Last modified on June 17, 2020, at 16:15

John Abt

John Abt was the Chief of Litigation, Agricultural Adjustment Administration from 1933 to 1935, then assistant general counsel of the Works Progress Administration in 1935. Later he served as chief counsel on Senator Robert La Follette, Jr.'s LaFollette Committee from 1936 to 1937, then special assistant to the United States Attorney General, 1937 and 1938. In 1948 he worked with the Progressive Party of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace. Abt spent most of his career as chief counsel for the Communist Party.[1] In 1950–53, he unsuccessfully defended the Communist Party before the Subversive Activities Control Board.[2] He later argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court for the repeal of the McCarran Act.[3]

Abt confessed to being a member of the Ware group,[4] an underground unit of Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) for Federal officials, which engaged in espionage and policy subversion. It was illegal for U.S. government employees to be members of the CPUSA, which advocated the violent overthrow of the United States government. After the group's founder, Harold Ware, was killed in an automobile collision in 1935, Abt married Jessica Smith, Ware's widow.

Perlo group

In late 1943 Jacob Golos, who headed the Communist Party of the United States secret apparatus, was referred to a group of CPUSA members by General Secretary of the party, Earl Browder. This group of government employees had been engaged for sometime in espionage for Browder, and held regular clandestine meetings at John Abt's apartment. In early 1944, Golos sent Elizabeth Bentley to make contact with the group at Abt's apartment. In attendance were 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 FBI 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 Josef Peters, who at one time headed the CPUSA secret apparatus but was still involved in clandestine activities.

Abt turned the Perlo group over to the KGB in 1944.

Abt is referenced in Venona decrypts #588 KGB New York to Moscow, 29 April 1944 and #687 KGB New York tp Moscow, 13 May 1944.

Lee Harvey Oswald

Arrested for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, self-proclaimed "Marxist"[5]Lee Harvey Oswald would request Abt as his attorney:

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.[6]

Angela Davis

In 1970, Marin Count Judge Harold Haley's head was blown off by a sawed-off shotgun in a hostage incident in which members of the Black Panthers attempted to free Davis' lover, Black Panther member George Jackson. Jackson's younger brother took the judge, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages and armed the defendants.[7][8] Angela Davis had purchased several of the firearms used in the attack,[9] including the shotgun used to kill the judge.[10] Davis was also found to have corresponded with Jackson.[11] California considers "all persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense... principals in any crime so committed", and a warrant for her arrest was issued. J. Edgar Hoover listed Davis on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List; the third woman to ever be listed[12] behind Ma Barker and Bernardine Dohrn. She was apprehended and John Abt, general counsel of the Communist Party USA, represent her.[13] Davis was eventually acquitted of any role in the plotting and execution of the crime.


  1. Joan Cook, "John J. Abt, Lawyer, Dies at 87," The New York Times, August 13, 1991
  2. The SACB found that the party was required by law to register as an agent of a foreign power. 83d Cong., 1st sess., Document No. 41, Subversive Activities Control Board, Herbert Brownell, Jr. Attorney General of the United States, Petitioner vs. Communist Party of the United States of America, Respondent: Report of the Board, April 23, 1953 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office: 1953), pp. 1, 132 (PDF pp. 9, 140)
  3. Joan Cook, "John J. Abt, Lawyer, Dies at 87," The New York Times, August 13, 1991
  4. Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, United States Congress, Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government, (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1948), p. 643 (PDF p. 153). Cf. John J. Abt with Michael Myerson, Advocate and Activist: Memoirs of an American Communist Lawyer (University of Illinois Press, 1993) ISBN 0252020308, pp. 40-41
  5. FBI transcript: Lee Oswald to the Socialist Party of America, Warren Commission Hearings, CE 2240, Vol. XXV, p. 140, October 3, 1956
  6. Testimony of Harry D. Holmes, Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, pp. 299-300. Cf. Testimony of H. Louis Nichols, Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, pp. 328-329; Testimony of John J. Abt, Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. XX, p. 116; Report of Capt. J.W. Fritz, Dallas Police Department, p. 8, Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, p. 606
  7. Aptheker, Bettina (1997). The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis. Cornell University Press. 
  8. "Search broadens for Angela Davis", August 17, 1970. Retrieved on September 14, 2009. 
  9. Angela Davis’ Archive Comes to Harvard. Smithsonian Magazine (16 February 2018). Retrieved on 7 February 2019.
  10. "A Shotgun That Miss Davis Purchased Is Linked to the Fatal Shooting of Judge", The New York Times, April 18, 1972. Retrieved on February 7, 2019. 
  11. Freedom on My Mind. Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 978-0-312-64884-8. 
  12. Biography. Davis (Angela) Legal Defense Collection, 1970–1972. Retrieved on June 14, 2013.
  13. (1993) Advocate and Activist: Memoirs of an American Communist Lawyer. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-02030-8. 
  • John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press
  • New York FBI report, 9 April 1944, John Jacob Abt FBI file 100–236194, serial 6.
  • The Warren Commission Report, Volume X - Testimony of John J. Abt

See also