Kisseloff on Perjury
1978, Hiss case researcher Jeff Kisseloff, who, like Allen
Weinstein, had access both to released FBI documents about
the Hiss case and the Hiss defense files, analyzed the documentary
evidence presented by Weinstein in his book "Perjury."
Kisseloff takes a point-by-point look at some of Weinstein's
arguments and uses Weinstein's own source material to challenge
Weinstein's claim to have found documentary evidence of Hiss's
guilt in the files is erroneous. What he has plucked so efficiently
from the files is a lot of hearsay which by no means constitutes
evidence, but rather is simply indicative of the investigative
process. He also repeatedly lifts quotations out of context
and sets them down in a manner which makes them appear more
important than they really are.
One example is a letter from the Hiss defense files which
Weinstein claims proves that Hiss knew where the Woodstock
typewriter was in early December 1948, at the time when he
was telling the grand jury and the FBI that he did not. This
typewriter was, according to Whittaker Chambers, the one used
by Hiss's wife Priscilla, when she typed copies of documents
that Hiss had secretly removed from the State Department.
evidence which Weinstein finds so persuasive, and has consistently
cited in his public discussions of the case, is a letter dated
December 28, 1948 from Hiss's Washington attorney, John F.
Davis, to Hiss's attorney in New York, Edward McLean. Davis
wrote, "Alger had called me on the first day public hearings
were resumed before HUAC here [Dec. 7] and asked me to check
on an old machine he gave to Pat, the son of Claudie Catlett
[a former maid of the Hisses]."
its face, the Davis letter is ambiguous, and does not, as
Weinstein claims, demonstrate that Hiss knew on December 7th
what had happened to the old Woodstock. The letter reports
that Hiss remembered giving an old machine to the Catletts,
not the Woodstock. The Hisses had at least three typewriters
from 1933 to 1947.
a defense memorandum dated December 28, 1948, entitled "Outline
of Investigation," confirms that Hiss had no clear recollection
of what happened to the old Woodstock, and that his suggestion
to Davis, that it had been given to the Catletts, was only
one among several possibilities which Hiss had suggested to
his attorneys, and thus not indicative of a conclusive recollection.
document lists under the caption, "What Happened to the
Typewriter," five investigative leads which the defense
planned to pursue:
Check all typewriter dealers and repairmen in Washington,
Baltimore, Westminster, and Lynbrook
Check Hiss maids and their relatives...Catletts
Relatives and friends of the Hisses to whom it may have been
Charities, such as the Salvation Army and self-help organizations
Hiss remembers that he reported a theft to the Washington
police in 1939 or 1940....This should be checked."
defense document, one which Weinstein notes in his book but
for different reasons, is dated January 21, 1949. It is entitled
"Oral Report from Mr. Schmahl Today" and is an account
of the activites of Hiss's investigator, Horace Schmahl. This
document notes that Schmahl (a mole who was illegally informing
the FBI of his findings) "has checked all typewriter
stores in Washington, Baltimore, Westminster, Lynbrook, and
Rockville Center. No trace of the Woodstock."
documents demonstrate that, contrary to Weinstein's assertion,
Hiss could not remember what had happened to the old Woodstock,
and that when he told the grand jury that he had "no
independant recollection" of the disposition of the typewriter,
he was being truthful.
a chapter entitled "The Evasions," Weinstein attempts
to prove that espionage charges were leveled against Hiss
by Chambers as early as 1939. According to Weinstein, these
charges were made during a meeting that Chambers had with
then Assistant Secretary of State, Adolf Berle. Weinstein
also claims that when Berle told the House Committee in August
of 1948 that espionage was not an issue and that Chambers
said only that the Communist Party was merely trying to develop
a group of sympathizers in the government, he was deliberately
misleading the committee in order to aid the reelection campaign
of Harry Truman.
suggests that if Berle's testimony was true, it would have
served to "dampen considerably the overheated climate
of HUAC's investigation." He asserts that Berle's memorandum
of his conversation with Chambers (which was introduced into
evidence at both trials by the government) contradicts his
HUAC testimony. He writes, "Nor did Berle's 1939 memorandum
describe a collection of communist sympathizers casually collected
in an innocuous study group. It proceded name by name, department
by department, to show that Chambers had stressed actual espionage
already committed rather than the mere possibility of future
action or secret involvement with espionage."
Weinstein had been a little more careful in his perusal of
the defense files, he might have seen a memorandum written
by Hiss's attorney, Chester Lane, on December 15, 1950, two
years after the Truman campaign. The memorandum
is of a conversation between Lane and Berle on that date.
A portion of the conversation is excerpted below:
to the discrepancy between the notes and his House Committee
testimony, he says that it was not as serious as it would
appear on the surface. Chambers seemed to him a man who honestly
believed what he was saying but was incapable of standing
up under questioning on any matter, and generally gave the
appearance of a crackpot. Thus, Chambers started by referring
to various people including the Hiss brothers as communists
(whence came Berle's CP notations), but in the course of the
conversation his definiteness faded out, and he admitted that
he 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. Berle believes that his testimony
before the House Committee accurately reflects the sum of
his conversation as a whole, whereas his notes, made currently
as the conversation went on, rather than as a careful resume
prepared afterwards, merely reflect statements which Chambers
made at one point or another but then failed to stand to."
piece of triple hearsay cited by Weinstein has recently been
accorded much attention by the press. This involves Weinstein's
revelation that Czechoslovakian historian, Karel Kaplan, told
him that he had read a record of the Hungarian police's interrogation
of Noel Field. Kaplan allegedly told Weinstein that Field
named Hiss as an underground agent during the questioning.
Field was a friend of Hiss's and a former member of the State
Department, who, after World War II, was arrested by the Hungarian
Communist regime's secret police. He spent the next five and
a half years in prison. During that time he was tortured and
held in solitary confinement, and there is evidence that anything
he might have said about Hiss was simply an attempt by Field
to appease his interrogators. [For more on this, click here
Ethan Klingsberg's article on Field].
a more accurate assessment of Field's feelings, we can turn
again to the Hiss defense files, which again provide a striking
rebuttal to Weinstein's revelation in the form of a letter
written to Hiss by Field in the 1950s. Weinstein mentions
this letter briefly, but chose not to include the following
paragraph in his book:
just finished your absorbingly interesting book, 'In the
Court of Public Opinion,' I am taking the occasion to congratulate
you on its amazingly dispassionate presentation and analysis
of the 'Hiss Case'. Your determination to let the facts
speak for themselves and the absence of all special pleading
are the more impressive when one bears in mind the ordeal
in fighting false charges that has disrupted your life and
brought pain to you and your family - to use your own refrained
understatement. I hope and trust that your book will powerfully
assist in at long last bringing to fruition your undaunted
struggle for vindication."
letter (and this paragraph in particular) does not lend itself
to the idea that Field believed Hiss was a Russian agent,
and no doubt is the reason why Weinstein didn't include it.
notes that Elizabeth Bentley, another selfproclaimed
former spy, told the FBI in 1945 about a Soviet agent who
was an advisor to Dean Acheson. According to Bentley, another
person had told her that this person's name was Hiss. Weinstein
claims that this statement offers independent corroboration
of Chambers' story. He neglects to point out that in subsequent
FBI interviews Bentley admitted her information was very vague,
so much so, that she refused to make a statement on the matter.
Moreover, she insisted that the first name of the person to
whom she was referring was Eugene, not Alger. To the Bureau's
dismay, she refused to budge from this position. Bentley was
not called to testify at either Hiss trial.
claims that photographers William Edward Crane and Felix Inslerman
corroborated important aspects of Chambers' story about his
underground activites. For both of these men, this is true
only in the narrowest sense. Crane was at one time considered
by the government to be one of the most important witnesses
at the Hiss trial. His disagreements with Chambers, however,
over important details of their stories were so extensive
that they could not afford to put him on the stand.
refused to testify in 1949 about his alleged involvement with
the case. However, after considerable pressure by the FBI,
he consented to testify before a McCarthy sub-committee in
1954. He admitted doing photography work for Chambers, but
he insisted that he did such work
only on five occasions. Chambers had
testified that Inslerman photographed the Hiss documents once
a week or every ten days for almost a year. Neither witness
had anything substantial to offer regarding Chambers' testimony
concerning Hiss. If anything, their statements suggest that
Chambers was lying.
also wrongly asserts that Julian Wadleigh supported much of
Chambers' story. Wadleigh (who was known to the defense, unlike
Crane) was a former employee of the State Department who admitted
giving documents to Chambers "on one or more occasions."
As it was with Crane, in their pre-trial statements, he and
Chambers disagreed on so many details that the prosecution
was reluctant to put him on the stand. They only did so because
they were afraid that the defense would have called him. Fortunately,
for the government, the defense had no idea that Chambers
and Wadleigh were in such conflict over their stories, so,
for the most part, the government's coverup was successful.
noteworthy exception occurred when they both mentioned a meeting
with Colonel Bykov, the shadowy figure who was allegedly Chambers'
superior in the underground, and the man to whom the secret
documents were allegedly passed. After they both told the
FBI that Wadleigh had never met Bykov, they both reversed
their stories and insisted that he had. The only problem was
that Wadleigh recalled that Bykov had only one arm, while
Chambers insisted that he had two.
a matter relating to this mysterious Colonel Bykov, Weinstein
makes another error which indicates also how he prefers to
overlook inconsistancies in Chambers' statements to the FBI.
Weinstein says that Chambers first mentioned Bykov in his
testimony before the grand jury on October 15, 1948. Actually,
Chambers first discussed Bykov by name in his May 13, 1942
interview with the FBI. It is important to note, however,
that at this time, Chambers did not claim that Bykov was his
boss, but rather merely someone to whom he was introduced.
The following is an excerpt from the May 1942 report on Chambers'
stated that Peter had connections with the OGPU because
he [Chambers] had met members of the OGPU in Peter's presence....
He stated that one of the individuals was Boris Bykov
who was once Krivitsky's assistant in Italy."
next line of the May 1942 statement, while not related to
the subject of Boris Bykov, provides another example of serious
errors by Chambers which go unmentioned by Weinstein. It says:
"He stated it is the principle of the underground that
no one knows the other comrades' real names." Throughout
both trials, Chambers insisted that while he was associated
with the Hisses in the Communist underground, the Hisses were
always known by their real names.
Chambers claimed that a close relationship existed between
his family and the Hisses, it was the goal of the FBI and
the prosecution to demonstrate that this was true. Chambers
testified to knowing numerous details about the Hisses' domestic
life. He also told of various trips and other shared experiences.
Both the FBI and defense files reveal many instances in which
Chambers' claims were proved groundless. Other times, his
recollections underwent considerable revisions before they
were finally corrected. It now appears that the source of
much of Chambers' information concerning the Hisses was the
believes that the information made available by the files
demonstrates that a close relationship really did exist, and
he cites several incidents to support his thesis.
and his wife, Esther, claimed that while they stayed at the
Hiss residence in 1935, Esther and Hiss's wife Priscilla,
together visited the office of the Hiss family pediatrician,
Dr. Margaret Mary Nicholson. This was denied by the Hisses,
and in 1949, Dr. Nicholson was asked by the defense to check
and see if a record of any visit by Esther Chambers existed.
After the request, she called Mrs. Chambers on the telephone
to ask her permission to release her records to the defense.
Weinstein contends that this phone call "confirmed a
visit to her office by Mrs. Chambers in 1935."
This is untrue. An FBI report dated June 6, 1949 clearly
demonstrates that the phone call to the Chambers' farm was
made before she made any attempt to locate a record of Mrs.
Chambers' visit. Mrs. Chambers did agree to the release, but
no record of any visit was ever found.
the trials, there was a great deal of testimony concerning
a Bokhara rug which Hiss received from Chambers. Hiss was
the first to mention the rug. He told the House Committee
in August of 1948 that Chambers had given it to him as part
payment for some loans and rent sometime before June of 1936.
picked up on the story in his December 8, 1948 signed statement
for the FBI. At that time, he claimed that, on the orders
of Colonel Bykov, he purchased three rugs late in 1936 for
a purchase price of around $600. He said each person who received
a rug was informed that it was given as a token of gratitude
for his work as an American Communist. These three persons
were Alger Hiss, A.G. Silverman, and Harry Dexter White (the
latter two were government employees who were alleged by Chambers
to be Communists). The story's significance lies in the difference
between the claims of Chambers and Hiss regarding the date
of delivery and also of the reason for the gift.
claims that the defense and FBI files corroborate Chambers'
story, but again the opposite is true. For example, Chambers
claimed that Hiss received his rug behind a restaurant on
Baltimore Road in Maryland, and that A.G. Silverman made the
delivery. According to a memorandum by Hiss attorney Harold
Rosenwald, dated March 21, 1949, Silverman, while admitting
that he had received a rug from Chambers, told his attorney,
Bernard Jaffe, "Chambers' story concerning delivery of
one of the rugs by Silverman to Hiss at a restaurant on Baltimore
Road is completely false. Nothing like it ever happened."
is another example of Weinstein's selectivity. He does not
mention that portion of the statement but he does note that
Silverman claimed that the rug was given to him as part payment
of some loans which he had made to Chambers, a claim which
was similar to Hiss's. Also unreported is Silverman's statement
that he decided to keep two of the rugs which were delivered
to his home, and that it was his decision to give the other
to Harry White. He did this because White was an old friend.
Chambers took no part in the decision, he said.
testified that the rug was in use at his home since he had
received it, but Weinstein claims "the FBI turned up
proof in 1949 that the Hisses had paid a monthly fee to keep
the Bokhara rug in storage during 1937 and 1938, not retrieving
it for use in their Volta Place home until long after Chambers'
writer has not seen such proof from the FBI. In 1949, however,
the defense turned up a receipt from a storage company regarding
an item which was stored by the Hisses during those years
mentioned by Weinstein. It appears that the item mentioned
on the receipt is a rug, but the dimensions listed on the
receipt were considerably smaller than the rug which Hiss
received from Chambers.
more on the rugs, click here)
makes numerous errors of a smaller caliber throughout the
book. For example, he claims that J. Edgar Hoover dismissed
Chambers' 1942 statement as "history, hypothesis and
deduction." It was P.E. Foxworth, the assistant director,
who said that.
lunched with the noted literary figure, Malcolm Cowley, in
1940. Cowley's notes of the conversatiion indicate that Chambers
claimed to have left the party in 1937 and that he had also
accused Francis Sayre, Hiss's superior in the State Department,
of being a CP member. Cowley testified at both trials for
the defense, and his notes were introduced as evidence. Weinstein
suggests, as did the FBI, that Cowley was making that claim
because when Chambers was the book review editor for Time
magazine in 1942, he had panned some of Cowley's poetry. Obviously,
he is overlooking the fact that the notes of the conversation
were written back in 1940, before the book was published.
are many documents in the FBI files which do great damage
to Chambers' credibility. For example, an FBI report dated
February 3, 1949 carries this statement by its writer: "It
is not clear at this time if Chambers can testify that he
received these particular 69 documents from Hiss." Coming
three months before the first trial, this is a damning revelation.
Chambers' claim that Hiss gave him the documents was the core
of the case.