The Motion for a New Trial
of Alger Hiss's lawyer, Chester Lane,
on Whittaker Chambers' break with the Communist Party
the early versions of his story, Chambers consistently placed
the time of his break with the Party as being at the end of
1937. He so advised [Assistant Secretary of State] Adolf A.
Berle, Jr., according to Mr. Berle's recollection, at their
conference at the end of August 1939 when it might be supposed
that his memory for dates would have been fresh. He repeated
the statement to Raymond Murphy of the State Department at
their meetings in 1945 and 1946, saying on the latter occasion
that he "entered into the Washington picture in the summer
of 1935, and left it and the Party at the end of December,
1937." Before the House Committee he swore repeatedly
that the break occurred in 1937.
one of his later appearances he amplified this. Appearing
on August 30, 1948, he described under oath his acceptance
of a position with the United States Government as a means
of "establishing an identity." He was not quite
certain when this occurred, but thought it was "1937
or the beginning of 1938". As to the date of leaving
the Party, he testifed as follows:
Nixon: How long did you hold the job, Mr. Chambers?
Chambers: I don't think more than 2 months, perhaps 3.
Nixon: After you left the job, what happened then? Did you
leave the party immediately?
Chambers: I think there may have been 2 or 3 weeks in between.
I have no longer a recollection, but I left very shortly thereafter.
Nixon: In other words, you severed your relationship with
the party completely a few weeks afterward.
Chambers: I disappeared.
the second trial, however, the story is changed. According
to the new version, his break with the Party occurred approximately
in the middle of April, 1938: "I believe it was April
15." Upon this break he moved his family to a room on
Old Court Road, near Baltimore, where he stayed for about
a month, until he "had obtained a translation to do"
from Paul Willert of the Oxford University Press a
translation of a book entitled "Dunant The Founder
of The Red Cross." As soon as he had the translation
and an advance he went to Daytona Beach, Florida, where he
"finished the translation, and after a month returned
to New York."
himself was aware of or could not escape from
the inconsistency. On cross-examination he was asked: "Now,
did you on a number of occasions say that you broke with the
Party in 1937?", and he replied:
I did." He was further asked: "Is that date correct?"
and replied: "It is not."
is obvious why Chambers had to change his story. He had first
produced the Baltimore Documents at a pretrial deposition
hearing in the Baltimore libel action on November 17, l948
when he needed some kind of evidence to protect himself
against liability for his charges of Hiss's Communist
affiliations. The documents he produced covered dates running
from January 5 to April 1, 1938. Once he had produced them,
his old story of having left the Party in 1937, or no later
than the middle of February, 1938, would no longer do. He
had to provide a new date for his break; otherwise he could
not sustain his new tale that he had been collecting State
Department information from Alger Hiss for Communist espionage
purposes through January, February, and March, 1938. So for
the end of his Party activity he came up with April 15, 1938
a convenient date which would allow for the mechanics
of abstracting and copying documents received in the Department
as late as 7:45 on the evening of April first.
suspicious characteristics of Chambers's changed story
were evident on the trial record, and are reiterated here
only because the defense has now come into possession of evidence
showing that the second story, not the first, was the false
one. This new evidence establishes that Chambers had left
the Party and secured his translation from the Oxford University
Press at least by early March, 1938. Therefore his whole story
of Hiss as the source of State Department documents running
into April is shown up as a fabrication.
had obviously gotten his translation some time before April
12, 1938, since Willert's letter of that date to him
(Exhibit IV-B-11 (a)), which the Post Office was unable to
deliver (Exhibit IV-B-11 (b)), asks how he is getting on with
it, and implies that some results are already due. This is
confirmed by the fact that a portion of the manuscript had
been mailed to him at his Mt. Royal Terrace address in Baltimore
on March 18, 1938 (See Exhibit IV-B-9). The delivery instructions
were "RUSH MUST REACH BALTIMORE SATURDAY EXPRESS";
i.e., the next day, since March 18, 1938, was a Friday. Taken
alone, this could mean merely urgency on the part of the publisher,
or it could more probably mean that Chambers had advised that
after March 19th he would no longer be available to pick up
the package. That Chambers went into hiding at or about that
time is clear from his handwritten
letter dated May 3rd to Willert (Exhibit IV-B-16),
in which he says: "I have not been at Mt. Royal Terrace
for more than a month." In any event, Chambers had clearly
become a translator by March 18th, and therefore by his own
account must have been out of the Party by that date.
Continue with Chambers' Break