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Donald Hansen Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Donald Hansen

Special Assistant in the White House Office, 1951-53, on the staff of Charles S. Murphy, Special Counsel to the President.

Washington, D.C.
April 5, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1963
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Donald Hansen


Washington, D.C.
April 5, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey


MORRISSEY: Let's start, Mr. Hansen, simply by letting me ask, when did you join the White House staff?

HANSEN: I went on the White House staff about November 1, 1951.

MORRISSEY: And how long did you stay?

HANSEN: I remained there until the administration changed in January, 1953.

MORRISSEY: Why did you join the White House staff?

HANSEN: Well, Mr. Murphy needed some help. He apparently asked Steve [Stephen] Spingarn for a recommendation as to a lawyer. I understand Steve Spingarn recommended me and another attorney, both of us at that time being in the office of the General Counsel of the Treasury Department. The other attorney, whose name was John Carlock, and who is now Fiscal Assistant Secretary of the Treasury,


went over to see Mr. Murphy first and Mr. Carlock was then Assistant General Counsel of the Treasury Department. He didn't want to make the switch to the White House staff very bad and the General Counsel of the Treasury Department, for whom he worked, didn't want him to go, because he was an extremely valuable man. So I went over next and saw Mr. Murphy. I remember I was on vacation at the time and the General Counsel called me one Thursday afternoon. He told me to come in and see him the next day. I went in to see him the next day and he told me that the White House was looking for a man and to go over to see Mr. Murphy. So I went over to see Mr. Murphy that day and Mr. Murphy asked me how I would like to work at the White House; and I told him I didn't think I had any particular qualifications for the job, although I'd be glad to do whatever it was desired that I should do. After some talk, he told me to come over and start work the following Thursday, and I think that was the first of November, 1951.

MORRISSEY: Had you known Mr. Murphy beforehand?

HANSEN: No, I had not.


MORRISSEY: Had you known Stephen Spingarn?

HANSEN: Yes, I had worked for him at the Treasury Department.

MORRISSEY: I see. And when was that?

HANSEN: Steve Spingarn was in the legislative section of the Treasury Department when I first went to work there in June of 1940. After the war he was Assistant General Counsel in charge of legislative matters and I worked under his supervision for several years until -- up until the time he went to the White House, as a matter of fact.

MORRISSEY: Could you give us a little biographical information prior to the time you joined the White House staff?

HANSEN: I was born in Caney, Kansas, a small town of 2500 in southeastern Kansas. I completed public schools there; went to college at the College of Emporia, Kansas, which is a Presbyterian school; after graduating there in 1935 I went to the University of Kansas Law School and graduated there in '38 -- completed my work in January


'38; worked for a law firm at Hutchinson, Kansas, from January until September, 1938; then went to the University of Minnesota on a public administration fellowship which was under the Rockefeller program at the time, a two-year fellowship which called for one year of graduate academic training and then an internship for a year; and after completing the school year of '38 and '39, I came to Washington on the intern program of the National Institute of Public Affairs and served my internship at the Bureau of the Budget; then I went to the Treasury -- General Counsel's office in June of 1940 -- at the completion of that internship.

MORRISSEY: You say that you worked for Charles Murphy on the White House staff.

HANSEN: That's right.

MORRISSEY: Did he have a large staff?

HANSEN: Mr. Murphy had a very small staff. Mr. Murphy's staff consisted of, at the time I came there, of David Lloyd, David Bell, Richard Neustadt, and Kenneth Hechler.


MORRISSEY: So you were the fifth member of that staff?

HANSEN: That's right. And immediately before I went there Charles Irelan who had been an attorney with the Department of Justice was working with Mr. Murphy. I think he went there in August of 1951 and then he left to become United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, I guess, in October of 1951 or immediately before I went there; and I succeeded him.

MORRISSEY: What was your specific title as a member of the White House staff?

HANSEN: Special Assistant, White House Office.

MORRISSEY: And was that the title of your colleagues -- the four other gentlemen you just mentioned?

HANSEN: I believe it was although Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Bell later became Administrative Assistants to the President.

MORRISSEY: How did Mr. Murphy conduct his staff business? What were the procedures between himself and the staff members?

HANSEN: We all, of course, were over in the Executive


Office Building, the old State Department Building, and usually his secretary would just call and say he wanted to see me, or the others, and we'd go into his office, or I would go into his office, and he would give me assignments. Sometimes he'd send correspondence or memoranda or things like that over with a little note for me to review and I wouldn't have to talk to him about it; but on many things he would call me over to his office. He always operated in a very, very informal manner and it was really a pleasure to work for him. He's a very informal man, and a very wonderful man, I think.

MORRISSEY: Did he hold regular staff meetings or deal mostly on a person to person basis with his staff members?

HANSEN: Well, I wouldn't say he held regular staff meetings, but in the nature of the work he did, which sometimes involved speechwriting and messages to Congress -- major veto messages and that sort of thing -- several of us would be working at the same time and we would just meet in his office and maybe spend practically a day there working on something.

MORRISSEY: You mentioned the informality of the way that


he conducted his staff business. Did you think at the time that this was a successful way to do business, let's say more successful or less successful than more formal arrangements between a staff director and the people working for him?

HANSEN: I thought it was very effective; in fact, I thought it was wonderful. I've worked in several agencies of the Government: General Counsel's office of the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, Budget Bureau, Department of Justice; I've seen operations in many branches of the Treasury. I think you gain a great deal by the informality with which he operated there. And of course, the whole White House staff, to my amazement, operated practically the same way, and I thought it was wonderful. Boy, you could get things done a lot faster than I had ever seen it done in Government before. Things could be done rapidly and effectively. I recall that John Steelman once expressed his admiration at the way Matt Connelly handled a difficult situation. Late in the afternoon Matt would give about thirty names to the White House telephone operators to call. These were the names of people who would be unable to get in


to see the President because time was not available. One by one Matt would tell these people they couldn't see the President. He did this in such an effective way that he was able to lessen the disappointment each one must have felt. Steelman was quite impressed with Connelly's success in handling this problem. It required a lot of tact which Matt was able to express to each person.

MORRISSEY: This informality evidently surprised you when you joined the White House staff?

HANSEN: Very much.

MORRISSEY: You expected the opposite?

HANSEN: Very much so. In fact, I was very formal in memoranda and getting initials on things, you know, and setting things up just right, and I was amazed at how fast something could slip into the President. Something that used to take maybe weeks or months to get to the Secretary of the Treasury or even to the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service, could get to the President very fast I found.

MORRISSEY: Do you remember any specific examples of this


sort of thing?

HANSEN: I remember, for example, we had problems on reorganization plans and we had many problems on the so-called Government's loyalty program and this was the day of the McCarthy era; McCarthy was riding high and he was hitting the State Department day after day and it seemed to me that there was one crisis after another as far as the State Department was concerned, because their appropriations subcommittee, as I recall, of the Senate Appropriations Committee, included Senator McCarthy, Senator McCarran, and a third senator whose name I don't remember, but it was a real murderer's row. And of course, McCarthy was always delving into loyalty-security operations and so on and I can remember times that they'd call over and say, we've got to have a Presidential directive to back us up on refusing to turn over information or give an excuse for not giving information, and so on, and things like that can get written up very fast and get cleared very fast and so on. In fact the Secretary of State or any other Cabinet officer could call the President and ask that the staff of the department meet with somebody on the White House staff to get


something taken care of and Presidential approval and it could be done very rapidly.

MORRISSEY: Did you deal directly with any of these senators that you just mentioned?

HANSEN: No I did not.

MORRISSEY: Or any members of that senate committee staff?

HANSEN: No I did not.

MORRISSEY: I'm wondering whether the difficulty between the White House and the senate committee centered on appropriations for the State Department or promotions or maintaining certain personnel within the State Department or if the problem...?

HANSEN: Well, I would say this, that the State Department, of course, had to justify its appropriations and it wanted to give testimony before the appropriations committee without offending the senators that it had to deal with; but nevertheless, Senator McCarthy and Senator McCarran would persist in delving into loyalty and security operations of the State Department which the Executive Branch of the Government considered


confidential and classified and secret information, which they didn't think that the Senate committee should be going into; because if the Senate committees did go into that sort of thing, they in effect, would be looking over the shoulder of people who made security clearances and loyalty boards and security boards and they would be second-guessing them and that sort of thing. And this is a very delicate operation, of course, and it involves not only the abilities of the people who sit on these boards but also their feeling that to do an honest job and to do a proper job, they shouldn't have the feeling that somebody's going to be looking over their work, over their shoulder at a later time and either criticizing them or asking them why they did certain things. And, of course, you have the reputations of individuals involved too, which is a very serious affair. So some of the senators, some of the senate committees as I recall, would write the State Department or ask them at hearings for certain information about certain persons and whether they'd been investigated, whether they'd had loyalty clearance and security clearance and for information as to FBI reports on those people, and things like that. That was in an era when the Republicans were proclaiming that the


Democrats had lost China and that sort of thing, you know, and there were people like John Service and -- oh, I can't remember the names now, but there were many individuals that were very much talked about in the halls of Congress. That's a sort of illustration of some of these things that occurs to me.

MORRISSEY: And this sort of thing would come to the President's attention via the State Department?

HANSEN: Sometimes the State Department people would call Mr. Murphy directly or sometimes, as I understand it, the Secretary of State would talk to him about things and I or some other White House staff member would get together with State Department staff people and work out a letter which the President would sign directing the Secretary of State to do or not to do certain things in his relations with Congress. That would take the heat off the State Department to a certain extent as far as helping them not offend people they had to get appropriations from.

MORRISSEY: This sort of business took a lot of time then?

HANSEN: It took quite a bit of time, that's right.