Red Web - Blair Coan

The Reign of the American Cheka

Testifying before the Lusk committee in New York, John A. Embry, who had been United States consul at Omsk, Siberia, told of his experiences and of what these demonstrated to him following the ascendancy to power of the bolsheviki in Russia. At Belebei, about which Mr. Embry testified specifically, control was in the hands of liberated criminals, operating as the Central Executive Committee of that Soviet.

"Now, this executive committee," said Mr. Embry, "had under it several other bolshevik committees, or commissionaires. One of these committees was known as the Extraordinary Investigation Committee, which had the peculiar power of sentencing to death without trial."

"Now, another one of the committees," continued Mr. Embry, "was a kind of bolshevik court which attempted in some cases to give a trial; but, as we were informed by these judges, the Extraordinary Investigation Committee, which had no court and which had the power of executing people, never allowed this bolshevik court, which the bolsheviks themselves had established, to operate, and it was as if it were non-existent, and there was no justice to be had."

William Henry Chamberlin, writing in Moscow, under date of March 10, 1924, for the New York Nation, Oswald Garrison Villard's pro-Russian "liberal" journal for pinks and parlor reds, detailed the trial of a bolshevik banker, Alexander Krasnoschokov, and his brother, Jacob, a Moscow building contractor, and four accused employees of the industrial bank of which the banker was president. The defendants were a long time incarcerated before they were brought to trial.

"After a long interval," wrote Chamberlin, "the trial of the Krasnoschokov brothers and of the four accused bank employes opened on March 4th in the Supreme Court of the republic. (The republic referred to was the Far Eastern Republic.) The small courtroom was crowded with spectators. . . . . On a raised dais at one end of the room sat the chief judge, Solz, a short, thick-set man with bushy iron-gray hair. He has a reputation for severity and belongs to the Central Control Committee of the Communist Party. He was flanked by the two assistant judges . . . "

"To the left of the judges sat the prosecutor, Krilenka, a slight, wiry man, with tense face muscles and something of an air of a hunter ready to spring upon his prey. 'He hates and despises everyone who is not a thoroughgoing communist,' someone whispered, referring to the prosecutor."

In an indictment covering seventy-two pages, and which it took three hours to read, according to Mr. Chamberlin's story, the bank president was charged without almost every crime imaginable, including "broad living" and being enamoured of gypsies. "From a legalistic standpoint," said Mr. Chamberlin, "the indictment was a curious indictment."

"The rumors that Krasnoschokoy had somehow absconded with hundreds of thousands of dollars were exploded," wrote Mr. Chamberlin. "The dubious transactions with his brother's firm were shown to have involved no actual loss to the bank in the shape of nonpayment of obligations, although the prosecution claimed that the bank should have made a few thousand dollars more by charging higher interest rates—. . . . On the other hand, his administration of the bank, as was conceded by the prosecution, had been distinctly successful . . ."

"The final duel between prosecution and defense centered largely about the issue whether violation of communist ethics should be considered legal offenses. 'I do not defend my client as a communist,' said Chlenov, Krasnoschokov's eloquent lawyer. 'He did not always live up to communist standards of conduct. But you cannot try a man in a civil court for ethical offenses. For that purpose you have a party code of discipline and party courts.'"

"But Krilenko would not admit this distinction. 'Our revolutionary justice erases the distinction between ethics and written law,' he declared in a harsh, metallic voice. 'Just because Krasnoschokov had such a distinguished revolutionary past, just because the party reposed so much confidence in him, his treason before the party and the soviet power is all the greater'."

The prosecution won the case, of course. As Mr. Chamberlin put it, "Krasnoschokov must have known the party and its workings too well to have expected mercy after its powerful machinery of destruction had been set in motion against him."

But this was in Red Russia. The Wheeler-Brookhart committee was functioning in the United States of America. How was the chief officer of the Department of Justice of the United States to know, or why should he even suspect, that its procedure would be, as it turned out to be, so strikingly like the system in use in Russia under bolshevik rule? The conduct of the Wheeler-Brookhart committee of the United States Senate was so nearly an adaptation of the methods of the Extraordinary Investigation Committee of Belebei, described by Mr. Embry, and those of the Supreme Court of the Far Eastern Republic, revealed by. Mr. Chamberlin, that the arch-concocters of the Senate committee's processes may well have learned the technique while they were being entertained and instructed as to the idealistic beauties of the bolshevik system by the soviet chiefs in Moscow.

The committee of the Senate which began on the 12th of March, 1924, its "investigation" of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under his administrations, was a triumverate of radicals, and the triumverate remained in indisputable control throughout. The chairman was Brookhart, and the other two were Wheeler and Ashurst. It is true there were two other members of the committee—Senators Moses, of New Hampshire, and Jones, of Washington—but these members (and nobody realized this more than they after the proceeding got under way) might just as well have been totally non-existent.

The radical triumvirate were judges and jury in all instances, with one of them as "prosecutor," and they would brook no interference nor tolerate any counsel or suggestion, however mild or courteous, that did not fit in unqualifiedly with their program and their determination to convict the Attorney General and the Department of Justice and all of his and its works. From a legalistic standpoint, to paraphrase Mr. Chamberlin's description of the Krasnoschokov indictment, the proceeding was not simply curious—it was a crime, and all the worse crime by reason of the fact that it could be and was put into effect in the capital of the nation and by the authority of the Senate of the United States. Both as to method of procedure and as to demeanor in his conduct of the case, Wheeler may as well have borne the name of Krilenko.

At the outset of the first session of the committee, Paul Howland, of counsel for the Attorney General, sought to make a preliminary statement, in accordance with the custom in similar instances. The futility of the Attorney General's being represented by counsel before the committee became immediately apparent.

"I move that we proceed with the hearing without any statement by counsel," said Wheeler, after some colloquy. And Ashurst seconded the motion.

"I vote for the representatives of the Attorney General to be heard," said Senator Jones.

"I vote no on the motion by the Senator from Montana," said Senator Moses.

"I vote aye," came from Ashurst, and Brookhart, noting his own vote and Wheeler's in support of the motion, said: "It is the decision of the committee that we will not hear you for an opening statement."

And such invariably was the vote at every stage of the proceedings for the weeks that followed whenever any move whatever was attempted on the part of the Attorney General's counsel to make of the hearing a two-sided rather than an endlessly one-sided inquisition.

"Now, Mr. Chairman," said Howland, "as a matter of right I request this—not as a privilege, as was my first request, but as a matter of right, that the representatives of a coordinate branch of the government, now under investigation by this Senate committee, be permitted to plead to the resolution. I demand that as a matter of right before this investigation is begun."

"The Attorney General," retorted Brookhart, "is not a coordinate branch of the government; only the President is. We are not going to proceed like we were in a technical trial. This is a Senate investigation."

"If we are not to be permitted to make a statement, I submit the request that we may have the statement we would make printed as a part of your proceedings," said the other defense attorney, former Senator Chamberlain.

"You may submit the statement, and we will pass on it," was Brookhart's significant reply.

More colloquy, and two or three votes, with the line-up noted above, but at the conclusion of the day's proceedings the statement was read by Wheeler and passed by him as containing nothing calling for his "censorship."

But Senator Ashurst let counsel for the Attorney General know the point to which they would be allowed to go when Mr. Howland questioned the competence of the first witness, Roxie Stinson, to relate stories about and alleged statements of a dead man, Jess Smith.

"Let the matter be understood," said the Arizona senator. "Counsel for Attorney General Daugherty are rendering their client very poor service if they attempt to interpose here technical objections." And so forth.

"And they will certainly not get anywhere by trying to bulldoze somebody on this committee," was Wheeler's angry interposition.

"No; do not misunderstand me," said Howland. "I am not tryin: "

"I do not misunderstand you," Wheeler retorted, proceeding with an angry arraignment of the Attorney General's lawyers.

Both Flowland and Chamberlain, whose attitude had been of exceeding and studied dignity, were taken completely aback. Ashurst hurled hotly at them that the committee expected from them "a large amount of silence" and Wheeler reminded them they were present "by the courtesy of the committee."

The protests of Senators Moses and Jones were in vain, as were sundry and all of their subsequent protests against the strong arm methods of the triumvirate that prevailed from the start to the finish of the "investigation." Endeavoring, as they did, to meet insults and intimidations with soft words, these two: Senators might just as well have remained silent. And striving, as they did, to do battle against fire and conscienceless intrigue by the practice of their profession according to law and the ethical rules they had learned in the law colleges and the courts, Messrs. Howland and Chamberlain might just as well have conserved their energies and taken a vacation, far, far away.

The term perjury, applied to the so-called testimony, is perhaps technically from a legal stand-point improperly used for the reason, that, as held by Judge Cochran, the committee had no jurisdiction or authority to make the investigation nor to administer an oath. And witnesses were advised by those working for the committee that these two elements especially being necessary to constitute perjury under the law and being absent, together with other elements to constitute perjury, they were immune from prosecution for that offense. This is the reason why the witnesses at the time were not prosecuted for perjury and certain other persons were not prosecuted for subordination of perjury.

"The testimony given before the Wheeler committee by Roxie Stinson, R. Momand, myself and the majority of the other witnesses," Gaston B. Means has since confessed, "was nothing but a tissue of lies put in the mouths of these witnesses by Senator Wheeler primarily to confound and discredit the Department of Justice and the administration. These witnesses and myself were persuaded to make these false statements by Senator Wheeler under threats of indictment in some cases and by promises of gain and aid in others."

That it was in truth a riot of perjury and a parade of criminals, convicts, ex-convicts and convicts-to-be that constituted the backbone of the "prosecution" in this flagrantly lawless proceeding before a red-inspired and a radical-controlled committee of the United States Senate, ought to have been obvious to any unprejudiced observer giving the case the test of analytical scrutiny; and that Wheeler, daring and cunning though he is, could have succeeded with it as he did is above and beyond the realm of understanding,

There were men, Americans, believers in law and order, optimists as to the welfare of the nation, lovers of the flag and born with the impulse to fight for the defense and preservation of their country at the slightest sign of peril—there were men like this who began to ask, after the Wheeler-Brookhart inquisition had proceeded but a short way: Where are the defenders of the American Constitution in the forum of the nation, the Congress of the United States? Where are the champions of law and order in the Senate? Have none but cowards been elected to sit in that body? Are there none there but the detractors and the defamers, and those who have been cowed into a state of frightened silence, driven to cover by the mobocracy which seems to have seized the power of control in the American Congress?

"The great Senate of the United States has fallen to a new level in these days," was the accurate conclusion reached by a former Congressman from Nebraska, Albert W. Jefferis. "The Constitution used to be referred to and adhered to within its confines with just and honorable pride. It is so thought of no longer. The order of the day during this Wheeler, Walsh, Heflin and Robinson era is to belittle the House of Representatives, usurp its functions and powers, and dominate and dictate, if possible, the powers and functions of the executive department and the judiciary. The marvelous leadership of this Wheeler from Montana gives notice to the thinking people of the nation that there is work to be done by them if they are to preserve and protect the Constitution which has guided the nation so well through all its years of progress . . . . The overthrow of the Constitution was once tried by rebellion and war. That effort failed. Whether this latter method now being tried in the Senate shall be successful, the future only can tell."

Under the influence of reds and pinks, and with a radical-Democratic alliance, purposefully proposed by the radicals, blindly entered into by the Democrats, the controlling forces of the Senate had deliberately and quite frankly repudiated the Constitution, and were able to do so because the opposition was either buffaloed or scared to death.

"This is not the time to waste the time of the Senate talking about the Magna Charta and the Constitution," were the sneering words of Senator Robinson of Arkansas.

Lawlessness was in the very spirit of the Senate, and if explanation of how the Wheeler-Brookhart-Ashurst triumvirate succeeded with everything except murder is needed, it is to be found in that spirit and the impotency of Republican leadership to combat it and overthrow it.