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FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Rockefeller Swinging Wildly

5 minute read

On several occasions in recent months, during off-the-record sessions with journalists and private meetings with politicians, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller has told a startling story: Communists, he declares, have infiltrated congressional staffs on the Hill.

Rockefeller made this observation to Senator Barry Goldwater during a plane trip last spring. In January, he voiced the same concern to a group of TIME editors and correspondents in Washington. Later, he confided that he was talking about the staff of Henry Jackson, one of the toughest anti-Communists in the capital. Subsequently, Rocky became even more specific and named Richard Perle as a Jackson staffer worth investigating for a leftist or Communist background. At a recent cocktail party for Republicans in Atlanta, the Vice President repeated his general charge, mentioned a “former Communist” who had made a “conversion of convenience,” and then—though accounts differ—apparently dropped the name of another Jackson staffer: Dorothy Fosdick.

This time, Rocky’s off-the-cuff remarks became a matter of public record. A Republican leader who had listened to him at the Georgia gathering got in touch with David Nordan, political editor of the Atlanta Journal. “Don’t you think you press guys should expose this?” the Republican demanded. After checking the caller’s account with three other individuals who had heard the Vice President’s remarks, Nordan pieced the story together and the Journal ran it on Page One last week.

The reaction was sheer bewilderment. Of all the congressional staffs to be charged with Communist leanings, Jackson’s should be about the last to come to mind. Both Fosdick and Perle denied that they had ever been members of the Communist Party or sympathizers. Both have received security clearance giving them access to top-secret material.

No Apology. Fosdick, 63, is a foreign policy expert whose career spans decades. Rocky accused her of working as an assistant to Alger Hiss at the 1945 San Francisco conference that drew up the United Nations Charter; Fosdick contended that she had been chief assistant to the secretary general of the U.S. delegation—and that Rocky knew it. Before she joined Jackson in 1955, she was a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff under George Kennan and Paul Nitze.

Perle, 34, who has been working for Jackson since 1969, has a special concern for Soviet dissidents and Jewish émigrés. Along with Jackson, he contrived the 1974 trade bill amendment that tied most-favored-nation status with emigration from Russia—which infuriated Moscow as “unacceptable” interference in “the internal affairs of the Soviet Union.”

Perle, who called the charges “laughable,” said he has never joined an organization further left than the American Civil Liberties Union. “Like Jackson, I have been somewhat to the left on domestic issues, but I have always been hostile to Communism.” Fosdick was even more perplexed.

She has known Rocky for more than 50 years and was never given a hint of his suspicions. Her father, the famed Protestant preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick, had been the Rockefeller family’s minister in New York, officiating at Nelson’s first marriage and at the funeral of his father, John D. Jr.

Jackson was outraged. “The remarks attributed to you,” he wired Rockefeller, “are obviously false and malicious. I demand an immediate apology.” Scoop said later: “A man who made the kind of gutless attack he made is the lowest form of humanity.” He was especially annoyed that the innuendos came on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary. Rockefeller, however, showed no sign of repentance or even concern. At first, he declined to discuss the issue since he considered his remarks off the record. Then he sent Jackson a message that fell miles short of an apology: “I have made no charges and therefore there are none to be withdrawn.”

No Credit. What was Rocky up to?

TIME launched an investigation after the January lunch with him and discovered plenty of Soviet activity and efforts at infiltration on the Hill, but no instances of the kind of purposeful working for the Communists that Rockefeller seemed to suggest (TIME, March 22).

Rocky may have been motivated by a desire to protect and support his close friend, Henry Kissinger. The Secretary has no more outspoken congressional foe than Jackson, who shreds the policy of détente on every occasion. It is not inconceivable that Rocky was trying to get back at Jackson by impugning his staff. That, at least, is what Perle suspects. “I know that Kissinger has been complaining about me to all kinds of people,” says Perle, who has faulted Kissinger for giving too much away in arms negotiations with the Soviets. “He is quite paranoid about me. He has said that I am out to destroy him.”

Some U.S. intelligence sources, TIME has learned, incline toward a different theory. They suggest that the Soviets may be trying to discredit two enemies—Fosdick and Perle (not to mention Jackson)—by passing false information to Kissinger, who then relayed it to Rockefeller. That may credit the Soviets with more precise targeting capability than they deserve.

Whatever the motivation, the episode reflects no credit on Rocky. Not since the worst days of Joe McCarthy has a prominent Washington official taken such a wild swing at other public servants. “It is amazing how quickly the atmosphere of the 1950s can return,” mused Fosdick. “All of a sudden, here I am, answering call after call from the press, asking if I or anyone else on the staff is a Communist. And here we are trying to defend ourselves. But it’s not up to us to disprove these charges. It’s up to Rockefeller to substantiate them. This does not raise personal problems for me. It raises a problem for Nelson Rockefeller.” Indeed it does.

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