Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

November 11, 1953

THE PRESIDENT. I have a few items that may be of interest.

I, of course, think we should all note that it is Armistice Day, I suppose a national holiday for you people as well as for me. But it seems to be about the only time this week we could have this conference if we were going to, because, as I told you before, I am leaving for Canada tomorrow night for a short visit.

However, Armistice Day has always meant a lot to all of us, and if I could ask you people a favor, it would be that each of you make some mention in your stories that it is Armistice Day, and what Armistice Day really meant to us at one time. That would be my speech on that subject.

The Canadian trip, as I told you, is really a courtesy call, but I have been invited--I believe I told you this before, but if I did, you will forgive me--I have been invited to address the Parliament up there. I intend to make the subject of my talk just a general discussion of some of the problems that are common to both countries and, of course, through the medium of that speech, to pay my respects to the Canadian people to whom we feel so close.

In this problem of segregation that has been always in the hands of some of our people since last January, going ahead on different fronts, the Navy has just made a very detailed report in the form both of a letter to me and in a statistical report. You will find it among the papers in the ordinary place when you leave here. It is a very encouraging report, I must say.

The Philippine election seems, so far as we can see from reports--and I have only the newspaper reports--seems to be progressing in the way that we should like to see elections progress in any free country. It looks like they are going without duress, like there is no effort to rig it. They are going ahead as free elections, which is very encouraging.

This week we did have another election in this country. Last week, I believe, the question was asked whether I was pleased, and I had to qualify my answer very materially. This week I could say I am pleased. [Laughter]

With that remark we will go to questions.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: I wonder if you could tell us your reaction, your opinion, of ex-President Truman having been subpoenaed by the House U.N.-American Affairs Committee?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, no, I can't say a great deal about this. I will give you my connection and my feeling about this thing.

Some days back Mr. Brownell, the Attorney General, reported to me that there were certain facts that had been coming to light in his Department that he felt should be made available to the public, and that he felt moreover it was his duty to do so. He told me that they involved a man named White, a man whom I had never met, didn't know anything about.

I told him that he had, as a responsible head of Government, to make the decision, if he felt it was his duty to make these things public to do it on a purely factual basis.

He did tell me that the information had gotten to the White House, and that was all. So that was my last connection with it until this incident occurred of which you speak.

Now, I think once before, before this group, I tried to make quite clear that I am not going to be in the position of criticizing the Congress of the United States for carrying out what it conceives to be its duty. It has the right, of course, to conduct such investigations as it finds necessary; but if you asked me, as I understood it, my personal reaction, I would not issue such a subpoena.

Q. Edward Jamieson Milne, Providence Journal-Bulletin: Mr. President, do you yourself feel that former President Truman knowingly appointed a Communist spy to high office?

THE PRESIDENT. You are asking me for opinions, of course, based on nothing else except what I have told you and what I have read in the papers.

No, it is inconceivable; I don't believe that--put it in this way--a man in that position knowingly damaged the United States. I think it would be inconceivable.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mr. President, my office asked me to ask this whole series of questions.

THE PRESIDENT. Just a minute. I am not sure of the custom here; you may have one question, but there are a lot of other people here.

Q. Mr. Brandt: I think they are pertinent to all of them.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I will have to decide.

Q. Mr. Brandt: You answered the first one, did you know in advance of the Chicago speech.

The next question was were you consulted while plans were being laid to bring the White story out? You apparently Offered'-

THE PRESIDENT. No, the report was made to me that there was certain information that the Attorney General considered it his duty to make public, and he did mention the word "White," although as I say, I didn't know who White was.

Q. Mr. Brandt: Then the next question: did you know in advance of the plan to subpoena Truman, and did you approve? You've answered that.

Do you think Supreme Court Justices should be subpoenaed by Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not a constitutional lawyer, and I would again say you are asking there my personal opinion, personal convictions. I probably in that position would not do it. I'd think there would be other means of handling it rather than issuing a subpoena.

Q. Mr. Brandt: Do you think the FBI report is justified in calling White a spy when a grand jury refused to believe it on the basis of FBI evidence, that was the grand jury investigation in 1947?

THE PRESIDENT. I know nothing about it; you will have to go to the record and the facts.

Q. Mr. Brandt: Do you think the administration's action in virtually putting a label of traitor on a former President is likely to damage our foreign relations?

THE PRESIDENT. I reject the premise. I would not answer such a question.

Q. Mr. Brandt: What effect do you think such an action by the administration will have on the Russians, good or bad?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me say something: anyone who doesn't recognize that the great struggle of our time is an ideological one, that is, a system of regimentation and of virtual slavery as against the concept of freedom on which our Government is founded, then they are not looking this question squarely in the face.

Now, the attack against freedom is on many fronts. It is conducted by force, by the use of force and the threat of force, by subversion and bribery and boring from within, and it makes it necessary to practice more than ever that old saying, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

I thoroughly agree with those who say we must be very careful how we apply our own activities, our own powers, our own authority in defending against this thing. We must not destroy what we are attempting to defend. So, just as earnestly as I believe we must all fight communism to the utmost, I believe that we must also fight any truly unjust, un-American way of uprooting them, because in the long run I think we will destroy ourselves if we use that kind of defense.

This is, however, something that is subject to the judgment of humans. They are fallible; and when they see all of the efforts we have made over these last years rejected--I mean our measures to make some peaceful arrangement, to see them rejected, the offers we made in 1946 about making available to all the world the entire atomic project that had been developed, every secret, make it available for peaceful use under any system that would give us confidence that all others Were doing the same, and all the way down the line we have seen secrets stolen, we have seen all kinds of spy work go ahead--it is sometimes difficult to say there will never be an injustice.

But that, I say, must be the true path for every real American: to oppose these ideologies, these doctrines that we believe will destroy our form of government, and at the same time, to do it under methods where we don't destroy it. I can't define it any better than that.

Q. Robert G. Spivack, New York Post: Mr. President, taking up your answer to one of the previous questions, since Mr. Brownell has impugned the loyalty of a former President, and a grand jury said that it couldn't find a basis for indicting White, don't you think there is a moral obligation to make these reports, FBI reports, public?


Q. Mr. Spivack: And we have no way of knowing

THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe that you can make FBI reports available, as such. I believe you can extract a great deal of material from them, but there are too many things in them that must be protected.

As a matter of fact, the original FBI reports I will not allow to be shown to me except when I have to see them, because I just believe if we don't protect their sources of information we will someday destroy them.

Now, you also make a premise I don't accept. You said Mr. Brownell impugned the loyalty of a President. I don't know-certainly he never told me--that he said that the President of the United States ever saw the papers. He said they went to the White House. Now, that is all he ever told me, and I think you have made a mistake.

Q. Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, without making any premise at all, could I ask you whether you feel that a charge should be publicly made against anybody, an accusation, without the evidence being publicly made so that the public can assess the basis of the accusation, regardless of the FBI?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the essentials of the evidence probably have to be made available, yes, I would agree with that.

I don't think--look, this goes back to what I said: I believe it is reckless, to say nothing of un-American, action to make from any kind of a favored position accusations where you are not prepared to show what has happened and to make available the essentials of that evidence.

Here, you have got a case where there are certain particular documents I don't think can be shown, but the essentials of the evidence certainly must be, so far as I know; and I don't know of any disposition to conceal it.

Q. Mr. Drummond: It has not come out yet, Mr. President.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, New England papers: Mr. President, I have been around for 25 years here, and I find myself befuddled by failure to get the truth.

Isn't the question here whether the charge is true, made by Mr. Brownell? Isn't that the basic thing? Should not former officials who know, come and tell the truth to the people as they knew it?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that is proper. I think you have asked a question that sort of answers itself.

What we want is the truth. So far as I know, the Attorney General has no intention of concealing anything except the particular form of a document, and I assume that other people, in giving their testimony, will do it in any way they see fit.

Q. Mrs. Craig: Do you think former officials should be protected in not coming forward and telling their share in public happenings?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't say they should be protected. I was asked this question, how would I have done it; and I certainly would not, I said, issue the subpoena in the circumstances.

Q. S. Douglass Cater, Jr., The Reporter: Mr. President, what did you understand was the purpose of bringing information from the files of the FBI before a luncheon group instead of some official body, such as a grand jury, or another body of Congress, or something of that sort, by the Attorney General?

THE PRESIDENT. You can get direct evidence on that. I didn't even consider it. I was told that there was going to be certain information made available. It was. You can go to the Attorney General himself.

Q. Anthony H. Leviero, New York Times: Mr. President, I think this case is at best a pretty squalid one. But if a grand jury, under our system, has found a man--has, in effect, cleared the man or at least has decided it was insufficient evidence to convict him or prosecute him, then is it proper for the Attorney General to characterize that accused man, who is now dead, as a spy and, in effect, accuse a former President of harboring that man? That was quite plain in the statement of the Attorney General.

THE PRESIDENT. Look, all you are trying to get now is my personal opinion about certain things. I am not either a judge nor am I an accomplished lawyer. I have my own ideas of what is right and wrong, but I would assume this: you are asking me to answer questions where, with all of this in the public mind, the Attorney General is here to answer it himself. Let him answer it.

Q. Mr. Leviero: He has refused to answer the questions, you see. [Laughter]

Q. Andrew F. Tully, Jr., Scripps-Howard Newspapers: It is true that Mr. Brownell is here, but he won't see reporters. I wonder if we can ask you to exert your influence to get him to see us? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, after all, I think that you are probably getting a little bit more impatient than he thinks you should be. I don't know exactly what he has in mind; I am certainly ready to talk to Mr. Brownell more about this when he returns to town, but I am not going to give him orders as to methods in which he handles responsibilities of his own office.

Now, this is what I want to say: I have found Mr. Brownell interested in justice and decency in cleaning up what he has got to clean up. We have gone ahead in many lower echelons; I believe there was a report published we had gotten some 1400 people that we thought were security risks. He publishes now a particular case, and it has aroused tremendous interest. Now we will see how he handles it, and I am not going to color his case or to prejudice his case in advance in what I say about it.

Q. Mr. Tully: Mr. President, could I ask one more question?


Q. Mr. Tully: Can you give us any indication of when the proof of these charges is going to be offered by Mr. Brownell?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course I can't. I just told you that he has got to handle this case in his own way. I just say that I am not supposed, and I do not intend, to be one that is a party to what looks like rank injustice to anybody. That is all I can say on this.

Q. Anthony H. Leviero, New York Times: One more question. Insofar as we have been allowed to know the facts, the case rests on the testimony of two confessed traitors, Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley. I wonder if the FBI independently has developed any evidence to sustain the charge of espionage?

THE PRESIDENT. Again you will have to ask Mr. Brownell; I don't know.

Q. Robert L. Riggs, Louisville Courier-Journal: There has been some question as to whether the FBI report said Mr. White was a spy or whether it says he associated with Communists. Did Mr. Brownell say to you that the FBI report called him a spy?

THE PRESIDENT. Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to answer my last question right now on this subject for this morning, at least.

I told you exactly, Mr. Brownell came in and reported to me that there was evidence that there had been subversive action in which high Government officials were aware of it; he gave me the name as Mr. White, and he said the evidence was so clear that he considered it his duty to lay it out because, he said, "Certainly, I am not going to be a party to concealing this," is the way he explained it to me. I said, "You have to follow your own conscience as to your duty." Now that is exactly what I knew about it.

Q. Paul Scott Rankine, Reuters News Agency: Mr. President, could you tell us anything about the subjects you expect to discuss at the Bermuda conference?

THE PRESIDENT. There is no agenda. The invitation and all the conversations and the communications on the subject are that we are to meet on an around-the-table basis to discuss problems of interest to the three governments, that is all, and on a very informal basis.

Q. Oscar W. Reschke, German Press Agency: Mr. President, is it being considered to ask the Government of the Federal Republic to send an observer to Bermuda to be at hand for the conversations?

THE PRESIDENT. Not that I know of.

Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's twentieth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:15 to 10:34 o'clock on Wednesday morning, November 11, 1953. In attendance: 175.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232393

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