811.113 Senate Investigation/228
Memorandum by Mr. Joseph C. Green of the Division of Western European Affairs
At the suggestion of the Secretary, I called Mr. Wiggin, First Secretary of the British Embassy, by telephone on Saturday and asked him to come to see me this morning to discuss the difficulties which have arisen as a result of the effort of the Nye Committee to obtain certain documents from the Guaranty Trust Company of New York, pertaining to the dealings between that Bank and the British Government in 1916.
I told Mr. Wiggin that it was our desire to do everything possible to settle these difficulties in such a way as to avoid any irritation on the part of the British Government, and that I thought that a conversation between us might serve to accomplish this end. I said that I hoped that the delay which the Committee had accorded in serving the subpoena duces tecum would be sufficient to permit the Ambassador2 to communicate with his Government, and ascertain whether there was any objection to the examination of these papers by the Committee. I said that Mr. Raushenbush3 had told me that the Committee had no definite intention of publishing the documents in question, and that the question of their publication would not arise until they had been examined, and that further the Committee had expressed its intention of dealing with these matters so far as possible purely from the domestic angle, so as to avoid anything which might result in disturbing the cordiality of our relations with friendly governments.
Mr. Wiggin said that the British Ambassador had not telegraphed to request the views of his Government in regard to this matter, and had no intention of doing so until he had received some formal communication from us, asking whether the British Government had any objection to the communication of these documents by the Bank to [Page 361] the Committee. He said further that the Ambassador felt very strongly that, as a matter of international courtesy, such documents should not be demanded by the Committee until this Government had formally requested the views of the British Government and that he was awaiting a formal communication requesting the views of the British Government.
I said that this was a new idea to me and that I had not thought the matter through, but that offhand, it did not seem to me that this Government was under any obligation, either of law or courtesy, to ask the British Government to state its position in this matter. I pointed out that a Senate Committee, under our system, had quasi-judicial functions and judicial authority to subpoena witnesses and documents. In this respect, it was in the same position as any court in the country which might, in the course of judicial proceedings, subpoena documents relating to dealings between a foreign government and an American company, and that this Government could hardly be held to be obligated either to prevent such action on the part of a court or to request the views of the interested foreign government before permitting the court to proceed. I pointed out further that this Government would have no power to interfere with such proceedings by the court even if it desired to do so. I added that under the British system a similar situation might occur and that if a British court should subpoena documents referring to dealings between the American Government and a British company, the British Government would have no legal power to prevent the court from obtaining the documents and that I strongly doubted whether this Government would feel that the British Government was under any obligation to communicate with us before such action was taken.
Mr. Wiggin replied that he had not thought through the question either, but that offhand he tended to believe that my contentions were sound. He said that in any case the Ambassador hoped that no further correspondence on this subject would be necessary, as he understood that the President was about to summon the Nye Committee and insist that the Committee do not require the Guaranty Trust Company to submit the documents in question.
I replied that the President had in fact expressed his intention of calling in the Nye Committee for a conference but that I did not, of course, know what the President would say to them. I said that the President had, of course, no authority to give orders to the Committee and that I rather thought that the President’s chief concern was not with the particular documents in question, but that he would in the course of his conference with the Committee urge that it avoid any public hearings or public statements on matters which would cause unnecessary irritation to friendly governments.[Page 362]
Mr. Wiggin said that he would report our conversation to the Ambassador and that he would telephone me later in the day.