William Walter Remington (October 25, 1917 – November 24, 1954) was an economist employed in various federal government positions until his career was interrupted by accusations of espionage made by the Soviet spy and defector Elizabeth Bentley. He was convicted of perjury in connection with these charges in 1953, and murdered in prison in 1954. His death has been cited as one of the few murders attributable to McCarthyism.
Remington was employed in a number of posts, principally as an economist:
For his position with the Office of Price Administration, Remington was required to undergo a loyalty-security check, which began in 1941. He admitted having been active in Communist-allied groups such as the American Peace Mobilization, but denied any sympathy with communism and swore under oath that he was not and had never been a member of the Communist Party. Some questions were raised by Remington's leftist affiliations, but the investigation was superficial and his security clearance was approved.
Acting on Bentley's information, the FBI began a secret surveillance of Remington in late 1945. Remington had by this time become disillusioned with communism and broken off his relationships with radical organizations, so the investigation revealed nothing of interest. In 1946, Remington was working with the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. From there he transferred in March 1947 to a position with the President's Council of Economic Advisers, where he was paid an annual salary of $10,305. Because the FBI was keeping Bentley's testimony and its investigation of Remington secret, it raised no objection, with the result that Remington remained in fairly high-level government posts.
In 1947, Remington was interviewed by the FBI and also questioned before a federal grand jury in New York City about the information he gave to Elizabeth Bentley. He testified that no secret information was involved, and the issue seemed to end there. In an apparent attempt to bolster belief in his innocence, Remington became an anti-communist informer from this time and for the following year. He sent the FBI information on over fifty people, only four of whom were connected with his case. Most of those he named he had never met. He accused them of being Communists, isolationists, Negro nationalists, or "extreme liberals." He also verbally attacked his wife Ann, from whom he was now estranged, and his mother-in-law Elizabeth Moos, both avowed Communists.
Another loyalty investigation of Remington was opened early in 1948, and in June, he was relieved of his duties pending the findings of that investigation. In July of that year, the New York World-Telegram published a series of articles about Elizabeth Bentley, and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations opened hearings to investigate her charges. At these hearings, Bentley made her accusations against Remington, and in his own testimony, Remington once again denied them. Remington's name and the charges against him were now public; the Washington Post called him "a boob . . . who was duped by clever Communist agents." At his loyalty review hearings, Remington downplayed his earlier connections with Communist and leftist organizations, and claimed that his wife's adherence to Communist doctrine was the reason for the end of their marriage.
While testifying before the Senate, Bentley was protected from libel suits. When she repeated her charge that Remington was a Communist on NBC Radio's Meet the Press, he sued her and NBC for libel. At this point, Remington's case acquired considerable notoriety. When Remington's lawyers attempted to subpoena Bentley, she initially could not be found, prompting headlines of "RED WITNESS "MISSING" AT 100-G SLANDER SUIT" and the like. When she finally reappeared, she was subpoenaed for the libel suit, but refused to testify at Remington's still-ongoing loyalty hearing. The Loyalty Review Board noted that the only serious evidence against Remington was "the uncorroborated statement of a woman who refuses to submit herself to cross-examination, and cleared Remington to return to his government post. The libel suit was settled out of court shortly after this, with NBC paying Remington $10,000.
In 1950, the FBI and the federal grand jury in New York City both reopened their investigations of Remington. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) also opened new investigation of him. Because of continuing suspicions about him, Remington had been demoted in his position with the Commerce Department, and his once-promising career in the Truman administration was stagnant. Ann Remington, now divorced from William, was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. After initial reluctance, she testified that her husband had been a dues-paying member of the Communist Party, and that he had given secret information to Elizabeth Bentley, knowing that Bentley was a Communist herself. However, a few days later she recanted, and stated that she would claim marital privilege and refuse to testify against her ex-husband in any trial.
Despite uncertainty about the quality of their case, the grand jury decided to indict Remington for committing perjury when he denied ever being a member of the Communist Party.
During the trial, the defense attorneys revealed that John Brunini, the foreman of the grand jury that indicted Remington, had a personal and financial relationship with Elizabeth Bentley, having agreed to coauthor a book with her.
After a seven-week trial, Remington was convicted. Judge Gregory E. Noonan handed down a sentence of five years--the maximum for perjury--noting that Remington's act of perjury had involved disloyalty to his country. In the atmosphere of McCarthyism prevalent at the time, Remington's conviction was celebrated by many. An editorial in The Washington Daily News stated in part:
Remington's attorneys appealed the verdict, and the judicial panel hearing the case included Judge Learned Hand, considered one of America's most eminent jurists. The conviction was overturned on the grounds that Judge Noonan's instructions to the jury were too vague as to exactly what constituted "membership" in the Communist Party, and a new trial was ordered. Learned Hand also criticized grand jury foreman John Brunini and Thomas Donegan, the assistant to the Attorney General who directed the grand jury investigation, over Brunini's relationship with Bentley and for "judicial improprieties" in their abusive treatment of both Ann and William Remington during questioning.
Instead of retrying Remington under the existing indictment, the government presented a new indictment, this one charging Remington with five counts of perjury, all of them regarding points of testimony he had made during the first trial. Not included was the charge from the first trial: that he perjured himself when denying he had ever been a Communist Party member.
The second Remington trial began in January 1953 with Judge Vincent L. Leibell presiding. This trial proceeded much more quickly, lasting only 8 days. The jury found Remington guilty of two counts of perjury: in his testimony that he had not given secret information to Elizabeth Bentley, and that he did not know of the existence of the Young Communist League, which had a chapter at Dartmouth while Remington was a student there. Judge Leibell sentenced Remington to three years in prison. While his attorneys prepared another appeal, Remington began his sentence at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. The appeals court upheld the original verdict, and in February of 1954, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
With his death, Remington was once again in the headlines. Much attention was focused on whether more should have been done to protect him in prison, and whether his murder was motivated by anti-communism. When Cagle confessed, the FBI made an attempt to quell this speculation by instructing him to phrase his description of the crime as if he and McCoy had been trying to rob Remington. However, when McCoy confessed four days later, he proudly bragged that he hated Remington for being a Communist and denied any robbery motive.
Worried that Cagle and McCoy's confessions might be ruled inadmissible and afraid that a jury would be sympathetic towards men who murdered a Communist, U.S. attorney J. Julius Levy accepted pleas of second degree murder from McCoy and Cagle. The two men received life sentences.
Biographer Gary May concludes: "Clearly, Remington was no political innocent duped by the Communists, and his conviction for perjury seems justified. Yet Remington was no pro-Soviet automaton, no slave to Party or ideology, and not even the FBI, at least privately, was willing to classify him as a Russian spy.