How Robert Novak Helped Save "The Littlest Defector"
Robert Novak has brain cancer. His survival is uncertain. Whenever he passes, his obituaries will doubtless be full of anecdotes about his decades-long powerful, fearless presence at the seat of our national government.
It’s unlikely, however, that once Bob is laid to rest the public would ever learn how he was instrumental in saving a then 14-year-old boy—dubbed by George Will ‘The littlest defector”—from the communist dictatorship he had fled. That’s why I’m telling this story now.
On August 21, 1981, based on a government document I had obtained, I wrote the following letter to William French Smith, President Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General of the United States:
Dear Mr. Smith:When Attorney General Smith ignored this letter, and Walter’s freedom swayed precariously in the balance, I sent a copy to Bob Novak.
Although Bob had not before written about the Polovchak case, on August 26, 1981 he wrote a syndicated column entitled “William [French] Smith’s Runaway Justice Department.” It excoriated Smith’s Department of Justice and its toleration of, if not participation in, the scurrilously obscene bargain his Chicago subordinates had made with the ACLU. Novak wrote that: “The incongruity of Ronald Reagan's Justice Department withdrawing the asylum granted a teen-age Ukrainian boy a year ago by the Carter administration comes as no surprise to a White House benumbed by the peculiar regime of Attorney General William French Smith.”
As soon as I learned of the column, I called Bob Novak, to whom I had never spoken before.
My notes of our conversation on the morning of August 24, 1981 reveal that Novak was told by “a certain party,” whom he implied was Ed Meese at the White House, that something would be done by the Department of Justice to unscramble the Chicago conspirators’ omelet and throw the weight of the federal government on Walter’s side of the scales. The prime mover was to be Deputy Attorney General Edward C. Schmults, then on vacation in Connecticut. But there was strong resistance at DOJ.
Bob and I spoke again at 5:15 that afternoon. He informed me that though his contact at DOJ was evasive, “if it all comes together they’ll have an announcement tomorrow.”
And that’s what happened.
The DOJ spokesman told a press conference that there had never been a government deal with the ACLU—but if there had, it had been squashed. He pledged that from then on the United States Department of Justice would defend Walter’s asylum. Indeed, soon after, through the efforts of DOJ attorney Bruce Fein, the government issued a “departure control order” which prevented Walter from being forcibly removed from the United States.
Years of pro bono litigation followed. Julian Kulas, Erika Holzer and I fought seven different lawsuits: trials and appeals, state and federal. We won some, and lost others.
The cases and the years ground on, and on October 8, 1985 Walter Polovchak reached the age of 18 years. Under Illinois law he had become emancipated, free of the state and federal courts—and of his parents and their ACLU and KGB allies.
On that day, the Liberty Institute held a “Birthday Party of Freedom” for Walter Polovchak on Capitol Hill in a huge Senate chamber. On that day, in that place, after years, and fear ,and fighting, “The littlest defector” took the oath of citizenship and became an American.
During his long and distinguished career as one of America’s foremost print journalists, Robert Novak has written thousands of articles and millions of words. He has been on the right side and the wrong side—and often on no side at all. In the case of Walter Polovchak, Bob lent his considerable clout to the service of a young Ukrainian boy who wanted nothing more than to be free. Of our few journalist allies in those dark days of 1980-1981—among them George Will, Roger Simon and Alan Dershowitz—Robert Novak, the so-called “Prince of Darkness” immeasurably helped three lawyers bring “The littlest defector” into the bright light of a new life.
Julian E. Kulas, Erika Holzer and I wish him well.
Henry Mark Holzer Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, teaching Constitutional Law and Appellate Advocacy. He received B.A. degree from New York University where he studied Russian and Political Science. He later served in army intelligence in Korea. He authored several out-of-print books-"The Gold Clause; Government's Money Monopoly", "Sweet Land of Liberty? The Supreme Court and Individual Rights" and some two hundred articles, essays, and reviews, and publish commentary on legal and political topics in the print media and on the Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at www.henrymarkholzer.blogspot.com and his website is www.henrymarkholzer.com.
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