release of the Hiss case grand jury minutes in 1999 was an
extraordinary event in American legal history. Over the past
two centuries, only a handful of federal grand jury transcripts
have been made public - so reading this testimony (digitized
and posted on the Internet for the first time by "The
Alger Hiss Story" Web site) is a rare glimpse into the
usually sealed world of federal prosecutors.
release of the Hiss case grand jury minutes was also an extraordinary
event in Hiss case studies, since it reopened two core questions
- Alger Hiss's and Whittaker Chambers' truthfulness; and,
the fairness of the government proceedings against Hiss.
grand juries heard Hiss case testimony: the first indicted
Hiss on the last day of its existence (December 15, 1948).
The second grand jury, impaneled December 16, 1948, continued
to question Chambers and other Hiss case witnesses.
Story of Samuel Pelovitz and "Felix," Whittaker Chambers' Alleged
release of the grand jury minutes showed that Whittaker Chambers
was unable to identify the photographer he claimed to have
worked with weekly
for nearly a year. Click
here to read more about Chambers' misidentification.
January 25, 1949, Whittaker Chambers described to the grand
jury the process by which he said documents were brought out
from the State Department by Alger Hiss for transmission to
the Soviet Union.
to Chambers, this process began in early 1937. The documents
were taken from the State Department and given to him.
He would photograph and return them. He said he
first did the photographic work himself, at the apartment
of William and Anna Spiegel, on East Madison Street in Baltimore.
Chambers testified to this before the grand jury and also
at both Hiss trials.
grand jury minutes now make public for the first time the
testimony of the Spiegels, who were able to show that Chambers'
testimony could not have been true. Click
here to read the actual grand jury minutes.
Testimony at the Grand Jury
Nixon testified before the grand jury on December 13, 1948.
It was highly unusual for a sitting congressman to appear
before a grand jury and attempt to influence their deliberations
by bolstering one witness (Chambers) and casting doubt on
another (Hiss). In addition to this impropriety, Nixon presented
a distorted account of the facts of the case as then known.
He offered a misleading account of Hiss's HUAC testimony and
also misled the jury by indicating that Chambers' story was
supported by the evidence when it wasn't. He
also misstated the number of people who could have had access
to the State Department documents that were said to have been
given to Chambers by Hiss.
of Nixon's testimony dealt with his refusal to turn over to
the grand jury the 35mm film given to HUAC (the contents of
those film rolls became known as the "Pumpkin Papers")
in violation of a judge's
orders. Nixon said the film showed proof of Hiss's complicity
that the Pumpkin Papers film in fact contained material
that weakened Chambers' assertions of espionage, Nixon nevertheless
urged the jurors to indict Hiss and not pursue perjury charges
against Chambers. And though Nixon admitted that HUAC had
no independent evidence that Hiss had ever been a Communist,
the grand jurors followed his suggestion two days later.
here to read annotated excerpts from Nixon's testimony
and learn more about the contents of the documents placed
government official is approached by a freelance writer
for publicly available information. The two become friendly.
The official eventually loans the writer some money. Because
the writer is slow to repay the loan, the official accepts
a rug from the writer as partial payment.
was the story that Alger Hiss told about his relationship
with Whittaker Chambers. The recently released grand jury
minutes now reveal it was also the story that Abraham George
Silverman (someone Hiss had never met) told about his
relationship with Chambers.
would claim the rugs were gifts from the Soviet Union to
both men in appreciaton for their cooperation. The rugs
became a major issue at both trials. Who was telling the
testimony, when examined in conjuction with released FBI
documents, the Hiss defense files, and a closer look at
a receipt and check for the rugs placed in evidence at the
trials, back Hiss's account and also indicate that misleading
testimony was offered by noted art historian Meyer
Schapiro, a friend of Chambers' and a key government
witnesss whose testimony supported Chambers.
here to start with excerpts from Silverman's grand
jury testimony. Examine Chambers' allegations regarding
the rugs, and decide for yourself whether Schapiro testified
truthfully on behalf of his friend, Whittaker Chambers.