Michael J. Ybarra. Washington Gone Crazy: Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt. Hanover, N.H.: Steerforth Press, 2004.
This book is an extensive book on the Senate investigations into alleged Communist infiltration of the American government. It delves into extensive details on the politics of the era as well as the life as one of the chief accusers, U.S. Senator Pat McCarran. It is more of a history book for the era centering around the career of McCarran and the events that led to the Senate hearings.
This book concludes that Soviet intelligent agents operating as Communists existed. Yet the search for them did the nation more harm than the damage the spies did. It is interesting to note that this book was spurred by research into repealing the McCarran Act which required members of subversive groups to self-declare themselves or else face penalties of loss of citizenship and passport.
Sen. McCarran belonged to the U.S. Senate Internal Security Committee . He chaired committee meetings on whether government officials were communists while Democrats held the Senate majority. When Republicans took over the majority, the leader of the hearings regarding communism was Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose actions led the Senate to censure him.
McCarran fought Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower over economic issues, internal security, and immigration policies. McCarran achieved and knew how to wield Senate power. He believed his own Democratic Party was under communist control.
McCarran was a lawyer. His first client was his father who was charged with cutting down telegraph poles that ran alongside railroad tracks on McCarran’s father’s farm. Pat McCarran testified that he, not his father, cut them down. The jury found his father not guilty. Pat McCarran was threatened with perjury but was never charged.
In 1906, McCarran was elected County District Attorney. He then ran and lost for the Democratic Congressional nomination against George Bartlett. McCarran ran as a supporter of William Jennings Bryan.
Key Pittman in 1910 placed his $5,000 in poker earnings with Democratic Party leaders as a bet to become a U.S. Senator. Pittman won. Pittman lost the popular vote to the incumbent Senator George Nixon. Pittman believed Nixon bribed voters. Nixon died a year and half later. Pittman won the special election by 89 votes.
Pittman got drunk once in 1914 and, in public, hit U.S. Marshall B. Gray, State Sen. William Sharon, and McCarran among others. McCarran and Pittman continued their feuding and never reconciled.
McCarran ran for state Supreme Court, Rep. Bartlett then ran as a nonpartisan candidate. Ironically, Bartlett, who was close to the Democratic machined, claimed it was McCarran who was the machine candidate. McCarran defeated Bartlett.
McCarran then decided to run for U.S. Senator even though Justices were prohibited from being elected to another office. McCarran lost reelection, which liften any controversy over his eligibility for Senator. He ran as an isolationist when voters were becoming increasingly pro-internationalist.In 1932, he was gave a notable speech supporting silver and against Prohibition while contribution $5,000 to the Nevada Democratic Central Committee. McCarran reported just one contribution of $1,000 form the Democratic National Committee yet outspent his Republican opponent $5,215 to $3,870. He won. McCarran was one of nine Democratic Senators elected alongside Democrat Franklin Roosevelt’s victory over President Herbert Hoover.
McCarran befriended Republican Sen. William Borah, an opponent of the Leauge of Nations and the World Court. McCarran split with Roosevelt on the President’s second bill before the Senate. McCarran became noted for offering more amendments than did more other Senators.
A secret Marxist study group existed in D.C. Even spouses were not told about this group. Whitaker Chambers was a member.
McCarran gave numerous speeches condemning communism. He believed American Communists were “the greatest enemies of our republic.”
The International Communist organization in 1935 switched from condemning Roosevelt to denouncing pro-Nazi American financiers and urging support of anti-Nazi leaders including Roosevelt. In 1938, this changed after the Soviet-German pact. American Communist leader Earl Browder was instructed to distance the Communist Party from Roosevelt’s policies.
Roosevelt supporter Al Hilliard ran against McCarran’s reelection. McCarran easily won.
Roosevelt and most liberals did not seek nor wish the support of Communists.
Rep. Martin Dees claimed numerous communists (he at one point claimed there were 1,121) in the Federal Government. Few names were provided. Those that were published included Assistant Interior Secretary Oscar Chapman, who is turns out was not a communist, and National Labor Review member Nat Wit, who was a communist.
McCarran opposed Roosevelt’s Lend Lease program to supply military equipment to England. The White House opposed McCarran becoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. Sen. Fred Van Nuys became Chairman instead even though McCarran had more seniority. McCarran became District of Columbia Committee Chairman, a less important committee.
McCarran became angry that the National Labor Relations Board certified the election of a union in a Nevada company. He became more angry at labor and liberals.
McCarran decried, in 1944, that communism is “using a battering ram on the portal or our democratic home.” He made his anti-communism a major part of his successful 1944 reelection campaign
McCarran used his parliamentarian skills to halt the progress of bills he did not like. He often continued with parliamentarian challenges until he wore down his opposition. McCarran declared “ I never compromise with principal, but almost everything is principal to me.”
OSS agents found secret government documents in the “Amerable” magazine offices. The magazine editor admitted he was obtaining the documents from a State Department employee and giving them to Soviet intelligence. Three people were charged with unlawful possession of government documents and fined. Espionage charges were not filed The State Department employee was investigated, cleared, and transferred to Japan. THis incident became a “political Rorschach test”: The political right saw this as confirmation the Soviets were infiltrating the State Department. The political left saw this as a minor event.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was mad at President Truman for not acting on briefs Hoover sent to Truman. Truman was one of the few politicians who did not favor Hoover. Hoover then began giving this information to conservative members of Congress, including McCarran. The author notes “the damage that the communists did to the country would turn out to be far less than that caused by Hoover and McCarran.” Hoover claimed there were 100,000 communists in the U,S, with one million “fellow travelers”.
McCarran added an amendment to a State Department appropriations bill that any Civil Service State Department employee could be fired in the national interest wihtout a hearing or being given a reason. The amendment was designed to get Alger Hiss fired, as he had been exposed as a Communist but this then could not be proven. Sen. Carl Curtis demanded Communists be fired from the State Department.
The Americans for Democratic Action formed as a liberal group that opposed communism. It descended from the Union for Democratic Action. It warned that communists were hurts liberals more than conservatives.
Truman signed Executive Order 8835, known as the Government Loyalty Program. The Order made it illegal to employ Communists in government. This Order allowed being suspected of being a Communist or a member of a “sympathetic association” would be given a hearing from a loyalty board created in each Department. White House aide Clark Clifford would later observe “my greatest regret is that I did not make more of an effort to kill the loyalty program at is inception.”
Elizabeth Bentley gave the FBT names of Communists in 1945. The FBI investigated by couldn’t find evidence required for convictions. A Grand Jury indicted known Communist Party leaders.
McCarran began leading what the Washington Post called “a one man Un-American Activities Committee in the Senate.”
McCarran as Senator would have two people working for him at half salary and have both do similar work at full time jobs.
McCarran at an Appropriations Committee hearing on the Civil Aeronautics Board budget asked about an application for an airport in Nevada. The Board members replied that the application was pending. McCarran suggested the Board members were all present. They then approved the application on the spot.
McCarran halted legislation allowing displaced person homeless in Europe after World War II moving into the United States. Earl Harrison, Dean of he University of Pennsylvania Law School, was sent by Truman to inspect displaced persons camps in Europe. Harrison concluded “we appear to be treating Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them.” McCarran opposed any displaced persons moving to anywhere in the United States except for the Alaska territory.
It is noted the only Roosevelt nominees that McCarran opposed were all Jewish. In private conversations, McCarran used slur names for Jews. His opposition to displaced persons entering the United States may have been driven by his anti-Semetism even though four-fifths of displaced people were Christians. McCarran’s official explanation was that communist spies would be let in. When refugees were allowed to enter, McCarran had the percent of refugees being Jewish reduced from a planned 25% to 16%.
McCarran successfully fought for loans to Spain over the opposition of President Truman.
Sen. Joseph McCarthy claimed to have a list of 205 subversives (he initially did not mention he believed they were communists) employed in the State Department. His next speech stated he had 57 names.
Sen. Herbert Lehman argued that anti-Communist legislation would only only make real spies less visible as they would not be associated with the Communist Party. He warned the legislation would only impeded individual liberties. McCarran demanded and helped with passing a bill requiring the registration and possible detention of subversives. Some liberal members of Congress were appalled that the U.S. could have its own concentration camp of political dissidents.
When McCartny got publicity for his accusations about Communists, he was a first term Senator from the minority political party. It was McCarran as a committee chairman who created the hearings that allowed the attacks to be aired.
Truman create the President’s Commission on Internal Security and Individual Right, chaired by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. It’s main objective was to downplay McCarthyism. It was called by some the Un-McCarran Activities Committee. The entire commission members resigned stating the McCarran hearings had rendered it ineffective.
McCarran stated that Truman had fired General Douglas MacArthur by noting the Communist Party had called for his firing. The author writes that McCarran’s “speech was as crazy as anything that McCarthy ever said, but it receive scant attention.”
McCarran accused Communists in the State Department with letting China fall to Communism. Anti-communist columnist Joseph Alsop objected to McCarran’s actions stating “we may as well abandon all hope of having an honest and courageous public service in mere mistakes of judgement are later to be transformed into evidence of disloyalty to the state.”
Stanley Dollar’s shipping business owed $8 million to the U.S. government when it went into default in 1938. The U.S. Maritime Commission took over the company and invested $4 million into the company, built 32 additional ships to its fleet, and raised its vale to $40 million. Dollar sued to gain his company back. Dollar became close friends with McCarran. McCarran defended Dollar on the Senate floor. Graham Morrison, who headed the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, claimed McCarran demanded the Justice Department halt it case against Dollar in order for James McGranery be confirmed as U.S. Attorney General and that McGranery agreed to this.
FBI reports later confirmed that McCarran assisted Bugsy Siegel in getting a casino license and a government loan. McClarran claimed he never met Siegel.
McCarran was the only Senator to speak out agains the 1953 Korean armistice.
When Communist forces ousted the French in Vietman, McCarran spoke against the U.S. getting involved in Vietnam. He warned that it “could turn out to be the greatest disaster this country has ever seen.”
When Republicans gained a majority in the Senate in 1953, Joseph McCarthy took over McCarran’s committee chairmanship. McCarthy’s actions further divided a nation and led to his censure by the Senate.