Army–McCarthy hearings

McCarthy and Cohn during the hearings
Joseph McCarthy chats with Roy Cohn (right) at the Army–McCarthy Hearings

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 in 1950 when he claimed to have a list of a number of people (McCarthy did not always cite the same number) known to the State Department as Communists, yet who still remained employed there. At the beginning of his second term as senator in 1953, McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations. 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. McCarthy appointed 26-year-old Roy Cohn as chief counsel to the subcommittee, reassigning Francis Flanagan to the ad hoc position of general counsel.

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. 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.[1]

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 himself. Since McCarthy was one of the targets of the hearings, Republican Senator Karl Mundt (South Dakota) was reluctantly[2] appointed to replace McCarthy as chair of the subcommittee. John G. Adams was the Army's Counsel.[3] Acting as Special Counsel was Joseph Welch of the Boston law firm of Hale & Dorr (now called WilmerHale). This was the first nationally televised congressional inquiry, and was broadcast on the new ABC, DuMont, and in part by NBC.[4] Francis Newton Littlejohn, the news director at ABC, made the decision to cover the hearings live, gavel-to-gavel.[5] The televised hearings lasted for 36 days and an estimated 80 million people saw at least part of the hearings.

The Photo

During the hearings, a photo of Schine was introduced, and Joseph Welch accused Cohn of doctoring the image to show Schine alone with Army Secretary Robert Stevens.[6] On the witness stand Cohn and Schine both insisted that the picture entered into evidence (Schine and Stevens alone) was requested by Stevens himself and that no one was edited out of the photo. 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 photo) was identified as McCarthy aide Frank Carr.[7]

The Hoover Memo

After the discrediting of the photo, McCarthy produced a copy of a confidential letter he claimed was a January 1951 memo written and signed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover addressed to Army Intelligence warning of subversives in the Army Signal Corps. McCarthy claimed the letter was in the Army files when Stevens became secretary in 1953, and that Stevens willfully ignored it.[8] 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 adamantly refused to divulge his source. Subsequent testimony on Hoover's behalf from an FBI official confirmed that Hoover never wrote or ordered the letter, and that no such copy existed in FBI files, rendering McCarthy's claims meritless, and the letter itself 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 (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.

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.[9]

The exact relationship between Cohn, McCarthy and Schine is not precisely 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 himself 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.[10][11][12]

It is also possible that Cohn acted simply because Schine asked him to make his tour of duty with the U.S. Army more comfortable; Schine came from a wealthy family and was accustomed to a privileged lifestyle.

Joseph Welch confronts McCarthy

In what was 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". 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. McCarthy then mentioned that Fisher had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group which U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. had called "the legal bulwark of the Communist Party."[13]

At the time Brownell was seeking to designate the NLG as a Communist front organization, and McCarthy mentioning Fisher's membership violated a pre-hearing agreement to not raise the issue as it was still being litigated. Welch revealed that he himself had already confirmed Fisher's one-time NLG membership some six weeks before the hearings started; after Fisher admitted his membership to Welch, it was decided to send Fisher back to Boston. His replacement by another colleague on Welch's staff was also covered by The New York Times.[14] Welch then gently reprimanded McCarthy for his needless attack on Fisher repeatedly using the adjectives "cruel" and "reckless". But 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:

"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?"

Infuriated by McCarthy's actions, Welch excluded himself from the remainder of the hearings with a parting shot to McCarthy: "You have seen fit to bring it [the Fisher/NLG affair] out, and if there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good!" After Welch deferred to Chairman Mundt to call the next witness, the gallery burst into applause.

Conclusion & Aftermath

Near the end of the hearings McCarthy and Senator Stuart Symington 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 rudely 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 then 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."[15] In Gallup polls of January 1954, 50% of those polled had a positive opinion of McCarthy. In June, that number fell to 34%. In the same polls, those with a negative opinion of McCarthy increased from 29% to 45%.[16]

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 towards McCarthy [17][18] 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. 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 in May 1957.

See also


  1. ^ "G. David Schine". New York Times. June 5, 1977, Sunday. Retrieved 2008-04-01. "Twenty-three years ago this month, the curtain rang down on one of Washington's greatest television dramas: Army-McCarthy hearings. At the start, the focus was on G. David Schine, an Army private who had been chief consultant to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Senator Joseph R. McCarthy headed. ..." 
  2. ^ Emile de Antonio (director, editor), Robert Duncan (co-editor) (1964). "Point Of Order!" (Documentary Film). Washington D.C.: New Yorker Films. ""Presiding over these hearings is a responsibility that I do not welcome." said by Senator Karl Mundt near beginning of film" 
  3. ^ "John G. Adams, Army's Counsel In McCarthy Hearings, Dies at 91.". Washington Post. June 27, 2003. Retrieved 2008-03-15. "Mr. Adams, an Army veteran of World War II, worked on Capitol Hill and for the Defense Department before being named Army general counsel in 1953." 
  4. ^ "N.B.C. Halts Live TV On Army, McCarthy.". New York Times. April 25, 1954, Sunday. Retrieved 2008-04-01. "The National Broadcasting Company's television network beginning tomorrow will stop carrying live pickups from the Army-McCarthy hearings in Washington, because 'it cost us a lot of money last week' and might cost advertising goodwill." 
  5. ^ Holley, Joe (December 9, 2005). "Francis Littlejohn Dies. Aired Full McCarthy Hearings on ABC.". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-03-15. "Francis Newton "Fritz" Littlejohn, 97, news director at ABC in 1954 when the network provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Army- McCarthy hearings, died of cardiac arrest November 24 at his home in New York City." 
  6. ^ Drogin, Bob (August 3, 1986). "Roy Cohn, Hero and Villain of McCarthy Era, Dies at 59.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-03-17. "Millions of Americans watched the real-life TV drama as McCarthy and Cohn tangled with top Army officials, trading bitter charges and accusations. Army counsel John G. Adams testified that Cohn had threatened to "wreck the Army." Army special counsel Joseph N. Welch also accused Cohn of doctoring a photo that was introduced as evidence." 
  7. ^ Time Magazine; "National Affairs: Part Of The Picture; May 10, 1954
  8. ^ Time Magazine; "National Affairs: The Bogus Letter"; May 17, 1954
  9. ^ (PDF) Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Volume 5. Government Printing Office. January 2003. xvi. 
  10. ^ Miller, Neil (1995). "Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present". New York: Vintage Books. 
  11. ^ Baxter, Randolph (November 13, 2006). "An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture". glbtq, Inc. "Tall, rich, and suave, the Harvard-educated (and heterosexual) Schine contrasted starkly with the short, physically undistinguished, and caustic Cohn." 
  12. ^ Wolfe, Tom (April 3, 1988). "Dangerous Obsessions". New York Times. "But so far as Mr. Schine is concerned, there has never been the slightest evidence that he was anything but a good-looking kid who was having a helluva good time in a helluva good cause. In any event, the rumors were sizzling away ..." 
  13. ^ Powell, Michael (2006-07-28). "Anatomy of a Counter-Bar Association: The Chicago Council of Lawyers" (PDF). Law & Social Inquiry 4 (3): 503. doi:10.1111/j.1747-4469.1979.tb01027.x. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Powers, Richard Gid (1998). Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism. Yale University Press. p. 271. ISBN 0-300-07470-0. 
  16. ^ Fried, Richard M. (1990). Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 138. ISBN 0-19-504361-8. 
  17. ^ Morgan, Ted (2004). Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America. Random House. p. 489. ISBN 0-8129-7302-X. 
  18. ^ Streitmatter, Rodger (1998). Mightier Than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History. Westview Press. p. 167. ISBN 0-8133-3211-7. 

Further reading

  • Adams, John G. (1983). Without Precedent: The Story of the Death of McCarthyism. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393016161. ISBN 039330230X. 
  • Straight, Michael (1954/1979). Trial by Television and Other Encounters. Devon Publishers. ISBN 0934160031. 

External links

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