McCarthy Hearing Testimony Unsealed

For the first time in 50 years, nearly 9,000 pages of McCarthy-era secret session transcripts came to light today, released from the National Archives.

The wide-ranging transcripts, published by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, nearly triple the amount of on-the-record McCarthy hearing testimony, covering 395 witnesses from 161 hearings conducted in private prior to the committee's more infamous public sessions.

In an interview with ABCNEWS, Donald Ritchie, the associate historian of the Senate who spent two years preparing five volumes for release, said, "This is what historians and political scientists have been waiting for."

Ritchie added, "All we knew about what happened until was what Sen. McCarthy told reporters … now we can see what was actually going on."

See the volumes at the Web site for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

An Aggressive Pursuit

Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican first elected in 1946, took the reins of the Senate Government Operations Committee in January 1953 and exercised prerogative to take the chair of the committee's investigations subcommittee as well.

Once in control of the powerful subcommittee, McCarthy ferociously inquired into what he saw as a vast Communist conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. government. Transcripts released today dramatically show the senator's aggressive pursuit of evidence to support his theories, few of which bore fruit.

The released documents record testimony from poet Langston Hughes, composer Aaron Copland, and Dashiell Hammett, author of the Maltese Falcon. And for the first time, references to Albert Einstein, who advised a witness to invoke the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, and McCarthy's suspicion of a White House luncheon hosted by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, are in the public domain.

Among several famous names, however, are also those of average citizens: government workers, teachers, mid-level officials and union members called before the committee on the basis of uncorroborated information or, quite often, the mere suspicion of Communist sympathies.

No Interest in Context

Vladimir Toumanoff, an employee at the State Department, was called before an executive session of McCarthy's committee on Jan. 28, 1953, and was subsequently called before a public session on Feb. 6, 1953.

Toumanoff's father was an officer in Czar Nicholas II's personal Imperial Guard and fought in the White Russian Army against the Communists; he was captured, sentenced to death, and escaped, while his mother fled to Turkey.

In public session, McCarthy quizzed him: "When you appeared before us in executive session it was pointed out to you that you were born in the Russian Embassy after the Russian Revolution … it was pointed out to you then that this would indicate that your parents must have been in sympathy with the Communist regime … is that correct?"

Toumanoff disagreed: "I don't recall in executive session your having asked me my opinion or having made any statement concerning the acceptability of my family to the Soviets, because if you had, I am sure I would have explained [our] background to you."

Indeed, Toumanoff's executive session testimony shows neither McCarthy nor his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, showed any interest in the context of Toumanoff's Russian background.

In Toumanoff's executive session testimony, Cohn asked, "You were born on [Russian] embassy grounds?"

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...