— Charge





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Charge and Countercharge

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At the time of the alleged meeting at the restaurant, Hiss was counsel to a Senate Committee investigating the munitions industry (the Nye Committee). Hiss's first assignment, according to Chambers, was to procure through the Committee, confidential State Department documents that dealt with "some angle of the Munitions Investigation."

In 1936, Hiss was transferred first to the Justice Department and then to the State Department. In January 1937, Chambers claimed that he arranged a clandestine meeting between himself, Hiss and a certain "Peter," whose real name, Chambers found out years later, was Col. Boris Bykov. Chambers said Bykov was his superior in the Communist underground.

Whittaker and Esther Chambers
Whittaker and Esther Chambers

Chambers went on to say that, at that meeting, Bykov said that the Soviet Union needed help, and that Hiss could procure confidential documents from the State Department and turn them over to Chambers for transmission to Bykov. Soon after, Chambers said, Hiss began to take home State Department documents every week or ten days which Chambers would pick up the papers from Hiss at his home and take them to Baltimore for photographing, returning the originals the same night. In mid-1937, Chambers said, he instructed Hiss to have papers brought home every night and to have Mrs. Hiss (also allegedly a Communist) type some of them verbatim and paraphrase others. Hiss was also to bring home, and turn over to Chambers, originals of State Department documents coming to his desk on the particular days of Chambers' visits. Hiss would also turn over handwritten notes about documents which he seen but which, for some reason, he was unable to bring out.

After the photographing of the documents, the originals would be returned by Chambers to Hiss, to be restored to the State Department files. The typed copies, or paraphrases, and handwritten notes would be burned. The photographs would be turned over by Chambers to Bykov.

Chambers stated that in April 1938 he broke with the Communist Party and discontinued his espionage activities. But he retained some of the typed documents, handwritten notes, and exposed film which had come into his hands between January and April, 1938. In May or June, 1938 he left them in an envelope with his wife's nephew, Nathan Levine. Levine testified that he kept an envelope given to him by Chambers from sometime in 1938 until November 1948, when he returned it to Chambers at the Chambers' request. Levine never saw the contents of the envelope.

In addition to these contacts claimed by Chambers during the period from 1934 to 1938 for espionage purposes, Chambers testified to frequent and intimate social contacts between the Hiss and Chambers families during this period, including several after January 1, 1937. These involved stays by the Chambers family at Hiss' home, visits on various social occasions and various trips out of town.

The government's case rested largely on Chambers' testimony. As to the first count, Chambers was the sole witness who testified to the alleged falsity of Hiss' statement, with one single exception (testimony by Mrs. Chambers as to a single meeting). The same was true of the second count. To corroborate Chambers on both counts, the government offered the handwritten and typewritten documents and developed film produced by Chambers as described above, together with testimony by an expert witness that Baltimore Exhibits 4-9 and 11-47 and certain letters, admittedly typed by Mrs. Hiss, were typed on the same typewriter.

Hiss Testifies Before HUAC
Hiss testifies
before HUAC.

In defense, Hiss denied any Communist membership or affiliation, denied having given Chambers any State Department or other classified documents, and denied ever meeting J. Peters. He testified that in December 1934 or in January 1935, while he was counsel to the Nye Committee, Chambers came to see him, introducing himself as "George Crosley," a freelance writer doing a series of articles on the munitions investigation.

At a subsequent luncheon meeting, Crosley-Chambers told Hiss that he was planning to move from Baltimore to Washington, to complete his articles on the munitions investigation, and he was looking for a place to live with his wife and child. Hiss sublet his apartment at 2831 28th Street, Washington, D.C. to Chambers for a few months; the Hisses had already moved to a house at 2905 P Street, the now unoccupied 28th Street apartment had some time left on the lease.

Before moving into the 28th Street apartment, the Chambers family spent a few days at Hiss's P Street house. Chambers told Hiss that the van bringing their household effects had been delayed. Hiss met with Chambers a few times after that, the last contact being in the spring of 1936 when Hiss refused Chambers' request for the latest in a number of small loans. Both Hiss and his wife denied any visits to any of Chambers' homes; any visits by Mr. and Mrs. Chambers to Hiss's 30th Street or Volta Place homes (the houses Hiss moved to after leaving P Street), and any trips with Chambers, except on one occasion, when Hiss gave Chambers a ride from Washington to New York. Throughout their acquaintance which, Hiss said, lasted only about two years, he knew Chambers only by the name of "George Crosley."

In addition to denying Chambers' testimony, the defense contended the following:

(1) that Chambers had left the Communist Party prior to April 1, 1938, the date of the last of the Baltimore Documents; and

(2) that Hiss had disposed of his typewriter prior to January 1, 1938, the date of the first of the Baltimore Documents.

Alger in Handcuffs
Newspapers Announce Verdict
Newspaper headlines announce the guilty verdict
Hiss in handcuffs

Despite these contentions, the second trial ended with a guilty verdict on each count on January 21, 1950.

Hiss was sentenced to five years on each count, the sentences to run concurrently. After an appeal, Hiss surrendered to the United States Marshall on March 22, 1951, and remained in prison until his release in November 1954.

On January 24, 1952, while Hiss was in custody, he moved for a new trial on grounds of newly discovered evidence:

(1) that the typewriter placed in evidence by the Hisses, who thought it was their old typewriter, was in fact not the machine owned by the Hisses in 1934-38;

(2) that Edith Murray, supposedly a maid of the Chambers', who was the only person to testify to any social relationships between the two families, had made a false identification; and

(3) that Chambers' testimony that he had remained in the Communist Party until mid-April 1938 was false.

But the motion for a new trial was denied by Judge Goddard, and his denial was upheld on appeal. Hiss served out his full prison term, although he did receive time off for good behavior.

Between March 25, 1975 and September 10, 1976, Hiss made a number of requests of the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and other government departments, under the Freedom of Information Act, to release their files relating to him. These various government agencies subsequently began transmitting tens of thousands of files, often severely censored, to Hiss. Still, based on the evidence of governmental misconduct apparent in the files, Hiss, in 1978, filed a petition of coram nobis to overturn the 1950 guilty verdict. According to information in the files, the prosecution had a "mole" in the defense team and also hid information that would have helped the defense. The petition was denied in 1978. Subsequent appeals were unsuccessful. As a legal proceeding, the Hiss case had ended.

Continue with The Typewriter


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