Features: The Warren Commission, The Truth, and Arlen Specter: Part 1

The Commission chose J. Lee Rankin, former U.S. Solicitor General, as its general counsel. Rankin, in turn, selected New York University professor and tax law expert Norman Redlich as his special assistant. Almost all Communication between the working staff of lawyers and investigators and the Commission members was to pass through Redlich and Rankin.

As "senior counsel" to the Commission, a group of the most eminent and respected lawyers in the country were Chosen, among them Philadelphia’s William T. Coleman. Jr., partner in Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish, Kohn and Dilks. These men, however, generally turned out to be such outstanding attorneys that, during the course of the investigation, they could find little time to free themselves from their own busy law practices. As a result, the bulk of the work fell on what were called the "junior counsel," young lawyers with budding reputations for whom appointment to the Commission staff was a tremendous honor. Arlen Specter was one.

Specter, then a 33-year-old assistant district attorney, had recently been made chief of the litigation division after having achieved a notable success in sending local Teamster boss Ray Cohen to jail. A Yale Law grad, he had an excellent reputation as a hard, diligent worker and was known among his associates as a man of integrity and ambition — albeit, according to one civil lawyer friend, within the framework of what he termed a "prosecutor mentality."

Nevertheless, when Howard Willens, Specter’s former co-editor of the Yale Law Journal who was acting as liaison between the Commission and the Justice Department, called him late in December and asked him to join the Commission staff, Specter initially refused. He says he didn’t like the idea of leaving Philadelphia or of being away from his wife and family for a long period. But as he began to talk to more and more friends about it, to his associates and then-district attorney James Crumlish and his law partner Marvin Katz, they convinced him it was a unique opportunity. "They told me I’d he a damn fool if I didn’t go," he says.