March 11, 1954
Over at the Pentagon, there was controlled panic. Army Counsel John Adams called Army Secretary Robert Stevens at 9:40 a.m. to tell him that Senator Potter was, at that moment, reporting to Defense assistant secretaries Fred Seaton and Struve Hensel about a meeting which the Republicans, including senators Knowland and Bricker, had held “with Joe in secret last night.” Potter had taken his copy of the forthcoming report on the privileges sought for Roy Cohn’s boyfriend, Army Private G. David Schine, to the meeting. According to John Adams, the senators had “laid it on pretty violently” with McCarthy, recommending he fire a staff member (presumably Cohn), and pressuring McCarthy “to get off the Army’s neck.” Neither Stevens nor Adams knew the precise plans or when the report would be released; they were not in the inner circle with Seaton and Hensel. Army Counsel John Adams was skeptical. “I have a personal feeling,” he said, “that it will never see the light of day.”
That meeting with Republican senators had gotten Joe McCarthy’s attention. About 1:30 p.m., he called Fred Seaton. Instead of yielding to the pressure to fire Cohn, McCarthy had decided to launch a counter attack. Reflecting on his luncheon with Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson, McCarthy argued that Wilson “should get [the] full story” by hearing McCarthy’s perspective; “I called you to get all of the story.” Seaton smoothly replied, “You have no argument with me on this.” He added, “The Secretary had nothing to do about putting out [the] report.”
That conversation reinforced what Seaton had already decided – it was imperative to get the report out this day – March 11, 1954 – as planned. McCarthy knew too much and might manage to mitigate its impact. Seaton, the smooth operator, knew just what to say; he told the senator he would “personally guarantee” that McCarthy’s request to include additional material would be passed on to his superiors and that such information would be available “for inclusion by tomorrow.” Seaton knew that by tomorrow it would be too late.
Copies of the thirty-four page Schine report were scheduled for delivery just after working hours. After McCarthy hung up, Seaton met with Stevens, undoubtedly to report on the conversation with McCarthy. The activity in Seaton’s and Hensel’s offices accelerated in an effort to get the report out before McCarthy could act. At 4:35 p.m., Seaton called Stevens to tell him he had informed McCarthy that the report “would be delivered to the Hill this afternoon” in response to “long-standing requests” from other senators.
Over in the White House, Press Secretary Jim Hagerty knew, as did his boss, that the “Army report on Schine-Cohn-McCarthy [is] going up on [the] Hill today.” He had read it with a public relations expert’s eye. “It’s a pip,” Hagerty confided to his diary – “shows constant pressure by Cohn to get Schine soft Army job, with Joe in and out of threats.” Hagerty believed the report “should bust things wide open.” No one was closer to the president on the McCarthy operation, with the exception of Fred Seaton. If Hagerty had seen the final version, so had Ike.
As Fred I. Greenstein accurately stated a generation ago in The Hidden Hand Presidency, the Schine chronology was released by the Army, “ostensibly on its own but actually at White House instigation.” However, Eisenhower, even in his memoirs, never acknowledged his role. Instead, he wrote that “the Army” – not the White House – “moved over to the attack.” Regarding the Schine report, Ike penned, “The Army put it to use.” He did not mention Fred Seaton, who was operating under his orders.
Fred Seaton retained the schedule for delivery in his “eyes only” file, gathered at Eisenhower’s direction. Copies were to be distributed between 5:20 and 5:40 p.m. on March 11 to two chairs of House committees and eleven senators, including McCarthy. Six senators who were not on McCarthy’s committee and one additional House chair would receive copies in the morning.
That night, Eisenhower hosted a stag dinner including some of his best friends, prestigious business executives, his brother Milton, Chief of Staff Sherman Adams, and Fred Seaton. Perhaps the commander-in-chief’s invitation on this special night constituted a modicum of recognition for Fred’s clandestine service that day to his country.
[Note to the reader: the public scandal over the release of the Schine report resulted in two months of televised hearings, known to history as “The Army-McCarthy hearings” and resulting in a precipitous decline in McCarthy’s popularity.]