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What Hath Dodd Wrought?

Notes on an Experiment in Conduct

The Creator “lifted His hand, and from it burst a fountain-spray of fire, a million stupendous suns, which clove the blackness . . . as they pierced the far frontiers of Space, until at last they were but as diamond nailheads sparkling under the domed vast roof of the universe.” The three archangels – Michael, Gabriel, and Satan – were impressed and thoughtful, according to Mark Twain in Letters from the Earth.

Then the Creator made animals. The three archangels “were perplexed. Deeply perplexed and the Creator noticed it, and said, ‘Ask, I will answer.’

“‘Divine One,' said Satan, making obeisance, ‘what are they for?’

“‘They are an experiment in Morals and Conduct. Observe them, and be instructed.’”

A few celestial days later Satan decided “to hunt up the earth and see how the Human-Race experiment was coming along. By and by he wrote home – very privately: “This is a strange place, an extraordinary place, and interesting. . . . The people are all insane, the other animals are all insane, the earth is insane. Nature itself is insane. Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very best he is a sort of low-grade nickel-plated angel; at his worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm. Yet he blandly and in all sincerity calls himself the ‘noblest work of God.’ This is the truth I am telling you.”

In this letter, as in others, Satan’s problem was to convince his friends that he wasn’t making the whole thing up: “I have told you nothing about man that is not true. . . . I want you to take seriously the things I am telling you, and I feel that if I were in your place and you in mine, I should need that reminder from time to time, to keep my credulity from flagging.”

From the press gallery of the United States Senate, one can peer down into a vast pit and watch the bipeds who make laws for the earth’s most powerful nation. They sometimes refer to themselves as “the greatest deliberative body in the world.” Starting on June 13, a debate raged below for nine days over the report of a body called the Committee on Standards and Conduct. It was an amazing spectacle.

Nearly a year and a half ago, under the pressure of Drew Pearson and jack Anderson, this committee reluctantly began an investigation of one of their own, Senator Thomas J. Dodd. They wrote a report accusing Senator Dodd of (a) diverting campaign money into his pocket, tax free, and (b) of collecting twice on travel expenses, from private groups and from the government. They said he should be censured for his conduct, which tended “to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.”

What happened in the pit for nine days also tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute, though it finally voted 92-5 to censure. (One newspaperman wanted to begin his article, but did not, “Senator Thomas J. Dodd chiseled his name into history today.”) But by a vote of 51 to 45, Dodd was exonerated of charge (b).

Dodd was the sixth senator to be censured, the second from the state of Connecticut to be so rebuked, the first senator to be censured for personal financial misconduct, the first such defendant to vote at his own trial, although, even so, he was condemned by the largest vote in the history of such proceedings.

Perhaps the most astounding feature of the entire affair was that: it was supposed to be a moral inquiry. Monstrous lies were told and no one laughed or cried out; far greater crimes than those being contemplated were concealed; many squirmed but none protested.

Of all the bipeds in the pit, the defendant was the most marvelous curiosity. By their voices and their faces, the senators below showed they knew Dodd to be lying. And he did lie, almost unfailingly. Yet in a moment of hell-red, desk-pounding indignation, near the middle of his speech on the first day, he shouted “I am telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I am telling the truth as though I had to face my Maker in a minute. I am telling you the truth and I am concealing nothing. May the vengeance of God strike me if I am doing otherwise!” Dodd also tempted secular fate. He urged his audience “to look at the whole picture” – to do what he did when he was a district attorney: “I took a whole look at the man, at his whole life and how he conducted himself. . . .” “The picture of my entire life ought to be taken into consideration,” he said.

It Was the Last Thing They Wanted

Nothing could have harmed the poor man more, but it was a safe enough challenge; the last thing his associates wanted to do was to look into Dodd’s entire life. The Ethics Committee had decided to limit its investigation and indictment because among other reasons, the Senate would otherwise have been brought into far greater dishonor and disrepute. The six committee members and their tiny staff {five people, including secretaries, whose salaries come to $4,000 a month – a figure that might, for humorous purposes, be compared with the 31 people, whose salaries come to $31,000 a month, who work under vice chairman Thomas J. Dodd on the internal security subcommittee) did not altogether ignore other matters: the committee did look into Dodd’s private relations with a public relations man, and agent for West Germany, Julius Klein, and found that they were “indiscreet and beyond the responsibilities of a senator to any citizen. . . .”

One item the committee turned over to the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service for possible legal action was Dodd's receipt of $8,000 in cash from the International Latex Corporation, allegedly in return for the senator’s promise to help make A. N. Spanel, the company’s chairman of the board, an ambassador. It also turned over to the Justice Department another discovery – that Dodd had accepted as a gift the loans of three new automobiles over a 21-month period from Dunbar Associates, a Connecticut contracting firm that does business with the federal government. Dodd had intervened on Dunbar's behalf with federal agencies, according to testimony presented.

There were many other charges, often supported by evidence in the public “stipulations” signed by both the committee and Dodd’s lawyers. The best list, although still incomplete, comes from a letter written to the Ethics Committee by the four ex-employees of Sen. Dodd who started the whole affair by removing and copying some 6,000 documents from his files to prove that he was dishonest. Dodd’s former staff members were distressed over the decision to narrow the indictment to two issues. “How will Americans ever learn about patterns of privilege and conflict of interest,” one of them asked, “if only 10 percent of his unethical activities – and those the least important – are made public?”

In the letter, which was detailed enough to include names and sums of money, they said:

-that Dodd had accepted monetary gifts, services, and other things of substantial value from industries being investigated by committees of which he was chairman or a member (they named the motion picture, television, firearms, insurance, drug and electrical industries);

-that Dodd had accepted “monetary contributions and other personal gifts from businessmen or other groups for whom he had performed official services {they named five including defense industries);

-that Dodd had sought and sometimes obtained appointments for people who contributed large sums of money or granted him non-interest bearing loans {nine examples);

-that Dodd had aided clients of his Hartford law firm by pressing their interests before federal agencies (two named);

-that Dodd had used “public funds for what essentially are vacation or personal trips” to Florida, California, the Caribbean and Europe;

-that Dodd had put on the Senate payroll – either on his own staff or that of a committee he headed – people “who perform no public business and who render essentially personal services. . . .” They gave three examples, one of which was 21 staff members on the payroll of the juvenile delinquency subcommittee; 13 were diverted by the chairman, Sen. Dodd, “to activities that bore no relation to the committee work for which they were being paid. . . .”

Here is one story that didn't get into their letter:

Both Connecticut and federal law prohibit corporations and labor unions from making direct, partisan campaign contributions; but direct, partisan contributions were made at the Labor-Management Dinner held in Dodd’s behalf on October 14, 1964. Income from that dinner was given at $16,000 in the report to the Connecticut Secretary of State, but under pressure from Ethics Committee investigators, Dodd said that the dinner had actually netted $31,853.31. (Dodd’s ex-employees believe it was more than that.) Shortly before the dinner, two lawyers pointed out to Dodd that much of the money already collected was in violation of the law. Dodd naturally didn't want to return the money, so the law was circumvented by the routine device of having contributors “buy” advertisements in a souvenir booklet. Marjorie Carpenter, who was present at this discussion, protested that there wasn't time to print such a booklet, but the scheme went ahead anyway. A line was added to the program saying that a souvenir booklet was being printed and would be sent to dinner guests. It never was.

Did a wave of indignation sweep over the land after the publication of the mid-April letter by the four former employees of Dodd? No. Most people remained ignorant of it. The Ethics Committee refused to expand its inquiry. It so little affected Sen. Dodd that he openly used an employee of the internal security subcommittee, David Martin, his “anti-communist expert,” to coordinate his second line of defense – a battery of 11 or 12 lawyers and aides who occupied an entire corner of the Senate during the debate. David Martin, like other committee employees, not only works for Dodd but in 1964 helped him campaign and raise money in Connecticut. He arranged the Latex deal, and received a $1,000 bonus from Dodd. How does all this increase the nation's internal security? One cannot say. Mr. Martin was not called as a witness.

Dodd’s finances will never be clear, but in the years studied by the committee {1961-1965) he didn’t suffer despite his groans on Judgment Day. In addition to his salary of $30,000 a year (plus free medical care and other benefits), Dodd diverted between $116,000 and $161,000 in tax-free campaign funds to his own bank account, received $110,000 in legal fees, $50,000 in lecturing and writing fees, and only he knows how much went into double-billing and other forms of remuneration.

Dodd launched the debate by saying that he wanted “justice, not mercy,” whereupon he launched one of the most protracted and shameless appeals for mercy ever seen, even at the gates of Hell. His family hung over the edge of the pit for the entire two weeks, an uncomfortable presence for uneasy senators. At one point Dodd was asked by his “defense attorney” {Senator Russell Long), who did the cooking in his household. After a short exchange about how often the cleaning woman came in, Dodd said it was Mrs. Dodd: “I am embarrassed even to answer the question or have it raised [he had already raised this question himself], but I said before that my bones are bare anyway. It does not make much difference anymore.” Senator Dodd wanted (b) voted before {a) – for strategic reasons. He had said earlier that he didn't care, that it didn't matter. But then it turned out that it did matter. “You want to be fair with me? . . . I am not asking for very much . . . Nobody wants to see it over any more than I, with perhaps the exception of my wife and family. . . . All I want is a fair shake. . . . If you do not want to do it for me, that is all right. . . . I am not asking you to do very much for me. . . . If you do not want to do that for me, then there is nothing I can do about it. . . . I am asking for decency.”

One of Dodd’s defense speeches was almost identical to a television speech he had delivered earlier to constituents in Connecticut – with an interesting exception. In the Senate he didn't use the theme that ran all the way through his address back home: he was in all this bad trouble because he was an anti-communist. That would not have gone down well in a group of men who speak openly about what one of them called "his notorious absentee record in committees – and especially in the Committee on Foreign Relations. He's not there to hear witnesses, or to do work, but he shows up on the floor every two weeks or so to make a big anti-communist speech.”

But in Connecticut things are different, especially among those well-knit ethnic groups that identify strongly with the Irish Catholic senator and the well-heeled conservatives who are his biggest financial backers. {A typographical error in the Congressional Record had Dodd saying “Ethnical judgments are not involved at all here.” What he really said was “ethical judgments,” but either way he was wrong.) “. . . The campaign against me,” he told his constituents, “has its origin in a strange coming together of hateful and vengeful interest. . . . There was a minor press wolfpack . . . which has been after my scalp for many years because of my position on communism and communist aggression, and because of my repeated criticism of the blindness and softness and insistence on appeasement to which they are all addicted. . . . The communists have always regarded me as a prime enemy. In fact, the communist propaganda apparatus has been having a field day. . . . In a sense, I am technically responsible for the incredibly sloppy bookkeeping that went on in my office. . . . I'm responsible because I was on the Senate floor making speeches, or conducting hearings, or gathering the facts about communism, subversion and terrorism, so that I could present them to the Congress and the people. . . . A question at issue is whether Pearson and Anderson are to be given a hunting license to knock off all those in Congress who advocate a hard line of resistance to communist aggression and who oppose all tendencies to appeasement.”


The Anti-Censure Voters

In the Senate, the four who joined Dodd in the anti-censure vote were Russell Long, John Tower of Texas, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina – and one alien, the junior senator from Connecticut, Abraham Ribicoff. Ribicoff was in agony; he could only lose. He chose the path which he thought would involve the smallest loss. He would have voted for censure had he come from another state, or if the Connecticut newspapers had done their job and dug up the other Dodd scandals, or if the committee had broadened its indictment, or, perhaps, even if he had not been running next year. As it is, he will now be able to live best with the people he likes least in his state.

Carl Curtis of Nebraska, a Dodd defender did finally vote for censure. Yet he made the kind of attack on the four ex-employees of Dodd {about whom, it quickly became clear, he knew nothing) – that might have emerged from the horror of a communist purge trial. He judged them, he condemned them, he reviled them, he spoke of their “offenses” as though they were proven, he asked mysteriously whether blackmail might have been a motive “Blackmail is a rather dirty word, but I use it. . . . As a matter of fact, the committee knew there was something wrong in Denmark.” (“It’s not nearly as serious as what's wrong in Nebraska,” a reporter added.) Curtis was not heard from, however, after the following exchange:

“Mr. Curtis: Is there anything in the record to indicate that any of these four former employees delivered any of the information they obtained to the Committee on Standards and Conduct prior to the time they delivered it to a man who was selling a column?

"Mr. Bennett: There was no Committee on Standards and Conduct at the time.”

These employees, by the way, cooperated fully with the Ethics Committee and. Senator Curtis, Long and others to the contrary, suffered financially as well as emotionally from their decision. (One of them is preparing to sue Sen. Long for remarks made on a radio program.) They did not respond to most attacks, at the request of the committee. Yet they were not even told that the committee intended to condemn them for their act. {If they had known this, they would have asked to put their motives on the record in reply to neutral questioning. As it is, the record only contains their responses to the hostile questions of Dodd’s lawyer.) And there were many other small and large slights from the committee that was so indebted to them. But the most thoughtless omission, if not the most serious, was the failure to let them hear the debate. Dodd’s former office manager and bookkeeper, Michael O’Hare, tried to get in all during the first week. He would be let for 15 minutes at a time, like any tourist, then he would have to wait for 45 minutes in line to get back in. All this time, and for the following week, too, he was being savaged by Dodd and Long on the libel-proof floor. No senator came to his aid.

And on what better note could this further report on the Creator’s experiment in Morals and Conduct end? O'Hare was told by one senator whom he had approached for a pass of some sort, “Well, you can always read it in the Record the next day.” But he couldn’t read it in the Congressional Record the next day because senators give themselves the right to change what they said. And, sure enough, at least two of the most damaging statements made about O’Hare had been altered; one – a tirade by Russell Long – had disappeared altogether.

Morally speaking, then, the experiment has reached the point where, in “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” a man who makes sacrifices to help expose a corrupt senator can be badly hurt by things he can neither hear nor read. And he cannot count on help from the pit – or even outside it.

This article originally ran in the July 8, 1967, issue of the magazine.