United States House Select Committee on Assassinations

Meeting of the House Select Committee on Assassinations

The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963 and 1968. The HSCA completed its investigation in 1978 and issued its final report the following year, concluding that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. In addition to acoustic analysis of a police channel dictabelt recording,[1] the HSCA also commissioned numerous other scientific studies of assassination-related evidence that corroborate the Warren Commission's controversial findings.[2]

The HSCA found that although the Commission and the different agencies and departments examining Kennedy's assassination performed in good faith and were thorough in their investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald, they performed with "varying degrees of competency" and the search for possible conspiracy was inadequate.[1]:2 The HSCA determined, based on available evidence, that the probable conspiracy did not involve the governments of Cuba or the Soviet Union. The committee also stated that the conspiracy did not involve any organized crime group, anti-Castro group, nor the FBI, CIA, or Secret Service.

In a Justice Department memo to the House Judiciary Committee in 1988, the Assistant Attorney General formally reviewed the recommendations of the HSCA report and reported a conclusion of active investigations.[3] In light of investigative reports from the FBI's Technical Services Division and the National Academy of Science Committee determining that "reliable acoustic data do not support a conclusion that there was a second gunman", the Justice Department concluded "that no persuasive evidence can be identified to support the theory of a conspiracy in … the assassination of President Kennedy".[3]


The HCSA investigated the assassinations of John F. Kennedy (left) and Martin Luther King Jr. (right)

Several forces contributed to the formation of the HSCA. With the growing body of assassination conspiracy material, public trust in the findings of the Warren Commission report was declining. The Hart-Schweiker and Church Committee hearings had recently revealed CIA ties to other assassinations and assassination attempts. There was also significant public interest after a video segment of the Zapruder film was first shown on TV in March 1975, after having been stored by Life magazine out of view for almost twelve years.

In September 1976, the United States House of Representatives voted 280-65 to establish the Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in order to investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.[4] The committee was both controversial and divided among itself. The first chairman, Thomas N. Downing of Virginia retired in January 1977 and was replaced by Henry B. Gonzalez on February 2, 1977. Gonzalez and Chief Counsel Richard A. Sprague had irreconcilable disagreements over control of the committee, budget and investigative techniques, ending with Gonzalez's resignation. Sprague also resigned, in part to increase the chances of Congress voting to reconstitute the HSCA for the new two-year congressional term. Sprague's like-minded deputy Robert K. Tanenbaum also resigned shortly thereafter. Louis Stokes replaced Gonzalez as chairman and G. Robert Blakey was appointed as Chief Counsel and Staff Director to replace Sprague.