James B. Donovan, Before the 'Bridge of Spies'

10 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2015  

John Q. Barrett

St. John's University School of Law; Robert H. Jackson Center

Date Written: December 11, 2015


In the film “Bridge of Spies,” Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, a 1950s New York City lawyer who represented insurance companies.

In 1957, Donovan also began to represent Rudolf Abel, whom the United States had arrested and charged with being a Soviet spy. Donovan represented Abel at trial and on appeal, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, all without success, except for persuading the trial judge not to sentence Abel to death.

In 1962, Donovan, working closely with senior U.S. government officials, exchanged Abel on an East Berlin bridge for Francis Gary Powers, a U.S. spy plane pilot who had been shot down, captured, tried and convicted by the U.S.S.R.

This essay sets forth some of Jim Donovan’s life and very relevant qualifications for his roles in these Cold War events. During World War II, Donovan was general counsel of the U.S. wartime intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Later in 1945, he was a senior, very significant member of Justice Robert H. Jackson’s U.S. team prosecuting Nazi war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg. Donovan headed the prosecution team that prepared photographic evidence for the trial. Before the IMT, he introduced film evidence of Nazi concentration camps, the Nazi rise to government power in Germany and then aggressive war making, and Gestapo extermination of a Jewish ghetto.

This essay originally was an email to The Jackson List. It now is one of many dozens of essays on The Jackson List archive site.

Keywords: Donovan, Abel, Powers, Cold War, World War II, OSS, Nuremberg, IMT, Jackson, Nazi, Holocaust

Suggested Citation

Barrett, John Q., James B. Donovan, Before the 'Bridge of Spies' (December 11, 2015). St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-0034. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2702505 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2702505

John Q. Barrett (Contact Author)

St. John's University School of Law ( email )

8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439
United States
718-990-6644 (Phone)
718-990-2199 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.stjohns.edu/academics/graduate/law/faculty/Profiles/Barrett

Robert H. Jackson Center

305 East Fourth Street
Jamestown, NY 14701
United States
716-483-6646 (Phone)
716-483-0690 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.roberthjackson.org

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views