A Lawyer’s Case for Harry Hopkins


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In the small world that is Washington, DC, my path has crossed, as it were, that of the venerable Steptoe and Johnson lawyer, David L. Roll, once again.  The first time, he had co-written a biography of Louis Johnson, the thoroughly unqualified man whom President Harry Truman appointed to replace James Forrestal as Secretary of Defense.  In that book he repeated the semi-official story of Forrestal having committed suicide after reading and transcribing some depressing lines from an ancient Greek poem.  Since I have completely debunked that tale, I felt an obligation to call him to account, which I did in two public appearances of his, one letter, and one lunch meeting.  We shall have more to say about that later in this essay.


Now he has written another biography of an important public figure of the mid-20th century whom I have also written about, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s virtual assistant president, Harry Hopkins.  The book is entitled The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler.  In this instance, I dare say that he knows more about the subject than I do, but the main problem, as I see it, is that in pursuit of his conventional-wisdom agenda it is most unlikely that he would tell us everything that he knows.  After all, thanks to my previous efforts he now knows many things about the death of Forrestal that we can be quite certain will never appear in writing in association with his name.  My means of calling him to account this time was a review on Amazon.com entitled “A Very Well-Written Lawyer’s Case for Harry Hopkins,” a slightly revised version of which follows:


When I read David Roll's earlier book, Louis Johnson and the Arming of America: The Roosevelt and Truman Years, that he co-wrote with an academic historian, I assumed that he was the lesser contributor whose primary interest in the project arose from the fact that Johnson was one of the founding partners of the law firm for which Roll works in Washington, DC. Now, having read this soaring account of the contribution of Harry Hopkins to the allied effort in World War II, I believe that his co-author might have been holding him down a bit. Roll writes engagingly and he has exhibited some first class scholarship. I can't think of a better way to appreciate the tugging and pulling that went on among the allies than by following the work of Hopkins as Roll has done. One comes away from the book wondering why Hopkins is not better known and more celebrated than he is.


Roll's strength, however, is also his weakness. If Hopkins were his client, I'd say that Roll has done a pretty darned good job for him, but biography should be more than a brief for the accused. Nowhere is Roll's partisan work in better evidence than in his defense against the charge that Hopkins was actually a spy for the Soviet Union. "Notebooks from KGB archives were published in 2009 that flatly disprove widely published allegations that Hopkins was a Soviet agent," he writes in his prologue. At that point he has no reference, but he does when he elaborates upon the question later in the book. It turns out that the revelations to which he refers tend to disprove only one piece of evidence that Hopkins was a paid Soviet agent, that is, that he was "source 19" who supplied Stalin with vital information from a Roosevelt-Churchill meeting. Agent 19, we are now told, was the known Soviet agent Laurence Duggan, a high level State Department official. Roll neglects to tell us that Whittaker Chambers had informed FDR through his top aide for security, Adolf Berle, that Duggan was a spy back in 1939. Similarly, when Roll informs us that Hopkins's aide for Lend-Lease, Lauchlin Currie, passed a top secret document to Stalin, he fails once again to tell us that Currie was among those fingered in 1939 by the spy-ring-defector Chambers.


This withheld information may reflect worse upon Hopkins' boss, FDR, than it does upon him, but the revelations from KGB documents made in 2009 also do nothing to refute the charge publicized in the recent book by Diana West, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character, that Hopkins informed the Soviet embassy that one of its key agents was being bugged by the FBI. Roll simply ignores that bit of evidence, even though it has been around since at least 1999 when it was revealed by Victor Mitrokhin and Christopher Andrew in The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB.


Roll is at his table-pounding worst in his slander of Major George Racey Jordan, who charged in his book, From Major Jordan's Diaries, that Hopkins provided some of the wherewithal for the Soviet Union to manufacture their first nuclear weapon under the guise of Lend-Lease assistance. Roll's conclusion, "that Jordan either lied for publicity and profit or was delusional," as anyone who bothers to read Jordan's book, now available online in its entirety, is completely untenable. One can also see how untenable it is by reading Congressional testimony available on the web site of Andrew Bostom.


Once again, The Hopkins Touch is well worth reading and has more than earned the favorable blurbs one finds on the dust cover from the likes of Douglas Brinkley, Chris Matthews, Evan Thomas, James Schlesinger, and Bud McFarlane, but it is not "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." To get a little closer to that worthy goal one should at least dip a toe or two into the case against Harry Hopkins. You can start doing that by reading "When Harry Met Ivan," “The Treachery of Harry Hopkins,” "Harry Hopkins Hosted Soviet Spy Cell," and, most recently, "Harry Hopkins and FDR's Commissars."


Not only is Roll’s work endorsed by what I would call a virtual rogues’ gallery of establishment media and government figures but in his acknowledgments at the end of the book he expresses special appreciation to his Georgetown neighbor, Joe Goulden, who encouraged him in his work and lent him books that he used for source material.  Perhaps this is an entirely innocent relationship—after all, I borrowed books from the late Scott Runkle—but Goulden is quite a dubious character as revealed in part by my articles “Spook Journalist Goulden” and “Rotten Goulden/Corn.”


The David Roll Stonewall on James Forrestal


Concerning the Forrestal death, I sent the following letter to Roll on November 1, 2005:


As you will recall, during the question and answer period following your October 18 [2005] Eisenhower Institute presentation on your new book, Louis Johnson and the Arming of America, co-written with Keith McFarland, I noted that new research had shown that an observation of yours on page 153 is entirely incorrect.  The passage, which follows, was written to support the popular conclusion, which your book endorses, that Johnson’s predecessor as Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, had committed suicide: 

But everyone knew [Forrestal] was deeply disturbed.  Moments before his death, he was copying Sophocles’ poem “The Chorus from Ajax,” in which Ajax, forlorn and “worn by the waste of time, contemplates suicide.”


With respect to the first sentence, I noted that those who worked most closely with Forrestal certainly did not “know” that he was “deeply disturbed.”  Most notable among them was his top assistant, Marx Leva.  This comes from the oral history interview of Leva by Stephen Hess found on the web site of the Truman Library:

HESS: What do you recall about the unfortunate mental breakdown that overtook Mr. Forrestal?  

       LEVA: Well, I may have been in the position of not being able to see the forest for the trees because I was seeing him six, eight, ten, twelve times a day and both in and out of the office. A lot of his friends have said since his death, "Oh, we saw it coming," and, "We knew this and we knew that." The only thing that I knew was that he was terribly tired, terribly overworked, spending frequently literally sixteen hours and eighteen hours a day trying to administer an impossible mechanism, worrying about the fact that a lot of it was of his own creation. I knew that he was tired, I begged him to take time off. I'm sure that others begged him to take time off. 

In your defense, you said that you had relied completely upon Driven Patriot, the Life and Times of James Forrestal, by Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley for information concerning Forrestal’s death.  However, Leva’s observations are reinforced by this quote from page 426 of their book: 

Given the extent and pace of his decline, it is astonishing that colleagues at the Pentagon, including members of his inner staff, failed to recognize it. In retrospect they attribute their failure to Forrestal’s formidable self-control, his brusque, impersonal method of dealing with staff, and the simple fact that they saw him too frequently to note much change in his condition or demeanor. 

Though Hoopes and Brinkley do not support your claim concerning what everyone knew about Forrestal, they are clearly the source for the account of Forrestal transcribing a specific morbid poem “moments before his death.”  They are proved to be wrong on this point, however, by recently uncovered evidence.  Their sole source for the claim that Forrestal was actually seen copying the poem shortly before he plunged from a 16th floor window was Arnold Rogow, in his book, James Forrestal, a Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy.  Rogow, though, has no source at all, and it is no wonder, because it is now clear that he made the story up.  The naval corpsman who was in charge of Forrestal’s security and who was the witness, according to Rogow, of the transcribing incident, testified that Forrestal did no reading while he was on duty and that the last time he looked in, Forrestal was apparently sleeping in the darkened room.  That is precisely the time, 1:45 a.m., that Rogow says that the corpsman saw Forrestal busy copying the poem.  

The following passage comes from testimony of Apprentice Robert Wayne Harrison, who came on duty at 11:45 p.m. the night of Forrestal’s death.  It has only been available since its release through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2004: 

Q.  At what time did you last see Mister Forrestal?

A.  It was one forty-five, sir.


Q. Where was he then?

A. He was in his bed, apparently sleeping.


Q.  Where were you at that time?

A.  I was in the room when I saw him. 


And this comes a little later in Apprentice Harrison’s testimony: 

Q.  Did Mister Forrestal appear cheerful or depressed in the time that you observed him?

A.  He appeared neither, sir.


Q.  Did Mister Forrestal do any reading?

A.  Not while I was on watch, sir.


It goes without saying that if he did no reading, he did no copying from any books.  So much for the statement as to what Forrestal was doing “moments before his death.” 

Actually, what we now know amounts to far more than a mere quibble over the timing of Forrestal’s actions.  On October 18, 2005, I gave you a copy of the handwritten transcription that appears among the exhibits accompanying the official investigation, along with a couple of samples of Forrestal’s handwriting that I obtained separately from the Truman Library.  These can be found at http://www.dcdave.com/article4/041103.htm.  From a mere glance one can easily see that someone other than Forrestal copied the lines of the poem. 

Nevertheless, with this evidence in hand, at a presentation at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC, on October 29 you made the statement that internecine squabbling within the newly-created Defense Department contributed to Forrestal’s demise and ultimate “suicide.”  Afterward, you will recall, I told you that you could not possibly still be maintaining that Forrestal committed suicide if you had examined the evidence that I had given you more than a week before.  You replied that you had not yet looked at the evidence. 

I’m sure that your clients would expect you to be a good deal better prepared to defend them than you were to defend what you have written in your book and repeated in your book-promoting presentation.  At the very least, I should think you would have exhibited just a little bit of natural, human curiosity.  Perhaps it is that old saying about feline curiosity that has prevented you from wanting to know the truth, even when you are on record with a demonstrably untrue statement. 

Fortunately, your co-author, Keith McFarland, whom you seem to have protected from the evidence I gave you, participated with you in that Politics and Prose presentation.  He told me that he was “open-minded” and that he has told his students in the past that history writing is an ongoing process and that we should always be prepared to revise our views as we learn more.  Let us hope that he is as good as his word in this case and that you and he will soon take steps to correct your error. (To my knowledge he was not as good as his word and has done nothing. ed.) 

Might I remind you that James Forrestal was the leading government official warning against pursuit of the foreign policy that has us in our current mess in the Middle East?  I realize that, to many, that is ample reason why the news that he did not commit suicide, but was actually assassinated, should be suppressed.  But to anyone interested in truth and justice and concerned about the fate of this country and the world, it is even greater reason why this unpleasant news should be spread widely and quickly.  Anyone who, at this late date, has perpetuated the false story of Forrestal’s suicide has a special obligation to set the record straight. 

He actually responded to my letter, and requested that we meet for lunch.  Although the lunch meeting did not take place until several weeks had passed, Mr. Roll appeared to know no more about the case than he had shown when I talked to him at the Politics and Prose bookstore.  He simply used our brief time together to ask me a number of simple questions that are answered in great detail in "Who Killed James Forrestal?"  I tried to give some short, simple responses to his questions, but the best thing I could tell him was to go read what I had written and then ask questions.  He was not at all prepared to challenge anything I had written, and no progress was made toward getting at the truth at the meeting.  I was left wondering why he wanted to meet in the first place.

From that experience I have concluded that it would be fruitless to pursue the letter-writing route in the case of Harry Hopkins, whom Curtis Dall, by the way, in his book FDR: My Exploited Father-in-Law, considers less a flunky of Roosevelt and more as FDR’s superior.  Dall saw Hopkins as an agent of the far-left triumvirate of Felix Frankfurter, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and Soviet espionage expediter Harry Dexter White, who were themselves the agents of the one-world wirepullers connected to the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

David Martin

February 20, 2014






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