Army-mccarthy hearings

Army–McCarthy hearings
Roy Cohn at the hearings
Event Senate hearing derived from Senator Joseph McCarthy's hunt for communists in USA
Time April–June, 1954
Place Washington DC, USA
Participants The two sides of the hearing:
  • US Army (accusing their opponents of blackmail)
  • Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine (accusing the army of communism)
Chairman Senator Karl Mundt
Result End of the McCarthy era

The Army–McCarthy hearings were a series of hearings held by the United States Senate's Subcommittee on Investigations between April 1954 and June 1954. The hearings were held for the purpose of investigating conflicting accusations between the United States Army and Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Army accused chief committee counsel Roy Cohn of pressuring the Army to give preferential treatment to G. David Schine, a former McCarthy aide and a friend of Cohn's. McCarthy counter-charged that this accusation was made in bad faith and in retaliation for his recent aggressive investigations of suspected Communists and security risks in the Army.

Chaired by Senator Karl Mundt, the hearings convened on March 16, 1954, and received considerable press attention, including gavel-to-gavel live television coverage on ABC and DuMont from April 22 to June 17. The media coverage, particularly television, greatly contributed to McCarthy's decline in popularity and his eventual censure by the Senate the following December.


McCarthy came to national prominence after giving a February 9, 1950 speech claiming to have a list of 205 State Department employees who were members of the Communist Party.[1] McCarthy claimed the list was provided to and dismissed by then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson, saying that the "State Department harbors a nest of Communists and Communist sympathizers who are helping to shape our foreign policy".[2] In 1953, McCarthy was reelected to a second term and the Republican Party regained controlled of the Senate; with the Republicans in the majority, McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations.[3] This committee included the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and the mandate of this subcommittee allowed McCarthy to use it to carry out his investigations of Communists in the government.[4] McCarthy appointed 26-year-old Roy Cohn as chief counsel to the subcommittee and future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as assistant counsel; reassigning Francis Flanagan to the ad hoc position of general counsel.[5]

In 1953, McCarthy's committee began inquiries into the United States Army, starting by investigating supposed Communist infiltration of the Army Signal Corps laboratory at Fort Monmouth.[6] McCarthy's investigations were largely fruitless, but after the Army accused McCarthy and his staff of seeking special treatment for Private G. David Schine, a chief consultant to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and a close friend of Cohn's, and who had been drafted into the Army as a private the previous year, McCarthy claimed that the accusation was made in bad faith.[7]

The inquiry

The Senate decided that these conflicting charges should be investigated and the appropriate committee to do this was the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, usually chaired by McCarthy. Since McCarthy was one of the targets of the hearings, Republican Senator Karl Mundt (South Dakota) was reluctantly[8] appointed to replace McCarthy as chair of the subcommittee. John G. Adams was the Army's Counsel.[9] Acting as Special Counsel was Joseph Welch of the Boston law firm of Hale & Dorr (now called WilmerHale).[10] The hearings were broadcast nationally on the new ABC and DuMont networks, and in part by NBC.[11] Francis Newton Littlejohn, the news director at ABC, made the decision to cover the hearings live, gavel-to-gavel.[12] The televised hearings lasted for 36 days and an estimated 80 million people saw at least part of the hearings.[13]

The photograph

During the hearings, a photograph of Schine was introduced, and Joseph Welch accused Cohn of doctoring the image to show Schine alone with Army Secretary Robert Stevens.[14] On the witness stand Cohn and Schine both insisted that the picture entered into evidence (Schine and Stevens alone) was requested by Stevens and that no one was edited out of the photograph. Welch then produced a wider shot of Stevens and Schine with McGuire AFB wing commander Colonel Jack Bradley standing to Schine's right. A fourth person also edited out of the picture (his sleeve was visible to Bradley's right in the Welch photograph) was identified as McCarthy aide Frank Carr.[15]

The Hoover memo

After the discrediting of the photograph, McCarthy produced a copy of a confidential letter he claimed was a January 26, 1951 memo written and sent by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, to Lieutenant General Alexander R. Bolling, Army Intelligence warning of subversives in the Army Signal Corps.[16] McCarthy claimed the letter was in the Army files when Stevens became secretary in 1953, and that Stevens willfully ignored it.[17] Welch was the first to question the letter's validity, claiming that McCarthy's "purported copy" did not come from Army files; McCarthy stated he never received any document from the FBI, but when questioned on the stand by special Senate counsel Ray Jenkins and cross-examined by Welch, McCarthy, while admitting that the document was given him by an intelligence officer, refused to reveal the name of his source.

Robert Collier, assistant to Ray Jenkins, read a letter from Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., in which he stated that Hoover examined the document and that he neither wrote nor ordered the letter, and that no such copy existed in FBI files, rendering McCarthy's claims meritless, and the letter spurious.


Though the hearings were primarily about government subversion, the hearings also took on occasional accusations of a different taboo: A portion of the hearings were taken up for the express purpose of evaluating the security risk of homosexuals in government and the issue would be brought up on other occasions, as well as being an undercurrent in the investigations.

One such example of this undercurrent during the testimony was this humorous exchange between Senator McCarthy and Joseph Welch; Welch was questioning McCarthy staff member James Juliana about the unedited picture of Schine with Stevens and Bradley asking him "Did you think this came from a pixie?", at which point McCarthy asked to have the question re-read:

Senator McCarthy. Will counsel [i.e. Welch] for my benefit define – I think he might be an expert on that – what a pixie is?
Mr. Welch. Yes. I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative of a fairy. (Laughter from the chamber) Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?
Senator McCarthy. As I said, I think you may be an authority on what a pixie is.

Welch was largely responsible for the homosexual undercurrents permeating the hearings as he unmercifully gay baited Roy Cohn, inferring he was having a homosexual relationship with another member of McCarthy’s investigative team, David Shine. Welch’s apparent goal was to embarrass McCarthy & pay him back for his accusations against the Army. [18]

Cohn, Schine and McCarthy

At least a portion of the Army's allegations were correct. Roy Cohn did take steps to request preferential treatment for Schine, going so far on at least one occasion to sign McCarthy's name without his knowledge on a request for Schine to have access to the Senators' Baths.[19]

The exact relationship between Cohn, McCarthy and Schine is not known. Cohn and Schine were certainly close, and rather than work out of the Senate offices, the two rented nearby office space and shared bills. McCarthy commented that Cohn was unreasonable in matters dealing with Schine. It is unclear if Schine ever had a romantic or sexual relationship with Cohn, who was a closeted homosexual. (Three years after the hearings Schine married and eventually had six children.) Some have also suggested that McCarthy may have been gay, and even possibly involved with Schine or Cohn.[20][21][22]

Joseph Welch confronts McCarthy

In what played out to be the most dramatic exchange of the hearings, McCarthy responded to aggressive questioning from Army counsel Joseph Welch. On June 9, 1954, day 30 of the hearings, Welch challenged Cohn to give McCarthy's list of 130 subversives in defense plants to the office of the FBI and the Department of Defense "before the sun goes down".[23] In response to Welch's challenge, McCarthy suggested that Welch should check on Fred Fisher, a young lawyer in Welch's own Boston law firm whom Welch planned to have on his staff for the hearings.[24] McCarthy then mentioned that Fisher had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group which Attorney General Brownell had called "the legal bulwark of the Communist Party".[25]

Welch revealed he had confirmed Fisher's former membership in the National Lawyers' Guild approximately six weeks before the hearings started.[26] After Fisher admitted his membership in the National Lawyers' Guild, Welch decided to send Fisher back to Boston.[27] His replacement by another colleague on Welch's staff was also covered by The New York Times.[28][29] Welch then reprimanded McCarthy for his needless attack on Fisher, saying that "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness."[30] McCarthy, accusing Welch of filibustering the hearing and baiting Cohn, dismissed Welch's dissertation and casually resumed his attack on Fisher, at which point Welch angrily cut him short:[24]

"Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyer's Guild... Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Welch excluded himself from the remainder of the hearings with a parting shot to McCarthy: "You have brought it out [the Fisher/NLG affair]. If there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good!"[31] After Welch deferred to Chairman Mundt to call the next witness, the gallery burst into applause.[32]

Fisher was relatively unscathed by the incident and went on to become a partner in Boston’s prestigious Hale & Dorr law firm & organized its commercial law department. He also served as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and as chairman of many committees of the American and Boston bar associations. He was a former trustee of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy and chairman of the Franklin N. Flaschner Foundation in Waban, Mass., while Welch's maneuvering helped to ruin McCarthy’s life and career. McCarthy died a sad and downtrodden national outcast at the relatively young age of 48.[33]

Conclusion and aftermath

Near the end of the hearings McCarthy and Senator Stuart Symington (D-MO) sparred over the handling of secret files by McCarthy's staff. Symington hinted that some members of McCarthy's own staff might themselves be subversive and signed a document agreeing to take the stand in the hearings to reveal their names in return for McCarthy's signature on the same document agreeing to an investigation of his staff. But McCarthy, after calling Symington "Sanctimonious Stu", refused to sign the document, claiming it contained false statements, and called Symington's accusations an "unfounded smear" on his men. He then rebuked Symington by saying, "You're not fooling anyone!", but Symington retaliated with a prophetic remark of his own: "Senator, the American people have had a look at you now for six weeks; you're not fooling anyone, either."[34]

In Gallup polls from January 1954, McCarthy's approval rating was at 50%, with only 29% disapproving. By June both percentages had shifted by as much as 16%, with more people (34% approving, 45% disapproving) now rebuking McCarthy and his methods.[35]

After hearing 32 witnesses and two million words of testimony, the committee concluded that McCarthy himself had not exercised any improper influence on behalf of David Schine, but that Roy Cohn, McCarthy's chief counsel, had engaged in some "unduly persistent or aggressive efforts" on behalf of Schine. The conclusion of the committee also reported questionable behavior on the part of the Army: That Secretary Stevens and Army Counsel John Adams "made efforts to terminate or influence the investigation and hearings at Fort Monmouth," and that Adams "made vigorous and diligent efforts" to block subpoenas for members of the Army Loyalty and Screening Board "by means of personal appeal to certain members of the [McCarthy] committee." Before the official reports were released Cohn had resigned as McCarthy's chief counsel, and Senator Ralph Flanders (R, Vermont) had introduced a resolution of censure against McCarthy in the Senate.

Despite McCarthy's acquittal of wrongdoing in the Schine matter, the Army–McCarthy hearings ultimately became the main catalyst in McCarthy's downfall from political power. Daily newspaper summaries were frequently unfavorable toward McCarthy,[36][37] while television audiences saw the junior Senator from Wisconsin as foolhardy, dishonest and intimidating. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted 67–22 to censure McCarthy, effectively eradicating his influence, though not expelling him from office.[38] McCarthy continued to chair the Subcommittee on Investigations until January 3, 1955, the day the 84th United States Congress was inaugurated. McCarthy died of hepatitis on May 2, 1957.[3]

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Transcript of Army–McCarthy hearings, missing volumes 8–11, 28–31, 48–54
  • Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations
  • The Army–McCarthy hearings
  • McCarthy–Welch exchange "Have You No Sense of Decency" (transcript and sound file)
  • Internet Movie Database
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