Monday, October 18, 1953 New York County Courthouse
Dr. Jack Sargent Harris, with the stride of a military man, walked into the smoke-filled senate chamber crowded with reporters and photographers whose light bulbs flashed at him. Undisturbed by the tumult, he walked toward the front of the chamber and sat next to his attorney, Leonard Boudin. Both men sat solemnly as the speaker seated on a raised platform with seven others, struck a gavel to bring the hearing to order.
Senator Patrick McCarran of Nevada cleared his throat, leaned into a microphone and pointed his stubby finger at the accused. “All right, Dr. Harris, you know why you’ve been called to this hearing. You have been accused of being a Communist, a traitor to your country. You can make matters much better for yourself by giving me the names of five people you know who are or were Communists. That’s all you have to do. Give me five names. After that you can get back to whatever you do at the United Nations. If you don’t give me those names, I promise you, you’ll lose your job at the U.N., and you’ll never teach in any American university again.” Leaning closer to the microphone, he said, “Do I make myself clear? You’ll be blacklisted, branded a Communist, a traitor to your country. You have forty-eight hours to decide.”
Looking at his watch, McCarran said, “We’ll recess for lunch and return in one hour. When we reconvene, Professor,” he emphasized the title derisively, “I expect you as a patriotic citizen to cooperate fully and give us any information you have regarding Communist affiliation.” Jack regarded the chairman with unconcealed malice, but McCarran remained unfazed and continued, “Let me remind you, Professor, you won’t be doing yourself any favor by invoking the Fifth Amendment.”
Jack’s attorney, Leonard Boudin, stood. “Mr. Chairman, I object. Dr. Harris has every right …”
McCarran interrupted. “Let me remind you, Mr. Boudin, this is not a court room, and this is not a trial. We’re not using conventional legal procedures here. This is only a hearing,” his voice struck a note of finality. His searing stare, his beaked nose and white hair gathered behind his ears like tufted feathers gave him the appearance of a bird of prey. He stood and his chair moved backward pushing one of the twelve cameramen standing behind the members of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.
McCarran had been described by members of the liberal press as a seething mad dog, a subversive, a destroyer of the Bill of Rights and Constitutional guarantees.
Presidents Truman and Eisenhower agreed on few matters, but regarding McCarran, they found common ground: both detested the bully, publicity-seeking Senator from Nevada. He held the improbable posts of Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Chairman of the committee controlling budgets for the State and Justice Departments. He boasted to his cronies that he had more power than the president for whom he harbored the utmost contempt. When Adlai Stevenson challenged Eisenhower for the presidency, he said they were two dummies misled by Kikes and Commies.
As both men left the chamber, Jack said to his attorney, “I can’t eat, I’m too upset. Those bastards are out to skewer me. You go ahead; I’ll call Shirley. I know she’s worried and eager to hear from me. I’ll meet you back here in an hour.” Reporters and cameramen swarmed around Jack, their flashing cameras and cloying questions agitated him further. At a phone booth, he slammed the accordion door and turned his back to them. He reached into his pocket for a handful of change to feed the phone, then dialed. He relayed the proceedings to his wife, Shirley.
“What did you tell McCarran?”
“I told him to go fuck himself.”
“Did you really?”
“Not in so many words, but he understood me, all right. The sonofabitch asked if I was loyal to my country. Can you believe the gall of that sonofabitch? I would have yelled at him, but my attorney touched my arm and shook his head. I said, ‘Of course I’m loyal to my country, and you have no right to question my loyalty.’ That stopped the bastard. He knew better than to pursue that line of questioning. I had to remind him that I risked my life for my country more than once. My record had been well documented, and he damn well knew it. He cut me off—didn’t want to hear about my work with the OSS. He kept harping on the same goddamned stupid question, ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’ I kept invoking the Fifth Amendment until I thought the sonofabitch would explode.”
Jack pushed his way through the group of newsmen after leaving the phone booth, then headed outside for a cigarette. He tried to ignore one reporter from the New York Times who persisted in badgering him.
“Sir, do you consider yourself a traitor? Do you?”
Jack flicked his cigarette into the gutter, hiked his shoulders and with a grimace approached the reporter who retreated toward the safety of the courthouse. He repeated, “Sorry, sir, sorry.”
After the lunch break, Jack and his attorney returned to the hearing room before the committee members reentered. He leaned towards Boudin. “Leonard, tell me what you know about this guy McCarran.”
Boudin smiled wanly. “He’s a contentious old goat who represents the worst in judicial judgment. His views are an abomination and in direct contradiction to lawful procedures. He’s flagrantly disregarded Constitutional guarantees and has trampled civil code. His idea of good law is comparable to pre-Civil War Southern States’ judgments on Negro infractions…maybe worse.”
Jack’s brow knitted. “How can he make illegal judgments, that is, disregard Constitutional Law?”
“Because those who could stop him, won’t. They’re too fearful. He and his cronies have created a climate of dreadful apprehension. They’re aided and abetted by headline seeking newsmen. People are generally fed-up with Congress—a government that seems to do nothing for them. When members of the State Department or the U.N. are accused of being Communists, John Q. Public sees that as an ‘aha moment’.
“McCarran basically is an old-fashioned western judge of the rope-hanging type. A one-man vigilante who is bound to drive the east coast liberal eggheads out of our government and our government out of the U.N. He’s a gunslinger who came up the hard way, but now that he’s on top, he doesn’t want any changes in his landscape.”
“What’s his obsession with Communists? Have any been discovered in the government?”
“Not a damn one of any consequence. One or two held minor positions, clerical and the like and have admitted to being card-carrying members at one time. They’ve been paraded around by the committee as examples of traitors in government.”
Boudin continued, “McCarran is despised for many reasons. He established a law that effectively stops immigration at Ellis Island because of his paranoia about subversives coming into this country.
“He was not only an anti-communist ideologue but actively proposed a bill to send billions to Nationalist China, Chiang Kai-shek’s forces. The problem with that was those funds found a circular way back to McCarran.
“There were many more unsavory sweetheart deals, and of course, there’s his very special relationship with the Las Vegas and Reno casino owners. He managed to exclude them from paying federal taxes.
“Simply put, he wants the U.S. out of the U.N., and he will doggedly prosecute any U.S. citizen in that group if he thinks they are liberal and have an interest in international affairs.” He paused to look at Jack. “And, of course, that means you.”
The committee members took their seats. The chamber grew quiet. McCarran waited until the last cameraman signaled his readiness, then he called out, “Let the hearings come to order.” McCarran hunched over the microphone and stared at Jack again. “Sir, your name was submitted as one who attended a meeting of Communists.” Shuffling papers on his desk, he said in a patronizing tone, “Now surely you remember that meeting? It was held for the members of local Communist cell block…”
A glimmer of recall occurred to Jack, an event six years ago when he listened to someone haranguing about the virtues of the great Russian government. After several minutes he left that meeting and wondered how he got suckered into going there in the first place; he recalled Skip Nelson asking him to hear a dynamic speaker. Knowing Skip, he should have been wary since Skip had openly expressed leftist sympathies. But who in the hell had revealed his brief presence at that meeting held so long ago to this gang of inquisitors? Then he thought: that’s a stupid question. Those meetings were infiltrated with informers wearing wiretaps and hidden Minox cameras. He knew about that kind of spying. That’s what he had been trained to do in the O.S.S.