jimmy Carter during his final days of life, prompting his revelation as to why Carter was not re-elected for a second term, has something to do with Barnes’ relationship with his own late father.

Both Ben Barnes’ father and President Jimmy Carter were peanut farmers.


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