Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thomas J. Dodd: dined and downed

Dodd and son, Chris, in 1946. Image from

In the midst of corruption allegations, Thomas Joseph Dodd declared, "My conscience is clear...I do not believe that anybody can look me in the eye and say I did wrong." With a solid background in legal work, including the prosecution of war criminals, the statement may have seemed accurate. But when an ethics committee determined that Dodd had indeed done wrong, he was buried by a nearly unanimous avalanche of votes in the Senate advocating punishment.

A native of Norwich, Connecticut, Dodd was born in 1907 and went on to graduate from St. Anselm's Preparatory School in 1926, Providence College in 1930, and Yale University's law school in 1933. His first brush with political affairs came at Yale, where he organized a group in support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs. It would be almost two decades before Dodd truly re-entered that field, however. He served as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation between 1933 and 1934 and state director for the National Youth Administration, an agency seeking to create educational and employment opportunities for young people during the Great Depression, from 1935 to 1938. From 1938 until 1945, he served as an assistant to five Attorneys General in the Justice Department. Here, he helped create a civil rights division and prosecute cases against the Ku Klux Klan and on behalf of labor unions. During World War II, Dodd also handled espionage, sabotage, and industrial fraud cases.

At the end of the war, Dodd became vice-chairman of the Board of Review, and later executive trial counsel for the Office of the United States Chief Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality: the U.S. team in the Nuremberg Trials of 1945 and 1946. Dodd was able to contribute directly to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, focusing on proving the charge that German political, military, and industrial leaders had conspired to wage an aggressive war. He also determined that the will of Paul von Hindenburg, late President of the Weimar Republic, had been falsified by the Nazis to make it appear to support the rise of the National Socialist government. Among his other tactics, Dodd caused a bit of a stir by displaying the shrunken head of a concentration camp victim at the proceedings.

For his service at Nuremberg, Dodd received a Presidential Citation, U.S. Medal of Freedom, and Czechoslovakian Order of the White Lion. The greatest effect of the proceedings, however, was to inculcate a strong sense of anti-Communism in him. Dodd saw the Soviet government and its tactics as similar to those of the Nazis, namely in their domination of Eastern European countries following the war. When the Soviet-controlled Polish government also tried to present Dodd an award for his service, he refused to accept it. He was later given the Commander of the Order of the Merit award by the President of Italy for his counsel on preventing the spread of Communism there. Nevertheless, Dodd was not so virulently anti-Communist to go along with McCarthyism, and campaigned for Connecticut Senator Brien McMahon as Joe McCarthy tried to uproot him.

After Nuremberg, Dodd returned to Connecticut and practiced law between 1947 and 1953. He contemplated running for Governor in 1948, but never officially did so and later rejected an offer to be Lieutenant Governor. In 1952, Dodd turned his attention to the federal government and was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives. He was re-elected in 1954, but lost a 1956 attempt to unseat Republican Senator Prescott S. Bush (father of future President George H.W. Bush). During this time in Congress, Dodd served on the Government Operations and Foreign Affairs Committees and the Select Committee to Investigate Communist Aggression. In 1958, he again ran for a Senate seat and successfully defeated Republican incumbent William A. Purtell. He was re-elected in 1964.

While in the Senate, Dodd served on the Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committees. He also co-chaired a subcommittee on internal security and chaired another one on juvenile delinquency. He displayed a mix of beliefs, including support for civil and voting rights, limiting violence of television, stopping the flow of illegal drugs, and the United Nations (though his support for the organization later waned, as he believed it was becoming dominated by poorer nations).

Dodd continued to be a fervent anti-Communist while in Congress. In 1959, he opposed a visit by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to the United States, saying such a visit would be seen as an acceptance of Soviet domination of Warsaw Pact countries. "What would the Senate and the country have thought if in 1939 President Roosevelt had invited Adolf Hitler to a barnstorming tour of the U.S., fresh from conquest of Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland and in the midst of his extermination of millions of Jews?" asked Dodd. The Senator also criticized the John F. Kennedy Administration for not doing enough to remove Fidel Castro from Cuba. Most notably, Dodd was a stalwart supporter of the Vietnam War; when he learned that the U.N. Secretary-General was opposed to the war, Dodd called for his resignation. While this made him a good friend of President Lyndon B. Johnson (who even considered Dodd as a Vice Presidential candidate for the 1964 election), it created some tension within the Democratic Party. Dodd's support for the war was enough to merit his inclusion in "The Draft Dodger Rag," a protest song by Phil Ochs which included the lyrics, "I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town / I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keeping old Castro down."

Dodd was also well-known for his attempts to secure gun control legislation. In 1963, he co-sponsored legislation that would increase requirements for gun dealers and ban mail-order pistols. When President Kennedy was assassinated by a sniper with a mail-order weapon in November of that year, Dodd expanded his proposal to include a ban on mail-order rifles and shotguns as well. The bill died in committee in 1964, but was reintroduced by Dodd in 1965. The bill finally passed as the Gun Control Act in 1968. Though more watered-down than its original intent, the legislation still effectively banned mail-order firearms sales; added an age limits for gun sales and prohibited certain people, such as criminals, from purchasing them; raised the dealer fee to restrict gun traffic to legitimate sellers; and restricted the marketing of heavy-hitting weapons such as bazookas and mortars.

When the first accusations began flying at Dodd, they were fired from the newspaper pages. In January of 1966, investigative columnists Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson began blasting Dodd and did not let up for another 17 months. Thanks to four whistleblowers who had been on Dodd's staff, the columnists had managed to copy thousands of documents from the Senator's office. They accused Dodd of getting paid by Julius Klein, a lobbyist for West German interests, to fly to Germany to reassure his clients. He was also charged with receiving untaxed contributions and gifts from several companies, including firearms companies opposed to his gun control legislation.

Enraged, Dodd filed a libel lawsuit against Anderson and Pearson and invited an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Standards and Conduct, the first time the committee would conduct an investigation since it was founded in 1964. Dodd said the visit to Germany was a legitimate trip related to business on the internal security subcommittee, and he was cleared of wrongdoing in that matter in June of 1966. In March of 1967, the committee began reviewing accusations of financial misconduct on Dodd's part. On those counts, he was not so fortunate.

In April of 1967, the committee recommended that Dodd should be censured. They found that Dodd had accepted free use of a vehicle from a constituent for 21 months, accepted $8,000 from International Latex Corporation, and billed the Senate for $1,763 in trips that had already been paid for by private organizations. Receiving the most attention was the charge by the committee that Dodd had diverted about $116,000 out of $450,000 in campaign funds to personal use. The money had not been reported or taxed, and it had mostly been raised by testimonial dinners between 1961 and 1965.

In his defense, Dodd said that the people who attended the dinners knew that he was not a wealthy person and that the money could be used on personal matters. He said the double-billing of trips was simply a matter of bad bookkeeping. Going on the offensive, Dodd also said the pressure was a result of "dishonorable and vindictive ex-employees" and a press hostile to his attitude on the Vietnam War.

Perhaps even more in favor of Dodd's exoneration than the man himself was Democratic Senator Russell B. Long of Louisiana, who persistently defended Dodd during the proceedings. Long said half the members of the ethics committee would not come away unscathed if they were given the same treatment as Dodd, and that Dodd had spent his own money on the campaign and deserved to recoup some of the funds through what he raised. A son of Louisiana Governor Huey Long, there was some speculation that Russell Long's support was due to his father's impeachment proceedings in 1929 or Dodd's support of Long during a debate over Long's presidential campaign fund in 1966.

Whatever the reason, Long attempted to introduce a resolution that would admonish Dodd rather than censure him. The proposal was overwhelmingly defeated in a 92-2 vote. A suggestion by Republican Senator John G. Tower of Texas to reduce the punishment to a reprimand was met with more support, but still failed 87-9. When the vote was finally called, the Senate decided 92-5 to censure Dodd, the sixth such punishment it had ever given. The Senate also decided 51-45 against any action on the double-billing accusation.

No penalties were imposed, and Dodd was allowed to keep his seniority. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., under fire in Congress at the same time, said he would "accept with reluctance" the same punishment meted out to Dodd. The Senator had some degree of vindication after the incident. The Senate committee also rebuked the staffers, saying the unauthorized removal of documents was "reprehensible," "a threat to the orderly conduct of business of a public office," and "constitutes a breach in the relationship of trust between a senator and his staff." His libel charge against the two columnists fell through, but a judge found that he was entitled to collect damages for theft. In the year after the scandal, the Senate adopted a formal code of conduct that allowed members to accept funds from political events for personal use.

Dodd was also investigated for potential tax evasion in the years between 1961 and 1965, but not charged. However, this investigation and the censure likely contributed to Dodd's loss of the Democratic nomination for the 1970 Senate race. In that year, the party offered the nomination to Joseph D. Duffey for a race against Republican Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. Dodd nevertheless entered as an independent candidate, and though his hawkish views probably siphoned votes from Weicker as well as Duffey, the split race allowed Weicker to win the election. In 1971, about five months after leaving Congress and a week after telling a former press aide, "I'm not going to live very long," Dodd died of a heart attack.

A stadium in Dodd's hometown is named for him. His son, Christopher, followed in his footsteps and is currently a Senator from Connecticut and another son, Thomas Jr., served as the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay and Costa Rica. In 1995, both sons and President Bill Clinton were present at the dedication of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. According to the center's website, a prize named for Dodd is biannually awarded to a group or individual who has made significant strides in furthering international justice and human rights, ideals they say the late Senator championed.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, The U.S. Embassy, "Minority View" in Time on Aug. 24 1959, "Private Lives" in Time on Jul. 1 1966, "The Undoing of Dodd" in Time on May 5 1967, "Senate Refuses, 92-2 To Admonish Dodd" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jun. 22 1967, "Senate Again Rejects Easing Dodd Censure" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jun. 23 1967, "Dodd Censured by Senate" in the Spokesman-Review on Jun. 24 1967, "Powell Would 'Reluctantly' Accept Censure" in the Rome News-Tribune on Jun. 28 1967, "Not Libel, Theft" in Time on Jan. 26 1968, "U.S. Drops Tax Probe of Sen. Dodd" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Dec. 24 1969, "Thomas Dodd Dead At 64" in the Evening Independent on May 24 1971, "Once a Disgraced Senator, Dodd Gets a Presidential Salute" in the New York Times on Oct. 16 1995, Legacy to Power: Senator Russell Long of Louisiana by Russell T. Mann, The Whistleblowers: Exposing Corruption in Government and Industry by Myron Peretz Glazer and Penina Migdal Glazer, On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and its Consequences 1948-2000 by Julian E. Zelizer, Gun Violence in America: The Struggle for Control by Alexander DeConde


Anonymous said...

"The Senator was also criticized the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Administration as not doing enough to remove Fidel Castro from Cuba"


Dirk Langeveld said...

Whoops; thought he had the Jr. since his father was a Joe. Thanks for the catch!