Lee Pressman (I)
Excerpts from Lee Pressman‘s testimony (I)
The excerpts that appear below, from Lee Pressman’s HUAC testimony of August 28, 1950, deal with Pressman’s comments about Alger Hiss and other matters raised by Whittaker Chambers.
Mr. PRESSMAN. In the early 1930s, Mr. Chairman, as you may well recall, as well as other members of this committee, there was a very severe Depression in our country. The future looked black for my generation just emerging from school. At the same time, the growing specter of Nazism in Germany presented to my mind an equally grave threat.
In my desire to see the destruction of Hitlerism and an improvement in economic conditions here at home, I joined a Communist group in Washington, D.C., about 1934. My participation in such group extended for about a year, to the best of my recollection. I recall that about the latter part of 1935 – the precise date I cannot recall, but it is a matter of public record – I left the Government service and left Washington to reenter the private practice of law in New York City. And at that time I discontinued any further participation in the group from that date until the present.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I state the following at this time:
There were three other persons in that group in addition to myself. They were all at the time with me in the Department of Agriculture. They have all been named before this committee by others.
I state to you that I am prepared, as I will indicate, to answer any and all questions regarding my activities in the past up to the present, and possibly project my viewpoint into the future. It would be offensive to me, as it would be to practically all people, to have to name individuals with whom I have associated in the past.
What I have stated to you would indicate that I offer no additional information that this committee does not already have. However, that is a decision which this committee will have to make in propounding its questions to me and the directives you issue to me.
Bear in mind, sir, there may be others like myself who, out of deep convictions, will change their beliefs. If this committee assumes the position that those who do change their convictions and beliefs, as I have, must also be compelled to take what I submit would be an offensive – offensive to one’s own personal self – position, that might well be discouraging to other people to do what I have done. But, I repeat, that is a decision which this committee will have to make.
Now, I believe it of interest to comment that I have no knowledge regarding the political beliefs or affiliations of Alger Hiss. And when I say I have no knowledge, I am not endeavoring to quibble with this committee. I appear here, as I necessarily must, as a lawyer. I am a lawyer. When one asks me for knowledge, knowledge to my mind is based on fact, and I have no facts. And bear in mind, sir, that as an attorney, to be asked to comment on a case now pending in court is a very unusual experience for an attorney, because anything I say undoubtedly may have an impact one way or another on that case, and for that reason I am trying to be very, very precise. I do know, I can state as a matter of knowledge, that for the period of my participation in that group, which is the only basis on which I can say I have knowledge, Alger Hiss was not a member of the group.
Now, those two statements of mine are based on knowledge, which embraces facts within my possession. I do not believe that this committee would want me to hazard conjectural surmise. That is not my function. You want from me, I assume, facts and nothing but facts.
Mr. PRESSMAN. I graduated from Harvard Law School in June 1929. I believe it was September 1929 when I was employed at a law firm in New York City. My recollection is that I was with the law firm from 1929 until sometime the latter part of 1932 or early part of 1933, when I became a partner in another law firm.
Sometime in the spring of 1933, I was called down to Washington by Mr. Jerome Frank, who was then general counsel of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and asked whether I would accept employment with the Administration as an assistant general counsel.
At this point, Mr. Chairman, I would like to take the opportunity, as I will through the course of these proceedings, to lay low, I hope once and for all, many distortions of truth. It has been asserted time and again by some people that I was responsible, for example, for getting Alger Hiss a job in Triple A. I state as a fact, and the public records will bear me out, that when I came to Washington to become employed in the Triple A, at that time Alger Hiss was already working with Jerome Frank as his assistant in the Triple A. I had nothing whatsoever – and when I say nothing whatsoever I mean precisely that – nothing whatsoever to do with the employment of Alger Hiss in the Triple A.
Mr. PRESSMAN. I was asked to join [the Communist Party] by a man named Harold Ware. For the reasons which I have already indicated, I assented, and I joined with the group which had, in addition to myself, three other persons, all of whom at that time were in the Department of Agriculture.
Mr. WOOD. Are any of them in the Department of Agriculture now?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No, Mr. Chairman, and the three who were then in the Department of Agriculture have been named before this committee time and time again.
Mr. TAVENNER. At the time that you were recruited into the party by Ware, were you assigned to any branch or section or cell of the Communist Party?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I was assigned merely to this specific group.
Mr. TAVENNER. What was the name of this group?
Mr. PRESSMAN. We had no name. We were just a group of individuals.
Mr. TAVENNER. You say there were only four members of that group?
Mr. PRESSMAN. During the period of my participation, there were only four members of the group.
Mr. CASE. You said Harold Ware recruited you into the Communist Party. Was he an employee of the Department of Agriculture?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No.
Mr. CASE. Was he a member of the group?
Mr. PRESSMAN. We did not consider him a member of the group.
Mr. CASE. But you know he was a Communist?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I assume so. He recruited me into the party.
Mr. WOOD. Any further questions, Mr. Nixon?
Mr. NIXON. …. Just so there will be absolute clarity of the record, as I understand, the records of this committee show that the three members of the group who were in the Department of Agriculture were John Abt, Nathan Witt, and Henry Collins?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Henry Collins, to my knowledge, was never an employee of the Department of Agriculture.
Mr. NIXON. Then for that reason you should answer the question.
Mr. PRESSMAN. Your records are wrong.
Mr. NIXON. You yourself said you wanted to clear up distortions about yourself, and I assume other individuals, in the files of this committee. Apparently the files of the committee are wrong in respect to Mr. Collins. Obviously Mr. Abt and Mr. Witt are two of the members of the group. I think you should name the other one. Nathan Witt and John Abt are two. That I am sure of myself. I think Mr. Pressman should clear up who is the third one.
Mr. WOOD. You say the record of this committee, if it includes Collins, is wrong?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I think your own record will show that Mr. Collins was an employee of the National Recovery Administration and not of the Triple A.
Mr. WOOD. I will ask you to name the other employee of the Department of Agriculture who was a member of the group.
Mr. PRESSMAN. The third person among the individuals who have been named as members of this group who was an employee of the Department of Agriculture when I was, in 1934, was Charles Kramer.
Mr. WOOD. Charles who?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Kramer, K-r-a-m-e-r. He was employed by the Department of Agriculture at the time I was.
Mr. WOOD. Any further questions on that point?
Mr. CASE. You say Henry Collins at that time was an employee of another branch of the Government?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Are you stating a fact or asking me a question?
Mr. CASE. I am asking you that question.
Mr. PRESSMAN. I take that from your own record.
Mr. WOOD. Did you know him?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I knew him socially.
Mr. WOOD. Did you know him as a member of the Communist Party?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I did not. He was not a member of my group.
Mr. MOULDER. What was the function of or reason for having your group of four?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I think it is advisable to explain that situation, because, again, there has been what I consider to be considerable misunderstanding. Bear with me, I am talking now solely of the period during which I was a member of that group. During that period what we did was receive literature of a Communist nature, daily newspaper, monthly magazines, books, and things of that nature, Communist literature; we would read the literature and discuss problems covered by the literature.
Mr. MOULDER. As a group?
Mr. PRESSMAN. As a group.
Mr. MOULDER. Did you have regular meetings?
Mr. PRESSMAN. We would meet once a month or twice a month, as the occasion developed, where we would be reading the literature and discussing these problems.
Mr. MOULDER. Would the four of the group be the only ones present?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Those four were usually the only ones present.
Mr. WOOD. You say usually. Were there others present at any time, and if so, who?
Mr. PRESSMAN. This literature which I have described would be brought down to Washington and delivered to one of the group.
Mr. WOOD. By whom?
Mr. PRESSMAN. It was not delivered to me during that period. It was delivered to one of the others in the group.
Mr. WOOD. You knew who delivered it?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I just knew that it was an individual. Let me make clear what my position is. My recollection by way of names of people is that on one or two occasions at the most, to my knowledge – let me start again. Harold Ware was the person who stands out distinctly in my memory as the person who delivered the literature to the group by delivering it to one of the group. I forget the precise date but sometime during that period he was killed in an automobile accident. That date is fairly close to the date that I left Washington. Between the day of his death and the time I left Washington, when I disconnected myself from the group, that literature came down, and I have a hazy recollection – and I cannot state this as an affirmative fact – that one person on one such occasion who may have brought the literature down and may have sat in with the group was this man named Peters.
Mr. WOOD. Do you know his first name?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No. I just knew him as a man named Peters.
Mr. TAVENNER. Is that a photograph of the man whom you knew as Peters?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct.
Mr. NIXON. When did you first meet Peters?
Mr. PRESSMAN. My recollection is that it was once, and possibly twice. I would say definitely once. I can’t remember the second occasion.
Mr. NIXON. You say once and possibly twice?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct, which followed the death of Harold Ware.
Mr. NIXON. As I understand your testimony, you met Peters definitely on one occasion?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct.
Mr. NIXON. And possibly on two occasions?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct.
Mr. NIXON. Where did you meet him?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I do not remember. I recall I met him with the group.
Mr. NIXON. Have you ever met Peters since you broke with the Communist Party?
Mr. PRESSMAN. In later years I may have met him socially, because as I recall his wife was secretary for some union and I may have seen him on social occasions, but I had no organizational relationship with him.
Mr. TAVENNER. Where were those meetings held?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Usually at our respective homes; sometimes at some place other than our respective homes; maybe once or twice elsewhere. The incident would not stand out in my recollection particularly.
Mr. TAVENNER. To whom did you pay your Communist Party dues?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Usually the person who came and delivered our literature would accept our dues.
Mr. TAVENNER. Did you pay dues only twice during that year?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No. Harold Ware would come down more frequently, obviously.
Mr. TAVENNER. Then who were the persons to whom you paid your Communist Party dues?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I have just stated, Harold Ware, and Peters on the occasion he came down.
Mr. TAVENNER. Where there any others?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No.
Mr. TAVENNER. Who were the officials of this group or cell to which you belonged?
Mr. PRESSMAN. We had no officials. It was just a group.
Mr. TAVENNER. Was there not a leader of that group, or someone in charge?
Mr. PRESSMAN. There was absolutely no leader. We were a group. However, it may make a much more colorful story for me to talk about leaders, but giving you facts, this is precisely what occurred; we were a group. If there was a task to perform, one individual would be assigned to that task, such as receiving literature. If there were dues to be collected, an individual would be assigned to the task of collecting dues. It would be left to the discretion of an individual to call the next meeting and arrange whether it would be at my home or at the home of another member. That is the way it worked out during the period I was in the group.
Mr. TAVENNER. You spoke of assignments being given to various ones to do certain jobs. Who made the assignments?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I observe the note of surprise in the voice of counsel regarding the functioning of this group, and I take it that appears because of a highly different type of discussion of the operation of the group that may have been furnished here by Mr. Chambers, for example.
I make two points: First, Mr. Chambers, nowhere in the entire record, to my knowledge – I may be wrong about this; I haven’t studied the record as carefully as possibly counsel for the committee has done – to my knowledge Mr. Chambers does not once state that he attended the meetings and met me at any meeting of the group. There was always the inference he knew of us as a group, but not that he met me at the meetings.
Secondly, to show you how inaccuracies can develop, on page 576 of the record of the proceedings of this committee, you will find an exchange between Mr. Chambers and Mr. Hebert. Mr. Chambers I quote first:
After I had been in Washington a while, it was very clear that some of the members of these groups were going places in the Government.
And I quote Mr. Hebert:
What year is this?
Mr. Chambers: I would think about 1936. One of them clearly was Alger Hiss, and it was believed that Henry Collins also might go farther. Also was Lee Pressman.
And there is some more comment, and he says they decided to separate some of these people, and so on.
Now, get that. In 1936, as a matter of public record, Lee Pressman was in the City of New York. Chambers has me going high in Government places, and Lee Pressman is in the City of New York, having left Washington and the Government service a year before.
Mr. WOOD. Let us not labor the point, Mr. Pressman. I think your answer was responsive to the question. Any further questions?
Mr. NIXON. What about Donald Hiss?
Mr. PRESSMAN. He was not a member of my group. I have absolutely no information as to his political affiliation.
Mr. NIXON. I think this morning you testified concerning some portion of the testimony of Whittaker Chambers. Do you know Whittaker Chambers?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I am very glad you asked that question, Mr. Nixon, because I would like to answer that very much. I have absolutely no recollection – and I have searched my memory to the best of my ability – of having met Whittaker Chambers in Washington in connection with my participation with the group. I have searched the record to find out whether or not Mr. Whittaker Chambers states anywhere that he met me in connection with that group, and I have not found any such reference. I did find a reference in the record that Mr. Whittaker Chambers – a man of apparently profound knowledge who could remember in detail occurrences of many years ago – put me in Washington in the Federal Government in 1936 when I was, as a matter of record, in New York City. I do have a recollection of one instance which involves a meeting with Whittaker Chambers, and it is this: If I speak heatedly, Mr. Nixon, it is not in connection with responding to your question.
Mr. NIXON. Mr. Pressman, you need not apologize. Just go ahead.
Mr. PRESSMAN. Sometime in 1936 two gentlemen appeared in my private law office in New York City. One of them I have recognized since, by virtue of pictures that have appeared in the public print, as Whittaker Chambers. He did not appear at that time by that name and, for the life of me, I have been trying to find out what was the name he appeared by, and I can’t remember, nor can I find any record.
He came in with another individual. Whittaker Chambers, by whatever name he appeared at that time, stated that he knew of me through mutual friends, without identifying them, and was bringing to me this second person as a potential client.
Mr. NIXON. You had no difficulty recognizing Mr. Chambers from his picture?
Mr. PRESSMAN. He looked quite different from when I saw him, but I recognized him.
Mr. NIXON. You did not have to see his teeth?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Is that necessary, Mr. Nixon, with me as a witness?
Mr. NIXON. Go ahead.
Mr. PRESSMAN. The second individual, this person who wanted to be my client, showed me credentials that he was a representative of the Spanish Republican Government – this was in 1936 – who wanted to go to Mexico to purchase materials for the Spanish Republican Government. The request was whether I would accompany such individual, as an attorney, to Mexico in that endeavor. I said I would go as an attorney with him to Mexico, to see what could be done. I went, not with Whittaker Chambers, but with this other individual, to Mexico as his attorney. Our expedition, by the way, was unsuccessful, and we returned. I have not seen Whittaker Chambers since the day that he appeared in my office at that time.
Mr. NIXON. How long was he in your office?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Maybe a half hour or an hour.
Mr. NIXON. That is the only time in your life you ever saw him?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct.
Mr. NIXON. You had no difficulty recognizing him from his picture?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I recognized him from the pictures. Whether I had difficulty, I don’t know.
Mr. NIXON. You are sure it is the same man?
Mr. PRESSMAN. As sure as I can be in these days.
Mr. NIXON. Who was the other individual?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Mr. Eckhart.
Mr. NIXON. What is his first name?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I believe his initial was J.
Mr. NIXON. Have you seen him since?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No; or maybe one time.
Mr. NIXON. Have you heard from him since?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No.
Mr. NIXON. What did you call Mr. Chambers?
Mr. PRESSMAN. When he was in my office? I can’t remember what name he gave when he came. The reason I recall Mr. Eckhart, he appears in my records as a client.
Mr. NIXON. At the time Mr. Whittaker Chambers came in your office with Mr. Eckhart, you made a notation of him as a client?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Yes.
Mr. NIXON. Your secretary made no notation of who appeared with Mr. Eckhart?
Mr. PRESSMAN. No.
Mr. NIXON. What was your fee?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Is that necessary?
Mr. HARRISON. You were paid a fee?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Yes.
Mr. NIXON. I thought it might serve to refresh your recollection.
Mr. PRESSMAN. Refresh your recollection? It was a reasonable fee.
Mr. NIXON. Who paid the fee?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Mr. Eckhart.
Mr. NIXON. When did you learn Mr. Whittaker Chambers was the man who brought him to your office?
Mr. PRESSMAN. When his picture started appearing in the public press.
Mr. NIXON. Did you take that information to public authorities?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Which one?
Mr. NIXON. Any one.
Mr. PRESSMAN. Somebody appeared from the FBI in 1948.
Mr. NIXON. What did you tell them?
Mr. PRESSMAN. The same answer I gave this committee at that time.
Mr. NIXON. Refused to answer the question?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct.
Mr. NIXON. Has the FBI questioned you since August 10 of this year?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Mr. Nixon, I said this morning that the answer was no. I am of the opinion, if I may say –
Mr. NIXON. Let me ask you another question, and then you may express your opinion.
Mr. PRESSMAN. Surely.
Mr. NIXON. Has anybody attempted to determine whether you would give information to the FBI before you appeared before this committee?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I have had a lot of inquiries from newspaper reporters.
Mr. NIXON. Only newspaper reporters?
Mr. PRESSMAN. To date.
Mr. NIXON. No official or unofficial inquiry from the FBI?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I do think that is an avenue or arena which could best be left with the FBI.
Mr. NIXON. I am asking you.
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is my answer.
Mr. NIXON. In other words, you don’t want to answer the question?
Mr. PRESSMAN. My position has been that, after issuing my statement, I was not going to say anything to anybody until I had appeared before this committee, since you had subpoenaed me.
Mr. NIXON. Your position has been you would not appear before the FBI until you had appeared before this committee?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct. This was my appearance that was called for by the subpoena.
Mr. NIXON. As I understand your testimony, this was a complete ideological and organizational break that you made on August 10, but as far as information is concerned, you are limiting the giving of information to the extent that this committee questions you about?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is not what I said. I said after I issued my public statement, I read in the public press that a member of this committee had announced that I was going to be subpoenaed, and following that announcement I made up my mind I would make no public statement to anybody until after I had appeared before this committee.
Mr. NIXON. Do you recall discussing with Mr. Chambers, the man who came into your office, on this occasion or previous to that time, your contemplated plans to go with the CIO?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Absolutely not.
Mr. NIXON. Do you recall an occasion when Mr. Chambers visited you in your apartment, across from the Zoo on Connecticut Avenue?
Mr. PRESSMAN. He was never in my apartment in the city of Washington, and he couldn’t tell the color of my furniture, either.
Mr. NIXON. It is very possible that he might not, because Mr. Chambers might have been there in the summertime.
Mr. PRESSMAN. At that time I only had one set of furniture, summer or winter.
Mr. NIXON. And the furniture is usually covered when you go away in the summer?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Not on the salary I was making at that time. I have absolutely no recollection of ever having met this man known as Chambers, up until the day he walked in my office in New York City.
Mr. NIXON. On this occasion I speak of, which was in the summer, your wife and family were out of the city.
Mr. PRESSMAN. What year was this?
Mr. NIXON. In the year that you took your position with the CIO.
Mr. PRESSMAN. In Washington or New York?
Mr. NIXON. I am talking about Washington.
Mr. PRESSMAN. That shows how Whittaker Chambers is incorrect, if he made that statement. I was not in Washington at that time.
Mr. NIXON. I recognize that. I said at a time when you were considering leaving the Government service, prior to your taking your position with the CIO.
Mr. PRESSMAN. I am glad you put the question that way, because here are the facts: This indicates how, if Whittaker Chambers made any such assertion, he is lying, because when I left Washington to go back into private practice, the CIO was not even organized. It was not until the convention of the AFL in 1935, when the AFL kicked out those six or seven unions, and Mr. Lewis happened to punch Mr. Hutchinson in the nose, thereafter Mr. Lewis and six other men met and formed the CIO; and it wasn’t until months later that Mr. Lewis asked me if I would go to Pittsburgh to be counsel for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee.
Mr. NIXON. And you deny any meeting with Whittaker Chambers in your home in 1935?
Mr. PRESSMAN. Absolutely.
Mr. NIXON. You deny meeting Whittaker Chambers during the period you were living in Washington, D.C.?
Mr. PRESSMAN. I have absolutely no recollection, and I have canvassed my recollection to the best of my ability.
Mr. NIXON. You never met him in the company of J. Peters?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct.
Mr. NIXON. You never met him in the home of Henry Collins?
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is correct. While I was in that group, Mr. Chambers did not appear before that group.
Mr. PRESSMAN. That is right.
May I, with your permission, Mr. Nixon, go back to that record which you read, that perfectly fantastic story Mr. Chambers told? He has me down as an expert on patents. I have never handled a patent matter in my life. Second, he has me doing business with Rust Brothers on a machine. I don’t know what that machine is. I remember in Triple A some discussion of Rust Brothers inventing a machine that could allegedly pick cotton. That is the only knowledge I have of Rust Brothers or their machine. Third, he has me getting legal work through him in 1937 or 1938. During that period I was full time with the CIO and had no private practice at all.
I have already answered the question of the airplane. In 1937 and 1938, I wasn’t flying on airplanes in connection with the Rust Brothers machine or patent work. Every day of my life is a matter of public record.