Harry S. Truman photo

The President's News Conference

December 13, 1951

THE PRESIDENT. Please be seated.

I have no special announcements to make, but I understand that there are quite a number of questions that you would like to ask, and I will listen. I am ready. [Pause]

Q. Mr. President--[laughter] --

THE PRESIDENT. Well! Yes, Eddie? 1

1 Edward T. Folliard of the Washington Post.

[1.] Q. Chairman McKinney told us the other day that you were planning to take drastic action, looking to a Government housecleaning. 2

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Eddie, let's use a different verb on that. Let's say continue drastic action. Whenever it has been necessary to take drastic action, it has been taken by the President whenever it is necessary, and I will continue to do just that.

2Frank E. McKinney, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. On November 1, the day after Mr. McKinney became chairman, the White House released the following letter from Mr. McKinney to the President:

"When you asked me to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, you told me of your firm purpose that the Federal service be maintained at the highest standards of integrity and ability and with spotless honor. My every effort will be directed toward that goal. I will seek its accomplishment in every way possible.

"Toward that end I recommend that Collectors of Internal Revenue be brought under Civil Service and subjected to the selection standards of that Service. It is your objective, I know, that the public have every confidence in the integrity and ability of our Federal tax administration. I believe the adoption of this recommendation will further that objective."

If you will study the history of the situation, you will find that there has never been one of those things that you refer to that has come to the President on which he has not taken drastic action. That is what he proposes to continue to do.

What are you looking at me like that for? Do you want to write a sob sister piece about it? I don't need any sob sister pieces!

Q. Mr. President, are you going to implement it this time?

THE PRESIDENT. What do you mean ?

Q. Are you going to set up any special organization to take action, or are you going to do it through regular channels?

THE PRESIDENT. If I make up my mind on that, I will let you know, Pete.3

3Raymond P. Brandt of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Q. The general idea is to have a special committee like the Roberts-Pomerene 3a

THE PRESIDENT. It's not a committee like anybody's. If there is one, it is going to be mine. It's going to be an original one.

3a Owen Josephus Roberts and Atlee Pomerene were appointed by President Coolidge in February 1924 as special counsels for the United States to prosecute the Teapot Dome oil fraud case.

Q. It is going to be like the previous one, called the Truman committee ?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes sir, I had a Truman committee once that worked very well.

Q. Did you consult with I. Edgar Hoover 4 on that subject?

THE PRESIDENT, I have consulted with everybody in the Government.

4Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Q. That includes Mr. Hoover? a Raymond P. Brandt of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

THE PRESIDENT. That includes Mr. Hoover.

Q. Are you going to draw on whatever special agents he may--

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Hoover always does his duty as he has always done it as the chief investigator for the Government.

Q. There has been some speculation he may replace Mr. McGrath.5 Is that unfounded?

THE PRESIDENT. You mean that he would be Attorney General?

Q. Yes sir.

THE PRESIDENT. No. That is unfounded.

5Attorney General J. Howard McGrath.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, some young Congressman--I have forgotten his name, I think he is from Wisconsin--Republican from Wisconsin--has demanded that you fire Attorney General McGrath.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think there's a single member of the Cabinet that some Congressman hasn't demanded to be fired. They haven't been very successful at that sort of an approach.

Q. Could I put it more pointedly?

THE PRESIDENT. Sure.

Q. There were reports--there are reports that you are going to drop Mr. McGrath from the Cabinet?

THE PRESIDENT. I hadn't heard any of those reports. They haven't reached the White House yet.

Q. Is there any--[laughter]. Are you considering any change, Mr. President, in the post of Attorney General ?

THE PRESIDENT. No.

Q. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. If you had asked it that way in the first place, I would have answered it that way.

Q. I'm sorry--I'm sorry.

THE PRESIDENT. It's all right, we have a little fun as we go along. [Pause]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, well, well--are you stymied ?

[3.] Q. Mr. President, Mr. McKinney said in Chicago this morning that he thought you were going to set up a special agency ?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. McKinney made the statement in the White House, and he has to be consistent. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, is he correct?

THE PRESIDENT. I cannot answer that question.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any intention of asking Mr. McKinney to leave the national committee?

THE PRESIDENT. I certainly don't. Mr. McKinney suits me down to the ground. I don't put people in places or ask them to serve in places and then pull the rug from under them the first time anything happens that the newspapers don't like. It pleases me when they don't like it, because I think it's right.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, would you care to indicate some of the instances in the past where you have taken action--drastic action?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh yes, there are plenty of them. I have dispensed with several Cabinet officers in times past. The collector in Boston was fired before anybody began to look into his situation, except the Treasury Department. The collector of revenue in St. Louis was dispensed with long before anything was looked into by any committee. The collector in San Francisco was fired before any committee went into it, and a grand jury right now in California has just indicted him. The necessary action in all these things has been taken by the executive branch of the Government whenever it was necessary.

You remember all the ballyhoo about Communists in Government. The Loyalty Board which I set up took care of that situation before anybody outside the executive branch of the Government took any action. The Communists who have been tried and convicted, were tried and convicted by the Attorney General, not by any outside agency.

The Government has been carried on just as it should be, by the President of the United States who is the Chief Executive of the Nation, and that is the way it will continue to be carried on.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, can we get the record clear on the collector in St. Louis ?

THE PRESIDENT, Yes.

Q. As I understand it, he was investigated in May 1950, and it wasn't until March or April that he resigned, and at that time a grand jury was looking into his activities?

THE PRESIDENT. He was asked to resign long before that. It was very difficult to get his resignation.

Q. Did you ask for it?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't want to fire him--yes, long before.

Q. Secretary Snyder said he asked them for it in October and again in January--

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q.--and was told--no, wait a minute--Finnegan 6 testified that you had asked that he remain--

THE PRESIDENT. No, no, that's a mistake.

6James P. Finnegan, former collector, 1st District of Missouri, Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Q. He said the White House had--

THE PRESIDENT. I backed Mr. Snyder up in his request in the first place.

Q. But he was allowed to resign.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, what would you do under the circumstances?

Q. In the case of Finnegan? [Laughter ]

THE PRESIDENT. Of course, I know what the Post-Dispatch would do to any Democrat, they would cut his head off every time they had a chance.

Q. We would do the same for a Republican.

THE PRESIDENT. I am not so sure. I remember a certain mayor of St. Louis which you loved very much.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, there was one thing you said in there, the answer to the previous question, which I would like to ask a further question about. I believe you said, after talking about the investigations, that that is the way it will continue to be done by the President. Does that indicate then, sir, that in handling this situation which has arisen, that you will go ahead through your regular investigative channels--

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't say that, and you can't put words in my mouth.

Q. No sir--I'm not trying to.

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't say that at all. I said that the executive branch of the Government would continue to do its duty, and whatever is necessary to be done will be done. And if you gentlemen will just have a little patience, you will find out something a little later that will be for your welfare and benefit.

Q. How much later, sir ?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I will have to take time on these things. You know I can't be pushed into doing anything--

Q. Can you give us an estimate?

THE PRESIDENT. -- by anybody.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, did Mr. McKinney quote you correctly as saying that he said that you were very angry because you felt that some people had sold you down the river?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, who wouldn't feel that way? A man who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and who doesn't do it would make any executive angry. Even your paper ought to get angry at something like that. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, does that specifically apply to Mr. Caudle? 7

THE PRESIDENT. What?

7See Item 298 [4].

Q. Does that specifically apply to Mr. Caudle ?

THE PRESIDENT. It applies to all these people who have been fired.

Q. Mr. President, what was your attitude about Mr. McGrath's testimony on the Hill, that he saw nothing wrong with Mr. Caudle?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't read Mr. McGrath's testimony.

[9.] Q. Do you expect to have Mr. McGrath as Attorney General as long as you are President ?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. McGrath has made no motion to me that he expects to resign, and I haven't asked him to resign.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, I would like to pursue that, if I may. That has been one thing that puzzled so many of us.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you are easily puzzled.

Q. What?

THE PRESIDENT. I say you are easily puzzled. Always speculating about something that you don't know anything about, but go ahead.

Q. This is speculation, but Mr. Short 8 said in Key West that Mr. Caudle was put out because of outside activities incompatible with his public duties. Then Mr. McGrath's testimony went right down the line for Mr. Caudle, saying he saw nothing wrong in Caudle's actions.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think it is right for any Government employee in a responsible position to have outside interests. And I expect to do something about that before we get through with this situation. I think it's unethical for people in key positions to be outside practicing law, or taking fees that have nothing to do with their position as a Government employee. If they want to do that, they ought to quit and open a law office and go at it.

8Joseph H. Short, Secretary to the President.

[11.] Q. Do these measures you have in mind require any legislation?

THE PRESIDENT. Some of them may, yes.

Q. Well, would you care to discuss them at all ?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I will discuss that in the Message on the State of the Union.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, there was an O'Mahoney 9 amendment to the armed services appropriation which provided that any company representative, or anyone dealing with the Government, who gave so much as a cigar--as the thing may be interpreted-to a Government employee in the handling of contracts, that the contract would be canceled and the company prosecuted for failure to meet the contract. But there is nothing said in that act about prosecuting an employee who accepts gratuities. Do you think that should be made stronger?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it--it's a two-way street.

9Senator Joseph C. O'Mahoney of Wyoming.

Q. Awhile ago, somebody was pressing you about what action you would take, and it sounded over here as if you said you would find out something later in the week. Can we hear this week ?

THE PRESIDENT. What was that?

Q. It sounded over here as if you would find out something later in the week?

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, may we wrap up all the rumors about resignations in the Cabinet, offered or to be asked for? Are there any resignations to be asked for, or to be accepted, from the Cabinet or top bureaus in the Government?

THE PRESIDENT. Whenever that situation comes about, I always inform you in plenty of time so you can get it in the next day's paper, or that afternoon's paper. I have nothing to say on the subject.

[14.] Mr. Short: Mr. President, I think you misunderstood Mr. Riggs 10 over there. He said "later this week," and you just said "later."

THE PRESIDENT. Joe says I didn't say later in the week, I said later. But then you can leave it at later in the week. [Laughter]

10Robert L. Riggs of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Q. Mr. President, could we file that down to a little later in the day, maybe?

THE PRESIDENT. No sir, don't get too specific. [More laughter]

[15.] Q. Mr. President, do you expect a truce in Korea by Christmas?

THE PRESIDENT. No.

Q. Do you expect one by the 27th ?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't expect anything until it happens. I do not want to be quoted on anything in regard to Korea. Now, this situation is exceedingly delicate and dangerous, and it is your situation as well as mine, and anything that is done over here that embarrasses General Ridgway injures our bargaining position and may get some boys shot that otherwise wouldn't be shot. So keep still about Korea and the truce.

Q. Mr. President, is that off the record, all this you have said about Korea?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it's off the record-it's off the record. I just want you to use the same judgment that I have to use as a citizen of the United States for the protection of our forces in Korea. It is up to you just as well as it is to me, to see that those boys don't get shot in the back. And the Korean truce matter is not a public document to be discussed. And I am emphatic about that, because it is a dangerous situation--a very dangerous situation. And this is all off the record.

Q. Well, just for the record, may we get where that off the record starts, please?

THE PRESIDENT. Starting with Miss Montgomery's 11 question.

11Ruth S. Montgomery of the New York Daily News.

Q. That question was whether or not you expected a truce by Christmas?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes.

You don't know what an injury it can be to those people who are trying to negotiate something, and to have people back here stab them in the back. What is it ?

[16.] Q. Senator Connally has indicated that your appointment of General Clark to the Vatican is going to stay pigeonholed. Do you anticipate taking any action to further that appointment?

THE PRESIDENT. I expect to send that appointment down as soon as the Congress meets. Then it is up to the Congress to take whatever action is necessary.12

Q. What was that?

THE PRESIDENT. General Clark as Ambassador to the Vatican.

12 See Item 275 [7, 18].

[17.] Q. Mr. President, you said a moment ago--you were discussing whether Government employees should have outside interests--you said you are expecting to do something about it soon, and then you said that it would be in your State of the Union Message.

THE PRESIDENT. No, no. No, I didn't say that. He asked me would any legislation be necessary on some of these things, and I said they would be taken up in the State of the Union Message. That had no connection.

Q. Not specifically different ?

THE PRESIDENT. No. No.

Q. Mr. President, could you say whether you have yet decided what action you may take, or is it still in the formulation sage?

THE PRESIDENT. It is in the formulation stage, and as soon as I have it ready I will inform you.

Q. That is in connection with this thing we were talking about at the outset ?

THE PRESIDENT. That's right?

Q. About housecleaning?

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q. That's what you meant in your answer about the need for legislation?

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q. That's what will come later this week?

THE PRESIDENT. Not necessarily. I don't want to confuse you, but they are two different things. We are talking about two different things.

Q. The two different things are, one--

THE PRESIDENT. One is where it may be necessary to have legislation to meet the situation, and one is the direct action that the Executive himself may take. That will come sooner, of course, than the legislative action.

Q. Mr. President, I may not have made myself clear. My question did concern the action which you may take this week?

THE PRESIDENT. I expect to take action as promptly as possible and get the situation cleaned up, and whatever action is necessary for the Chief Executive to take, why he will take; because there is nobody believes more than I do in dean government. That has been my record and my theory ever since I became a public officeholder. You can go all the way back to 1922 when I was first elected to public office, and you will find that has been the policy I have pursued until this date, and I expect to continue to pursue it. And wrongdoers have no house with me, no matter who they are or how big they are.

Q. Mr. President, could we quote that last little bit there directly? Could Jack 13 read it to us ?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, if you like. I don't know whether he can or not, that was pretty fast. [Laughter] Go ahead, Jack, and I'll correct you. [The President's remark was read back.]

Q. Is that a direct quote?

THE PRESIDENT. That is a direct quote.

13Jack Romagna, White House Official Reporter.

[18.] Q. There have been some indications lately that there might be Members of Congress who would not quite be in the position of being able to cast the first stone. Would your recommendations to Congress follow along anything in that line?

THE PRESIDENT. It is not customary for one of the three great branches of the Government to--in any way to reflect on either one of the other two, so I have no comment to make on that question.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, looking over my notes, I think there may be a little confusion. I therefore would like to repeat a question not quite so broad as Mr. Leach's: 14 Do you anticipate in the near future the voluntary or requested resignation of any member of your Cabinet?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not.

14Paul R. Leach of the Chicago Daily News.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, Mr. McKinney says he did not think that this situation would be an issue in the 1952 campaign; that is, the matter of these so-called scandals. Do you agree with Mr. McKinney?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, because it will all be cleaned up long before the campaign takes place. It will be past history, just like the Communists in Government and all the rest of these things have been. I have cleaned every one of them up, and this will be cleaned up just the same way. It's lack of issues that caused these things, because this would have been cleaned up, anyway, without all this ballyhoo.

[21.] Q. Would you give us your analysis of how it came about that you had to take this drastic action with people like Caudle and these collectors ?

THE PRESIDENT. Such action has been taken ever since I have been President, wherever it has been necessary. It is nothing unusual, or nothing new. Whenever it is necessary to make the Government clean by firing somebody that is doing wrong, I haven't hesitated to do it, no matter what his position is.

Q. Well, Mr. President, there seems to be a little bit more of it now, though, than there has been ?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think so. If you will look over the records, you will find the average number of people in the Internal Revenue Department who have been fired every year has been about the same right along. It hasn't been any greater now than it was then. It has been a little higher up in some places now than it has been in the past, but there isn't any more of it than there always has been. You have to be constantly on the watch for just such things all the time.

Q. Why? Why?

THE PRESIDENT. Because every time one of these fellows goes wrong, he has the complete and hearty cooperation by some fellow on the outside who wants to profit by it, and he is just as guilty as the man.

Q. Why is it, sir, that if there is nothing new, or no greater numbers, that you are even considering some extraordinary action such as this ?

THE PRESIDENT. I want to have the situation completely developed, and show that the vast majority of the Government employees are honest people, trying to do their duty, and I want to see that they do not get smeared by the actions of a few people who are not the right sort in the first place. That's what I am trying to do, and I think the Government employees are entitled to just such treatment.

Q. Mr. President, to get this clear, you said that this had been going on, and there have been the firings, etc. How does it come that the present situation arises from congressional investigation rather than Executive--

THE PRESIDENT. It did not arise from congressional investigations, Pete. 15 That is just what I am telling you. Every one of those things was ferreted out and taken care of, and the congressional investigation came in after the fact and made the headline.

15Raymond P. Brandt of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Q. The Caudle thing?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Yes. We were on him quite awhile ago. I knew all about the situation, and was ready to fire him sometime back.

Q. Before the Congress started in ?

THE PRESIDENT, Yes, before the Congress started in on the thing. That's the case all the way down the line.

Of course the Post-Dispatch won't believe it, but it's true! [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, Attorney General McGrath says he never knew anything about the Caudle thing ?

THE PRESIDENT. Maybe so. I don't keep books for the Attorney General when he is Attorney General. I keep books for myself.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, as to the right sort of people, how did they get in the Government in the first place ?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. How do you get people in banks that rob them sometimes ? [Laughter]

[23.] Q. Mr. President, is there anything you would like to say about McKinney's dealings with Mr. Cohen, with whom I believe you have had some past investigatory experience?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no comment. Mr. McKinney has made that perfectly clear himself.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. You're welcome.

Note: President Truman's two hundred and eighty-seventh news conference was held in the Indian Treaty Room (Room 474) in the Executive Office Building at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, December 13, 1951.

Harry S. Truman, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231326

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