Thomas Nelms Downing
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Virginia's 1st district
January 3, 1959 - January 3, 1977
|Edward J. Robeson, Jr.|
|Paul S. Trible, Jr.|
|Chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations|
September 17, 1976 – January 3, 1977
|Henry B. Gonzalez|
|Born||February 1, 1919|
Newport News, Virginia
|Died||October 23, 2001 (aged 82)|
Newport News, Virginia
|Alma mater||Virginia Military Institute|
University of Virginia
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942 – 1946|
Thomas Nelms Downing (February 1, 1919 - October 23, 2001) was a lawyer, politician, and Democratic Congressman from Virginia's 1st congressional district for nine terms.
Downing was born and raised in Newport News, Virginia. He attended Newport News High School, and graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1940. After serving in the United States Army from 1942 to 1946, he attended and graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1948. He practiced as a lawyer, as well as a substitute judge of the municipal court of Warwick, Virginia.
Downing was appointed Chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations by Carl Albert, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. The Committee was tasked to look into evidence that was not available to the Warren Commission during its investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Upon his retirement from Congress in 1977, Louis Stokes succeeded Downing as Chairman.
Downing stated before and after the HSCA's investigation that he believed there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. He pushed for a House committee to investigate the assassination nearly two years before its formation. In August 1976, he released affidavits from two men who stated that Richard Nixon approved the plan of a right-wing Cuban exile to "eliminate" left-wing Cuban exiles after the Bay of Pigs invasion. Downing said that their statements raised the possibility that right-wing Cubans killed Kennedy.
Downing said that he was skeptical that Lee Harvey Oswald could accurately fire a bolt-action rifle within a short span of time, and he believed video footage of the assassination showed that Kennedy was struck from the front and the rear. According to a theory provided by Downing, one which he said was without evidence and based on speculation, anti-Castro Cuban exiles killed Kennedy due to his failure to support them after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Downing stated that they expected pro-Castro Cubans would be blamed for the assassination in retaliation for the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro by United States agents. Downing said: "I am firmly convinced, I am sincerely convinced, that more than one person was shooting at President Kennedy in Dallas that day. It is so obvious to me."
Downing described JFK, Oliver Stone's 1991 film about the assassination of Kennedy, as "implausible". He said: "It's impossible to tell where fact stops and fiction starts, it blends in so well."
Prior to the investigation, James J. Kilpatrick described Downing as "a man of exception integrity and common sense" yet "not altogether unbiased in the matter of Kennedy's assassination". Robert P. Gemberling, head of the FBI's investigation of the assassination for thirteen years after the release of the Warren Commission's report, said in 1976 that Downing and his successor, Henry B. Gonzalez, had "preconceived conspiracy theories".
He died from the complications of intestinal surgery at the age of 82, and is interred in Peninsula Memorial Park Cemetery, Newport News, Virginia.
This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website http://bioguide.congress.gov.