Defense Questions Walter In Seeger Contempt Trial
NEW YORK CITY, March 28--Representative Francis E. Walter, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, found himself answering the questions instead of asking them this afternoon as he testified at Pete Seeger's trial.
Whether his testimony was worth the two-year court fight it cost the defense was another matter. Seeger's lawyer Paul Ross explained to Judge Thomas F. Murphy that the purpose in calling the Congressman was:
To prove that the committee in the 1955 inquiry was not engaged in its primary purpose, that the investigation in the entertainment field did not perform a valid legislative function, that from all the hearings on entertainment since 1947 no legislation emerged, and that the purpose of the inquiry was to single out and expose individuals in order to deny them employment. Ross said also he intended to prove through Walter's testimony that the HUAC was "engaged in indiscriminate dragnet procedures."
During his time on the stand Water testified to the following points:
* There was no legislation dealing with the entertainment field pending before Congress. "The legislation follows the inquiry, never precedes it."
* "As a result of the inquiry there was always alive in the Congress the suggestion of legislation." The Committee, he said, recommended the drafting of legislation having to do with income tax deductions of entertainers aiding Communist causes. Ross objected. He was unable to find any record of such a recommendation.
* Compiling lists of Communists serves a legislative purpose.
* "Was there any attempt of calling witnesses in order to prevent their employment?" "Oh, no."
* Only a few bills were referred by the House parliamentarians to the HUAC in the 84th and 85th Congresses.
For the most part, however, Walter was protected by the strict courtroom rules concerning relevancy of questions. It was a rough day for Ross, who had 102 questions excluded. His attempts to ask the Congressman whether the Committee had any information that entertainers were involved in any subversive activity, what the Committee had done in other hearings, and what it considered its jurisdiction--including whether Walter felt the Committee could investigate any and all activities of the Communist Party--were all frustrated. To the questions he was asked, Walter replied quickly and quietly.
The wheels of justice, noted for turning slowly, practically ground to a halt in the morning during Ross's cross-examination of Frank S. Tavener, Jr., HUAC counsel during the 1955 hearings. The witness answered only about 10 questions and 56 of Ross's inquiries were ruled out.
All in all, it was not a very successful day for the defense. One reporter at the trial only half-jokingly commented, "Seeger will be lucky if he gets off with the electric chair at this rate."
Slow as the courtroom proceedings were to the spectaters, they seemed even slower for Seeger. Occasionally listening attentively, occasionally deedling on a scratch pad, he could also be sees drumming a little tune on the top of the dart mahogany table.