Red Web - Blair Coan

The Means to an End

Eugene V. Debs, from his cell in the Atlanta Penitentiary, made the prediction, in 1920, when the Socialist party mission went to Russia, that "victory" for the proletarian cause in the United States might be expected in 1924. As noted in the previous chapter, Gregory Zinoviev in February, 1924, set forth in the Pravada, official organ of the Comintern, that bolshevism had the right to "expect welcome surprises from the American labor movement" in the year that had now come. Notwithstanding the factionalism and the jealousies and the difference of view as to methods of creating and maintaining a "united front" of the revolutionists, there was a "united front" so far as certain essential details were concerned. The "left wing' Reds—the communists—and the "right wing" reds—the socialists—were in complete accord, so far as the following demands were concerned:

  • Recognition of Soviet Russia by the United States, and the establishment of diplomatic and trade relations with Russia:
  • Adoption of the Plumb Plan for the bolshevization of the transportation systems of the United States, as a preliminary step towards the extension of the same plan to all other industries of the country:
  • The greatest possible limitation of Congressional appropriations for the support of the American Army and Navy, that these defensive arms of the government might be weakened to as great an extent as possible:
  • Legislation providing for the independence of the Philippine Islands:
  • Withdrawal of all American soldiers from duty in insular territory where the United States exercised protective supervision:
  • A constitutional amendment taking from the Supreme Court the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, and vesting in the Congress the power of veto over decisions of the Supreme Court:
  • Legislation to prevent the use of the injunction in connection with industrial disputes:
  • And some proceeding—impeachment or otherwise—to "get Daugherty."

The early sessions of the Sixty-eighth Congress, in which the LaFollette radical bloc had become reinforced by the addition to it of Wheeler, Brookhart, Frazier, Shipstead and Dill, at once revealed that the radicals were in a position to maintain a balance of power, and the alliance between the radicals and the Democratic minority became apparent when it brought about the election of a Democratic chairman of the Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce. The election of Senator Smith of Georgia, as chairman of this committee was accomplished, however, only after a lengthy deadlock, and little was done by the Senate before the Christmas-New Year holiday recess.

The Borah resolution demanding the recognition of Russia and diplomatic and trade relations with the bolsheviki was an item in order at the beginning of the year 1924. Senator Borah was named chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to conduct public hearings on his resolution. Perhaps no effort in Borah's life has been greater than the one to bring about the recognition of Russia. The government had in its possession an abundance of records and reports showing the activities and the propaganda of the Russian reds intended to influence the recognition of the Soviet government. These documents also showed their methods and violent acts in Russia and in this country.

During the winter of 1923-24 an assistant attorney general had asserted that there was no evidence in the possession of the government of the above character. This assertion was seized upon with great glee by the reds and Russian sympathizers to dispel any opposition in this country to the recognition of the Soviet government.

To the surprise of those observing the movement, Attorney General Daugherty, on the ninth of January, 1924, issued the following statement:

"My attention has been directed to certain publicity supposed to have emanated from the Department of Justice in connection with the Communist propaganda in this country, and pertaining to that publicity already made public by the Department of State."

"I beg leave to call attention to the fact that some time ago, and before any publicity had been given out, I announced that the Department of Justice would give out no information in connection with this propaganda; that the Department of Justice would furnish the State Department, as it has done, all the information in its possession, and that publicity on the subject would be given out only by the State Department."

"Personally, I have given out nothing for publication since making this announcement, nor authorized anybody else to do so."

"I have only this to say further. Apart from the question of prosecutions or of technical requirements to meet the provisions of particular statutes, it should be clearly understood that the Department of Justice has abundant evidence to support the position of the Department of State with respect to Communist propaganda, directed from Moscow, in this country."

This statement was published in every newspaper in this country and extensively abroad. It created great consternation in the red ranks. At this time Senator Borah's activities against Attorney General Daugherty and his urgency upon the President to change Attorney Generals, became notoriously apparent.

Neither Attorney General Daugherty nor Secretary of State Hughes has ever explained why the Attorney General issued this statement. But it can be fairly presumed that Attorney General Daugherty would not have published the statement involving subject matter under the direction of the State Department without a specific request from the head of that Department. It is known, however, that this announcement by the Attorney General intensified the feeling of the reds and the pinks both in and out of office.

At the same time, the Teapot Dome investigation, originated by Senator LaFollette, was under way with Senator Thomas J. Walsh, of Montana, as "prosecutor."

The chronology of the Senate's activities in these early weeks of the Sixty-eighth Congress is both interesting and significant. In sizing up these activities, the reader should have two things clearly in mind: First, the "demands" of the reds, both "left wing" and "right wing," as enumerated above; and, second, the radical "balance of power" and the alliance with the Democratic minority, accomplished through the help of misled and duped Democratic leadership which saw in the coalition political advantages that might be conducive to a return to power in the next national election.

The Senate on January 14th adopted the Borah resolution calling upon the State Department for copies of all reports, for six years past, on Russian affairs. On the same day, Senator LaFollette introduced his bill for the granting of independence to the Philippine Islands. Although there had been a few outbursts, apropros of Teapot Dome, prior to then, it was on this day that the guns of slander and defamation were let loose in earnest—and it became almost a daily occurrence thereafter for such oratorical fire-brands as Walsh, of Montana; Heflin, Ashurst, Caraway, Robinson and others to join with the avowed radicals in the recital of rumors, falsehoods, insinuations, libels and slanders, under protection of senatorial immunity, in an effort to extract from the case of Teapot Dome support for a campaign intended to demonstrate that the entire Republican administration was rotten with crookedness and that the government was everything that the communists, socialists, pinks and yellows said it was.

Senator Ladd's resolution to investigate the regime of General Wood in the Philippines was introduced on the 17th of January. This supplied ample excuse for another fiery campaign in support of another red demand—independence for the Philippines.

The State Department, on January 21, complied with the provisions of the Borah resolution, and supplied the Borah committee with a vast quantity of reports and documents, much of it of the most confidential character. Additional documents and reports were turned over to the committee by Secretary Hughes the next day. It should be noted in this connection that Secretary Hughes found it necessary, sometime later, to warn the Borah committee that certain of these reports must not under any circumstances be made public, for to do so would be "incompatible with the public interest."

By the 28th of January, the daily harangues in the Senate—almost wholly outside the record of the Teapot Dome committee's hearings—had developed such a state of panic among administration senators that only the feeblest sort of attempt was made by them in defense of the administration and of the government it represented. On that day—which was the same day on which President Coolidge announced steps would be taken in court to protect the government's interests both in Teapot Dome and in the Elk Hills reserves of California —Senator Walsh in the Senate demanded the resignation of Secretary of the Navy Denby, not because the Secretary had committed any crime, but because of what the Montana senator termed his "stupidity." The President's announcement was that he would nominate special counsel to represent the government, Attorney General Daugherty having recommended that such a step be taken. There are certain significant phases of the Teapot Dome case, which the reader is entitled to know, but to these I want to direct attention a little later, and shall not, therefore, go into that case further at this point.

A day later, January 29th, Senator Wheeler introduced his resolution calling upon President Coolidge to demand the resignation of Attorney General Daugherty. Senator Shipstead, on the first of February, delivered his initial broadside in the Senate against the Treasury Department, charging that the department, under Secretary Mellon, was engaged in a "conspiracy with big banking interests."

Ten days of oratory on the floor of the Senate, a source of intense rejoicing among the leaders of every radical group in the country—communist, socialist, "liberal",—followed, and then on the 11th of February there took place Senator Walsh's introduction of his formal resolution calling upon the President to demand the resignation of Secretary Denby. The panic among administration senators had been supplemented by voicelessness and impotence. The resolution was adopted with scarcely the sound of a struggle.

"We cannot impeach Denby," said Walsh. "There is no evidence upon which he can be impeached."


"We can pass a resolution calling upon the President to compel Denby's resignation."

He could not be impeached, in other words, but he could be officially lynched, possibly, and the result would be the same.

"No official recognition can be given to the passage of the Senate resolution relative to their opinion concerning the members of the Cabinet or other officers under executive control," said President Coolidge in a Lincoln Day address.

"I do not propose," said the President, "to sacrifice any innocent man for my own welfare, nor do I propose to retain in office any unfit man for my own welfare. I shall try to maintain the functions of the government unimpaired, to act upon the evidence and the law as I find it, and to deal thoroughly and summarily with every kind of wrongdoing."

"In the meantime, such steps have been taken and are being taken as fully to protect the public interests."

[Illustration] from The Red Web by Blair Coan


Unfortunately for the future power and value of these forceful utterances, Secretary Denby—undoubtedly wearied of the impotence of Republican senators who should have been standing by their country and fighting for the preservation of the integrity of its administration—surrendered. He sent his resignation to the President on the 17th of February, and the President made the unfortunate mistake of accepting it.

In the meantime, Senator Wheeler had been endeavoring, through one liason or another, to establish a connection between himself and one Gaston B. Means, indicted by Daugherty for bribery, at that time awaiting trial; but, at the time of this writing, convicted and serving time in the Atlanta penitentiary. According to Means' own story of it, his wife wired him at Palm Beach, Florida, that Wheeler, "through a very close friend," had requested that he (Means) see him (Wheeler) in connection with a contemplated 'investigation' of the Department of Justice." Before the link between Wheeler and Means had been welded, however, Wheeler introduced in the Senate, February 13th, his resolution providing for an investigation of the Department of Justice. The resolution pended for nearly a week before Wheeler took the floor of the Senate (February 19th) and delivered a scathing arraignment of Attorney General Daugherty, concluding his speech by making the unprecedented proposal that a committee of his own choosing be designated to conduct the investigation. He made known his choice of a committee with the following names: Wheeler, of Montana; Brookhart, of Iowa; Ashurst, of Arizona; Jones, of Washington, and McLean of Connecticut.

[Illustration] from The Red Web by Blair Coan


The idea was, of course, as was quite obvious to anyone possessed of even average intelligence, to pack the committee for a certainty against the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, the administration and, in fact, against the government. For the committee proposed by Wheeler was composed of three pinks—of the "radical bloc"—to two Republicans, such an alignment being possible because Brookhart had been elected as a Republican and Wheeler and Ashurst had been elected as Democrats. The proposal was little short of a stroke of genius, in the minds of the misled dupes within the Democratic minority, and for several days these joined with the radicals in support of the Wheeler resolution and of the personnel suggested by Wheeler for the committee. There was almost a gravelike silence among the distressed administration senators on the Republican side of the Senate chamber—except for Borah, who had been keeping the road hot between the Capitol and the White House in his endeavor to convince President Coolidge he should dismiss his Attorney General, "for the sake of the party." And Borah, whose love for the party is on a parity with LaFollette's or Norris's or Brookhart's, arose on the 23rd of February to deliver himself of a blast at Daugherty.

But Senator Bruce, the Maryland Democrat, who was not unfamiliar with the aims and aspirations of the pro-bolshevik pinks, having come out on the top side of a campaign with one—Senator France—to get his seat in the Senate, was one man on the Democratic side of the chamber who detected the odor of a mouse and did not hesitate to tell the Senate so. In a speech to the Senate on February 29th, Senator Bruce expressed emphatic objection to Wheeler's naming the committee or to his having his way as to how the committee should be chosen. The Maryland Democratic senator revealed the reason for his opposition by declaring it was because "everyone knows that the author of the resolution (Senator Wheeler) is closely affiliated with elements of our population (the radical elements, of course!) which have particular reasons for objecting to Mr. Daugherty."

But Wheeler was destined to have his way. The alliance of the "radical bloc" with the Democratic minority, combined with the pussy-footing impotence of the Republican opposition, made this inevitable. His resolution was adopted March 1st. LaFollette took a hand by making a motion that the committee be elected, instead of appointed, as per rule, by the presiding officer of the Senate, and that the following constitute the committee: Brookhart, chairman; Wheeler, Ashurst, Jones and Moses, Senator Moses' name being substituted for that of Senator McLean, originally suggested by Wheeler.

Upon the return to Washington from Palm Beach of the aforesaid Gaston B. Means, whose fame is such now that words or phrases intended to establish his identity would be the quintessence of ultra-refined superfluity, Means was brought "into conference" with Senator Wheeler, and, to quote Means, "it was agreed that I was to assist him in the investigation of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice in the way of furnishing evidence, examination and coaching of witnesses, etc."

"Wheeler grew desperate in his efforts to find some information on which he could base charges against the administration and against the Department of Justice," swears Means, "saying that he was working with LaFollette and had certain plans in view that made it imperative that he make good in connection with his public statements as to the conditions in the Department of Justice, and that the Department of Justice be connected with the alleged oil scandals."

Means was chary about his dealings with Wheeler. He was not so unscrupulous that his prospective role did not give him an attack of indecision. Although he had failed to get the ear of the Attorney General, himself, he sought to get it indirectly. What was going on in Wheeler's office, preliminary to the investigation, and his own assertions that "an effort was being made to frame Mr. Daugherty," were reported to the Alien Property Custodian, Col. Thomas Miller, and the information in turn was conveyed to Daugherty.

"Colonel Miller reported back," again quoting Means, "that Mr. Daugherty said that it would be impossible for anybody to successfully frame him up, and that he 'did not give a damn' about what was going on in Senator Wheeler's office. However, Colonel Miller, understanding more of the details of what was going on, requested that the efforts to secure this information not be dropped, but be reported to him, which I did, from day to day."

Attorney General Daugherty, for a mistaken position which he took with respect to the so-called investigation which Wheeler proposed should be made and which the Senate authorized to be made, is to be excused, no doubt, on the ground that the proceeding, as it developed, was entirely unprecedented. That any senator could make such a proposal as Wheeler's and succeed in carrying it out was too incomprehensible. So that, it is probable Attorney General Daugherty's was a natural mistake when he gave official recognition to the "investigation," even welcomed it; and, supposing it would be conducted in an ethical, as well as legal manner, engaged counsel to represent him before the committee. To give the action of the Senate, and subsequently, that of the Wheeler-Brookhart committee official recognition, by employing counsel to appear before it or by giving it any official attention whatever, was a blunder on the part of the Attorney General; but, as I say, undoubtedly an excusable blunder when it is remembered that so flagrant a defiance of ethical rules and law, and so palpable a repudiation of the processes prevailing in an orderly government as were exhibited by Wheeler and his predominating colleagues on the committee, never had been known in the annals of the United States.

Such a nefarious plot was impossible, thought Daugherty, and that is why he met Colonel Miller's transmission of information, supplied by Means, with impatience, and said that he "did not give a damn" about the goings on in Wheeler's office, preparatory to the start of the "investigation."

"Up until the time I took the stand in the investigation," says Means, "I understood that I should seek information as to what Senator Wheeler was going to do, and on the day before I took the stand received information that Mr. Daugherty said I could 'go to hell,' so far as he was concerned."

And that determined Means. He was severely ruffled by Daugherty, and he suffered no longer from indecision. His alliance with Wheeler was thus made secure. "Go to Hell!" He'd be damned if he would. He'd show Harry Daugherty the fruits of such rough talk!

And that accounts for the star witness against Daugherty, this arch-collaborator of Wheeler in the unscrupulous development of as conscienceless a frame-up against a man, a government and a people as it is possible to imagine in any country with the exception, perhaps, of Red Russia itself.