Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flashback: Tommy the Cork Made a Fortune as a Lobbyist from His New Deal Connections but Dabbled in Pro-Chiang, Anti-Mao Manuevers Enraging the Left.

[Memoirs from 50-plus years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

A contributor to this web-site who is a scholar of the Flying Tiger era, reports that in writing a book about Gen. Claire Chennault and the Tigers, he examined files of the government and found no trace of the secret FDR executive order setting up the mission of the Flying Tigers. No offense, but given the duplicity of the 32nd president and presidents who followed, I would be surprised if he had found the Order. Or am I too cynical? Fifty years of politics through which I have lived in this country could make Abraham an infidel, I sometimes believe.

Finally, thanks to good contributor Langdon who points out the Battleship Maine was sunk in Havana harbor, not Manila harbor.


Continuing details of my lunch with Tommy the Cork. Thomas Corcoran, the most brilliant lobbyist of his…and probably any…generation spent his early post-FDR years making a fortune for himself representing defense contractors—but at the same time supported the prime cause of the political Right by helping Chiang Kai-shek who was battling two enemies at the same time: the imperial Japanese army and the Red Chinese insurgents under Mao. Lt. Gen. Joseph (Vinegar Joe) Stillwell, the American commander in Asia was hostile to Chiang, believing he was from head to toe corrupt.

They differed because Stillwell wanted Chiang to fight the Japanese harder but Chiang, looking over his shoulder at Mao, wanted to save some of his strength for the eventual battle with the Chinese Communists (which ultimately came). Stillwell wrote disparaging reports back home to Gen. George Marshall, the Army chief of staff, referring to Chiang as “the Peanut.” Apart from the fact that it was highly immature for a senior officer to so scathingly refer to a head of state in official memoranda, it shows that Stillwell was not exactly suited for the task. He was later relieved of command when FDR ran for the fourth term in 1944.

Stillwell and later Marshall feared that Chiang would cut a separate peace with Japan and then turn his attention to Mao. Marshall felt that Corcoran was behind the pro-Chiang propaganda in the U. S. and instituted a subtle way to deter the Cork. As can only happen in Washington, there suddenly came into view…at the nudging of Attorney General Robert Jackson, no Corcoran fan... one Thurman Arnold, an assistant attorney general, who expressed concern about U. S. companies and their lobbyists being associated with German concerns. They targeted Sterling Pharmaceutical which Tommy was lobbying for because they insisted Sterling had strong links with I. G. Farben.

But if they thought they could get Tommy they had another think coming; the attorney general, Robert H. Jackson wanted to go to the Supreme Court and an opening loomed when Charles Evans Hughes retired as chief justice and associate justice Harlan Stone was named by FDR as chief, leaving an associate-ship vacancy. Corcoran used his last remaining chit to help get his adversary, Jackson appointed—which left the way clear for a strong Corcoran loyalist, Francis Biddle to become attorney general.

Biddle swiftly settled the issue with Sterling Pharmaceutical which paid a measly $5000 fine and severed contacts with I. G. Farben.

Corcoran’s enemies got to Sen. Harry S. Truman, who was running the Senate’s investigation committee on improper contracts. Truman accused Todd Shipyard of California of bringing Tommy on to land government contracts. Corcoran appeared before Truman’s committee, admitted business was good to the howls of laughter from the committee. Enraged, Sen. Carl Hatch of New Mexico, the reigning reformer of the day, introduced a bill to ban former government employees from lobbying for two years after leaving government service.

It didn’t bother Tommy since he was grandfathered but he made sure his lobbying contacts joined forces and killed the bill. Still the Corcoran enemies worked their fingers to the bone to get him indicted. A Jackson pal, a former assistant attorney general, divulged that Attorney General Biddle was “completely dominated by Tommy Corcoran” in the Sterling Pharmaceutical case, alleging the company was acting as “an agent of Nazi Germany” and that Corcoran must have something on Biddle to enable Biddle to squirrel the case away with a meager fine. The news story fanned flames and there were calls for a congressional investigation of Corcoran. House Speaker Sam Rayburn said if there would be an investigation, the House would handle it. There was a great flurry of make-work by Rayburn with the Speaker telling the media, preparations for the hearings would take time. But Rayburn knew the media’s attention was short-lived and nothing happened.

All the while Tommy was aiding the forces of Chiang, conferring with General Claire Channault of the Flying Tigers and my old boss, Rep. Walter Judd and others. Then, after the death of Franklin Roosevelt and one month following the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tommy joined with his brother David to start a Panamanian company, Rio Carthy, to pursue business in Asia and South America. Tommy got on the phone. He rounded up Chiang Kai-shek to build a private-public air transport business; Chiang agreed his government would invest in the airline and CAT (Civil Air Transport) began on Jan. 29, 1946. Tommy then hit his old friend Fiorello H. LaGuardia, former mayor of New York and now director of UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) to pop for a $4 million contract (then a hefty piece of change) to provide relief to China for which CAT would deliver). Corcoran’s piece of equity in the airline was 28%.

All the while he was Chiang Kai-shek’s loyalist here, stirring up animosity against Mao. A fiction was starting to grow in the media that Chiang was hopelessly corrupt and Mao was a sparkling-eyed agrarian reformer. Where have we heard that since? Of course: the North Koreans were agrarian reformers and Fidel Castro was one, too.

More later.

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