Jim Garrison: Interview with Playboy
2: The New Orleans Investigation
The Identity of Clay, or Clem, Bertrand
Playboy: The NBC special also claimed to have discovered that “Clay, or Clem, Bertrand does exist. Clem Bertrand is not his real name. It is a pseudonym used by a homosexual in New Orleans. For his protection, we will not disclose the real name of the man known as Clem Bertrand. His real name has been given to the Department of Justice. He is not Clay Shaw.” Doesn’t this undermine your entire case against Shaw?
Garrison: Your faith in NBC’s veracity is touching and indicates that the Age of Innocence is not yet over. NBC does not have the real Clay Bertrand; the man whose name NBC so melodramatically turned over to the Justice Department is that of Eugene Davis, a New Orleans bar owner, who has firmly denied under oath that he has ever used the name Clay, or Clem, Bertrand. We know from incontrovertible evidence in our possession who the real Clay Bertrand is — and we will prove it in court.
But to make this whole thing a little clearer, let me tell you the genesis of the whole “Clay Bertrand” story. A New Orleans lawyer, Dean Andrews, told the Warren Commission that a few months before the assassination of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald and a group of “gay Mexicanos” came to his office and requested Andrews’ aid in having Oswald’s Marine Corps undesirable discharge changed to an honorable discharge; Oswald subsequently returned alone with other legal problems. Andrews further testified that the day after President Kennedy was assassinated, he received a call from Clay Bertrand, who asked him to rush to Dallas to represent Oswald. Andrews claims he subsequently saw Bertrand in a New Orleans bar, but Bertrand fled when Andrews approached him.
This was intriguing testimony, although the Warren Commission dismissed it out of hand; and in 1964, Mark Lane traveled to New Orleans to speak to Andrews. He found him visibly frightened. “I’ll take you to dinner,” Andrews told Lane, “but I can’t talk about the case. I called Washington and they told me that if I said anything, I might get a bullet in the head.” For the same reason, he has refused to cooperate with my office in this investigation.
The New York Times reported on February 26th that “Mr. Andrews said he had not talked to Mr. Garrison because such talk might be dangerous, but added that he believed he was being ‘tailed.’” Andrews told our grand jury that he could not say Clay Shaw was Clay Bertrand and he could not say he wasn’t. But the day after NBC’s special, Andrews broke his silence and said, yes, Clay Shaw is not Clem Bertrand and identified the real Clay Bertrand as Eugene Davis.
The only trouble is, Andrews and Davis have known each other for years and have been seen frequently in each other’s company. Andrews has lied so often and about so many aspects of this case that the New Orleans Parish grand jury has indicted him for perjury. I feel sorry for him, since he’s afraid of getting a bullet in his head, but he’s going to have to go to trial for perjury. [Andrews has since been convicted.]
Walter Sheridan and Garrison’s Investigation
Playboy: You expressed your reaction to the NBC show in concrete terms on July seventh, when you formally charged Walter Sheridan, the network’s special investigator for the broadcast, with attempting to bribe your witness Perry Russo. Do you really have a case against Sheridan, or is this just a form of harassment?
Garrison: The reason we haven’t lost a major case in over five years in office is that we do not charge a man unless we can make it stick in court. And I’m not in the business of harassing anybody.
Sheridan was charged because evidence was brought to us indicating that he attempted to bribe Perry Russo by offering him free transportation to California, free lodgings and a job once there, payment of all legal fees in any extradition proceedings and immunity from my office. Mr. Russo has stated that Sheridan asked his help “to wreck the Garrison investigation” and “offered to set me up in California, protect my job and guarantee that Garrison would never get me extradited.” According to Russo, Sheridan added that both NBC and the CIA were out to scuttle my case.
I think it’s significant that the chief investigator for this ostensibly objective broadcast starts telling people the day he arrives in town that he is going to “destroy Garrison” — this at the same time he is unctuously assuring me that NBC wanted only the truth and he had an entirely open mind on my case.
Let me tell you something about Walter Sheridan’s background, and maybe you’ll understand his true role in all this. Sheridan was one of the bright, hard young investigators who entered the Justice Department under Bobby Kennedy. He was assigned to nail Jimmy Hoffa. Sheridan employed a wide variety of highly questionable tactics in the Justice Department’s relentless drive against Hoffa; he was recently subpoenaed to testify in connection with charges that he wire–tapped the offices of Hoffa’s associates and then played back incriminating tapes to them, warning that unless they testified for the Government, they would be destroyed along with Hoffa.
A few years ago, Sheridan left the Justice Department — officially, at least — and went to work for NBC. No honest reporter out for a story would have so completely prejudged the situation and been willing to employ such tactics. I think it’s likely that in his zeal to destroy my case, he exceeded the authority granted him by NBC’s executives in New York. I get the impression that the majority of NBC executives probably thought Sheridan’s team came down here in an uncompromising search for the truth. When Sheridan overstepped himself and it became obvious that the broadcast was, to say the least, not objective, NBC realized it was in a touchy position. Cooler heads prevailed and I was allowed to present our case to the American people. For that, at least, I’m singularly grateful to Walter Sheridan.
Jim Garrison’s Motives
Playboy: How do you respond to the charge of your critics — including NBC — that you launched this probe for political reasons, hoping the attendant publicity would be a springboard to a Senate seat or to the governorship?
Garrison: I’d have to be a terribly cynical and corrupt man to place another human being on trial for conspiracy to murder the President of the United States just to gratify my political ambition. But I guess there are a lot of people around the country, especially after NBC’s attack, who think that’s just the kind of man I am. That rather saddens me. I’m no Albert Schweitzer, but I could never do a thing like that.
I derive no pleasure from prosecuting a man, even though I know he’s guilty; do you think I could sleep at night or look at myself in the mirror in the morning if I hounded an innocent man? You know, I always received much more satisfaction as a defense attorney in obtaining an acquittal for a client than I ever have as a D.A. in obtaining a conviction. All my interests and sympathies tend to be on the side of the individual as opposed to the state. So this is really the worst charge that anyone could make against me — that in order to get my name in the paper, or to advance politically, I would destroy another human being. This kind of charge reveals a good deal about the personality of the people who make it; to impute such motives to another man is to imply you’re harboring them yourself.
But to look at a different aspect of your question, I’m inclined to challenge the whole premise that launching an investigation like this holds any political advantages for me. A politically ambitious man would hardly be likely to challenge the massed power of the Federal Government and criticize so many honorable figures and distinguished agencies.
Actually, this charge is an argument in favor of my investigation: Would such a slimy type, eager to profiteer on the assassination, jeopardize his political ambitions if he didn’t have an ironclad case? If I were really the ambitious monster they paint me, why would I climb out on such a limb and then saw it off? Unless he had the facts, it would be the last thing a politically ambitious man would do.
I was perfectly aware that I might have signed my political death warrant the moment I launched this case — but I couldn’t care less as long as I can shed some light on John Kennedy’s assassination. As a matter of fact, after this last murderous year, I find myself thinking more and more about returning to private life and having time to read again, to get out in the sun and hit a golf ball. But before I do that, I’m going to break this case and let the public know the truth. I won’t quit before that day. I wouldn’t give the bastards the satisfaction.
William Gurvich and the New Orleans Investigation
Playboy: According to your own former chief investigator, William Gurvich, the truth about the assassination has already been published in the Warren Report. After leaving your staff last June, he announced, “If there is any truth to any of Garrison’s charges about there being a conspiracy, I haven’t been able to find it.” When members of your own staff have no faith in your case, how do you expect the public to be impressed?
Garrison: First of all, I won’t deny for a minute that for at least three months I trusted Bill Gurvich implicitly. He was never my “chief investigator” — that’s his own terminology — because there was no such position on my staff while he worked for me.
But two days before Christmas 1966, Gurvich, who operates a private detective agency, visited my office and told me he’d heard of my investigation and thought I was doing a wonderful job. He presented me with a beautiful color–TV set and asked if he could be of use in any capacity.
Well, right then and there, I should have sat back and asked myself a few searching questions — like how he had heard of my probe in the first place, since only the people we were questioning and a few of my staff, as far as I knew, were aware of what was going on at that time. We had been under way for only five weeks, remember. And I should also have recalled the old adage about Greeks bearing gifts. But I was desperately understaffed — I had only six aides available to work on the assassination inquiry full time — and here comes a trained private investigator offering his services free of charge. It was like a gift from the gods. So I set Gurvich to work; and for the next couple of months, he did an adequate job of talking to witnesses, taking photographs, etc.
But then, around March, I learned that he had been seeing Walter Sheridan of NBC. Well, this didn’t bother me at first, because I didn’t know then the role Sheridan was playing in this whole affair. But after word got back to me from my witnesses about Sheridan’s threats and harassment, I began keeping a closer eye on Bill. I still didn’t really think he was any kind of a double agent, but I couldn’t help wondering why he was rubbing elbows with people like that.
Now, don’t forget that Gurvich claims he became totally disgusted with our investigation at the time of Clay Shaw’s arrest — yet for several months afterward he continued to wax enthusiastic about every aspect of our case, and I have a dozen witnesses who will testify to that effect. I guess this was something that should have tipped me off about Bill: He was always enthusiastic, never doubtful or cautionary, even when I or one of my staff threw out a hypothesis that on reflection we realized was wrong.
And I began to notice how he would pick my mind for every scrap of fact pertaining to the case. So I grew suspicious and took him off the sensitive areas of the investigation and relegated him to chauffeuring and routine clerical duties. This seemed to really bother him, and every day he would come into my office and pump me for information, complaining that he wasn’t being told enough about the case. I still had nothing concrete against him and I didn’t want to be unjust, but I guess my manner must have cooled perceptibly, because one day about two months before he surfaced in Washington, Bill just vanished from our sight. And with him, I’m sorry to confess, vanished a copy of our master file.
How do you explain such behavior? It’s possible that Bill joined us initially for reasons of opportunism, seeing a chance to get in at the beginning of an earth–shaking case, and subsequently chickened out when he saw the implacable determination of some powerful agencies to destroy our investigation and discredit everyone associated with it. But I really don’t believe Bill is that much of a coward.
It’s also possible that those who want to prevent an investigation learned early what we were doing and made a decision to plant somebody on the inside of the investigation. Let me stress that I have no secret documents or monitored telephone calls to support this hypothesis; it just seems to me the most logical explanation for Bill’s behavior. Let me put it this way: If you were in charge of the CIA and willing to spend scores of millions of dollars on such relatively penny–ante projects as infiltrating the National Students Association, wouldn’t you make an effort to infiltrate an investigation that could seriously damage the prestige of your agency?