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tv   American Artifacts  CSPAN  November 27, 2014 9:55am-10:26am EST

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each week, american history tv american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places. opened in 1909 the russell senate office building was constructed to help with crowded conditions in the u.s. capital. in the first of a two part program, we'll learn about the history of the building and notable senate investigations held in the caucus room. from 1912 titanic inquiry to 1930 hearings about the causes of the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent reforms. >> we're in the russell senate office building.
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before cspan started covering the sessions, this was where the major hearings were televised going back to news reels covering it in the 1920s and 30s. television came after long in the 1940s. this is where viewers would have seen the crime investigation, army mcarthur hearings, water gate hear agos. this was the most famous televised room until the chamber was open to television. i bring people in here from time to time. you can hear the echoes. you can hear the gavel of the chairma chairman.
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the story of congress is the story of the nation. that's a story of growth. the capital started as a very small sand stone square box. it sort of grew as states entered the union and more senators and representatives came. in the 1850s so many entered they had to put on two wings for current senate and house chambers. by the 70s they were crowded and couldn't find space for senators to work. initially senator's offices were their desk in the chamber. they were constantly besieged there. so eventually they kept adding
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space to the capital. they built terraces in the 1870s. that wasn't enough. so then finally in the 1890s they bought an old apartment house down constitution avenue about where the taft caroline stands today. for a while summers moved in there much to the envy of house members. that gave senators private offices, at least some senators. the building was built as an apartment house not an office building. the weight was too much for it. it began to sink. the elevator shaft was seven inches lower by the time they moved out of the building. it was pulling the floors apart. it was unsafe. it was a fire trap, very uncomfortable. people complained about it. it would have been expensive to rebuild as an office building. around 1903 the senate had a committee to study building a senate office building. same time the house of
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representatives needed a space and were investigating. in 1906, the house laid the corner stone for its first office building the cannon building. the next year the senate had a modest ceremony to lay the corner stone for this building. the russell building opened in 1909. at one time it passed all u.s. senators. now it's one of three senate office buildings. less than half the senators are in this building. others are spread out in the heart building. it's a gorgeous building. this is built in the french bozart style popularized. the capital complex was neo classical. george washington wanted the city. he picked designs for white house and capital. he wanted a marble city. they had been in philadelphia. they renamed a lot physical features in the new washington
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d.c. after famous roman places so jenkins hill became capital hill. it was once called gooseberry creek and named tiber river that ran through washington. they wanted to give stature to the new government that would be the first major republic since the roman republic. this was a new city for a new government. it was mostly tobacco fields and empty spaces. they gave it grand names and planned out major streets. that was the style. it slowly built into the city. in the 1890s there was a major ex position in chicago, the white city they called it. it looked like a white marble roman forum in a sense. it was mostly made of paper
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mashe. it was a temporary area for the centennial. that inspired the construction of new buildings in washington. the union station for instance, a few blocks from here, is in that same style and same architects were involved in that. a lot of artisans that worked on chicago exposition came to washington immediately worked on the library of congress and other buildings. when they started planning for a new office building and hired a new york firm to design this. their specialty was bozart. they did the new york public library and other famous landmarks in that time period. they wanted a building to fit in with the capitol, match the style with columns and marble front and others but would not overwhelm the capitol. these buildings are four stories tall from the street.
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they're built on hills. they go down underground behind it in some respects. they flank the capitol building without distracting from the capitol building. in that sense they were successful. the house, the entire house of representatives, 435 members, were going to move into this new building. each member got one room. it was going to be very cramped. there are only 90 senators at the time. they got pretty close to the same appropriation to build the two buildings. they didn't need a four sided building. they built a three sided building and used the extra money to make the russell building a much more elegant building than the matching house office building which became the cannon building. in this building, the doors are actually made of mahogany instead of painted to look like
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they were mahogany. in this building stair rails are brass. in the house office building they are iron. in this building there's a lot more marble than there is in the other building. it's just a lovely building. the senior senators especially like this building. it has a style of old school of the senate. the junior senators for the most part find this inconvenient. it wasn't meant for modern senate offices. today what used to be a whole series of senator offices -- when senators a had two or three rooms. now a hallway will be ten linked together creating a senator's office. it's like a railroad train rather than office space. you go room to room to room. and the modern building, the heart building was designed for computer era. i talked to senators who have loved this building but have f
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moved into the heart building because they didn't think this worked anymore. there were others however that would never want to leave here. they appreciate the marble fireplaces, chandeliers and magnificent views especially if you have a balcony room facing the capitol. that's usually where senior senators have their offices. there's always going to be somebody that criticizes what the government does. when they started building this building, there were a lot of complaints many the press especially when the building opened. one newspaper said it looked more like a lady's boudoir than an office building. that's been true about every building the government has built along the way, especially anything congress has built. it became a comfortable people and people got used to it.
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it no longer seemed outrageous to have the building. most governments in the world were not republics. there was a sense we were the new government, emerging government. we were trying to show we were just as important and significant as the european monarchies at the time and that we wanted a sort of stately appearance in our offices. and actually this room looks better now than it did when designed. originally that was not a painted ceiling. it was in the remodelling in the recent decades it's been highlighted that way. it would have looked a little plainer. the room is so magnificent. it's got these columns, huge windows looking out on the courtyard. it's a stunning room. it's a room that's used not only for hearings but also for special receptions, lunches, for heads of state, for first
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ladies. special events that have been happening here constantly. it certainly adds to it. they weren't sure what they were going to use it for but knew major events would take place here. in 1912 the titanic sank on the maiden voyage. many survivors and members of the crew that survivored were bought by boat to new york. the senate wanted to investigate what happened. this was a shocking event. they were afraid the british white star line was going to try to immediately get any of the british crew on another boat and back to england before they could be interrogated. a special committee was created, went to new york and held hearings. then it came down here to washington and held the very first major hearing held in this
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room, sinking of the titan aic. a huge crowd showed up. so many a resist cats in england and united states had gone down on this ship. it frightened senators so many people were here. the next hearing was in a smaller committee room. they didn't want the big show in this room. it certainly drew a lot of attention to the issue. the hearings are fascinating. when the movie titanic came out, they reprinted the excerpts from the hearings. they may influence how hollywood depicted many scenes in movies about the titanic. the senate and house have had standing committees since 1816. the way in which committees gather information is to take testimony. so through the 19th and 20th
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century, hearings were held in which senators, representatives would interrogate cabinet officers, citizens or anyone that had knowledge about the issue to be able to draft legislation. in some cases, they held investigations to find out what went wrong. that went back to 1792 when there had been a great defeat of the army by native americans in the northwest territory. the congress wanted to know why. they were interrogating members of the washington administration. over time, these hearings got more and more elaborate, staged to some degree. when this building opened, they built large committee rooms. in those days, the committees mostly met around the table in the center of the room. the senators would sit on one side. the witnesses would sit on the other side. staff would sit between. people who wanted to watch what
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was going on would sit around the edges, newspaper reporters and others. there wasn't a lot of room. there wasn't a big crowd in washington for events like that. after 1912 there was a big crowd for something, then they would move them to this room the to accommodate a lot of people. it was a way they operate. that's how congress finds out what's going on and gets public opinion on this. you have to get public opinion behind you get the public to pay attention and wanted to change. if they write to members of congress or tell members when they see them, something is the matter here. you've got to fix this. this is an important part of the legislative process. the big hearings, big investigations are usually when somebody smells a rat. when somebody says something really is going wrong here. we're going to look into this. i don't want to give impression
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all hearings are successful. in fact overwhelmingly majority have happened and faded away with no legislation. they didn't prove their case. there was fanfare and then trailed off. there's a lot of posturing and speech making but not a lot of hard evidence. a successful investigation has to do drudge work. they've got to do enormous amount of homework, sort through mountains of records. they've got to interrogate witnesses in private before they talk to them in public. they've got to know what the story is. they've got to be willing to ask tough questions when these people come up. but a really successful investigation also has to treat witnesses with some degree of humanity. certainly we've had instances where witnesses were terribly abused by investigations. eventually the supreme court had
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to weigh in and say a citizen did does not lose constitutional rights testifying before congress. everything the congress -- everything the constitution protects a witness before in a court applies as well in congress. so, that's one of the criteria. they also have to have showman ship. they have to be able to draw attention, get the press here. they have the to keep the story alive over a period of time. it can't be a one day wonder. it's got to be something that a is persistent and really shows what's going on. then hopefully by the time they get to the end of the hearings they have to come up with some sort of legislative solution to prevent the problem from reoccurring. that's the criteria hiss totorys
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use. >> they set them after side as naval oil reserves because they were going to need it for military. when the war was over, there was an argument that the government didn't need naval reserves and that private developers should be able to pump oil from them. in wyoming, there was an outcrop that looked like a teapot and got the name teapot dome. that was the are property that a fellow named sinclair was able to get the rights to drill on. then it turned out the sinclair had been bribing the secretary of interior to get those rights. teapot dome started as an investigation that most members of the press core didn't think was going anywhere. they thought it was a typical a congressional investigation, a lot of talk but no action. for a while, it seemed that was true because they couldn't come up with real hard evidence. but there was a chairman of the committee named thomas walsh, a senator from montana. a democrat from montana.
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even though the republicans held the majority in the congress, walsh had such personal reputation that he chaired this investigation and looked into issues. of course he was looking into misbehavior by the harding administration which was a republican administration. walsh continued to press on this until he finally got some breaks and got people to admit what a they originally said was not true. one of whom was the publisher of the washington post mclane. when the secretary of the interior albert fall was charged with suddenly having rebuilt his ranch in thank you mexico and a beautiful road leading up to it, fixed up the whole exterior. just about the time the oil leases were being sold to private investors, ned mclane had said he lent secretary fall all that money.
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secretary fall didn't have to get it through illegal means. then finally, walsh got mclane to come up here and testify in this room and said did you lend him the money? he said yes, i did but he returned it right away. that pulled the rug out from robert fall. it became clear fall had taken the bribe. he became the first member of a president's cabinet to go to jail as a result. the attorney general was also involved. the whole harding administration coming apart at the seams. coolidge came in as president, a different type of person. there was a sense of trying to clean up the mess of teapot dome. teapot dome not only led to legislation but major supreme court decisions. people weren't quite sure what the rights of congress were. one of the issues was, can the congress call just a private citizen who's not a federal
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official? the supreme court that summer because of teapot dome said yes, anybody can be called to testify before congress. there's a case of mali dockerty who said i'm really not an a federal employee. the supreme court said yes, you have to testify. in another case, people said this has nothing to do with legislation. the supreme court says it doesn't have to have anything to do with legislation. congress has a role in our system of being able to investigate wrong doing. those were major decisions that supported subsequent investigations. the furniture that you see behind me is exactly the same furniture you would have seen in 1923 when thomas walsh was sitting there or mccarthy in the 1950s or sir syrinvin in 1970s.
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it's a piece of furniture with a carved bench and eagles on either side purposely bought for this room. one on either end. the long table is a table the senators would have sat at with a green felt top on it usually. sometimes extensions depending on how many members of the committee were up there. they would have sat there. then there would have been a chairs s facing them with a ta of witnesses. around them would have been sort of -- not a semi circle but box like arrangement in which first rows were reporters, and beyond that family members of congress and beyond that the general public. you could get 300 or so squeezed in this room. it adds to drama to whatever the event is. >> make a statement you wish to make to the committee. >> mr. chairman --
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>> excuse me. i instruct the officers do not let anyone in or out of that door while professor hill is making her statement. >> in 1929 the stock market crashed and brought the end of the prosperous decade. it wiped out a lot of people and led to depression. businesses began to close down, banks failed. there was a great panic among members of congress. the entire financial system was collapsing. the question was why. president hubert hoover got reports that they were behind the collapse. so it was president hoover who called on republicans who were in the majority in the senate to begin an investigation in 1932. well they started in here and started in '32 and called various people and discovered right away that the bare ray
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tors were not responsible for the depression. kennedy and barut saw it coming but didn't cause it. the investigation floundered. there were several chief councils of the committee that couldn't get traction. they called in the head of the new york stock exchange. he stone walled them. they couldn't quite figure out what to do. finally came the end of the year. they had to do a final report. they hired a prosecutor from new york by the name of ferdinand who's a short stocky american who's a cigar new yorker. he had been in the new york district attorney's office. he came here and was supposed to write the final report. he started going through it and realized they didn't prove anything. he asked the chairman if he could have a little extra, a month or so to tie up the investigation, reopen it and tie it up.
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they called in the president of the national citibank. now he immediately subpoenaed all records he could from the national citibank. went with his staff and went through records carefully the way a prosecutor should. then he came back and brought in charles mitchell, a tall, distinguished looking banker. he had been advisor to harding, coolidge and hoover. he came with a revenue of bank officials. he was very confident he was going to come out of this with no trouble at all. he began to lay out what his bank had done including selling short its own stock including the fact mitchell hadn't paid income taxes for years. he had written off losses in the process even though he was fabulously wealthy man. a whole bunch of irregularities. in those days, stockbroker
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companies were part of the banks. basically when the bank had a bad asset it turned over to its stockbroker which sold it to unsuspecting investors. they were unloading bad stocks along the way. they documented all this. one by one, the revenue around mitchell disappeared. they fired him. there was a huge headlines and newspapers and big shock along the way. this really showed that there was some substance to charges about irregularities on wall street. stock exchange was like a private club whether than public entity. the democrats had just won the election 1932 and were coming into power in march. the incoming chairman of the committee duncan fletcher said we want you to stay and continue this investigation.
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he wrote a memoir and gave a long oral history about his experiences. he talked about the time of franklin roosevelt's inauguration. looking at the window and seeing charles mitchell walking by himself with his suitcase to union station. there were hotels all around the plaza here. here's this man that showed up with all this revenue of bank officials and everything else all by himself leaving in the process. that led to him carrying on an extremely ex tensive and careful investigation of wall street banks and brokerages. he was not a senator. he was the chief council. often this is called the pecora investigation or committee. it's the only investigation known for staff person rather than for the chairman of the committee. it's misidentified sometimes as the pecora commission.
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there was no commission. it was a committee, banking committee of the senate. that was very important because the senators were also participating in the questioning and listening to witnesses. that led to most significant financial legislation that the congress a has ever passed. it really helped to not only get out of the depression but also to sure up the american economy and the financial system for the next 6 0 years. major legislation stayed on the books including the glass bank act, including the securities a act, securities act, public holdings act. all this came out of the productive investigation. he was a good investor and always got the can dirt on people he was looking into. he always did the homework. he would spring it on them. he would start by asking questions and then get people sort of sucked into that and
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then come up with his -- here is the document. can you explain this situation? he had the most famous bankers and brokers of the era here to testify which of course drew in a lot of press, news reel cameras and all the rest. jpmorgan jr. testified in this room. he was a very private banker. no banker had gone into the morgan bank at that point. it was here and in may of 1933 the beginning of may, that morgan was testifying. barnum a barnum sand bailey circus happened to be in washington. a circus promoter brought a little person who identified herself as a circus midget. during a break, morgan was sitting at the witness stand, and the circus promoter dropped
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the midget into morgan's lap. he thought it was a little girl at first. he said i have a granddaughter who's bigger than you. she said yes, but i'm older. then he realized that it wasn't a little girl. he quickly dropped her out of his lap. every press photographer had a picture of it. the committee came back. they asked the press not to print this picture. of course it was on the front page of pretty much every newspaper the next day. it was a symbolic picture of bankers being humbled by what was going on in congress. he had nothing to do with the circus midget, but it showed the attention that was being given to his committee and the effectiveness that his committee investigation was having.
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opened in 1909, the russell senate office building caucus room has witnessed many notable senate investigations. in this second of a two part program, senate historian don richie tells us of hearings held from the 1940s to


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