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Video Clip

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"Hiss Questions Case's Legality"

"Chambers Cites a Higher Purpose"

"Hiss Defends His Relationship with 'Crosley'"










































Charge and Countercharge

A succinct synopsis of the Hiss case from Hiss's coram nobis petition

On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers testified at a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee that Alger Hiss, while he was a government employee, had been a member of an "underground" group of the Communist Party from 1934 to 1937. At the time Chambers made his charges, Hiss was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, after having rendered distinguished service to the government. His career in the State Department and his close association with the Yalta Conference and the United Nations, made him a prominent target for the anti-Truman forces. His conviction quickly became a political issue and, for some, a political bonanza. (As a result of the Hiss-Chambers investigation, HUAC member Richard M. Nixon, then an unknown freshman Congressman from California, became a national figure.) 

Alger Lookingat Whittaker Chambrs Photos
Alger Hiss examines photos of Whittaker Chambers at a 
televised HUAC hearing on August 25, 1948.

Hiss responded to the Chambers charge by requesting an opportunity to appear before the Committee. He did so on August 5th. He denied knowing a man named Whittaker Chambers but, at a later session, confronted Chambers and identified him as a freelance journalist he had known casually from about 1934 to 1936 by the name of "George Crosley." Hiss denied he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. When Chambers repeated his charges outside the privileged area of the House Hearings, Hiss sued him for libel in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. 

Up to this point, Chambers had made no claim in his several appearances before the House Committee (or in his many interviews with the FBI) that any government documents had been given to him by Hiss. On the contrary, in his appearance on October 14 and 15, 1948 before a federal grand jury looking in to possible communist subversion and violation of espionage laws, he testified that he had no knowledge of any government employee furnishing information to the Communist Party. 

In the pre-trial proceedings in the libel suit, Chambers was, on November 4 and 5, 1948, called upon by Hiss' counsel to produce any papers he might have received from Hiss. On November 17, 1948, he produced four penciled memoranda in Hiss's handwriting, allegedly relating to State Department business, and 65 typewritten pages. The latter purported to be copies of, or summaries of, 43 State Department communications which were, according to Chambers, given to him by Hiss between January 1, 1938 and about April 15, 1938. These papers became known as the "Baltimore Documents." 

Nixon Examining Pumpkin Film
Richard M. Nixon examines "Pumpkin" films for the press.

On December 2, 1948 Chambers delivered to the House Committee two strips of developed film and three undeveloped rolls of film. The developed film contained pictures of government documents that Chambers said he had received from Hiss.The films became known as "the Pumpkin Papers," because Chambers had hidden them in a pumpkin prior to delivery to Committee agents. The production of these papers and film resulted in Chambers being called back before the grand jury then sitting in the Southern District of New York. The panel was conducting an investigation into the possible violation of the espionage laws. Hiss appeared willingly before that same grand jury to respond to Chambers' charges. He testified on seven or eight occasions from December 7th to December 15, 1948. On the latter date, which was the last day of the life of the grand jury, an indictment against him for perjury was voted immediately after his final testimony. 

The indictment was in two counts. The first count alleged that he had testified falsely when he stated that he had not turned over to Whittaker Chambers any secret, confidential or restricted documents, whereas in fact he had given such documents to Chambers in February and March, 1938. 

The second count alleged that he had testified falsely when he said that he thought he could definitely say that he had not seen Chambers after January 1, 1937, whereas in fact he had seen and conversed with Chambers in and about February and March, 1938. After the usual pre-trial proceedings, the case came on for trial before Judge Samuel H. Kaufman and a jury on May 31, 1949. It ended in a mistrial on July 8, 1949 when the jury was unable to agree on a verdict. A second trial before Judge Henry W. Goddard and a jury began on November 17, 1949. Whittaker Chambers was the prosecution's principal witness and the only witness as to many of the accusations sought to be proved. The following is the substance of Chambers' testimony at the second trial: 
Whittaker Chambers, Hiss's Accuser
Whittaker Chambers

In 1934, Chambers was in Washington, D.C. as a member of a Communist Party "underground" and in that capacity first claimed to have met Hiss at a "restaurant in downtown Washington." The introduction was allegedly effected by Harold Ware, who was described as the organizer of a Communist underground apparatus in Washington, and by J. Peters, who was described as the head of the underground of the American Communist Party. Chambers testified that at the meeting it was agreed that Hiss was to be disconnected from the apparatus of which Ware was then organizer and to become a member of a parallel organization which Chambers was then organizing. He was introduced to Hiss as "Carl." This meeting, said Chambers, marked the beginning of a close association between Chambers and Hiss, both on a social level and as Communist espionage agents - an association which he said lasted for about four years. 



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