Ann Coulter's "Treason"
thesis of Ann Coulter's best-selling new book, "Treason:
Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism,"
is that Democrats have been aiding America's enemies since
before the beginning of World War II.
Many critics have challenged her facts, arguments and conclusions.
A review by www.Spinsanity.org, for instance, a Web site that
has been called "the nation's leading watchdog of manipulative
political rhetoric," faults the book for "repeatedly
making outrageously irrational arguments and demonstrably
false claims." According to Spinsanity's close reading,
"Treason" is characterized by "a series of
deceptive practices that include misleading quotation and
sourcing of claims" and "utter falsehoods and egregious
Writing in www.FrontPageMagazine.com, conservative commentator
David Horowitz, who admires Ann Coulter, has called the book
"distressing," saying she "mars her case with
claims that cannot be substantiated."
Although Coulter's subtitle refers only to post-World War
II Democrats, the first Democrat she actually takes aim at
is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected president in 1932.
"Twenty Years of Treason," an unofficial (and posthumous)
anti-Roosevelt Republican campaign slogan from 1952, was a
clear reference to the Alger Hiss case. Hiss worked for the
Roosevelt administration for 12 years, and his case, which
was front-page news for months when it came to trial in 1949
and 1950, centered on charges of Russian access to government
secrets in the 1930s.
These same 55-year-old charges now serve as Ground Zero for
Coulter's tale of Democratic betrayal and weakness. Her retelling
of the Hiss case is the cornerstone argument of "Treason,"
and occupies the book's entire second chapter, "Alger
Hiss, Liberal Darling." "The Alger Hiss Story"
Web site has now subjected that chapter to a line-by-line
analysis, comparing her assertions to the trial records, to
hearing and grand jury transcripts, and to other statements,
depositions, articles, and books by witnesses, reporters,
and historians of the period.
It's perhaps no surprise that Coulter staunchly defends the
credibility of Alger Hiss's chief accuser, Whittaker Chambers.
Like everyone, she is free to reach her own conclusions. But
like all of us, she must respect the universal obligation
to stick to established facts. As the following examination
of her chapter demonstrates, Coulter has not in this book
been able to advance Chambers' case or cause, since in its
approach to the Hiss case, "Treason"'s Chapter Two
makes use of the same unreliable techniques and asserts the
same kind of inaccurate claims that have dismayed critics
of the book as a whole.
Specifically, Coulter's 18-page discussion of the Hiss case
incorporates 101 errors. These include errors of fact, errors
of omission, and misstatements and misinterpretations of the
record; 14 such errors occur on the first two pages alone:
Error No. 1: At the very beginning of the chapter,
on page 17, Coulter says that "in 1938, Whittaker Chambers
broke with the Communist Party." This innocent-sounding
statement is in fact crucial to any telling of the Hiss case,
because it goes to the heart of Chambers' credibility. No
document has ever come to light, either in America or in Russia,
that shows when Whittaker Chambers left the Communist Party.
The only evidence that exists is Chambers' own testimony Ð
and Coulter does not mention that Chambers told two distinctly
different versions of this story. For nine years, between
September 1, 1939 and November 17, 1948, Chambers on more
than two dozen occasions swore or stated that he had left
the Party in 1937, and, in addition, swore or stated that
he and Hiss had never committed espionage. The 1938 Party-leaving
date only emerged on November 17, 1948, when, for the first
time, Chambers swore that he had repeatedly been lying for
the previous nine years. It was at that moment that Chambers
first produced copies of State Department documents that he
said Hiss had given him; the documents were dated 1938.
Error No. 2: Coulter, again on page 17, quotes Chambers'
supposed fears that the Communists might kill him after his
break from the Party. Coulter does not mention that no documentary
evidence or oral testimony from any of Chambers' contemporaries
has ever surfaced to substantiate his claim (put forward a
decade and a half later) that his life had been in fact in
danger. Coulter also ignores Chambers' own statements that
during this same period he had traveled openly to New York
to meet with his publisher, someone, he later said, who was
himself connected with the Communist Party underground; and
that his phone number continued to be listed in the Baltimore
phone book. Chambers even claimed that he had dropped by Alger
Hiss's home, uninvited, and stayed for dinner, despite being
convinced that Hiss might even murder him that evening.
Error No. 3: Coulter, on page 17 again, quotes Chambers
saying that his break with the Party "was more than 'leaving
one house and occupying another.'" Actually, Chambers
said at Hiss's trial that this was precisely what he had done:
"I broke by disappearing from the place where I had been
living and going into hiding" (first trial transcript,
Error No. 4: On page 18, Coulter says that Walter
Krivitsky (a former Russian general who defected to the
and wrote a book about his experiences) forced Chambers to
"state the painful truth out loud" about the Soviet
government, and quotes Chambers saying he had decided to
an informer after meeting Krivitsky. Despite Chambers' statement,
his informing in fact considerably predated his meeting with
Krivitsky, which didn't take place until 1939. In 1938, Chambers
told journalist Herbert Solow that he would be willing to
tell all he knew in exchange for a promise of executive clemency.
Chambers' introduction to Krivitsky was arranged by Isaac
Don Levine, who had ghost-written Krivitsky's memoirs and
was himself a Russian immigrant. Levine, who played a crucial
(and still mysterious) role in developing Chambers' story,
years later was shown to be a falsifier of evidence: he claimed
to have a document showing that Stalin had once been an agent
of the Czarist secret police; the document proved to be a
Error No. 5: Still on page 18, Coulter implies that
Chambers' revulsion with the Nazi-Soviet pact first led him
to approach American government officials. Although it's true
that this first meeting took place after that pact had been
signed, planning for it had begun long before Hitler and Stalin
formed their alliance.
Error No. 6: Coulter, again on page 18, writes that
after dinner at the home of Assistant Secretary of State Adolf
A. Berle, Jr., the State Department's chief security officer,
Chambers "spent several hours detailing the Communist
espionage network of which he had been a part." This
is a critical misstatement since, as we shall see, it becomes
the bedrock argument on which Coulter's presentation of modern
American history rests her contention being that, beginning
in 1939, the American government laughed off warnings of Soviet
espionage, a situation that went uncorrected for over a decade
and was first reversed only by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy's 1950s
campaign against Communist subversion.
The fundamental flaw in this argument omitted by Coulter
is that according to 14 years worth of testimony about
this meeting (including notes Berle made immediately after
the meeting in 1939; diary entries Berle made in 1948 and
1952; interviews Berle gave to the FBI and the Hiss defense;
sworn testimony Berle gave to the House Committee on Un-American
Activities in 1948; and 1948 HUAC testimony by Chambers himself)
Chambers never at that meeting accused anyone of espionage.
Indeed, Berle told a Hiss lawyer in 1950, Chambers, although
he seemed sincere, "was incapable of standing up under
questioning on any matter."
Although Chambers at first called several people (including
Alger Hiss and his brother, Donald) Communists, he later "admitted
that he really meant no more than that they were the kind
of people whom the Communist Party had tried to interest generally
in the Communist point of view." (Chambers also told
Berle that he had left the Party in 1937.) Chambers, Berle
concluded, "gave the appearance of a crackpot."
Errors No. 7 and 8: Coulter, still on page 18, says
Chambers named "at least" two dozen men "in
high government positions" as Soviet spies. Berle's notes
of the meeting, however, record 13 names, not 24; none held
high-level positions (and, of course, as just noted, none
were named as spies, or even as Party members). Several, for
example, worked for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration,
while another was in the Office of Price Administration.
Error No. 9: Coulter, still on page 18, calls Alger
Hiss a "top" State Department official. Hiss later
became important in the Department, but in 1939 he was a mid-level
official, one of many.
Error No. 10: Coulter, still on page 18, says that
Chambers named Donald Hiss as an espionage agent: As already
noted, Berle said Chambers made no such accusation; in later
years Chambers indeed repeatedly repudiated the notion: he
told the FBI Donald Hiss had never been an espionage agent,
and swore to the same fact at both of Alger Hiss's perjury
Error No. 11: Coulter, still on page 18, says that
after meeting Chambers in 1939, Berle urgently reported his
information to President Roosevelt, who, she says, "laughed
and told Berle to go f--- himself." This is completely
false, according to Berle, who only heard about this claim
in 1952 when he read in Chambers' "Witness" (which
Coulter cites in a footnote) that Roosevelt had said, "in
words which it is necessary to paraphrase, 'go jump in a lake.'"
In 1948, Berle had recorded in his diary his enduring memory
of what Chambers told him in 1939: "There was no evidence
sufficient to base a conclusion as to Hiss's underground associations."
Berle's 1952 diary entry shows that, because Chambers had
failed to put forward convincing evidence, Berle had not gone
directly to the President, but had instead "reported
the substance of this [his interview with Chambers] ... to
[Presidential secretary Marvin H.] McIntyre." Berle said
he had a vague recollection of having later mentioned the
matter to Roosevelt, and called the allegation about Roosevelt's
alleged comment "an unfair attack" since no specific
charges had ever been made that the President could respond
to either to act on or to laugh off. Berle's diary
entries at no point indicate that Roosevelt ever made any
negative comments whatever about Chambers' allegations.
To sum up: all of Berle's written and oral comments on this
one and only meeting with Chambers were consistent. Coulter
mentions none of them, and fails to come to acknowledge a
central issue of the Hiss case not the question of
"Do you believe Hiss or Chambers?" but the question
that precedes it: "Do you believe Chambers or Chambers?"
Meaning the Chambers who (after November 17, 1948) swore that
he and Alger Hiss had both been Soviet spies, or the Chambers
who until then swore there had been no espionage.
Error No. 12: There's a further problem with this same
passage on page 18 about Roosevelt: a Coulter footnote lists
William Rusher's book, 'Special Counsel,' as the source for
her "go f--- himself" claim, which would appear
at first glance to offer independent corroboration for the
story. But "Special Counsel" actually says only
that the President laughed, citing Chamber's book, "Witness,"
as its source. In "Witness," Chambers says he heard
the story from Isaac Don Levine (who had arranged the Berle
meeting) and that Levine had said he received his information
from Berle. Since Berle in fact denied that the incident had
taken place, the result is Coulter attempting to use Chambers
to confirm Chambers' story.
Error No. 13: Coulter, again on page 18, says no action
was ever taken against Hiss. Chambers' early allegations of
Communist sympathies, even when presented only as vague suspicions,
were in fact followed up on by security authorities: Hiss
was interviewed by the FBI and his phone was wiretapped.
Error No. 14: Coulter, again on page 18, says that
Roosevelt, after ignoring Berle's warnings, promoted Hiss,
making him a "trusted aide who would go on to advise
him at Yalta." In fact, Hiss was never an "aide"
to Roosevelt, and all his promotions were made by his State
Department bosses. Hiss was included as part of the Yalta
team almost by chance and only as a last-minute replacement.
The decision to take Hiss to the Yalta Conference was made
by Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., a former
chairman of U.S. Steel. At Yalta, where he worked as a junior
Stettinius staffer and never dealt directly with Roosevelt,
Hiss took a forceful anti-Soviet position, according to official
conference notes released in the 1950s, arguing strongly
against the Soviet Union's request to increase its voting
strength by admitting three constituent Soviet republics as
independent members of the U.N. (the equivalent of admitting
Vermont to the U.N.).
Error No. 15: Coulter, on page 19, writes that William
C. Bullitt was also "laughed off" when he reported
to President Roosevelt that he, too, had heard of Chambers'
charges. Coulter is correct in citing "Seeds of Treason"
as the source for this story (although omitting the name of
Ralph de Toldedano's co-author, Victor Lasky, from her footnote).
But a close reading of that book shows that the two authors
themselves mention no specific source for the assertion that
Roosevelt laughed at Bullitt's information.
Bullitt himself told the Internal Security Subcommittee in
1952 that he had once spoken about Hiss not to the President
but to Hiss's State Department boss, Stanley K. Hornbeck.
Since Bullitt was merely repeating a rumor he had heard via
Chambers, Hornbeck, a political conservative who worked closely
with Hiss, saw nothing in Bullitt's remarks to raise his suspicions
and chose not to act. Hornbeck may have considered Bullitt
a witness whose reliability had limits. During a hearing before
the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, Bullitt,
a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, testified that he
had seen evidence that Soviet parents ate their young.
Error No. 16: Coulter, again on page 19, writes that
"the Democrats' nonchalance about Soviet agents on their
staffs was scandalous." In fact, following allegations
by Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, more than 100 government
employees were investigated by the FBI, had their mail opened
and their phones tapped, and were brought before grand juries.
Error No. 17: Coulter, on page 19 again, accuses Berle
of later concocting "an inane straw-man argument"
to "soft-pedal" his lack of action against the Hiss
brothers. Berle, she says, had in equivalent modern terminology
been "informed they were members of al-Qaeda," yet
still maintained (here she quotes Berle directly) that "The
idea that these two Hiss boys ... were going to take over
the United States government did not strike me as any immediate
danger." But this was a true statement, based on what
Chambers had actually said to Berle.
To use equivalent modern terminology, all that Berle had really
heard from Chambers (see Error No. 6) was that the two Hisses
could potentially have been useful to al-Qaeda, if it had
ever been able to sign them up, though as far as Chambers
knew, it hadn't.
Error No. 18: Coulter, again on page 19, quotes Berle
as saying that there were "pretty consistent leaks"
from Alger Hiss's office, implying both that information went
straight from Hiss's office to the Soviet Union, and that
Berle knew about it. But this truncated quote only resuscitates
a distortion of Berle's testimony first put into print 38
years ago by de Toledano and Lasky, who tried to make it appear
that Berle was linking the Hisses to foreign agents when he
was actually scolding them for talking to American reporters.
To correct the record, here is the full quote from Berle's
diary: "The Hiss boys were later of the appeasement faction
of the State Department. Anything that went through their
office leaked, usually to [newspaper columnist] Drew Pearson...."
Error No. 19: Coulter, still on page 19, writes that,
in 1948, "almost a full decade later," Chambers
was called to testify before HUAC, implying that he had been
ignored or shunned by U.S. security officials during that
time. Not so between the Berle meeting and his HUAC
testimony, he was interviewed numerous times by the FBI and
twice by Raymond Murphy, a State Department security officer.
Of course, Chambers never gave his questioners much to go
on, since during these interviews, Chambers always insisted
that there had been no espionage that he knew of (and also
always said that he had left the Communist Party in 1937).
Error No. 20: Coulter, still on page 19, writes that
before HUAC "Chambers again named Hiss as a Soviet agent."
In fact, Chambers didn't; testifying before HUAC he swore
once again that he and Hiss had not been spies. He also once
again swore that he had no proof that Hiss was or had been
a member of the Communist Party.
Error No. 21: Coulter, still on page 19, says that
HUAC was somewhat more interested in Chambers' charges than
Roosevelt had been, implying that the Congressmen were more
eager to fight Communist subversion than Roosevelt had been.
This is an observation without a beginning, an end, or any
context. In the first place, as we've noted, Roosevelt had
never been told about allegations of Soviet espionage, because
Chambers had never made such charges.
In the second place, there were powerful political reasons
for taking Chambers' non-espionage charges seriously in 1948.
1948 was a presidential election year, and the Republicans,
who had lost four presidential elections in a row but had
just won control of Congress, were looking for issues to use
against President Truman, Roosevelt's successor, who was considered
vulnerable. In addition, HUAC had its own pressing need for
issues since many Congress members had begun talking
about abolishing the committee after the 1948 elections.
Error No. 22: Coulter, on page 20, contradicts herself
when she calls Hiss's denial before HUAC that he had ever
known anyone by the name of Chambers a "Clintonian lie"
since in her next sentence she acknowledges that Chambers,
while in the underground, had adopted a different name. Moreover,
Hiss in his early testimony was telling the whole truth available
to him at that time: in 1934 and 1935, he had known a freelance
writer who had introduced himself as George Crosley. Hiss
had never known Crosley by any other name, had never known
that Crosley had any other names (including Whittaker Chambers).
Further, Hiss had never known that Crosley had ties of any
kind to either the Communist Party or the Soviet Union. (For
a definitive discussion on the Hiss-Chambers relationship,
see "Two Foolish Men: The True Story of the Friendship
between Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers," by William
Howard Moore, Moorop Press, Portland, Oregon, 1987.)
Error No. 23: Coulter, again on page 20, repeats her
inaccurate contention (see Error No. 20) that Chambers, in
his HUAC testimony, named Hiss as a spy. He did not.
Error No. 24: Did Hiss and Chambers know each other?
Coulter asks, still on page 20. She then offers an abbreviated,
oversimplified answer: "One of them was lying."
In the first place, Hiss, as soon as he realized who Chambers
was, volunteered to the Committee that Chambers was a man
he had once known as George Crosley, thus amplifying and correcting
his first statement. (Chambers, on the other hand, wouldn't
admit to having used the pseudonym until months later.)
More troublingly, Coulter ignores the fact that it is only
possible to believe in any of Chambers' stories about Hiss
by first accepting that he was, necessarily, someone who repeatedly
lied under oath. As the man who both swore that he and Hiss
had not been spies and then later swore that they both indeed
had been spies if Chambers was telling the truth when
he said that their espionage was real, then he must have been
lying when he previously denied this. Conversely, if Chambers
was telling the truth when he originally said no spying had
taken place, then he must later have become a liar when he
claimed that both of them had once been spies.
Error No. 25: Coulter, still on page 20, says it has
now been proved "beyond cavil" that Hiss was a spy.
Although she doesn't spell it out, this is presumably a reference
to the "Venona" documents several thousand
decrypted and recently released Soviet cables sent during
World War II. One of these documents has been said by some
scholars to implicate Alger Hiss, because the code-named spy
it describes at first glance bears some superficial resemblance
to the espionage activities Chambers began describing in November
1948. A recent careful examination of this document, however,
comes to the opposite conclusion, and asserts that Venona
actually exonerates Hiss. For more on this, click
Coulter does not point out that opinion remains divided. As
best-selling journalist Eric Alterman (author of "What
Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News"), who
follows the Hiss case, pointed out on H-DIPLO, a scholarly
e-mail discussion list devoted to diplomatic and international
history (on July 24, 2003): "I do think all should be
aware that the case is not yet closed and probably won't be,
absent stronger evidence from the Soviet archives." Alterman
added a cautionary note about Venona interpretation: "I
think I've looked at a considerable portion of the English
language sources, and I do not find Dr. Haynes' [John Earl
Haynes, a historian at the Library of Congress] et al. interpretation
of the single alleged Venona reference to Hiss to be compelling.
I don't think that particular document proves anything."
Error No. 26: Coulter, still on page 20, writes that
for all but the "willfully stupid" the so-called
Pumpkin Papers proved that Hiss had been an agent. The Pumpkin
Papers were films of government documents that Chambers had
temporarily hidden in a hollowed-out pumpkin on his Maryland
farm. One roll of film was completely fogged. Two other rolls
of film consisted of unclassified Navy Department information
sheets (about, for instance, the proper color to paint fire
extinguishers) that were available for the taking as public
handouts from the Bureau of Standards. Two strips of film
did display State Department documents, although, since they
had circulated throughout the department, it was never demonstrated
that Chambers must have received them from Hiss (and Chambers
later acknowledged that at least some of them had been handed
to him by another State Department employee, Julian Wadleigh).
One historian has recently noted that even the genuine State
Department documents in the Pumpkin Papers were not spy-worthy
documents: Writing on H-DIPLO on July 22, 2003, Dr. Robert
Whealey, who teaches diplomatic history at Ohio University,
commented that "The many books hostile to Hiss never
discuss what was in the Pumpkin Papers. They were probably
low grade intelligence hardly harmful to the State Department
Error No. 27: Coulter, again on page 20, writes that
Hiss's request at one HUAC hearing to call the Harvard Club
and deliver a message that he would be late indicates that
his defense was essentially that "he was a Harvard man."
This is an attempt to turn politeness into a character flaw.
Hiss had appeared before HUAC in an executive session on August
16. The next day, a HUAC member invited him to come to the
Commodore Hotel at 5:30 that evening. Hiss agreed without
being told the purpose of the meeting. When Hiss arrived,
he found that instead of a short, informal conversation, several
HUAC members had arranged a surprise executive session and
a confrontation with Chambers (a Columbia man). Instead of
walking out on this trickery, Hiss stayed and answered all
the questions put to him. Before the session began, however,
he asked the Congressmen to inform the friend he was supposed
to meet at six that he would be late.
Error No. 28: Coulter, again on page 20, writes that
the press vilified Chambers after his appearance before HUAC.
A check of The New York Times in 1948 reveals it was
straightforward, fair, and balanced in its coverage of the
controversy. Newspapers with more conservative outlooks favored
Chambers. One reporter assigned to the story Bert Andrews
of The New York Herald Tribune was a personal
friend of Chambers. Another journalist, Eugene Lyons of Reader's
Digest, later served as a private conduit between Richard
Nixon and Thomas J. Murphy, the Hiss case prosecutor, during
Error No. 29: Coulter, still on page 20, writes that
"the press" referred to HUAC's members as the least
intelligent in Congress. She does not point out that her source
for this critique is not a media historian, but Chambers himself.
That being said, the HUAC membership was not a distinguished
assortment. For example, Chairman J. Parnell Thomas (R.-NJ)
the next year was sent to a federal penitentiary after being
convicted of embezzlement. Rep. John E. Rankin, a Democrat
from Tupelo, Mississippi was openly a white supremicist and
an anti-Semite. Karl E. Mundt (R.-SD) would co-sponsor the
Internal Security Act of 1950, which set up concentration
camps for those perceived as pro-Communist.
Error No. 30: Coulter, on page 21, writes that to prove
to the committee that he knew Hiss, Chambers offered many
intimate details about Hiss and his personal life. He did
but much of what he said was wrong (for instance, claiming
that Hiss was deaf in one ear), indicating that he did not
know Hiss nearly as well as he claimed to.
Error No. 31: Coulter, again on page 21, writes that
Chambers' testimony recalling that Hiss was an avid bird watcher
who had seen a rare prothonotary warbler convinced the Committee
that Chambers knew Hiss. While accurate as far as it goes,
this fails to separate out the threads of the two stories.
Both men agreed that they had known each other, but Chambers
(at this point) said, in effect, "We knew each other,
and were also both part of a Communist group." Hiss countered,
"We knew each other socially and nothing more."
Knowing each other did not in itself constitute a conspiracy.
As the Earl Jowitt, former Lord Chancellor of Great Britain,
commented in his 1953 book, "The Strange Case of Alger
Hiss," "I was amazed to observe that the fact that
Chambers had this knowledge [of Hiss's life] and was able
to recall it was in some way regarded as a proof of his story
[of a clandestine conspiracy]."
Error No. 32: Coulter, still on page 21, writes that
the "entire Social Register of the liberal establishment"
backed Hiss, "the patrician, Harvard-educated Soviet
spy." Instead, the Hiss case sharply divided liberals
(and conservatives, too, for that matter, although to a lesser
extent). Prominent younger liberals, such as Arthur Schlesinger,
Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan,
disavowed Hiss. The "patrician" Hiss, by the way,
sprang from a solidly middle-class Baltimore family. His most
important mentor was an old-line conservative Republican,
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., for whom
Hiss clerked after graduating from law school. (For an account
of the Holmes's lasting influence on Hiss's life, see a private
memoir by Hiss.)
Error No. 33: Coulter, again on page 22, lambastes
the Justice Department for inquiring into whether Chambers
should be indicted on perjury charges after he changed his
story and said he and Hiss had both been agents of the Soviet
Union. The inquiry was inevitable by changing his story,
Chambers was insisting that his previous sworn testimony had
been perjured. (And, of course, if his new testimony was false,
then he had just become a perjurer.)
Error No. 34: Coulter, again on page 22, writes that
after Chambers turned over the Pumpkin Papers, HUAC's hearings
could no longer be held behind closed doors. But HUAC had
already held open hearings on the Hiss-Chambers matter: Its
first sessions, on August 3 and August 5, had both welcomed
the press. Its August 25 hearing, in which Chambers and Hiss
confronted each other publicly for the first time, was not
only a public session, it was, many historians have asserted,
the first televised Congressional hearing.
Error No. 35: Coulter, still on page 22, quotes Chambers
as saying that he faced a "savage verbal assault and
battery ... without pause and with little restraint or decency"
when he appeared on the radio program, "Meet the Press,"
to repeat his early charges against Hiss. Although Coulter
frequently cites Allen Weinstein's pro-Chambers book, "Perjury"
(the footnote immediately following this passage, for instance
' see Error No. 36 ... draws from "Perjury"), she
fails to include Weinstein's description of Chambers' radio
appearance, perhaps because Weinstein's mild words undercut
Chambers' perfervid account: "His questioners,"
Weinstein wrote, "displayed considerable skepticism about
Chambers' accusations" ("Perjury," updated
1997 edition, page 51).
Error No. 36: Coulter, on page 23, writes that "money
of mysterious origin" was available to Hiss, and, in
a footnote, cites as her source a remark from Allen Weinstein's
"Perjury." The cited page (page 158, 1997 updated
edition) says that a bill submitted by Hiss investigators
was covered by Donald Hiss's lawyer, Hugh Cox, adding, "Cox
did not indicate who had picked up the tab." But 10 pages
earlier (pages 147-148, 1997 updated edition), Weinstein had
already explained that Cox's firm, Cleary, Gottlieb, Friendly
and Cox, had "paid for a good portion of Hiss's investigative
Errors No. 37 and 38: Coulter, again on page 23, says
that Hiss waited "an interminable three months"
before suing Chambers for slander "to the bewilderment
of his supporters," who finally "shamed" him
into it. In the first place, Hiss waited one month to file
suit, not three; he had been advised that he needed to file
in Maryland, and therefore had to wait until his Maryland
attorney, William Marbury, returned from a trip to Europe.
Believing that Chambers' charges were wholly without merit,
many of Hiss's supporters had urged him to ignore Chambers
altogether. In the second place, it was Hiss himself who insisted
on pursuing Chambers in court, telling friends that the American
legal system had been set up to correct errors and protect
Error No. 39: Coulter, again on page 23, says Hiss's
attorneys launched "sadistic attacks" on Chambers,
claiming he was "mentally unstable and a homosexual."
At both Hiss perjury trials, the prosecution ridiculed the
idea that Chambers was or had been homosexual, as did Chambers
and his friends and associates outside the courtroom. It wasn't
known publicly until the FBI files on the case were released
in the 1970s, but Chambers before the trials began had in
February 1949 acknowledged his homosexuality to the FBI. Although
the defense never directly questioned Chambers at trial about
his sexuality, it had looked into the idea that Chambers might
have been homosexual, seeking a possible motive to explain
why Chambers had brought charges against Hiss. (It was learned
in the 1960s that one pattern in Chambers' behavior was to
befriend men and then later try to ruin them.)
At the same time, Chambers and the prosecution tried to use
homosexuality (not yet a tolerated and respected lifestyle)
against the defense: Chambers once testified that Hiss had
a "mincing" walk, and the FBI made it clear that
if Hiss's stepson, who could have refuted the idea that the
Chambers and Hiss families had been close friends, testified
to that in open court, the prosecution would make public the
fact the young man had been discharged from the U.S. Navy
for a homosexual incident.
Ultimately, the only importance of Chambers' gayness was that
he wanted it kept secret. Since homosexuality was in the late
1940s still widely considered something shameful and discreditable
than had to be kept hidden, once the FBI knew about Chambers'
past (and withheld the information from the defense), Chambers
had clearly become a more pliable and a less independent witness.
That Chambers might have spent time in a mental hospital was
examined after the defense received several tips inaccurate,
as it turned out to that effect. The FBI was intensely
interested both in Chambers' mental state and in his interpersonal
relationships, and, according to FBI files, spent considerably
more time looking into them than the defense team did.
Error No. 40: Coulter, again on page 23, ridicules
the defense for what she says was an attempt to find deeper
meaning in a book translated by Chambers. In the book, "Class
Reunion," the lead character destroys the life of a classmate
named Adler by making false charges against him. Coulter correctly
points out that Chambers didn't write the book but merely
translated it. This was not the end of the story, however.
A 1960s researcher pointed out that Chambers didn't "merely"
translate it he distorted its meaning in key passages
so that it more closely resembled both the relationship he
had once had with his brother and the relationship he would
later have with Hiss. (For more on this, see "Friendship
& Fratricide: An Analysis of Whittaker Chambers and Alger
Hiss," by Meyer A. Zeligs, Viking Press, New York, 1967,
pages 110-115 and page 233.)
Error No. 41: Coulter, again on page 23, writes that
Hiss's attorney in the libel suit, William Marbury, "maliciously"
referred to Chambers' deceased brother Richard "only
as 'Dickie.'" She is again relying on Chambers' memory
of his interrogation rather than on the pre-trial record itself,
where Marbury never once used the word "Dickie,"
referring instead to Richard Chambers as "your brother."
Page 49 of the transcript from the November 4, 1948 deposition
in that case to take one example indicates that
Marbury spoke about Chambers' brother with tact: "Marbury:
I don't know that it is necessary, but what you have said
about the circumstances [of Richard Chambers' suicide] make
me inquire what was the trouble with your brother? If it is
embarrassing, I don't want to press it."
Error No. 42: Coulter, still on page 23, writes that
Chambers didn't understand the William Marbury's "obsessive
focus on his brother." A re-reading of the depositions
in the Hiss-Chambers libel suit shows no such obsession: less
than two pages of the hundreds of pages of testimony Chambers
gave cover the subject of his brother. But Coulter again relies
on Chambers' memory rather than on the record for her story.
Error No. 43: Coulter, again on page 23, cites Allen
Weinstein's writings on the Hiss case, this time to assert
that "Allen Weinstein in his book, 'Perjury,' reports
that the Hiss defense team was ready to launch the theory
that Chambers had a homosexual relationship with his own brother."
But Weinstein doesn't report this he says that a private
"memo" in the defense files written by Harold Rosenwald,
a Hiss attorney, noted that a New York psychiatrist has theorized
that "Chambers had a close and probably homosexual relationship
with his brother."
Weinstein does not suggest that the defense ever made use
of this theory, either as trial evidence or to generate negative
publicity about Chambers (it did not). Instead, he reports
that William Marbury, a second Hiss attorney, had around the
same time interviewed a second psychiatrist who "gave
little reason to hope that our problem could be solved with
the aid of psychiatric advice" ("Perjury,"
1997 updated edition, pages 160-161). Chambers did acknowledge
that he had once formed a suicide pact with his brother, and
wrote in "Witness" that he himself attempted suicide
in December 1948 during the middle of the Hiss case.
Error No. 44: Coulter, again on page 23, claims that
Hiss's defense was unable to prove that Chambers was a "nutcase,"
"despite sympathetic mental health professionals anxious
to take up the case," and supports this contention by
quoting a letter from Alger to Donald Hiss about a psychiatrist
who "feels so strongly about my case that he would not
have allowed considerations of professional ethics to play
any part in his actions." The quote, taken from Allen
Weinstein's "Perjury," turns out, when checked,
to refer more prosaically to a doctor who was not volunteering
his services, because, as he told defense investigators when
they contacted him they had found him, rather than
the other way around he had never treated Whittaker
Chambers ("Perjury," 1997 updated edition, page
Error No. 45: Coulter, on page 24, says that Secretary
of State Dean Acheson, who stood by Hiss, "was very likely
giving confidential State Department information" to
the Hiss defense. Although Coulter once again cites Allen
Weinstein's "Perjury" as a source, this is a charge
that, in her telling, escalates from one sentence to the next,
moving far beyond any assertions by the source. She begins
by saying that "there is evidence" Acheson was "furtively
passing government secrets" to Hiss's lawyers. This evidence
turns out to be an accusation, reported by Weinstein ("Perjury,"
1997 updated edition, page 170), whose value he says he is
unable to assess: "Some State Department officials"
(unnamed) in 1949 lodged a complaint that Acheson was improperly
assisting Hiss's lawyers.
Was this complaint valid? Weinstein (on the same page) says
only that its truthfulness "has never been determined."
But the lack of proof seems, for Coulter, to clinch the argument
against Acheson and Hiss, "since," as she says,
"the case against O. J. Simpson was never 'proved."
She then repeats the allegation which by this time
has emerged in its final form as "very likely."
Errors No. 46 through 50: Coulter, still on page 24,
writes that "until the Democratic defamation team sprang
to action, Chambers had tried to limit the damage to Hiss,
his former friend." The errors in this passage are closely
intertwined. "Limit the damage" is her erroneous
way of characterizing Chambers' nine year history of repeatedly
calling Hiss a Communist in interviews with the FBI
and with State Department security officials; in open and
closed hearings before HUAC in 1948; on a nationwide radio
broadcast. (This is Error No. 46.)
Coulter then enumerates actions taken by "the Democratic
defamation team." No such team, of course, ever existed;
conjuring it up is her erroneous way of characterizing Hiss's
personal and individual response to Chambers' charges. (This
is Error No. 47.) And what activities does she erroneously
attribute to the "team"? First, "Hiss had sued"
that is, on his own initiative (and against the advice
of friends, both Democratic and Republican) he had defended
himself. (This is Error No. 48.)
Second, "His lawyers had attacked Chambers's wife and
made her cry." This is Error No. 49, another instance
of Coulter preferring Chambers' memory to the record of the
Hiss-Chambers libel trial, which shows no efforts to upset
Mrs. Chambers or any sign of discomposure on her part. Error
No. 50, Coulter's charge that the defense "smeared Chambers
as a psychotic and homosexual" is a repetition of Error
Coulter this time embellishes on that charge, alleging that
"In Hiss's written response to HUAC's report, Hiss called
Chambers a 'queer' four times." This statement seems
to be an instance of scholarly "telephone." Coulter's
footnoted reference is to an assertion by Allen Weinstein,
who in "Perjury" (page 145, 1997 updated edition)
says that Hiss's "statement to [HUAC Chairman] J. Parnell
Thomas applied the word 'queer' (a pejorative colloquialism
for a homosexual then as today) no less than four times in
describing Chambers." The only written document Hiss
submitted to HUAC was a September 24, 1948 letter he wrote
to Thomas defending his own record (HUAC did not create a
written report about the Hiss-Chambers dispute until December
1948), a letter that does not use the word "queer"
even once as noun or adjective to characterize
either Chambers or anyone else. (Hiss read portions of the
letter into the Committee's record on September 25, 1948;
see pages 1162 to 1167 of the hearing transcript. The full
text of the letter was printed in the Washington Post,
September 15, 1948, page 2.)
Error No. 51: Coulter, on page 25, writes that after
witnessing the defense's tactics, "Chambers would no
longer conceal the details of Hiss's espionage." This
seems to be her way of acknowledging without ever quite
mentioning that Chambers had suddenly and dramatically
altered the story he had been telling for nine years; he had
previously always denied that any espionage had taken place,
and he now not only insisted on it but offered "proof"
of it. By characterizing this sensational turnaround as "details,"
Coulter skates over the fact that she has already inaccurately
stated that Chambers had told Berle about espionage in 1939
(Error No. 6), and that he had testified to HUAC about espionage
earlier in 1948 (Error No.20).
Error No. 52: Coulter, again on page 25, writes that
Chambers had given his nephew an envelope containing "confidential
government documents," and that "among the documents
were copies and summaries of State Department papers written
in Hiss's own handwriting." This is misleading: the envelope
contained 65 pages of typed copies and summaries of State
Department reports, plus four small notes in Hiss's handwriting
jottings that referred to other State Department papers
and used personal abbreviations that only he could understand.
Like the Pumpkin Papers from the State Department, the originals
of the typed papers in the envelope (which came to be called
the "Baltimore Documents") had circulated widely
within the State Department, and it was never possible to
trace them directly to Hiss.
Like the Pumpkin Papers, again, the Baltimore Documents did
not contain 'espionage-grade' information. The author of one
of them, Charles Dollard, seeing his old report printed in
the newspaper, told his wife, 'You know, if I'd taken that
thing to the Washington Post ten years ago and offered them
a thousand dollars to print it, they'd have laughed in my
face' ('Laughing Last: Alger Hiss by Tony Hiss, Houghton Mifflin,
Boston, 1977, page 131). As for the handwritten notes, Hiss
said he had made these notes for briefing his boss, and had
then discarded them; the scraps of paper they had been written
on were creased, and certainly gave the appearance of having
been fished out of the trash.
Error No. 53: Coulter, again on page 25, accepts without
questioning it Chambers' assertion that the Baltimore Documents
had been hidden in a dumbwaiter shaft for years. The defense
in its 1952 Motion for a New Trial, however, presented the
findings of Dr. Daniel Norman, director of chemical research
at the New England Spectrochemical Laboratories, casting doubt
on this claim: "It would have been impossible for all
the typed Baltimore Documents to have been stored together
over the 10 year period from 1938 to 1948. From this it follows
that they cannot have been all stored together in the envelope
in which they are alleged to have been stored." (Click
here to read Norman's affidavit.)
Error No. 54: Coulter, again on page 25, states when
Chambers produced this evidence, the defense, realizing the
"jig was up," brought the Baltimore Documents to
the attention of the Justice Department. This is inaccurate:
Hiss's lawyers insisted on handing the new evidence to the
Justice Department so that the government could use its vast
resources to investigate how Chambers had received these documents,
and who had been the spy who had seen and then removed the
original papers from the State Department.
Error No. 55: Coulter, still on page 25, again criticizes
the Justice Department for taking up the question of whether
or not to pursue Chambers on perjury charges. This is misleading,
since Hiss and Chambers were joint targets of the Justice
Department's investigation. Also (see Error No. 33), the Justice
Department was compelled to consider seeking a perjury indictment
against Chambers since he had now become a perjurer whether
or not you believed his new espionage accusations: he was
either now a liar (and there had never been any spying); or
he had been a liar (in his nine years of denying any participation
Error No. 56: Coulter, again on page 25, says the Truman
administration "decided to indict Chambers and throw
a party for the traitor." The Truman administration made
no such decision and threw no such party.
Error No. 57: Coulter, again on page 25, writes that
"perhaps" out of fear that the government would
protect Hiss, Chambers withheld his "most damning material
from Hiss's lawyers." This is a reference to the Pumpkin
Papers films, and it ignores Chambers' own assertion that
he initially held onto the rolls of film because they hadn't
yet been developed and he didn't know what was on them.
Error No. 58: Coulter, again on page 25, writes that
"Truman's Department of Justice prepared to indict Chambers
working hand in glove with Hiss's lawyers." Coulter's
footnoted reference to Allen Weinstein's "Perjury"
(page 182) does not sustain this reconstruction of events:
"While the FBI prepared perjury-indictment data on Chambers,
Hiss's lawyers continued their own vigorous investigation."
In other words, the two projects proceeded simultaneously
and independently, and were not either coordinated or sharing
Error No. 59: Coulter, still on page 25, writes that
prior to December 2, 1948, the day that Chambers' turned the
Pumpkin Papers films over to HUAC's investigators, "puzzling
leaks about the investigation began appearing in the press."
A single leak had been printed damaging to Hiss, its
probable source was Truman's Department of Justice, contrary
to Coulter's assertion (Error No. 58) that the Justice Department
was protecting and assisting Hiss.
Error No. 60: Coulter, again on page 25, says that
"members of HUAC" asked Chambers if he had any more
evidence the government had not seen. It was Robert E. Stripling,
an attorney who served as HUAC's counsel, who asked this question.
Error No. 61: Coulter, on page 26, says that Chambers
gave HUAC's investigators microfilm. Although "microfilm"
is a word that almost everyone automatically associates with
espionage, the film Chambers turned over was actually standard
Error No. 62: Coulter, again on page 26, describes
the contents of the Pumpkin Papers film as "highly confidential
documents from the Navy and State Department." As explained
in Error No. 26, the Navy Department documents were publicly
available handouts (with specifications for World War I-era
life rafts, among other items); the State Department material
consisted of long Trade Agreement documents which Prof. Whealey
of Ohio University has characterized as "hardly harmful
to the State Department or Roosevelt."
Error No. 63: Coulter, again on page 26, says that
at least three of the documents "had come from Alger
Hiss's office." Three documents did have Hiss's initials;
this, as the defense pointed out, was more likely to be an
indication of Hiss's innocence than of his guilt, since elementary
"tradecraft," the name given to the procedures followed
by professional spies, would steer even the clumsiest agent
away from actions that could so easily be traced back to the
Errors No. 64 and 65: Coulter says that Allen Weinstein,
in "Perjury," called the Pumpkin Papers "definite
proof of one of the most extensive espionage rings" in
United States history. Checking her footnoted reference (page
194) shows that she is again (as in Error No. 58) distorting
her source: Coulter's footnote says Weinstein was "quoting
the 'accurate' remarks of Representative Robert E. Stripling."
But Weinstein does not exactly endorse Stripling (who, by
the way ' and this is Error No. 65, served as HUAC's counsel
and was not a Congressman).
Weinstein, referring to a press release Stripling put together
about the Pumpkin Papers that includes the "definite
proof" claim, is only willing to say that it "more
accurately" represents the known facts than "an
incorrect statement" in the same press release "declaring
grandiloquently" that U.S. government agents had been
searching for the Pumpkin Papers films for 10 years. The U.S.
government had not known of the existence of the films until
the moment Chambers produced them. Coulter has carved a definitive,
stand-alone adjective "accurate" from a carefully
constructed, comparative, noncommittal adverbial phrase, "more
Error No. 66: Coulter, again on page 26, says that
Hiss lied when he said the Pumpkin Papers did not come from
his typewriter. She is apparently confusing the State Department
material that appeared on the Pumpkin Papers films with the
Baltimore Documents, typed copies of State Department papers
that Chambers produced during depositions several weeks earlier.
The pages on the Pumpkin films were photographs of actual
State Department documents that had, of course, been typed
in government offices on government typewriters.
Error No. 67: Coulter, again on page 26, says that
Hiss, as part of "a series of evasions and outright lies"
in response to Chambers' new charges, couldn't produce his
old family typewriter and couldn't even remember what make
it had been. Hiss couldn't produce the typewriter because
he had given it away years before, and although he initially
couldn't remember the type of typewriter he had once owned,
he immediately began to search for it, and in court produced
an old machine Woodstock #230,099 ' that he thought
had once been his.
Error No. 68: Coulter, again on page 26, says the evidence
against Hiss was "overwhelming," and cites as an
example an FBI report that it had matched the typeface of
letters typed on Hiss's typewriter with the typeface on the
copies of State Department documents produced by Chambers.
She fails to mention that the FBI declined to make any judgment
about who had typed the copies. The defense claimed that the
Hiss family typewriter had been given away long before the
documents were copied. Hiss's 1952 Motion for a New Trial
showed that there were errors in the grand jury and trial
testimony of the FBI's typewriter expert, Ramos Feehan; demonstrated
that a typewriter, far from being "unique," like
a fingerprint, could be altered to match the typeface of another
typewriter; and presented expert evidence that, contrary to
Chambers' assertion, Alger Hiss's wife, Priscilla, had not
typed the copies in Chambers' possession.
Error No. 69: Coulter, again on page 26, writes that
the grand jury laughed at Hiss when he said he didn't know
how Chambers was able to type the documents. This claim, like
so many that Coulter relies on, derives solely on an assertion
by Chambers. For many years there was no way of disproving
it, since the grand jury minutes of the Hiss case remained
sealed. In 1999, however, after a federal court order, more
than 4,000 pages of grand jury transcripts were made public.
Careful reading of these released records shows no indication
that any of the jurors ever laughed at Hiss.
Error No. 70: Coulter, again on page 26, says The
New York Times "wondered" how Chambers had been
able to produce copies of government documents identical to
letters typed on the Hiss family typewriter. This attempt
to portray the Times as "pro-Hiss" (and therefore
as liberal) is not substantiated by any citations. Since 1948
The New York Times has published many articles and
reviews critical of, and even hostile to, Alger Hiss.
Error No. 71: Coulter, again on page 26, says that
The Nation is "still wondering" how Chambers
was able to produce copies of government documents identical
to letters typed on the Hiss family typewriter, a position
she derides since, she says, even in 1948 "it could no
longer be denied that the classified government documents
had been typed on Hiss's typewriter." Ridicule can sometimes
temporarily pull people's attention away from complexity,
but the complexity persists, since ridicule cannot erase or
dissolve evidence. Ramos Feehan, the FBI typewriter expert,
testified that Woodstock #230,099 had typed both the Hiss
family papers and the Baltimore Documents. But according to
defense expert Evelyn Ehrlich, whose affidavit was part of
Hiss's 1952 Motion for a New Trial, Woodstock #230,099 did
not type either the Baltimore Documents or the Hiss family
correspondence (the so-called "Hiss standards").
According to FBI investigators, Woodstock #230,099 could not
have been the old Hiss family machine (its serial number indicated
it was it was too young a machine). Journalist Fred
J. Cook investigated these matters (despite his firm
conviction that Hiss was guilty), and published his findings
in The Nation in 1957
and 1962. His conclusion:
Hiss's guilt was not established beyond a reasonable doubt
by the facts presented in court by the prosecution.
Error No. 72: Coulter, again on page 26, writes that
the evidence against Hiss included "multiple independent
witness identifications." There were no multiple independent
witness identifications, as Coulter herself acknowledges on
the chapter's next page (see Error No. 84), where she calls
Chambers "the sole witness against Hiss." The Hiss-Chambers
case was always the word of one man (Hiss) against the word
of another (Chambers) or, more precisely, it was the
word of one man (Hiss) against the changing words of another
Error No. 73: Coulter, again on page 26, claims there
were "documents from Soviet defectors identifying Hiss
as a Soviet spy." There were no such documents.
Error No. 74: Coulter, again on page 26, says that
Chambers agreed to take a lie detector test "without
hesitation," while Hiss refused. Hiss didn't refuse,
but did say he wanted to study the matter further. Chamber's
eagerness did not lead to any action on his part he
never did take a lie detector test. (Coulter then undercuts
her own point by adding, parenthetically, that lie detector
tests have since then been "largely discredited."
Presumably, if Chambers had passed a lie detector test and
Hiss had failed one or vice versa nothing would
have been learned or gained.)
Error No. 75: Coulter, still on page 26, says that
Hiss even refused to be administered a truth serum privately.
"Alger Hiss: The True Story," a pro-Hiss book by
John Chabot Smith (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1976)
revealed that Hiss, although steadfast in his denial of espionage
charges, was protecting a couple of family secrets: years
before his wife had had an abortion, and he was afraid that
his stepson's "undesirable" discharge from the Navy
(see Error No. 39) might become public knowledge.
Ironically, of all the five eyewitnesses in the Hiss case
Hiss and his wife and stepson, and Chambers and his
wife Tim Hobson, Hiss's stepson, was the only one who
was ever actually examined while under a truth serum. Hiss's
lawyers questioned Hobson for two hours, and his story under
the drug confirmed his previous story that Chambers had not
been a frequent visitor to the Hiss household, either socially
or to pick up and drop off secret State Department documents.
This testimony was never offered in open court because Hiss
had told his stepson that he would rather go to jail than
have the young man's Navy discharge become part of the trial
Error No. 76: Coulter, on page 27, says that for the
remainder of his life, Hiss every few years "would claim
to have unearthed some mythical 'new evidence'" in his
favor. Such evidence, tangible not mythical, continues to
emerge, even after Hiss's death in 1996, and often from the
government's own files: His grand jury transcripts were released
in 1999 (see Error No. 69). And records of HUAC's closed-door
hearings were made public in 2001.
Error No. 77: Coulter, again on page 27, calls Hiss's
appeals of the guilty verdict against him "ludicrous."
As already noted (see Error No. 68 and Error No. 71), Hiss's
1952 Motion for a New Trial raised a number of substantive
issues about the authenticity of the documents and the typewriter
that typed them (and also uncovered evidence which undercut
Chambers' amended claim to have left the Communist Party in
1938). Although Hiss's motion was denied, many of the doubts
raised then by the defense were confirmed more than 20 years
later with the release of Hiss's FBI files in the 1970s. The
files confirmed that the prosecution had again and again concealed
exculpatory evidence from the defense.
Error No. 78: Coulter, again on page 27, reasserts
her erroneous claim (see Error No. 25) that the National Security
Agency's Venona releases "proved indisputably" that
Hiss was a spy. The FBI in more than 50 years has never been
able to confirm a tentative conclusion reached in 1950 that
one released Venona cable "probably" referred to
Hiss, and scholarly debate about the subject (in print and
on the Web) has not yet subsided.
Errors No. 79 and 80: Coulter, again on page 27, reasserts
two intertwined and equally erroneous claims: that despite
repeated warnings, Roosevelt continued to promote Hiss. Roosevelt
did not personally promote Hiss to any position (see Error
No. 14). Nor was he warned repeatedly about Hiss (see Errors
No. 11 and 15).
Error No. 81: Coulter, again on page 27, writes that
Roosevelt "notoriously handed over Poland to Stalin"
at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Poland, as Yalta
historians agree, was not Roosevelt's (or Churchill's) to
hand over the Russians had effectively handed it to
themselves by driving out the Nazi occupiers. Prominent conservatives,
such as former President Herbert Hoover and Senator Arthur
Vandenberg (R.-MI), who later served as Chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, enthusiastically supported the
Yalta agreements, one of whose principal pro-American accomplishments
was to enlist Russia in the war against Japan. (The atomic
bomb was not yet known to work, and the Pentagon had already
estimated that an invasion of the Japanese home islands would
cost a million lives.)
Error No. 82: Coulter, again on page 27, says the person
who advised Roosevelt when he was handing over Poland to Stalin
was Alger Hiss. Even if Roosevelt had been in a position to
hand over Poland, which he wasn't (see Error No. 81); and
even if Hiss had been sent to Yalta because Roosevelt wanted
him there, which he hadn't (the Secretary of State had brought
Hiss along as a last-minute replacement for another man see
Error No. 14); and even if Hiss had been a spy (which he denied,
as did Whittaker Chambers for nine years between 1939 and
1948), Hiss at Yalta was a junior official who had no means
or opportunity to wield Svengalian influence over either Roosevelt
or the rest of the Allies, who notably included Churchill,
who as Prime Minister of Great Britain personally endorsed
the Yalta agreements.
Error No. 83: Coulter, again on page 27, writes that
"the Soviet spy bequeathed us the United Nations"
in his position as secretary general of the Dumbarton Oaks
Conference, in Washington, D.C., in 1944, where the final
agreements were made regarding the U.N., and a year later
as secretary general of the United Nations Organizing Conference
in San Francisco, where the U.N. Charter was drafted and adopted.
Hiss is again being posthumously endowed with more power than
he had attained. A conference secretary general is a manager,
a note taker, and an implementer, not a policy-maker.
Many historians point out that the United Nations stems from
a dream first outlined at an international peace conference
convened in Holland in 1899, and was the product of global
cooperation, not a scheme foisted on the world by Stalinist
intelligence agencies. The chief drafter of the U.N. Charter
was Leo Pasvolsky, a "White Russian," anti-Communist
émigré and naturalized American who worked in
the State Department. At San Francisco, representatives of
50 nations signed the Charter, becoming the organization's
founding members; the U.S. Senate ratified the Charter by
a vote of 89-2. (For more on this, see the 'United Nations
Studies at Yale' Web site at www.yale.edu/unsy/Oralhist/krasno/intro.html)
Error No. 84: Coulter, still on page 27, repeats her
erroneous assertion (see Error No. 33) that the Department
of Justice "tried to indict not Hiss but Chambers."
This is also the passage where Coulter contradicts her own
erroneous claim (see Error No. 72) that Chambers' testimony
was supported by "multiple independent witness identifications":
at this point Coulter maintains that had the Department of
Justice indicted Chambers, "the Truman administration
would have destroyed the sole witness against Hiss."
Error No. 85: Coulter, on page 28, writes that in 1962
CBS broadcast a program called "The Political Obituary
of Richard Nixon." The program aired on ABC.
Error No. 86: Coulter, again on page 28, writes that
Hiss was reinstated to the Massachusetts Bar in 1972. He was
reinstated in 1975.
Error No. 87: Coulter, again on page 28, repeats her
erroneous assertion (see Error No. 32) that "Liberals
would never give up on a man who spied for Stalin against
America." Liberals have always been deeply divided about
the question of Alger Hiss's guilt.
Error No. 88: Coulter, on page 29, writes that Hiss
was convicted of perjury in 1951. Hiss was convicted on January
Error No. 89: Coulter, again on page 29, implies that
the Washington Post is part of an unbreakable chain
of liberal defenders of Alger Hiss's innocence. "Liberals,"
she says, "would never give up on a man who spied for
Stalin against America." As evidence that the Post
is loyal to this cause, she mentions that the newspaper in
1992 "ran a news item stating three times that there
was 'no evidence' that Hiss was a Soviet agent." Careful
reading of the cited article ("Stalin Biographer Offers
Latest Twist in Hiss Case: No Evidence Diplomat 'Collaborated'
with Soviets," by Jeffrey A. Frank, The Washington
Post, October 31, 1992, page a3) leaves a very different
The article's subject is not Hiss's innocence but "assertions
this week" to use Post staff writer Jeffrey
A. Frank's own words "by a Russian historian that
Soviet intelligence archives show no evidence that Hiss spied
for the Soviet Union." The Russian, Gen.
Dmitri Volkogonov, who was Boris Yeltsin's military
advisor, the overseer of all Soviet intelligence files, and
the author of a debunking biography of Stalin, had announced
the day before that "Not a single document, and a great
amount of material has been studied, substantiates the allegation
that Mr. A. Hiss collaborated with the intelligence services
of the Soviet Union." Volkogonov's statement was making
front-page news all over the country that week, but Frank,
far from accepting the Russian's "claims," as he
characterizes them, at face value, immediately seeks opposing
views, and reports that "Volkogonov's findings are being
Frank then interviews and quotes one Hiss defender, Victor
Navasky, publisher of The Nation, and two Hiss opponents,
historian Allen Weinstein and columnist William F. Buckley,
Jr. Frank even gives Buckley the last word: "Now and
then, you run into a book in which you see that Dreyfuss isn't
really innocent, or Socrates is really guilty."
Error No. 90: Coulter, continuing her efforts to demonstrate
that "Liberals would not give up' on Hiss, cites, again
on page 29, a 1992 New York Times piece in which, she
says, "the writer mused" that Soviet archives might
solve the question of Hiss's guilt. She then quotes from this
same piece ("Was Oswald a Spy, and Other Cold War Mysteries,"
by David Wise, The New York Times, November 13, 1992)
in footnote number 51 ' and the quote itself undercuts her
notion that the piece displays a pro-Hiss bias: "The
list of cold war mysteries that might or might not
be answered ... is lengthy.... Was Alger Hiss a spy,
Volkogonov's assurances notwithstanding?"
Error No. 91: Coulter, again on page 29, reasserts
for the second time (see Error No. 25 and Error No. 78) her
erroneous claim that the National Security Agency's Venona
releases have finally established Hiss's guilt although
this time, instead of saying that the releases "proved
indisputably" that Hiss had been a spy, she more sweepingly
says that they "established that Hiss was a Soviet agent
to everyone's satisfaction except direct relatives of Alger
Error No. 92: Coulter, again on page 29, continues
attacking The New York Times as a defender of Hiss's
innocence: "The New York Times instinctively trots
out the theory that Hiss was innocent. It's some psychological
block liberals have. Their minds are fine, but the woman wells
up in them." Coulter presumably has not read a New
York Times editorial, "Revisionist McCarthyism,"
published October 23, 1998, in which the newspaper speaks
negatively of Hiss.
Error No. 93: Coulter, still on page 29, again assails
The New York Times, this time for "ritualistic
proclamation that all Soviet spies were innocent." On
June 19, 2003, the 50th anniversary of the execution of the
Rosenbergs to take one example the Times
published a solemn, measured editorial, 'Remembering the Rosenbergs,'
which declares that "It now seems clear the Rosenbergs
were neither as innocent as they proclaimed nor as guilty
as the government alleged." The editorial acknowledges
that released Venona cables show "that Julius was an
atomic spy," adding that "the same cables strongly
suggest that Ethel played little or no role." The paper
points out that "Their trial was flawed Ethel's
brother later admitted he lied on the witness stand."
The Rosenberg case, the editorial concludes, "still haunts
American history, reminding us of the injustice that can be
done when a nation gets caught up in hysteria."
Error No. 94: Coulter, again on page 29, writes that
after the trials, Chambers was nearly unemployable. He was
given, by his own account, such a large amount of money when
he resigned from Time, that he didn't need to look
for work. He then wrote a best-selling book, "Witness,"
which was syndicated in the Saturday Evening Post.
Sales from the book took care of him for the rest of his life.
Error No. 95: Coulter, on page 30, writes that Democrats
were "so upset" with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy
(R.-WI) that "liberals had to invent the myth of 'McCarthyism.'"
On December 2, 1954, McCarthy was censured by a Republican
controlled Senate by a vote of 67 to 22. The leader of the
Senate proceedings against McCarthy was Sen. Ralph Flanders
Error No. 96: Coulter, on page 31, writes that Sen.
McCarthy said he was holding a list of 57 card-carrying Communists
in the State Department during the Wheeling, West Virginia
speech that inaugurated his anti-Communist campaign in 1950.
According to the Wheeling Intelligencer's report on
the speech, McCarthy said he was holding a list of 205 names.
Over the following week, in subsequent speeches, the number
declined from 205 to 57 and then to four, and the allegation
itself shrank from "card-carrying Communists" to
"bad security risks" and then to "Communist
sympathizers." No one ever saw the list.
Error No. 97: Coulter, still on page 31, again has
trouble with the actual date of Hiss's perjury conviction
(see Error No. 88), this time assigning it to January 25,
1950. Hiss was convicted on January 21, 1950.
Error No. 98: Coulter, still on page 31, writes that
the public was "aghast" at Secretary of State Dean
Acheson's support for Alger Hiss after his conviction, and
reports that "the entire country was in a cauldron of
rage." The country remained calm, even though, as Coulter
correctly notes, Rep. Richard M. Nixon (R.-CA), Chambers himself,
and a conservative Republican senator from Indiana denounced
Acheson for his comments.
Error No. 99: Coulter, on page 32, asks whether Democrats,
after Hiss's 1950 perjury conviction, would "ever give
a damn about Soviet spies swarming through the government?"
Curiously, she omits any mention of President Truman's massive
and stringent Loyalty Program, which, as even the "World
Almanac for Kids Online" Web site points out, "required
all federal employees to submit to screening by loyalty boards."
In foreign policy, the Truman Doctrine, later called "containment,"
"was aimed," as the same Web site points out, "at
blocking Communist expansion anywhere in the world."
Errors No. 100 and 101: Coulter, again on page 32,
writes that "Chambers could only claim a few sparse victories,"
and that "Among them was the indictment of a Soviet spy
at the Commerce Department, William Remington." In the
first place (this is Error No. 100), Remington's accuser was
Elizabeth Bentley, not Chambers.
In the second place (this is Error No. 101), there is considerable
evidence that Remington, who was murdered in Lewisburg Penitentiary
where Hiss, too, was incarcerated, was, like Hiss, innocent
of the charges against him and ill-used by the justice system.
According to Gary May, Remington's biographer ("Un-American
Activities: The Trials of William Remington," Oxford
University Press, New York, 1994) and a history professor
at the University of Delaware, Remington, after being cleared
by government loyalty boards, was indicted for perjury by
a grand jury whose foreman was secretly helping Bentley prepare
With so many errors and misstatements, Ann Coulter's "Treason"
cannot be taken as an accurate presentation or analysis of
the Hiss case.
Jeff Kisseloff is Managing Editor of 'The Alger Hiss Story'
Web site. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org