Thomas J. Donegan: a glimpse into the FBI files
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Donegan was a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General who headed a special grand jury investigation in the Southern District of New York. On December 15, 1948, the grand jury indicted Alger Hiss on two counts of perjury. 1
Here are some interesting excerpts from The FBI Silvermaster File, No 65-56402:
Vol. 145, Series 3647-3665
PDF p. 10:
J.V. Fletcher to D.M. Ladd, September 30, 1948
Subject: Gregory [hand-written]
[citing from The Journal-American of 9-30-48]
“Supervisor Tuohy of the New York Office telephonically advised Mr. Keay at 11:50 a.m. today that the Journal-American of today carries an article by Howard Rushmore concerning the failure of the Attorney General to call his top-flight expert on Communism before the federal grand jury. The article goes on to point out that Thomas J. Donegan, who is working for the Justice Department, is a former top Communist expert of the New York Office of the FBI and was head of the “Comintern Apparatus Squad” 2 which was investigating Communist activities. In this capacity, Donegan had access to records, reports, etc., regarding Communist espionage activities, including data relating to Arthur Adams and others. The article points out that the Grand Jury has failed to return an indictment on espionage and that in as far as is known neither Donegan nor any other members of the squad which worked under him at the FBI have been called before the Grand Jury. 3
Vol. 001, Serials x-50:
PDF p. 46:
D.M. Ladd to E.A. Tamm, November 15, 1945
I called ASAC Donegan, NYC, and advised him the Director had designated him to be in charge of a special assignment to handle all phases of the Bentley case, both New York and Washington, et al. … He was advised to see as soon as he took over what in the way of a special squad he would need, to take over and follow any and all of the surveillance around Washington and elsewhere.
Mr. Donegan stated he would make appropriate arrangements to take over this assignment.
PDF p. 47:
J.K. Mumford to D.M. Ladd, November 15, 1945, 2:50 PM
ASAC Donegan called from New York …
… Mr. Donegan advised they are taking another statement from Bentley which will be finished about Sunday…
… Mr. Donegan stated they have been reviewing their files on each of the names mentioned …
PDF p. 186:
D.M. Ladd to E.A. Tamm, November 18, 1945
ASAC Donegan from the New York Office telephonically contacted me at 3:25 pm, November 17, 1945, and advised that Agents were talking with her [Elisabeth Bentley]; that they had been talking since 9:00 am; and that they were going to quit around 5 pm. …
Mr. Donegan advised that … we have 12 men out [in physical surveillance of people named by Bentley] in the present time, but that more were available, 25 more could be put to work Monday, November 19, 1945.
PDF p. 187:
D.M. Ladd to E.A. Tamm, 9:53 am, November 19, 1945
ASAC Donegan, New York, called at the above time to advise … The Washington Field has on this case twelve men from outside and 25 of their agents. …
Mr. Donegan states that at the present time Miller is under surveillance and there is also a technical surveillance 4 on Miller. In addition to Miller, Perlow, Silvermaster, Ullman and Donald Wheeler are under surveillance. … Mary Price is in New York, and that office will cover her. …
… Mr. Donegan advised that today they should have some information as to Currie, Glasser, Sonia Gold, William Gold, Joseph Craig, Maurice Halperin, Julius Joseph, and Helen Tenney.
Mr. Donegan requests authority for a “black bag” job 5 on Bentley. He states she is in New York office today and will be questioned there all day and this would be a good opportunity to check her hotel room for its contents.
I advised Mr. Donegan I would submit this for clearance and advise him as soon as possible.
… We stated Bentley was talked to yesterday for five hours and it is hoped the interview will finish tonight, after which a statement will be prepared and if not sent tonight, Mr. Donegan will bring same [to Washington, D.C.] with him tomorrow. …
PDF, p. 199:
D.M. Ladd to E.A. Tamm, November 21, 1945, 11:55
At the above time Mr. Donegan called from the airport to advise that Gromov 6 just left on flight 32, Eastern Airlines … for New York. Mr. Donegan requested me to furnish description of Gromov to Mr. Osthelthoff in the New York Office….
Vol. 002, Serials 51-108 x/6
PDF p. 7:
D.M. Ladd to E.A. Tamm, November 21, 1945, 9:07 am
At the above time Donegan called from the Washington Field to advise that subject Gromov is leaving Washington on Eastern Airlines at 11:50 am today, flight 32, will arrive at New York approximately 1:30 am, The alleged meeting with Elizabeth Bentley is at 4:00 pm. Gromov is going to attend a dinner tonight at the Roosevelt Hotel from 7 to 9 pm which dinner is for Louis Quintanilla. 7 He will then endeavor to get reservations to return to Washington. Mr. Donegan stated he advised Mr. Osthelthoff in New York this morning to have some agents at the airport in an endeavor to institute a loose surveillance on Gromov. … The orders are to keep a loose surveillance and if he looks too “hot” to get away from him.
I asked Mr. Donegan if the spot itself is planted and he replied that it is. He stated further that if they have a good contact at the Roosevelt Hotel, they will try to find out more about the dinner Gromov will attend. …
Mr. Donegan states that after going over Bentley’s new statement…, it was found out that there are thirteen new people that will have to be put under surveillance. He stated on ten of these the setups will require two men each and further that a surveillance of Gromov will require more men. He stated Mr. Hennrich will need more personnel and an estimate which is conservative would be twenty-five more men.
Mr. Donegan stated he and Carl Hennrich are going to look at some of the places today, such as Silvermaster’s, etc., to ascertain from outside the possibility of making setups so entrance into the places can be obtained. The technicals are going in as fast as possible….
Vol. 016, Serial 376 to 420:
PDF pp. 105-106:
Washington and WFO to Director and SAC, Jan. 23, 1946, teletype
… In accordance with a conversation had this morning between ASAC Donegan and Mr. Lish Whitson of the Bureau, informant [Elizabeth Bentley] was requested to get in touch with Earl Browder some time this evening … Informant has an appointment to see Browder this evening… and will advise agents as to the results. …
PDF p. 147
D.M. Ladd to E.A. Tamm, December 3, 1945
At the above time, ASAC Donegan, New York Field Division, called regarding the captioned case. …
Mr. Donegan then stated that subject Bentley was very reluctant to sign her statement. Bentley is of the opinion that her statement is all that is necessary to put the subjects in jail. He stated that in this connection the fact that Gromov is returning to Russia must be considered, Mr. Donegan stated it has been indicated that Gromov is not returning to the United States.
I [Ladd] stated … we should send material to the State Department calling their attention to Gromov’s departure, and then let State [Department] take steps to either stop Gromov’s leaving or delay the visa, or hold clearance on air transportation, … 8
[In mid-1946, Thomas Donegan transferred to the Department of Justice]
Vol. 098, Serials 2183 to 2210
PDF p. 38:
E.A. Tamm to The Director, Office memorandum, February 2, 1947
Mr. Tom Donegan stopped in my office and advised that he had a conference with the Attorney General this morning as a result of which the Attorney General instructed him to carefully review the facts in the Gregory case and make a recommendation to the Attorney General as to what action the Department should take. The Attorney General asked him to contact Mr. Vincent Quinn in New York and to arrange to have Quinn work with him so that they could submit a joint recommendation. The Attorney General is to contact Quinn and arrange for him to work with Donegan.
Donegan stated that at the time he left the Bureau, there were no facts in the Gregory case which would sustain a successful prosecution and that unless very substantial evidence had been developed in the meantime, he did not believe there was a case which could be prosecuted. …
PDF p. 51:
E.A. TAMM to the Director, March 10, 1947
I think we should hold in abeyance the recommendation in the attached letter from the New York Office that all of the subjects in the Gregory case be interviewed until Mr. Donegan and Mr. Quinn in NY actually submit their recommendations on the case to the Attorney General. … I personally doubt the value of interviews with certain of the subjects, particularly former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury White.
Vol. 096, Serials 2176-2181
PDF p. 57
J.K. Mumford to D.M. Ladd, March 11, 1947
… Vincent Quinn in the United States Attorney’s office… talked to the Attorney General… it appears settled that the Department will not proceed with prosecution in this case, although he did not know for certain whether the matter would be presented to a Grand Jury for a nol pros.
PDF p. 54
D.M. Ladd to the Director, April 4, 1947
Vincent Quinn dropped in this office this afternoon … He stated that he and Donegan had gone over the Gregory Case, that he was going to advise the department that in their opinion no prosecution could be instituted in view of the fact that there was no corroborating evidence to the informant’s statements. Further, that they are going to recommend … that subsequently consideration might be given to presenting the evidence to a grand jury with the idea in mind of letting them not bill the case. Further, that in the event Congressman [John Parnell] Thomas on the Un-American Committee (HUAC) should ever raise a question, it would be possible to answer by saying that the Grand Jury had considered the evidence and had not deemed it sufficient to justify criminal action.
Mr. Quinn stated that if a Grand Jury was called he was going to recommend that it be called in New York instead of Washington, because he could control a New York Grand Jury and was fearful that a Washington Grand Jury might get out of hand and might want to call the Director and otherwise begin to feel its importance.
Mr. Donegan was not with Mr. Quinn in view of the fact that he is confined to his bed in New York with a bad cold.
Vol. 132, Serials 2896-2984
PDF p. 121
NY to Wash and Wash Field, Director and SAC, November 12, 1947
[seven lines redacted]
Donegan has now concluded interrogation of above named four persons,…, this office was today requested by Donegan to seek Bureau approval for immediate interview of Louis Budenz, inasmuch as Donegan desires Budenz’ appearance before Grand Jury to testify… Re his knowledge of an association with Golos, informant Gregory and others in instant case. Unless advised to the contrary, it is expected that Budenz will be interviewed Nov. thirteen next or as soon thereafter as practicable.
Vol. 143, Serials 3551- 3620 x 2
PDF, pp. 29 – 32:
D.M. Ladd to The Director, August 3, 1948
Espionage – R
p. 3/PDF 31
Info Re Whittaker Chambers’ Testimony before Federal Grand
Jury in New York City Re his Activities.
In a memorandum dated March 9, 1948, in the Gregory case from Mr. Fletcher to you, information was set forth that ASAC Belmont called from the New York office on that date and advised that Mr. Donegan, who was handling Grand Jury proceedings, had advised him that they planned to call Whittaker Chambers of “Time” magazine as a witness that coming week. Mr. Donegan inquired of Mr. Belmont whether there would be any objection. Mr. Belmont informed Donegan that the New York office was going to contact Chambers on the following day in connection of another matter … and that they would determine Chambers’ reaction in behalf of Mr. Donegan with reference to Chambers’ appearance before the Grand Jury. It was recommended that the New York Office be permitted to sound out Chambers and that no objection be interposed to his appearance before the Grand Jury. Mr. Tamm OK’d this recommendation. (65-56402-3148) … that the New York Office be permitted to sound out Chambers [Re his appearance before the Grand Jury.]
The New York Office advised by teletype dated March 11, 1948, that in view of the negative information supplied by Chambers regarding Adler, that Mr. Donegan was of the opinion that Chambers’ testimony before the Grand Jury would not be helpful and had decided against any attempt to have Chambers appear. (65-56402-3140) …
["In the spring of 1948, Thomas Donegan, a special assistant to the Attorney General, spread before a federal grand jury in New York an FBI report on Alger Hiss. Hiss was subpoenaed and questioned. He denied knowing Chambers. Before the grand jury could reach any conclusions, the House Un-American Activities Committee caught the scent and acted. The committee subpoenaed Elizabeth Bentley, graduate of Vassar and, like Chambers, an ex-Communist courier. She named Government officials who, she said, had passed secret documents to her. Then the committee subpoenaed Chambers...." - The Case of Alger Hiss, Time, Monday, February 13, 1950.]
Vol. 147, Serials 3691-2730
PDF pp. 66-72:
D.M. Ladd to The Director, February15, 1949
p. 6/PDF 71
The following data appears in Bureau files concerning the matter of a presentment by the Department and the Grand Jury in the Gregory Case:
… On April 16, 1948, Mr. Quinn advised Mr. Ladd that the New York Grand Jury had adjourned until May 4, 1948; that the question as to a presentment was left up in the air inasmuch as the Attorney General at that time was opposed to returning any presentment. …
On June 8, 1948 Mr. Donegan informed Mr. Ladd that he had informed Mr. Quinn that he felt there was a need for a presentment in the Gregory Case and that Mr. Quinn seemed to agree; that it was tentatively agreed that a presentment would be made to the Grand Jury in the Gregory Case and that Donegan would then withdraw from the picture and that USA McGohey would take over in order to present the CP brief to the Grand Jury. (Memo from Mr. Ladd to Mr. Tamm dated 6/9/48. (65-56402))
On June 22, 1948 … Mr. Donegan had advised Belmont that he had appeared before the Grand Jury on June 22, 1948 and had talked to the foreman of the Grand Jury about the possibility of a presentment. The foreman was of an opinion that such a presentment should be made. A copy of a proposed presentment was furnished by Mr. Donegan to Mr. Quinn… Quinn was bringing it to Washington for the approval of the Attorney General.
On June 29, 1948, Mr Donegan informed ASAC Belmont that he had been advised by Mr. Quinn that the Attorney General did not want any presentment returned in connection with the Gregory Case. He stated that apparently no
action would be taken with reference to the presentment which Mr. Donegan had suggested be returned by the Grand Jury. (65-56402-3271)
Vol. 139, Series Series 3351-3361
PDF p. 130:
Washington from New York, Aug 3, 1948, Teletype
Whittaker Chambers did not testify before GJ NYC and no indication [was] received from Messrs. Quinn and Donegan that he prepared any statement whatsoever for GJ.
Volume 138, Serials 3271-3350
PDF p. 212:
J.V. Fletcher to D.M. Ladd, August 6, 1948
This afternoon…, Mr. T.J. Donegan visited the Bureau and advised that the Department [of Justice] was interested in the details of information which Whittaker Chambers had furnished to the Bureau concerning Alger Hiss. …
… Whittaker Chambers was first interviewed by Agents of the Bureau … on March 13, 1942. … Chambers was again interviewed on May 10, 1945, and again on March 28, 1946, on the latter occasion, specifically regarding Alger Hiss.
… Donegan pointed out that nowhere did Chambers specifically state that he had attended any specific Party meeting with Hiss nor did he have any documentary evidence of Hiss’ Party membership. …
From the gist of Donegan’s inquiries and comments, it appeared that the Department might be attempting to establish that Chambers and not Hiss was the one who committed perjury before the Committee.
Vol. 139, Series 3351-3361
PDF p. 76:
D.M. Ladd to Mr. Fletcher, Aug. 9, 1948
Subject: WHITTAKER CHAMBERS
On the evening of Aug 6, Peyton Ford called and stated he would like to have Tom Donegan check the Bureau file for any information on Whittaker Chambers. Mr. Donegan called and checked the files in connection with this matter with Mr. Whitson. He subsequently advised me that he had informed Mr. Ford that the Bureau had never conducted any actual investigation of Whittaker Chambers and had no derogatory information. …
… On Aug. 12, 1948, Mr. Donegan advised that USA McGohey of New York had called and advised that some of the Grand Jurors wanted to hold a special session during the first part of September, 1948, since they were concerned with the new Congressional Hearings (wherein Bentley and Chambers testified) and that the Attorney General was then of the opinion that the Grand Jury should be called back the first part of September …
… On September 20, 1948 Mr. Donegan advised Mr. Ladd that … he advised the Attorney General that a presentment could be returned…. . (65-56402-3597)
On September 22, 1948 Mr. Donegan advised Mr. Ladd …
… The Grand Jury adjourned on that date and was scheduled to reconvene on October 6, 1948.
On Oct. 13, 1948 Mr. Donegan advised Mr. Ladd … that … the Grand Jury had indicated that they did not want to return a presentment in the Gregory Case; that they felt it would be undesirable in view of the Congressional hearings and in view of the fact that the case had become a political issue. The Grand Jury adopted a position that they had nothing to apologize for in their handling of the case and that a presentment would merely be an apology. … The Grand Jury felt they should not be discharged; … that they should just go out of existence when their term expired in December, 1948. (65-56402-3654)
Vol. 143, Serials 3551- 3620 x 2
PDF p. 180:
WASH FROM NEW YORK September 24 1948, Teletype
[after a redacted graph]
Mr. Donegan further advised that Elizabeth Bentley will appear before the Grand Jury again on Oct. 6th and they will then consider the question of subpoenaing Whittaker Chambers. …
Vol. 145, Series 3647-3665
PDF p. 13:
D.M. Ladd to S.A. Tolson, October 15, 1948
Former Special Agent T.J. Donegan dropped in to see me on October 13, 1948. … He advised Mr. Campbell of the Criminal Division [of the Department of Justice] that the Grand Jury have indicated that they do not want to return a presentment in this case; … they feel it would be undesirable in view of Congressional hearings and in view of the fact that this case has become a political issue. … the Grand Jury feel that they should not be discharged; … but rather that they should just go out of existence when their term expires in December.
Vol. 147, Serials 3691-2730
PDF p. 17
Bureau from New York to The Director, urgent, October 15, 1948
Mr. T.J. Donegan advised today that Whittaker Chambers testified somewhat at length before the Grand Jury on October 14th, 48, and among other things states to the Grand Jury that
[the rest of the page redacted]
p. 3/PDF 20
[4,5 lines redacted]
Bureau’s attention is called to a letter dated June 26, 45, entitled Whittaker Chambers, Internal Security R, which sets forth the result of an interview had by agents… with Whittaker Chambers on May 10th, forty five. On page 4, 5, and 6 info is set forth concerning Dr. Philip Rosenbliett as related by Whittaker Chambers. The info in this matter is in the main similar to the info he supplied before the GJ. There is however no mention of [1.5 lines redacted]. It should be noted that Chambers testimony of the 14th in regard to the above mentioned situations [2.5 lines redacted]
Mr. Donegan pointed out that there is no question but that Chambers has a “loose memory” and though cooperative, is a rather difficult
p. 4/PDF 21
witness because of his definite recollection of some somewhat unimportant things and a lack of memory concerning situations that a man of his education and background should readily recollect…. Chambers again appeared before the GJ this morning and [7 lines redacted]
The GJ will meet again on October 19th, at which time [4 lines redacted]
The Bureau’s attention is called to the case entitled Ernst Lens, was, et al, … which quite conclusively proves that Rosenbleitt has not returned to the US since the time he went to Russia in about 1935.
Vol. 146, Serials 3666-3690
PDF, p. 6:
D.M. Ladd to Director, October 25, 1948
Mr. T.J. Donegan advised me today following his conference with the Attorney General that it had been decided in view of the hesitancy on the part of the Grand Jury to return a presentation that no action would be taken by the Grand Jury at this time but that they will adjourn and at some time subsequent to the election they will be called back into session to decide whether they at that time desire to issue a presentment. If not, they will not be discharged but they will be permitted to let their term expire about the middle of December.
Vol. 148, Serials 3731-3805
PDF p. 23:
D.M. Ladd to The Director, April 13, 1949
… Mr. Donegan… had discussed with the Foreman of the Grand Jury the request by the Grand Jury for your appearance before them.
Mr. Donegan informed Mr. Belmont that the matter was taken care of and that the Grand Jury was under control, that your appearance would not be necessary.
PDF p. 90
Edward Schneidt, New York to The Director, August 31, 1949
The Special Grand Jury … in the Southern District of New York has been recessed for some time; … nor is it contemplated at this time that witnesses will be scheduled, except possibly in connection with the ALGER HISS retrial. SAAG T.J. Donegan, who has handled the Grand Jury, is actively engaged in the HISS matter. Close liaison is being maintained by this office with Mr. Donegan, …if the Grand Jury reconvenes and hears additional testimony, … the Bureau immediately advised. …
Vol. 150, Serials 3835-3896
PDF p. 49:
D.M. Ladd to Mr. Belmont, October 16, 1950
Mr. T.J. Donegan called from New York today and advised that the foreman of the former Grand Jury, Mr. Brunini, had contacted him and stated that he has been helping Elizabeth Bentley on her book; that he has, however, taken no money. He stated that Bentley did not want Brunini to tell Mr. Donegan about this help, and she claimed to have told the New York Office about it.
… According to Mr. Donegan, Brunini asked him for advice as to whether he should accept any fee for work on this matter. Mr. Donegan stated that he told Brunini that under no circumstances should he do this …
- For a recent legal analysis of that indictment see: “Not Guilty As Charged: A Revised Verdict for Alger Hiss,” by Robert L. Weinberg. – THE CHAMPION, The National Association of Defense Lawyers, May/June 2008, Page 18. http://www.nacdl.org/__852566CF0070A126.nsf/0/006CB2391D988158852574940067BE2E ↩
- An investigative unit established in 1943 as part of a sensitive Soviet espionage investigation initiated in the same year and known as COMRAP. ↩
- A special federal grand jury was sworn in in June 1947, in the Southern District of New York, “to receive evidence of an undisclosed nature from T. Vincent Quinn and Thomas J. Donegan, acting as Special Assistants to the Attorney General”; its term expired on December 15, 1948. ↩
- Monitoring of telephone conversations. ↩
- FBI slang for a secret break into a home or apartment to perform an unsanctioned search, with the purpose of securing incriminating evidence (personal correspondence, diaries, etc.) ↩
- An alias of a KGB station chief in the United States named Anatoly Gorsky, who operated under cover as First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy. In the late afternoon of that day, Bentley was to have a scheduled meeting with Gromov, whom she knew only as “Al.” ↩
- Mexican Ambassador to the Organization of American States from 1945 to 1958; from 1942-1945, Mexican Ambassador in the Soviet Union. ↩
- Anatoly Gromov (Anatoly Gorsky) left the United States on December 7, 1945. ↩