Mark Lane is a lawyer. That’s a good starting point for understanding his approach to the Kennedy assassination.
Lawyers can get in trouble for telling outright lies, but they are free to – indeed are expected to – present only that information that serves the interests of their clients. They are free to – indeed are expected to – spin any piece of information to benefit their clients. In a legal proceeding where both sides have competent legal counsel, this is the way an adversarial system of justice works. But it’s not a good way to write a book.
Which brings us to Plausible Denial, Lane’s conspiracy volume published in 1991. The book is a hodgepodge of conspiracy arguments and conspiracy claims, but the central focus is on a trial in which ex-CIA operative E. Howard Hunt sued the Liberty Lobby for libel.
The Liberty Lobby was a rather nasty anti-Semitic operation that published a magazine called The Spotlight. In 1976, The Spotlight ran an article accusing Hunt of being in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and having a role in the Kennedy assassination. Hunt won a libel judgment against The Spotlight in 1981, but it was thrown out on appeal, and the case was retried in 1985 in Miami.
Lane, a Jew, defended the Liberty Lobby.
To hear Lane tell it, he convinced the jury that there was a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination, and that Hunt was a part of that conspiracy.
Lane’s first tactic to convict Hunt is to claim that the latter had no alibi for November 22, 1963. Of course, Lane has to admit that Hunt’s fellow CIA employees said he was in Washington, DC., but he strongly implies that they must have been lying. First, Lane discusses one Walter Kuzmuk.
Kuzmuk was a CIA officer who had worked with Hunt. To the jurors at the first trial, his testimony may have seemed dispositive of the question of Hunt’s whereabouts on November 22, 1963; an experienced, ranking officer of the CIA had seen him in Washington just as the president was being shot in Dallas. According to Kuzmuk, Hunt and his wife had driven by in the early afternoon of November 22 as he exited from a downtown Washington restaurant.
Kuzmuk repeated this testimony at the second trial.
Since Kuzmuk worked for the CIA, Lane can assume that conspiracy-oriented readers will happily accept that he was a liar, so Lane asks rhetorically, “Was Kuzmuk a CIA-arranged witness?” Lane then nitpicks Kuzmuk’s testimony, attempting to convince readers that minor discrepancies are the tip-off that Kuzmuk is indeed lying.
Another witness to Hunt being in Washington, indeed at the CIA, on the day of the assassination was Connie Mazerov. In contrast to other witnesses, who are quoted a length, Lane offers one dismissive paragraph on her.
Connie Mazerov offered the most pathetic testimony I had encountered in some time. It was a sad rendition of the stand-by-your-man theme . . . . She had seen Hunt early that morning. As to the meetings he was supposed to have attended later that morning (according to one of Hunt’s versions of events), she couldn’t recall seeing him there. She never saw anyone else that morning who could have seen him. She was apparently willing to help Hunt out, but not if she had to name a single other person who might come forward to dispute her account.
Lane, faced with a witness who confirms Hunt’s presence at CIA headquarters, in effect calls her a liar and spins her lack knowledge of precise details of events that happened 22 years before as evidence that she lied..
But Hunt had yet a third CIA alibi witness, whom Lane conceals from his readers.
Lane throws out a red herring by mentioning a woman supposedly called “Betty McDonald.”
When [Walter] Kuzmuk was asked who might have seen Hunt that day if he had been in the office, he replied Betty McDonald. He did not mention Mazerov.
The plaintiff did not call McDonald; Hunt explained that she had been absent that day.
Lane is right that no “Betty McDonald” testified. But the woman in question was actually named Elizabeth (“Betty”) Macintosh and she did appear and supported Hunt. While Lane has avoided literally telling a lie, he has pulled a stunt that would get him disbarred if tried before any judge. But Lane can be confident that the vast majority of his readers have no way of knowing what he’s doing.
Since Hunt claimed to have been in the Washington area, and to have spent the afternoon with his family, it might seem important to ask what they say about his whereabouts.
And if you believe Lane, the answer is damning.
Lane extensively quotes his own cross-examination of Hunt to throw Hunt’s alibi into question.
Q. Do you recall testifying back on December 16, 1981, that when the allegation was made that you were in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, your children were really upset? Do you recall testifying to that?
Q. Do you recall testifying that you had to reassure them that you were not in Texas that day?
Q. That you had nothing to do with the Kennedy assassination?
A. That’s right.
Q. And that you were being persecuted for reasons that were unknown to you?
Q. Did you say that the allegation that you were in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, was the focus of a great deal of interfamily friction, and tended to exacerbate difficulties in the family?
A. I did.
. . .
“Mr. Hunt, why did you have to convince your children that you were not in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, if, in fact, as you say, a fourteen-year-old daughter, a thirteen-year-old daughter, and a ten-year old son were with you in the Washington, D.C., area on November 22, 1963, and were with you at least for the next forty-eight hours, as you all stayed glued to the T.V. set?”
If someone had struck Hunt in the face his reaction would not have been more physical. His head jerked back. . . . The delay before Hunt responded seemed interminable. In absolute time it probably was not more than half a minute. Finally Hunt spoke, looking away from the jurors:
“May I reply?”
I answered, “Please. It is a question.”
He spoke quickly, as if he hoped the subject would soon be forgotten.
“These were unformed minds, and I felt that it was absolutely imperative that I remind them of the circumstances attendant upon our family that day.
“Yet, my other son, Howard St. John, had read in the Berkeley Barb and in other papers these constant reiterations of my involvement in the Kennedy assassination.
“So, it was less a question of my convincing them that I was in Washington, D.C., with them – rather, reminding them that I was – than it was to assure them that none of the charges and allegations that had been made, particularly those of the tramp in Dealey Plaza, had any substance to them at all.”
. . .
Q. One can see where they might be disturbed that you were being charged with this. But weren’t they of the opinion that there were three people who could prove to the whole world that these charges were a tissue of lies, that “I was with my father during that whole time period?” What I want to know is since they knew how outrageous the lies were, why did they have to be convinced by you that you weren’t in Texas?
A. Reminded, reminded.
Q. They didn’t remember that themselves?
Hunt paused again. He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.
A. The constant reiteration of these charges, in one form or another, had an extremely deleterious effect on my children. I conferred with them, I answered their questions. I gave them every assurance that I was never in Dealey Plaza at any time in my life – not only on the fatal day, but the day before, the day after. In short, never. That was the type of assurance I was forced to give to my family.
. . .
Hunt’s explanations only exacerbated the matter. If the three children had been exposed to the false allegations over a period of time, does it not seem likely that they would remember somewhere along the line where they had spent one of the most traumatic moments of their lives and who had been with them? Why had they not shouted out that their father was innocent? Failing that, how could they require constant reminders from their father that they had all been together that day? The record revealed that as each new allegation was made, asserting that E. Howard Hunt had been in Dallas on November 22, 1963, the children, then adults, demanded to know if the charges were true.
. . .
These three witnesses were to offer the essential testimony placing Hunt hundreds of miles from the crime. They, not the two CIA-arranged witnesses, held in their hands the alibi their father so desperately required.
This testimony might seem terribly damning, but only because Lane has omitted some key facts.
In 1974 the Rockefeller Commission investigated Hunt’s whereabouts on the day of the assassination. First, Hunt testified under oath that he was in the Washington area. Two of his children also testified that he was there, as did a domestic employee of his family. (A son of Hunt’s who was nine years old did not remember where his parents were that day, and Hunt’s youngest son had not been born. Hunt’s wife was deceased by the time of the Commission.)
Lane most certainly knew about the Rockefeller Commission, since he mentions it in Plausible Denial.
So a total of six people had testified that Hunt was in Washington on the day of the assassination. Lane lacks the chutzpah to conceal all of them, so he mentions, and denigrates, two who worked for the CIA. He conceals the other CIA witness (Elizabeth Macintosh) by using another witness’ confusion about her name. And he entirely conceals the fact that three witnesses in the Hunt household (two children and a domestic) told the Rockefeller Commission that he was there.
Mark Lane has a history of chronic manipulation of evidence:
Having convinced uninformed and perhaps credulous readers that Hunt had no reliable alibi for his whereabouts on the day of the assassination, Lane now proceeds to tie Hunt to the assassination plot. To do so, he produces one single witness, a woman named Marita Lorenz. Lorenz claimed to have been a CIA operative who was Castro’s mistress.
Lorenz testified via a deposition that was read to the court. She told of an assassination caravan consisting of two cars and several conspirators who drove from Miami to Dallas before the assassination, arriving on November 21st. Most significantly, for the purposes of the trial, her testimony placed Hunt – using the name “Eduardo” – at the motel where the conspirators were staying, giving them a sum of money.
If Lorenz was telling the truth, then Hunt was most certainly an assassination conspirator. But Lane fails to tell his readers that her testimony had been in the public domain for several years, and had been found to lack credibility – even among conspiracy-oriented researchers who wanted to blame the CIA for the assassination.
During 1977 and 1978, Lorenz’ claims were extensively investigated by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Chief Counsel Robert Blakey outlined the Committee’s conclusions:
We also rejected the story of Marita Lorenz, who told us she had driven from Miami to Dallas on November 15, 1963, with Oswald and several anti-Castro activists, including Gerry Patrick Hemming, Orlando Bosch, a terrorist . . . Pedro Diaz-Lanz, the former Cuban Air Force chief, and Frank Sturgis, who was arrested in the Watergate break-in in 1972. All four men denied Lorenz’s charge emphatically, and we could find no evidence to refute them. Lorenz, who claimed to have been Fidel Castro’s mistress as well as the instrument of an attempt by the CIA to poison Castro . . . did not help her credibility by telling us that when she arrived in Dallas with Oswald and the anti-Castro activists, they were contacted at their motel by Jack Ruby.
Jack Ruby’s whereabouts were tracked in meticulous detail by the Warren Commission, and there is no possibility he could have gone to any motel as Lorenz described. Likewise, Oswald’s whereabouts were also well accounted for during the days before the assassination, and a car trip by him from Miami to Dallas was entirely out of the question.
So what happened to Oswald in Lorenz’ trial testimony? The following is from her deposition for the Hunt v. Liberty Lobby trial.
Q. [from Hunt’s lawyer, Mr. Dunne] Who were the people in the cars?
A. Some of our co-workers and Sturgis. Why? Do we have to name these?
MR. LANE: That is up to you to answer the question.
A. The other one was Jerry Patrick --
Q. Jerry Patrick?
Q. Is that, H-e-m-m-i-n-g?
Q. You identified yourself in the car, yourself, Mr. Sturgis and Hemming?
A. Yes; yes, a pilot.
Q. Who was the pilot?
A. I will not name it now.
Q. How many people all told, were in the car?
A. [Lorenz] Four.
Q. Four in one car?
Q. What about the second car?
A. I don’t know.
Q. So you have identified three people and there was a pilot?
A. And Pedro Diaz Lanz, was his name, L-a-n-z.
Q Was Lee Harvey Oswald in your car?
A. In the other car, back-up car.
Q. Is there a reason why you wouldn’t tell me that when I asked you the question?
Q. Who else was in the back-up car?
A. Two brothers; two Cuban brothers.
Q. What were their names?
If that’s what Marita Lorenz actually said, what does Lane tell us about her testimony in Plausible Denial?
At the deposition, Hunt’s lawyer demanded that she provide the name of one more person in the automobile with her. She looked at me, stared at Dunne as if to say, “Well, you asked for this,” and responded:
A: The other one was Jerry Patrick . . . .
Q: Jerry Patrick . . . ?
Q: Is that, H-E-M-M-I-N-G?
She added that two Cuban brothers named Novis and a pilot named Pedro Diaz Lanz were also in the caravan.
After the deposition I discussed that question with her.
[. . . .]
It seems that Lane, fully realizing this problem with Lorenz’ account, has given us a sanitized version of her testimony.
But this wasn’t the only thing sanitized by Lane. Consider, for example, the following portion of the Lorenz deposition:
Q. When was the first time you met Lee Harvey Oswald?
MR. LANE: She did not say she met him.
MR. DUNNE: She testified he was in the car.
Q. Did you ever meet Lee Harvey Oswald?
A. While we were training in the Bay of Pigs for the Bay of Pigs. [sic]
Q. The invasion.
Q. You met Lee Harvey Oswald there?
Q. The Bay of Pigs was in mid- to late-1962?
A. Yes, April 21st.
Q. So you met Lee Harvey Oswald, was it late 1961 or early 1962?
MR. LANE: If you recall.
A. If I recall, 1962. I don’t remember exactly; he wanted to be part of the invasion.
Q. You were going through some kind of commando training?
Q. Where was that occurring?
A. In the Everglades, Central American countries.
Q. What did you know Lee Harvey Oswald as?
Q. Can you give me a month, to the best of your recollection, when you first met him?
MR. LANE: She said she –
MR. DUNNE: That was my question.
A. We were training for about a year. I recall that.
Q. Was he there most of the time of the training?
A. Sometimes; not always, depending on what type of training we had.
Q. Did you used to see him all the time when once he started going around?
A. No; just several times.
Q. He went through some of the courses with you?
Of course, the Bay of Pigs was actually in April 1961, but that’s not of great import, since Lee Oswald was in the Soviet Union from September 1959 until June 1962!
Thus it’s hardly surprising that the House Select Committee didn’t believe her. Of course Blakey wasn’t inclined to blame the CIA for the assassination, but some members of the HSCA staff were. One of them was Gaeton Fonzi. Fonzi was intimately involved in investigating the Lorenz story, and his book The Last Investigation gave a blow by blow account of how her testimony developed. Fonzi concluded that her testimony was merely a “diversion” and that it “injected a dose of slapstick” into the investigation.
Fonzi’s colleague Ed Lopez was even more blunt. He told author Gerald Posner:
Oh God, we spent a lot of time with Marita . . . . It was hard to ignore her because she gave us so much crap, and we tried to verify it, but let me tell you – she is full of shit. Between her and Frank Sturgis, we must have spent over one hundred hours. They were dead ends . . . . Marita is not credible.
Yet Lane gives his readers not even the tiniest hint that Lorenz’ testimony is anything but perfectly believable.
If Lane’s evidence against Hunt was as strong as he leads the reader to believe, we would expect it to convince the jury, and indeed the jury did rule against Hunt and in favor of the Liberty Lobby.
However, when a “public figure” like E. Howard Hunt is attacked in the media, he cannot win a libel judgment merely by showing that the attack is untrue and unfair. Under a 1964 Supreme Court decision called New York Times v. Sullivan, the plaintiff must show “actual malice” on the part of the defendant.
Lane explains the Sullivan decision to his readers, but insists that it had nothing to do with the jury’s verdict, since the jurors believed that Hunt was indeed an assassination conspirator.
To support his position, Lane cites jury Foreperson Leslie Armstrong. Lane describes Armstrong’s statements to the media as follows:
The evidence was clear, she said. The CIA had killed President Kennedy. Hunt had been part of it, and that evidence, so painstakingly presented should now be examined by the relevant institutions of the United States government so that those responsible for the assassination might be brought to justice.
Armstrong apparently did say that, and doubtless believed it. But there were five other jurors. Two of them told the Miami Herald that they most certainly did not believe that Lane had proven that Hunt was a conspirator. Suzanne Reach said that “We were very disgusted and felt it was trash . . . . The paper published material that was sloppy – but it wasn’t malicious.” Reach added that “We were worried that our verdict might give the wrong impression to the public” and added that Lane’s conspiracy theories were “absolutely not” the reason for the verdict.
The Herald also quoted another juror, who refused to be identified, saying that the verdict was the result of Hunt failing to demonstrate that the article was published with “reckless disregard for the truth,” and added that Lane’s conspiracy theories were “so much extraneous matter.”
Likewise, an unidentified juror told the Associated Press that (in the words of the AP reporter) “no evidence was presented showing malice toward Hunt by the publication.” Finally, juror L. L. Cobb told United Press that the jury was concerned about whether the article was damaging to Hunt, not whether it was true. Quoting the UPI story:
“What we looked at was the article and whether there was any instances of malice,” she said. “We did not find any because there had been many stories written about the issue.”
Thus, depending on whether the unidentified juror in the Miami Herald story is the same person as the juror quoted by the Associated Press, three or four of the six jurors went on record as denying Lane’s claims to have proven a conspiracy.
But Lane ignores them and quotes the single juror whose statements are convenient.
Interestingly, Lane discusses Judge James Kehoe’s instructions to the jury in one bland sentence. Lane says that “Judge Kehoe delivered his instructions to the jury carefully, reading a prepared statement that had been previously submitted for comment to counsel for each party.” In reality, the judge had explicitly told the jurors that Hunt was a “public figure” and that they must find “actual malice” in order to find the Spotlight guilty of libel.
Indeed, before producing a verdict, the jury asked to review the testimony of Victor Marchetti, the author who wrote the story about Hunt, Spotlight publisher Willis Carto, and Managing Editor James Tucker. None of these men testified, as Lorenz did, of knowing anything about a conspiracy, but their testimony was relevant to the issue of whether the article was published with “malice.”
Plausible Denial is thus an artfully crafted exercise in withholding evidence from readers. Lane withholds the names and testimony of several of Hunt’s alibi witnesses, the credibility problems of Marita Lorenz, and the fact that the verdict hinged not on whether Hunt was an assassination conspirator, but rather whether the article met a narrow legal definition of “malice.”
Unlike most conspiracy books, which pepper readers with factoids, Lane seems to be very careful to avoid saying things that are provably untrue. Rather, by the careful withholding of evidence and the calculated spinning of the evidence he actually presents, he makes his case. And unlike most conspiracy authors, he seems to actually know what he’s doing.
Ed Dolan and Jean Davison provided valuable information that aided the writing of this article.