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 The Grand Jury

The 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.

The 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.

Two 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.

The Story of Samuel Pelovitz and "Felix," Whittaker Chambers' Alleged Photographer

The 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.

The Spiegels' Testimony

On 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.

According 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.

The 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.

Nixon's Testimony at the Grand Jury

Richard 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.

Most 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") by Chambers in violation of a judge's orders. Nixon said the film showed proof of Hiss's complicity in espionage. 

Whittaker Chambers

Knowing 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. 

Click here to read annotated excerpts from Nixon's testimony and learn more about the contents of the documents placed in evidence.

The Rugs

A 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.

This 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. 

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 truth? 

Silverman's 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.

Click 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.



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