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4. “Top Secret”
“In my opinion, international fascism, though defeated in battle, is not dead . . .” wrote Assistant U. S. Attorney General O. John Rogge in a memorandum to the Attorney General on February 28, 1946. “No, fascism is not dead in the United States. On the contrary it is now in the process of postwar reconversion . . . The old familiar faces are once again spouting the old familiar fascist lies.”
A giant of a man with an incongruously boyish face, forty-two year old Assistant Attorney General Rogge, was a political anachronism in postwar Washington. He still thought in terms of the New Deal and talked enthusiastically about the prospects of “democratic capitalism” in America.
In the spring of 1946, Rogge received from Captain Sam Harris, a member of the US. prosecution staff at Nuremburg, information revealing that there existed in Germany concrete proof of former ties between the Hitler Government and certain American citizens. Rogge hastened to the office of Attorney General Tom C. Clark. He urged that Clark immediately send him to Germany to obtain evidence of the connections the Nazis had had in America. The Attorney General, while seeming not overly enthusiastic about the project, authorized Rogge’s mission.*
* President Truman had appointed his old friend, Tom C. Clark, as U.S. Attorney General in May 1945.
A former Texas lawyer who entered the Justice Department in 1937 as a protege of white supremacist Senator Tom Connally and had subsequendy become Assistant Attorney General, Clark was characterized by Life magazine as a man who “since 1922 has made a career out of winning friends and influencing.” Harold J. Ickes described Clark as “a second-rate political hack who knows what backs to slap and when.”
Before joining the Justice Department, and while still practising law in Texas, Clark had been charged during the mid-1930’s by a Texas Senate investigatory committee with having acted unethically as a lobbyist for the Sinclair Oil Co. (still headed by Harry Sinclair of Teapot Dome notoriety), Standard Oil Co., Ethyl Gas Corp., and other oil interests in Texas.
Clark’s income at the time, stated the Texas Senate committee, had shown a “tremendous and startling increase” which Clark “declined to give information about to this committee and his banker refused to bring the records.”
The Texas Senate investigatory committee also reported that Tom Clark and two associates had gained control of the Texas Southwestern Life Insurance Co. in a highly questionable manner. The Senate committee called for an investigation of Clark and his associates as suspected violators of anti-trust laws. However, no prosecution followed. At the time, Clark’s law partner, William McGraw, had become the state’s attorney general.
On July 28, 1949, Clark was appointed as a Supreme Court Justice by President Truman.
Rogge requested a nine-man staff to help him conduct his investigation. He was given instead, one legal aide, one investigator and two secretaries. . . .
On April 4, 1946, Rogge flew to Europe.
For the next eleven weeks Rogge remained in Germany. He spent the major part of his time at Nuremberg and Camp Sibert, a U.S. military intelligence center near Frankfort. Together with his small staff, he interrogated a number of the Nuremberg defendants and dozens of other former top-ranking Nazi officials, and painstakingly scrutinized thousands of confidential documents from the files of the Nazi War Department, Foreign Office, Propaganda Ministry and Secret Service. Long before his investigation was completed, the Assistant Attorney General knew he was uncovering a far more sinister and grandiose conspiracy than he had dreamt of finding.
“Our investigation showed us,” Rogge later related, “that we had completely underestimated the scope and scale of Nazi activities in the United States . . . When I went to Germany I felt that the biggest threat to American democracy emanated from the machinations of persons like the defendents in the sedition trial. I found that a far more dangerous threat lay in the inter-connections between German and American industrialists, and that some of the best known names in America were involved in Nazi intrigue . . .”
When Rogge returned to Washington toward the end of June, he was confident he had unearthed sufficient evidence to warrant Federal prosecution in a number of cases.
Working at a fever pitch, Rogge set about the task of preparing a comprehensive report to Attorney General Clark on the voluminous data he collected in Germany. In early July, Rogge submitted to Clark a draft of the first section of his report.
The Attorney General’s reaction was not at all what Rogge had expected. Clark seemed highly disconcerted by the facts Rogge had uncovered. References in the report to ties the Nazis had maintained with certain American business leaders and political figures appeared to disturb Clark in particular.
On finishing reading the material Rogge had given him, the Attorney General declared that the report could not possibly be published. It would have to remain a “secret document” . . .
Rogge was nonplussed. It had been definitely understood before he went to Germany that the results of his findings were to be made public. He proposed that Clark reserve decision on the disposition of the report until it was completed.
The Attorney-General was non-committal . . .
Throughout July and August, Rogge continued to work on the report. As he neared the end, one of Clark’s aides proposed a “compromise solution” for the publication of the report. The proposal was that Rogge identify only the lesser, notorious American fifth columnists and omit all names of American poHticians and businessmen. Rogge was outraged at the suggestion. Of what use, he demanded, would the report be if the major culprits were not mentioned?
In reply, Clark’s aide shrugged his shoulders . . .
On September 17, 1946, Rogge finished his report, which was 396 pages in length, and delivered it to Attorney General Clark.
Shortly afterward, Rogge obtained permission to take a two weeks’ leave of absence from the Justice Department, beginning in late October, in order to make a lecture tour. The subject of his lectures was to be the fascist menace in the United States and the methods by which the Nazis had sought to subvert American democracy.
On October 22, at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Rogge delivered the first lecture of his tour. Among those Americans mentioned by Rogge as having proved useful to the Nazis was ex-Senator Burton K. Wheeler . . .
On the morning of October 25, Rogge left New York by plane for the west coast to keep a speaking engagement at Seattle, Washington. Encountering bad weather after nightfall, the plane made an unscheduled stop for refueling at Spokane. At the airport Rogge was informed that there was no room for him on the plane for the remainder of the trip, and that he would have to make other arrangements for flying on to Seattle. He was also told that a “Mr. Savage” was on his way to the airport to see him.
Soon afterwards, a stranger approached Rogge at the airport. *’My name’s Savage,” he said. “I’m from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” He handed Rogge an unsealed envelope.
The envelope contained a letter to Rogge bearing the typewritten signature of Attorney General Clark. The letter curtly notified Rogge that he was dimissed from the Justice Department “as of the close of business this day” . . .
On October 24, the day before Rogge was discharged, ex-Senator Wheeler had visited the White House and conferred privately with President Truman. That evening the President had telephoned Attorney General Clark. A few hours later, the Attorney General called a midnight press conference and announced that Assistant Attorney General O. John Rogge was being dismissed from the Justice Department for having “wilfully violated . . . long-standing rules and regulations …”
Almost twenty-four hours elapsed after this press conference before Rogge himself was notified that he had been discharged.
Commenting on Rogge’s dismissal, I. F. Stone noted in PM that “the Truman Administration and Tom Clark have no stomach for a fight which involves Lindbergh, Coughlin, Wheeler, Ford.”
The intellectual climate produced by the anti-Red, anti-Soviet tomtoms of the government and press is hardly conducive to the criminal prosecution of people whose stock in trade has always been— as was Hitler’s— that they are a bulwark against Bolshevism.
It was not former pro-Nazis but liberals and anti-fascists who were now being investigated by Government agencies in the United States.
A leading role in these investigations was being played by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.