Tom C. Clark Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview
Tom C. Clark

Attorney General of the United States, 1945-49; Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 1949-67.
Washington, D.C.
October 17, 1972 and February 8, 1973
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened August, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Tom C. Clark


Washington, D.C.
October 17, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Justice to begin this morning, what are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?

CLARK: Well I'd say when he first started his investigations as chairman of the Senate's -- as I remember he had introduced a resolution in the Senate to create a committee on national defense. As you know, there had been a step up in our defense spending, the establishment of military bases, increase in personnel in the armed forces and procurement of materiel. I think the idea that Mr. Truman projected was



that incident to this policy we would have some problems in procurement with reference to anti-trust violations as well as, we hope not, but perhaps with reference to violations of other criminal statutes. And therefore, the Senate created this committee, which was composed of Mr. Truman, as chairman and Senators [Sherman] Minton, and Harold Burton, both of whom later came to the Supreme Court -- one a Democrat and the other Republican. This committee would go from place to place to conduct hearings, quite often here in Washington. The committee named a general counsel, Hugh Fulton who served it for several years. Prior to the time the Truman Committee was established there had been created in the Department of Justice a War Fraud Unit, which would monitor the hearings of the Truman Committee. At that time the Department would assign to one of its divisions the function of



following up on any findings the Truman Committee or other congressional committees would refer to the Attorney General. If the Truman Committee, for example, thought some matter it uncovered might be a violation of the law and ref erred it to the Attorney General we would be ready to go. Quite often during that period committees referred matters to the Department. And rather than waiting until we got references of that type we thought it might be better if we had had a liaison with the Committee. As head of the War Fraud Section I used to go up to see Mr. Truman quite often beginning about 1942 I guess. When did he come to the Senate, '37?

HESS: He was elected in '34.

CLARK: '34.



HESS: He came to Washington in '35, and the Truman Committee -- that was the Senate Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program -- was started in 1941.

CLARK: Well that must have been at the time the Committee started then.

HESS: Were you the official liaison of the Department?

CLARK: Well I happened to be Chief of the War Fraud Section, so I just took it upon myself.

HESS: You appointed yourself officially.

CLARK: I don't know whether I was official or not. But quite often we would get materials that were not sufficiently in detail so we could use them for the purposes of a grand jury for example, and so I would quite often go up and



go over the materials with Hugh Fulton and Mr. Truman, in an effort to try to get them perhaps to go into the problem somewhat deeper; and, in that way, we might make sure violations of law were detected and prosecuted more quickly. .In the Department at that time the FBI had so many investigations that there were delays. We tried to avoid this delay as much as we could since the quicker we could develop these cases the more effective they were in the procurement program.

HESS: How would you evaluate the help that Mr. Truman and Hugh Fulton gave you, when you would point out things that needed to be clarified and expanded?

CLARK: Oh, we worked hand in glove. There was tremendous cooperation. Mr. Truman not only inspired it but I had asked for it. Mr. Fulton



was very cooperative. He had a good staff. And Mr. Truman also, of course, had his office staff. Quite often it would be of some assistance, although the heavy lifting of the Truman Committee was done through the special staff of the Committee.

HESS: Who do you recall that you may have worked with on the Truman Committee staff? Matthew Connelly was on Mr. Truman's staff. Do you recall Mr. Connelly?

CLARK: Oh yes. I saw Connelly and Fulton and there was a fellow there that later ran for some office up in New York, I've forgotten his name, he was quite a good criminal lawyer.

HESS: Do you remember any specific cases? Two of the major cases dealt with the Curtiss-Wright airplane engines and the question of the pipeline



that was going to run from the United States up through Alaska. There were several other major cases, do you remember any?

CLARK: Oh, they had quite a few. Well the one I remember more vividly than any other is the one that involved copper and had to do with the Anaconda Company. It was a fantastic case, you would not believe it occurred. The Committee uncovered the whole thing and then we did some supplemental work on it.

It seems that the way it came to the attention of the Committee was that the Russians filed some objection to the field wire that we were furnishing them under lend-lease. It turned out that we gave it to them, and some of it was defective. There was also what they call a degaussing cable that would be placed around a ship to set up a magnetic



field and deflect a torpedo away from the ship. It was not involved in the Anaconda case. We hadn't had any particular reports on it, although in finding out about the field wire, the Committee went into that also and developed a case on it also.

But getting back to the Anaconda case, it manufactured field wire. They were required to test this wire in vats somewhat like a swimming pool. It would be in enormous spools of wire like you might see the telephone company using when they place telephone cables underground. The spool of wire, which is, oh, eight feet high, seven or eight feet high, comes in big rolls. At the Anaconda plants the company would take these spools of field wire and immerse them in this water in order to test them under conditions that they thought might be encountered in the field. The Government installed some magnetic



calculators in tables at the side of the vat. And the Anaconda people sat on one side, and the Government Bureau of Standards, I think it was, on the other. And whenever the needle indicated that the wire being tested was below specifications, well the Anaconda people had these buttons under the table that they could press and make the needle come to a higher level so that the wire would pass the test. Indeed we found one or two spools of wire that had been in the water so long that a sort of water scum had formed on the spools and you know how wood will get after its been in the water a while. We found out that in some instances they would never even take the time to change the spools.

Then the other case was the case involving degaussing cable, it was in New Jersey. It was an antitrust case. It involved several of



the companies that were making this degaussing cable. And then we had a case against the steel company. I remember going out to Pittsburgh on it. Well we went all over the United States. The Committee did a tremendous job on it, and of course it brought Senator Truman notice with the public because originally it was aimed at defense, and I think the original investigations were procurement of military cantonments, bases and things like that. Then it went into materiel and that was a rich source of cases. The Committee was quite busy. They made quite a few investigations and held hearings all over the country.

HESS: When you would go up to see him, did Mr. Truman ever tell you what he thought the value of the Committee was? What he saw as the real value of the Truman Committee?



CLARK: Well I think more than anything the deterrent value. Its impact would be much greater than anything an individual might develop; the fact that he went around the country conducting hearings on various cases would, of course, alert people that might violate the law and of course, they would not do it as readily. The Committee was a "watchdog" one might say. Some people thought they could get by with violating the law; we had quite a large number of cases. I'd say the Truman Committee was our primary source of information. And we would then use young lawyers on our staff. I'd have three or four young lawyers assigned to one older lawyer. If we had sufficient information like on the Anaconda or the degaussing cable case up in New Jersey we would call the grand jury and bring the witnesses in before it.



Of course, we might have to round it out some, get additional information, but that would save the FBI having to conduct a full scale investigation. So as a consequence, I would say, that his Committee was the most effective one that I had dealt with. I was in contact with quite a few in the twelve years I was in the Department of Justice.

HESS: Mr. Truman has stated in his Memoirs, and he stated at the time that he did not want to hamper the war effort in the same way that the Committee on the Conduct of the War had done during the Civil War. Did you ever hear him talk about that?

CLARK: Yes I did. Of course, Mr. Truman was an authority on the Civil War, I don't know whether you know it or not. Many, many



times I've talked with him about Civil War battles and he knew practically every general through his readings.

Yes he did, he told me of the problems that arose during the Civil War and how there was some interference, perhaps from a standpoint of jealousy on the part of some of the Committees or a tendency to cover up on the part of procurement officials. But we had nothing of that stripe at all. It was a very cooperative group; indeed, the Defense Department, well we didn't have a Defense Department then, the War Department was most cooperative. The War Department and the Navy Department were very cooperative in all of these cases. Sometimes they would award an "E" for excellence to some procurement manufacturer. Not when we found anything like we did at Anaconda; but sometimes



when we would return antitrust indictments and the War Production Board would certify that a prosecution would interfere with the war effort and would by statute be obliged not to proceed and sometimes the military would award an "E" to the people which was somewhat awkward; but generally Governmental agencies were very cooperative; with reference to President Truman's Committee they didn't deal too much with antitrust investigations. Might be in the periphery of it; or run across some lead that required following up. The agencies cooperated very closely with Mr. Truman. I would say that aside from the great impact for good that it had on our procurement policies the Committee saved billions of dollars for the Government -- we were spending in the billions then.



HESS: There was a time when Mr. Truman's operatives found out about a great deal of money that was being spent in Hanford, Washington and he was asked to not press his investigation any further, of course this was the development of the atomic bomb. Do you recall anything about that?

CLARK: Yes. I remember talking some about it and later on why General [Leslie R.] Groves came over to see me. He was in charge of the development of the atomic bomb. One of the radio newscasters in Chicago had heard about the bomb someway. He had made some reference to it in a broadcast. General Groves came to me seeking a criminal prosecution on it; but when I told him that we would have to have a public trial on any indictment returned he dropped the whole project. He didn't want...



HESS: A public trial.

CLARK: ...any publicity that would reveal the existence of the bomb. They kept Mr. Truman, of course, well posted on the atomic bomb and I'm sure that he knew all about it, although you'd never know it, he'd never say anything about it. I am satisfied that he wouldn't push an investigation of that type to the point where it would cause any problem to General Groves' project.

HESS: What would be your evaluation on Mr. Truman's handling of the Truman Committee in relation to his receiving the nomination for the vice-presidential spot in 1944? Just how important to his receiving the nomination was his handling of the Truman Committee?

CLARK: Well I would say, of course, that it brought



him notice in the press, the name "Truman" became a household word. Indeed his name assumed the title of the Committee, instead of it being called the statutory title it was always referred to as the Truman Committee. The American people always have to tag things, you know...

HESS: They have to label things, don't they?

CLARK: They always label things, so it soon assumed his name, which I'm sure was very helpful to him politically.

I remember he talked to me one time about the atomic bomb. Especially about his meeting with Stalin. He said that he was sure that Stalin didn't know anything about the atomic bomb. And he doubted if he got through to him the monstrous impact of it. At their meeting at Potsdam, I believe it was, President