Oral History Interview with
Special Assistant in the White House Office, 1951-53, on the staff of Charles S. Murphy, Special Counsel to the President.
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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
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Oral History Interview with
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,
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
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
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
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
MORRISSEY: Did you deal directly with any of these senators that you
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,