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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 27, 1990. Interview L-0064-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tactics of defense against HUAC

Pollitt offers another anecdote about his loyalty and security cases against the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the late 1940s and early 1950s. In describing how he and colleague Joseph Raul defended four workers from the United Auto Workers, Pollitt points to the role of the media in the tactics of HUAC and he describes some of the "dirty tricks" he and other lawyers used to help their clients.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 27, 1990. Interview L-0064-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

One time we represented about four United Auto Workers, organizers, and they had been in the Farm Equipment Workers Union which was a left wing union and then it merged with the United Auto Workers. And they made farm tractors and things in the quiet city of Iowa and Illinois. They were subpoenaed. One of them, a very nice guy decided that none of them are going to name names. They were all going to plead the fifth. And one of them said that his daughter was…. It was the night of the high school prom and he didn't want to be on the 6:00 news back in his home town where his daughter is going to the prom that night. And could we do something about that? So I called up the council for the committee and said, "You've got the four subpoenaed. Three of them will be there, but the fourth has a personal problem and would like to come next week if it's possible. Put him on next week." And the guy said, "What's his problem?" And I said, "Well, it's a personal problem." And he said, "What is it?" And I said, "Well, his daughter is graduating from high school tonight and he doesn't want to be on the news." He said, "Bring him in." And I said, "Well, we'll come but don't put him on camera." And he said, "Well, we'll see." So there had just been a recent decision saying you don't have to be on camera because that makes you nervous and therefore the Congress can't get the information that it's entitled to if you're nervous so you don't have to testify on camera. And that was just out, so Joe Rauh says, "Don't worry. We're not going to have the camera. You don't have to have the camera and no matter what they say, we're not going to go on the camera." So we were second or third and then they called our crowd. We got up and they put the camera on us. And Joe says, "Hey what are you doing? You agreed no camera." And they said, "That's when he's testifying. When he's walking up we can take the pictures." So Joe Rauh ran over and pulled the plug out of the socket which gave the lights…
In the whole room?
Not the whole room. They had the head lights, but not the T.V. lights. So he pulled the damn plug out and says, "We're not coming." And he says, "Put your handkerchief on your face." We all did, you know. [laughter] "We're not coming forward until you live up to your agreement. You agreed no camera and I'm not going to have you fooling around." So we went up and pleaded the fifth and the guy was not on the news. But you do a lot of crazy things to help out the client. There are dirty tricks. I played a lot of dirty tricks. I forget who it was or the circumstances, but I had somebody that couldn't be there. His wife was having an operation or something and I went to see the counsel who is sort of famous now. He's an editor of the right wing Buckley newspaper. He was the Assistant Counsel. I saw him and I said, "The guy can't be here. His wife's having an operation and he'll be here later." And the fellow says, "Okay, don't worry." So I don't trust him. So I went to the hearings by myself and sat in the second row and what do they do? They call the guy. "Will so and so please come forward? Where is the guy?" "He's not here." "We'll have to issue a subpoena and send the marshall out to arrest him. We can't have these people so and so." I stood up and said, "Hey, we had an agreement. The agreement was that he didn't have to come today. He'll be here next week as agreed." And they said, "We didn't have any agreement. Who are you? You can't use our committee as a Communist dump." [laughter] I got the word in, you know. And it's very embarrassing to have to do that. But it was sort of a war, you know. I mean, you couldn't trust them one minute and they probably felt the same way about us. But the dirtiest thing, the first time I went there by myself it was some CIO people and I saw the Associate General Counsel of the CIO. We did all the CIO people in addition to the Auto Workers. And it was a guy named Tom Harris, a very nice fellow who was the Associate General Counsel of the CIO. And I said, "Tom, why don't you go down?" "No, no, no. We have a lot of conservative unions we represent and they don't want to be involved, so you go." And I said, "Okay. What do I do if they ask my client if they got their lawyer through the Communist Party," which they had to ask. He says, "There's only one thing you can do. Stand up, walk over and hit the guy in the lip." [laughter] I said, "Tom, come on." He says, "That's the only thing you can do." So those were my instructions. They didn't ask for it. But I wouldn't have done it.