“It is well, therefore, to begin with the simple legal profile of what a Committee can and cannot do. All that it can do is to compel a witness to testify. If he talks, and talks honestly, that is the end of the matter. The Committee has no power to deal with him further; it is not adjudicating or determining any of his rights or duties; it is simply collecting information for legislative use. If a witness does not answer honestly, he may expose himself to a perjury prosecution; if he refuses to answer at all, he may expose himself to a contempt prosecution.”
–Harry Kalven, Jr., 1960
Linus Pauling was ordered to appear before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) on June 20, 1960. He and his counsel arrived on time, as requested, at the New Senate Office Building in Washington DC, but the Senate was in session, and Pauling’s hearing was postponed until the following morning. Aside from the inconvenience of delay, Pauling was likewise, that day, notified for the first time that the hearing would be an executive session, and thus not open to the public or the press.
This meant that Pauling would not receive a copy of his testimony, and that the Subcommittee reserved the right to release portions of Pauling’s testimony to the public at their own discretion. The Subcommittee defended their decision by suggesting that “It is consistent practice…for the protection of its witnesses to hold executive sessions in advance of public hearing for the purpose of siting evidence, checking its accuracy and elimination of non-evidential material.”
Though the delay further aggravated his disposition, Pauling made good use of the extra time that was allotted to him, appearing before the press and giving several interviews. He also sent a telegram later that evening to Senator James O. Eastland, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, of which the SISS was a Subcommittee. Pauling voiced his concerns about the closed session, and requested that his hearing be open to the public.
When I appeared this morning as commanded I was surprised to learn for the first time that the session, postponed by you until 8 A.M. tomorrow, is to be an executive hearing closed to the public and the press. I do not like secrecy and I wish to present my testimony in public. I have nothing to say that needs to be kept secret and I neither require nor desire the protection of an executive hearing.
Pauling made it clear that the stated concerns of Senator Thomas J. Dodd and the Subcommittee for keeping the hearing closed – mainly to protect his Pauling’s rights as a witness – were unwarranted. His noisy protests of this decision were treated sympathetically in several prominent newspapers the following morning.
On June 21, after a few minutes of inquiry in executive session, Senator Dodd reversed the earlier decision and opened the hearing to the public. The first moments of the open session were nonetheless used by Dodd to once again justify his initial decision to hold an executive session. After defending himself satisfactorily, and explaining the rationale for Pauling’s presence before the Subcommittee, Dodd made a statement that clarified his fundamental intentions:
…while the particular objective of the session today is to learn what we can from this witness respecting communist activity in connection with protests against nuclear testing, we shall also seek other information respecting communist activity if it appears that such information might be available from this witness.
Having established the Subcommittee’s privilege to address the matter, Dodd briefly placated Pauling before moving on with his agenda. It is interesting to note that while the trial is commonly perceived as a battle between Pauling and Senator Dodd, it was Chief Counsel Jules Sourwine who conducted a majority of the questioning during the hearing, allowing Senator Dodd to play a peripheral yet authoritative role.
Chief Counsel Sourwine soon made it clear that the main topic of interest for the hearing was the nuclear test-ban petition that Pauling had submitted to the United Nations more than two years earlier. After reading aloud the press release which had preceded Pauling’s petition submission, Sourwine began asking about the signature collection process that Pauling had utilized in compiling the petitin. The Subcommittee had previously acquired a copy of the petition from the United Nations, and after determining that Pauling had not received each petition signer’s name on separate sheets of paper, Sourwine requested from Pauling the names of those individuals who had collected and turned in more than one signature.
After repeatedly avoiding a direct answer to the request, Pauling was finally forced to fully face the issue. Having cooperated with little reservation up to this point, Pauling politely but firmly refused the request, defending his decision as a matter of conscience and stating that
I feel some concern about my duty to the people who worked for this petition. I feel concern that they may be subpoenaed before this Subcommittee, subjected to the treatment that I have been subjected to.
Senator Dodd justified the request by mentioning discrepancies that his staff had encountered with names that Pauling claimed were on the petition as well as the number of signatures reported by a United Nations staff member. Following the hearing it was determined that responsibility for the error in reporting the total number of petition signatures resided with the U.N., but the allegations during the hearing still served to question Pauling’s penchant for truth.
The Subcommittee then addressed the formation of the petition, the sources of the petition’s funding, and the nature of the roles played by Russian and other international scientists. Chief Counsel Sourwine spent time during the morning hearing’s final portion to discuss Pauling’s questionable affiliations with suspected communists and communist fronts, including the National Council of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions and the organization that had printed the petitions.
Finally, as noon approached, Sourwine again requested both a list of individuals that the petition had been sent to and a list of the individuals who had delivered multiple signatures, with an indication of how many signatures were sent in. The hearing was recessed, and Pauling was given a chance to consult with his counsel, Abraham L. Wirin, about how to respond to the Subcommittee’s final requests.