John Abt

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John Abt
John Jacob Abt

(1904-05-01)May 1, 1904
DiedAugust 10, 1991(1991-08-10) (aged 87)
Other names"Amt" (VENONA)
Employer AAA, La Follette Committee, United States Attorney General's office, CIO
Known formembership in Ware Group, Perlo Group, IJA, NLG
Notable work
CIO union collective bargaining
Political party Communist Party of the United States of America, American Labor Party, Progressive Party
Spouse(s) Jessica Smith Ware, Vita Barsky

John Jacob Abt (May 1, 1904 – August 10, 1991) was an American lawyer and politician, who spent most of his career as chief counsel to the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and was accused of membership in the Communist Party and the Soviet spy network called the "[Ware Group]]" (which he admitted at the end of his life). [1]

Americans citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.

Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, counselor at law, solicitor, chartered legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.



Abt was born on May 1, 1904 in Chicago, Illinois. He was a graduate of the University of Chicago, and from its law school.

Chicago City in Illinois, United States

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the most populous city in Illinois, as well as the third most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 2,716,450 (2017), it is the most populous city in the Midwest. Chicago is the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland, and the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the United States. The metropolitan area, at nearly 10 million people, is the third-largest in the United States, and the fourth largest in North America and the third largest metropolitan area in the world by land area.

Illinois State of the United States of America

Illinois is a state in the Midwestern and Great Lakes region of the United States. It has the fifth largest gross domestic product (GDP), the sixth largest population, and the 25th largest land area of all U.S. states. Illinois is often noted as a microcosm of the entire United States. With Chicago in northeastern Illinois, small industrial cities and immense agricultural productivity in the north and center of the state, and natural resources such as coal, timber, and petroleum in the south, Illinois has a diverse economic base, and is a major transportation hub. Chicagoland, Chicago's metropolitan area, encompasses over 65% of the state's population. The Port of Chicago connects the state to international ports via two main routes: from the Great Lakes, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, via the Illinois Waterway to the Illinois River. The Mississippi River, the Ohio River, and the Wabash River form parts of the boundaries of Illinois. For decades, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has been ranked as one of the world's busiest airports. Illinois has long had a reputation as a bellwether both in social and cultural terms and, through the 1980s, in politics.

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.


Abt practiced real estate and corporate law in Chicago from 1927 to 1933. [2]

Government (1933–1938)

Robert M. La Follette Jr RMLaFolletteJr.jpg
Robert M. La Follette Jr

Abt was the Chief of Litigation, Agricultural Adjustment Administration from 1933 to 1935, assistant general counsel of the Works Progress Administration in 1935 (where Lee Pressman was also working), chief counsel to Senator Robert La Follette, Jr.'s Committee from 1936 to 1937 and special assistant to the United States Attorney General, 1937 and 1938. [2]

Works Progress Administration largest and most ambitious United States federal government New Deal agency

The Works Progress Administration was an American New Deal agency, employing millions of people to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It was established on May 6, 1935, by Executive Order 7034. In a much smaller project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. The four projects dedicated to these were: the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the Historical Records Survey (HRS), the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), the Federal Music Project (FMP), and the Federal Art Project (FAP). In the Historical Records Survey, for instance, many former slaves in the South were interviewed; these documents are of great importance for American history. Theater and music groups toured throughout America, and gave more than 225,000 performances. Archaeological investigations under the WPA were influential in the rediscovery of pre-Columbian Native American cultures, and the development of professional archaeology in the US.

United States Senate Upper house of the United States Congress

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress, which along with the United States House of Representatives—the lower chamber—comprises the legislature of the United States. The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C.

United States Attorney General Head of the United States Department of Justice

The United States Attorney General (A.G.) is the chief lawyer of the federal government of the United States, head of the United States Department of Justice per 28 U.S.C. § 503, and oversees all governmental legal affairs.

Unions (1938–1948)

From 1938 to 1948, he worked at chief counsel of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union under Sidney Hillman, who hired him. By this time, the ACW had affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). [1]

Sidney Hillman American labor leader

Sidney Hillman was an American labor leader. He was the head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and was a key figure in the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and in marshaling labor's support for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.

Congress of Industrial Organizations

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was a federation of unions that organized workers in industrial unions in the United States and Canada from 1935 to 1955. Created in 1935 by John L. Lewis, who was a part of the United Mine Workers (UMW), it was originally called the Committee for Industrial Organization but changed its name in 1938 when it broke away from the American Federation of Labor. It also changed names because it was not successful with organizing unskilled workers with the AFL.

FBI mugshot of Eugene Dennis (1948) DennisEugene.jpg
FBI mugshot of Eugene Dennis (1948)

In his memoir, Abt claimed that leaders of the Communist Party of the USA had inspired the idea of the CIO-PAC:

In 1943, Gene Dennis came to me and Lee Pressman to first raise the idea of a political action committee to organize labor support for Roosevelt in the approaching 1944 election. Pressman approached Murray with the idea, as I did with Hillman. Both men seized upon the proposal with great enthusiasm. [1]

Abt and Pressman became the CIO-PAC's co-counsels. [3] (Thus, in 1943, as American spy Elizabeth Bentley resurrected the Ware Group [of which Abt had been a member], Abt could not risk involvement with her or the group. Instead, the group reformed without him under Victor Perlo as the Perlo Group. [4] )

By January 1946, he was also working as general counsel for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and traveled to Russia with a CIO delegation, which included Lee Pressman. [5] [6] [7] (The CIO had long-term support from communists; in 1947, CIO leaders like Walter Reuther pushed out communist elements and again in 1949 after the CIO's merger with the American Federation of Labor [AFL] to form the AFL-CIO.)

Politics (1946–1948)

American Labor Party logo AmericanLaborParty-logo.jpg
American Labor Party logo

In September 1946, Abt appeared on the New York state ticket of American Labor Party candidates: Benjamin Fielding for Lieutenant Governor, Harry J. Chapman for State Controller, Joseph Lucchi for Attorney General, John T. Loughran for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, and John Abt for Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals. [8]

In October 1946, he (as CIO general counsel) joined other "liberal and progressive groups" in forming the new Progressive Party. [9]

Progressive Party (1948)

In February 1948, Abt left the Amalgamated and Pressman left the CIO to go work for the Progressive Party to support its presidential candidate, former Vice President Henry A. Wallace. [2] [10] At the time, the Washington Post dubbed Abt, Lee Pressman, and Calvin Benham "Beanie" Baldwin (C. B. Baldwin) as "influential insiders" [11] [12] and "stage managers" [13] in the Wallace campaign. He also supported the candidacy in New York of Vito Marcantonio, a leader of the American Labor Party. [14]

CPUSA Counsel (1950–1970s)

From 1951 to 1953, Abt joined Vito Marcantonio and Joseph Forer in defending the CPUSA on a charge from the McCarran Act. [2]

In January 1955 Abt defended Claude Lightfoot in Chicago, an African-American Communist on trial under the 1940 Smith Act for belonging to a group that advocates the overthrow of the US government. This trial marked the first time the government attempted to convict an individual solely as a member of a group conspiring against the nation, rather than for individual actions. Although Abt's short and simple defense did not succeed at this trial, Lightfoot's conviction was ultimately overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1964.

In 1960, Abt again defended the CPUSA before the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the McCarran Act. In 1961, however, the Court sustained the section of the act requiring Communist-action organizations to register with the Government by a vote of five to four. [2]

During Lee Harvey Oswald's interrogation by the Dallas Police on the evening of 22 November 1963, pending his arraignment for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he requested the services of Mr. Abt:

I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt. I don't know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago, where he represented the people who had violated the Smith Act, [which made it illegal to teach or advocate the violent overthrow of the U.S. government] ... I don't know him personally, but that is the attorney I want. ... If I can't get him, then I may get the American Civil Liberties Union to send me an attorney.

However, Abt and his wife had left New York City that day for a weekend at their cabin in Connecticut. He did not learn of Oswald's request until the following day. He told reporters that he had received no request either from Oswald or from anyone on his behalf to represent him, and so was in no position to give a definite answer. He said later that "if I were requested to represent him, I felt that it would probably be difficult, if not impossible, for me to do so because of my commitments to other clients." [15]

In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals may invoke their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination and refuse to register with the Government as members of the US Communist Party. Abt considered this decision as his greatest legal victory. [2]

Angela Davis (center, no glasses) enters Royce Hall (1969) Angela Davis enters Royce Hall for first lecture October 7 1969.jpg
Angela Davis (center, no glasses) enters Royce Hall (1969)

Abt was one of the first attorneys to represent Angela Davis for her alleged involvement in the 1970 Marin County courthouse incident. Margaret Burnham worked with him and later wrote a foreword to his memoir. [1]

Alleged espionage

Ware Group (1934–1944)

Abt was also a member of the Ware Group, a covert organization of Communist Party operatives within the United States government in the 1930s, which actively aided Soviet intelligence by passing on government information, as well as furnishing assistance to members of the CPUSA. Abt's sister, Marion Bachrach, was also a member of the group. After the group's founder, Harold Ware, was killed in an automobile collision in 1935, Abt married Jessica Smith, Ware's widow.

In late 1943, Jacob Golos, who headed the CPUSA's secret apparatus, was referred to a spy ring of party members by General Secretary of the party, Earl Browder. This ring had been engaged for some time in espionage for Browder, and held regular clandestine meetings at Abt's apartment. In early 1944, Golos sent Elizabeth Bentley to make contact with the group at Abt's apartment. In attendance was Abt, Victor Perlo, Charles Kramer, Harry Magdoff and Edward Fitzgerald. They discussed paying party dues to Bentley, the various types of information each would be able to deliver, and the type of information other members not in attendance would also be willing to deliver.

In late 1943, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation of Abt. Its surveillance showed frequent meetings in the early months of 1944 between Abt and a man then known as Alexander Stevens, one of the several pseudonyms used by the shadowy J. Peters, a party 'enforcer' who at one time headed the CPUSA's secret apparatus, and was involved in clandestine Soviet intelligence activities in the U.S., until his deportation to Hungary in 1948.

Hiss Case (1948)

Whittaker Chambers (1948) Whittaker Chambers.jpg
Whittaker Chambers (1948)

In 1948, under subpoena before HUAC, Whittaker Chambers named Abt among members of the Ware Group. Abt refused to give testimony. [2] [16]

(In 1996, it became known that Abt was referenced in Venona decrypts #588 KGB New York to Moscow, 29 April 1944 and #687 KGB New York to Moscow, 13 May 1944. [17] )


In 1993, Abt wrote in his memoir that the Ware Group was a Communist Party unit and that he had been a member. [1]

Personal life and death

On March 14, 1937, Abt married Jessica Smith Ware, widow of Harold Ware; she died in 1983. [2] [18]

Later, he married Vita Barsky. [2]

In 1984, on his 80th birthday, Abt admitted to being a long-time member of the CPUSA. [2]

On August 10, 1991, Abt died at the Columbia-Greene Medical Center in Hudson, New York from a stroke. He was 87. [2]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Abt, John; Myerson, Michael (1993). Advocate and Activist: Memoirs of an American Communist Lawyer. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. pp. 78 (Amalgamated), 99 (CIO-PAC), 273 (Angela Davis). ISBN   9780252020308.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Cook, Joan (13 August 1991). "John J. Abt, Lawyer, Dies at 87; Communist Party Counsel in U.S." New York Times. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  3. Gall, Gilbert J. (1998). Pursuing Justice: Lee Pressman, the New Deal, and the CIO. SUNY Press. pp. 183–184.
  4. Olmsted, Kathryn S. (2002). Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley. The University of North Carolina Press. p. 65. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  5. "Union Leaders Reach Berlin". New York Times. 31 January 1946. p. 7.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. Tower, Samuel A. (18 March 1946). "CIO Group for Aid to Russia as Way to Build Faith in U.S.". New York Times. pp. 1, 4, 5.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  7. "CIO Officials Urge Closer Soviet Accord". Washington Post. 18 March 1946. p. 2.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  8. Feinberg, Alexander (4 September 1946). "Democratic Deal Irks Labor Party: Move to Name Liberal for Bench May Cause Difficulties in Compact with ALP". New York Times. p. 15.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  9. "Liberals Form Political Group for United, National Campaigns". New York Times. 16 October 1946. p. 1.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  10. Loftus, Joseph A. (7 February 1948). "Pressman Quits $19,000 CIO Job To Back Wallace in Third Party". New York Times. p. 28.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  11. Alsop, Joseph; Alsop, Stewart (25 July 1948). "Wallace Must Wonder Sometimes". Washington Post. p. B5.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  12. Alsop, Joseph; Alsop, Stewart (28 July 1948). "Progressives Open Doors To Other Like-Minded Groups". Washington Post. p. B5.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  13. Childs, Marquis (24 July 1948). "Calling Washington: Wallace's Stage Managers". Washington Post. p. 9.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  14. Spargo, Mary (28 July 1948). "Progressives Open Doors To Other Like-Minded Groups". Washington Post. p. M1.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  15. Testimony of John J. Abt, Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 10, p. 116.
  16. Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 467 (Ware Group), 624 (no testimony). LCCN   52005149.
  17. KGB agent & Earl Browder instruct Bentley on new recruits Archived 2013-09-18 at the Wayback Machine ., Venona 687 New York to Moscow, 13 May 1944.
  18. "Federal Bureau of Investigation Documents – Files: Hiss/Chambers, 48 sections" (PDF). Education and Research Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-06-28. Retrieved 31 July 2017.