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During his two years as chairman, Senator McCarthy conducted headline-grabbing inquiries into allegations of Communist subversion and espionage in the U.S. government and defense industries. He held hearings on possible Communist infiltration of the Department of State, the Voice of America, the U.S. Information Libraries, the Government Printing Office, and the Army Signal Corps. His clash with the army culminated in the nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings. Senator McCarthy's repeated badgering of witnesses, exaggerated claims, and disregard of due process eventually led to his December 1954 censure for conduct unbecoming a senator.
Executive sessions were held prior to the public hearings. Although many of the witnesses later testified in public sessions, some appeared only in the closed sessions. The set contains testimony by such prominent witnesses as Aaron Copeland, novelist Howard Fast, Dashiell Hammett, Langston Hughes, artist Rockwell Kent, and journalist James Reston. Other witnesses were government employees, labor organizers, and army officers.
As the transcripts reveal, Senator McCarthy was often the only senator present at the executive session hearings. Interrogations were largely conducted by McCarthy's chief counsel, Roy Cohn, and by the subcommittee's unpaid "chief consultant," G. David Schine. Interrogators probed the witnesses on their beliefs, families, and past associations. Some witnesses cooperated and some refused to testify, generally citing the Fifth Amendment. Senator McCarthy frequently threatened witnesses with prosecution for contempt, but all cases were either thrown out of court or overturned on appeal. No one who appeared before McCarthy's subcommittee was imprisoned for anything related to their testimony. However, many lost their jobs for declining to answer the subcommittee's questions.
Following these hearings, the Supreme Court considerably strengthened the rights of witnesses appearing before congressional committees. The Senate and the Permanent Subcommittee also revised the rules of inquiry to prevent a continuation of the abuses evident during Senator McCarthy's tenure.
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