“I gladly confess that I recall Tom Dodd as a somehow larger and more appealing figure than his critics acknowledge or the record of the recent past shows. For twelve years I followed him, long enough to leave with me some fond memories and a share in his guilt. Had he been only an empty or venal man, his story would be unimportant. It is what he might have become, had the system through which he rose encouraged his strengths instead of his weaknesses, that gives to his fall an element of tragedy and hence a claim to significance.”
– James Boyd, former staff member and associate
When Linus Pauling was called to appear before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in June 1960, Thomas J. Dodd was the active Subcommittee Chairman. Pauling’s perception of Dodd was strongly (and understandably) shaped by the unjust position in which he had been placed by the Subcommittee. However the true character and life of Thomas Dodd, as revealed by those who knew him personally, is full of complexity and suggestive of the prevailing practices of U.S. government officials around the middle of the previous century.
Thomas Joseph Dodd was born in Norwich, Connecticut on May 15, 1907. There he attended public schools, and received training in Roman Catholicism throughout most of his childhood. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Providence College, and received a law degree from Yale University in 1933. He married a year later, and eventually raised six children.
Dodd worked at the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a special agent for one year, before being appointed Director of the National Youth Administration for Connecticut. He later served as Special Assistant to the Attorney General, during which time he was best known for his role in the prosecution of Ku Klux Klan members in South Carolina and for defending labor rights in Georgia.
During World War II, Dodd primarily worked on cases involving espionage and sabotage, but also played a role in uncovering fraud by American industrial firms. Following the end of the war, he was solicited to aid in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremburg trials in Germany. Active in virtually all aspects of the prosecution, Dodd served as Vice-Chairman of the Review Board and Executive Trial Counsel, essentially making him the second ranking lawyer and supervisor for the U.S. prosecution team.
After returning from Europe, Dodd entered into private practice and was subsequently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952 after an unsuccessful run for governor of Connecticut in 1948. Ten years later, in 1958, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving on the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As part of his duties he co-chaired the Internal Security Subcommittee, the junction at which he crossed paths with Linus Pauling.
Dodd was known by colleagues for his low level of partisanship, but he was more widely recognized for his stance as a strident anti-communist. (The journalist Drew Pearson referred to him as a “bargain-basement McCarthy.”) His world view was fundamentally inspired by notions of loyalty, and he made a name for himself as one who remained loyal to beleaguered political figures in times of crisis. To his family and those close to him, he was admired for his mirth, humor, generosity and capacity for fellowship, and during his career as a public servant, Senator Dodd often felt he was upholding a strict moral code. Despite his seemingly lofty ideals and persona however, Dodd faltered as he became increasingly intermingled in prevalent and customary forms of political graft.
Though the events that transpired in 1960 with Linus Pauling proved a major event, the time he spent on the SISS was seen by supporters and critics alike as a comparatively minor chapter in his life. He is instead more widely recognized in general both for his notable rise through U.S. institutions, as well as for his misconduct with regard to government ethics violations. His crimes reflected practices that were common in most spheres of state and national politics at the time, and he was reprimanded reluctantly for his transgressions.
After violating flaccid campaign finance laws and abusing government funds, Senator Dodd was involved in a drawn-out congressional inquiry that ended in his censure by the U.S. Senate. Prior to the vote by his peers, a clerk read out the following Censure Resolution:
It is the judgment of the Senate that the Senator from Connecticut, Thomas J. Dodd… deserves the censure of the Senate and he is so censured for his conduct, which is contrary to accepted morals, derogates from the public trust expected of a Senator, and tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.
Senator Dodd’s censure, which took place seven years after his confrontation with Linus Pauling, made him the first Senator in U.S. history to be censured for financial misconduct. (He was also the first Senator to be censured since Joseph McCarthy in 1954, and one of only six Senators censured over the whole of the twentieth century.) Though the possibility of criminal investigation from the IRS and Justice Department loomed overhead, Dodd carried on much as though nothing had happened. Ignoring an outcry for his resignation, he remained on his committees and continued to exercise his basic senatorial duties.
Ultimately, the Senate did not pursue any further investigation, instead concluding their formal report with a reprimand aimed at Dodd’s accusers, many of them former staff members. Dodd was allowed to complete his term largely undisturbed, wielding the waning power that remained within his grasp. The censure vote did have lasting effects for the system as a whole however, publicly demonstrating the need for legislative ethics law reform. Reflecting back on the time period, a former aide later an explanation for Dodd’s fraudulent conduct, and the Senate’s hesitant enforcement:
The Senate appeared to Dodd not as a harsh and extracting judge, but as a permissive and protective accomplice. His occasional inanities in debate would always appear in the Record as words of wisdom. His absence would be reported as a presence. His vacation trips would not only be paid for by the Senate, but would be billed as ‘official business.’ His honorariums and legal kickbacks and finder fees and gifts were excused from the prohibitions that covered all government officials except Congressmen and Senators. His fraudulent campaign reports would always be accepted at face value. Not only could he keep unsavory contributions, he could route them through the Senate Campaign Committee and thus hide their origin. He could use his official allowances to buy birthday presents, wedding invitations, and the like, and no one would know. He had reason to consider himself immune from investigation.
Spurned by the Democratic Party, Dodd lost in his bid to run as an Independent in the 1970 Senate re-election campaign. Less than one year later, on May 24, 1971, he fell victim to a heart attack, dying in his home at the age of 64.