The Traitorous Code Clerk, Part Eleven
By David H. Lippman
The story began in Part One and continued in Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine and Part Ten.
In our previous installment, Tyler Kent and his friend Anna were convicted on all counts.
On that day, Kent, as usual, was asked if he had anything to say before sentenced was handed down. The American complained bitterly about being tried on the basis of four documents “from a group of over 500 other documents” that were in his possession and taken out of context. He blamed the embassy for not letting him show those other documents, which were essential to his defense of establishing motive.
Kent continued to whine. He had not been able to use his own personal correspondence, or a letter from the director of public prosecutions saying there was no intention of claiming that he was in any way connected with, or had any knowledge of, Anna’s alleged communications with Germany. Kent said the jury had “listened for the better part of three days to evidence concerning this matter, and that has undoubtedly influenced their minds.”
Kent had more: he had been convicted of a felony “on the basis of partial and one-sided evidence, and that I have been convicted of an offense which I did not intentionally commit . . . Your Lordship, I submit that I have not committed a felony, because I had no felonious intent. I have committed a gross indiscretion, possibly a misdemeanor, but I submit that felonious intent is a prerequisite to the commission of a felony.
“In closing, I should like to submit to Your Lordship that I am a loyal citizen of the United States of America, in spite of the allegations to the contrary by the prosecution of this case.”
Justice Tucker heard Kent out courteously, and asked whether Kent would like him to read the letter. Kent did, the judge read it aloud, and then said he would pass sentence in open court. The long-suffering reporters were finally admitted to hear Justice Tucker sentence Kent to seven years on each of the Official Secrets charges and 12 months imprisonment on the larceny charge, all to run concurrently.
Anna drew 10 years for attempting to assist the enemy, and five years for each Official Secrets charge, all again concurrent sentences. The two prisoners were taken downstairs to separate prisons: Kent to Brixton to sweat out his appeal, and Anna to the Isle of Man where she stayed until her release in 1947. Behind bars, she was a model prisoner, but a domineering one – she took charge of the prison gardens and bossed around the other prisoners who worked under her direction.
The press reported the verdict, but didn’t have much to say about it because of strict wartime censorship, merely saying that Kent and his apartment were found in possession of classified documents. The story had no impact on the American presidential election. Two days later, Roosevelt defeated his Republican opponent, Wendell Willkie.
Kennedy was already out of the picture. He flew home on October 27 to support the Roosevelt campaign, as a good Democrat, despite his sympathy for the Germans. But supposedly FDR told Kennedy, “Give me public support or I’ll throw you to the public as a pro-German bastard.”
The day after Roosevelt’s re-election, Kennedy submitted his resignation as ambassador. FDR accepted it, but said he would not make it public until he had chosen a replacement.
Kennedy was still not finished. Right after submitting his resignation, he gave an interview to two newspapermen, one from St. Louis, the other from Boston, blasting the British, saying that they were through and democracy would be dead if the US entered the war. The story drew nationwide play and scathing editorial cartoons.
Kennedy continued to blunder. He went to Hollywood to address a conclave of old pals from the movie industry. He shocked his mostly liberal audience by telling them to stop making movies offensive to dictators. He said that if Jews protested, their outcries in that situation would be good, as they make the world believe this was a Jewish war. That also alienated much of the public, including Roosevelt.
From there, Kennedy went to Hyde Park to meet with FDR for a private conference at Thanksgiving. There was no record of their discussion. But after a few minutes, FDR ordered Kennedy to leave the room. Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor said she had never seen him so angry. FDR rarely swore, but that day he shouted, “I never want to see that son of a bitch again as long as I live. Take his resignation and get him out of here!”
Eleanor protested that Kennedy was a weekend guest, and others were due for lunch. FDR replied, “Give him a sandwich and get him out of here!” It was the end of Joseph Kennedy’s political career. Denied his cabinet and presidential ambitions, he would turn to his sons, now entering adulthood.
Back in England, Kent’s appeal was heard on February 5, 1941, in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, by three judges. Jowitt appeared for the Crown again, but this time Kent chose to represent himself, partially because of the increasing expenses, partially because of his low opinion of the entire British people, including his counsel. Kent regarded Maw as a tool of the American Embassy and Healy an incompetent drunk. Neither statement was true, but that didn’t matter to Kent.
His arguments were five: the Official Secrets Acts did not apply to acts committed by a diplomatic agent while employed as such; the judge was wrong in holding that Kent was not entitled to diplomatic privilege; Kent was not guilty of larceny in law; the judge misdirected the jury in law and not in fact; that material documents necessary for Kent’s defense were not produced.
Kent’s majestic appeal was to no avail. The judges shot him down. He was transferred from Brixton to Camp Hill Prison on the Isle of Wight to serve out his sentence. Protesting the appeal’s dismissal, he went on a two-week hunger strike, hoping his case would be taken up by the House of Lords. They did not.
After a spell in the infirmary, Kent became a model prisoner, working as a farm laborer.
Ramsay was not charged or tried, but held under 18B. He claimed immunity from trial under Parliamentary privilege, and argued his case before the Parliamentary Committee on Privilege. The Home Office, in the person of Max Knight, answered Ramsay’s claims with their reports on his activities, and kept Ramsay locked up. His case drew newspaper and magazine coverage, and Ramsay was angered when The New York Times published coverage hostile to the anti-Semite. He sued them for libel, and a six-day trial resulted. Kent’s name came up again, with the presiding judge noting that the Briton had provided the American with the Right Club’s membership documents, and received “wickedly stolen” documents from the US Embassy.
Ramsay received the usual contemptuous judgment in libel cases from the judge: a quarter of a penny in damages, the smallest coin in the realm.
As the war droned on, the Kent affair was soon forgotten, except by his mother Ann, who launched a campaign for her son’s release, bombarding right-wing politicians with letters and petitions. Her claims became increasingly wilder and divorced from reality, embarrassing her son. Indeed, they became estranged after the war, rarely writing or visiting each other. Pearl Harbor cut down on sympathy for Ann Kent, too.
Kent himself was extremely depressed in prison, only getting visit from Irene Danischewsky, who kept him supplied with books and cigarettes. Her husband was serving as a commando in Burma.
David H. Lippman, an award-winning journalist
and graduate of the New School for Social Research,
has written many magazine articles about World
War II. He currently works
as a public information officer for the city
of Newark, N.J. We're always pleased to add his work
to our Daily Content.