Army-McCarthy Hearings

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File:McCarthy Cohn.jpg

Sen. Joseph McCarthy chats with his attorney Roy Cohn during Senate Subcommittee hearings on the McCarthy-Army dispute

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.

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”. 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 Attorney General Brownell 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 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 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 [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.

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]


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