In March 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy named nine alleged Communists to the Tydings Committee. The Senate committee was investigating claims by McCarthy that Communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthy singled out Owen Lattimore as a “top Russian spy.” A Johns Hopkins University faculty member, Lattimore specialized in East Asia and had advised FDR on China. McCarthy gave false information to the press to make a public spectacle out of his accusations. Lattimore protested that the charges were reckless or malicious smears without evidence. He warned that “the shadow of McCarthyism” hung over all of American public life. In 1951, a new Senate committee, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, or SISS, opened another investigation around Lattimore. The Internal Security Subcommittee was part of the Senate Judiciary Committee and its job was to try to suss out whether there was, in fact, disloyalty or subversion, in essence, communism. Led by Democratic Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada, the committee’s mandate was enforcement of the Internal Security Act of 1950. McCarran actually believed that there was a spider web in the United States government with a spider at the center of it and he was going to find that spider and it was going to be Owen Lattimore. The committee hired professional staff, including legal counsel. Throughout 1951, investigators looked into Lattimore and his former employer, the Institute of Pacific Relations. McCarthy helped the committee access thousands of IPR documents already rejected by the FBI but McCarran was convinced could incriminate Lattimore. Ordinarily, if the proper channels are being followed there would have to be a formal request from a congressional committee to the FBI that would be sent to them via the Department of Justice. SISS subpoenaed witnesses who claimed Lattimore was a communist spy or who had something to gain by his downfall. A subpoena literally means “under penalty
of punishment” and a subpoena is just an order that some entity sends you saying, “show up,” and sometimes, “show up bringing documents.” If Congress subpoena’s you and you refuse to show up, Congress in practice can turn to the courts and the courts can require you to appear and you can actually be thrown into jail if you don’t. In February 1952, SISS called Owen Lattimore to testify in public hearings that lasted 12 days. The committee tested Lattimore’s sworn statements against hundreds of statements in his writings from 1935 to 1950. They had all the IPR archives at their disposal and they conducted their hearings as a highly organized perjury trap. The Senate’s final report in July 1952 recommended that the Justice Department seek perjury charges. The report made no case for charges of espionage. Congressional committees do not have the power to issue any kind of a criminal indictment. Only the executive branch in the federal government has the power to do that not the legislative branch. So when a committee thinks that there is evidence of a crime all it can do is wave its hands in the air and say we think this should be referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution. The Justice Department took the recommendations; Owen Lattimore was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury on seven counts of perjury. Ultimately, in 1955, a federal judge objected to government claims that Lattimore lied about being “a sympathizer and promoter of Communism…” After the judge dismissed numerous charges, the Government dropped the prosecution of Owen Lattimore. By that time Lattimore had been sidelined
professionally for 5 years. Investigative exposure drove McCarthyism, and the main kind of weapon of McCarthyism was economic sanctions and that was sufficient to really shrink the political spectrum. McCarthy’s accusations against Lattimore brought about two congressional investigations of the Far East scholar. Lattimore was completely exonerated but with lasting damage to his career.