Allen Weinstein's Perjury

The Case Not Proved Against Alger Hiss

Victor Navasky

This editorial appeared in The Nation on April 8, 1978.

"The Hiss case," Whittaker Chambers wrote William F. Buckley Jr. in 1954 "is a permanent war . . . I am not really a free agent and scarcely even an individual man. I am the witness on whom, to a great degree it still swings. . . . My reactions are a kind of public trust. They call for the most vigilant intelligence and careful judgment."

With the publication of "Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case," Chambers has been joined by a new "witness," one Allen Weinstein, who wishes to act as opinion trustee for a new generation, unfamiliar with the facts of the case. Chambers, Weinstein believes, told the truth about Alger Hiss at his two trials, and thereafter "weighed his political activities against a single yardstick of how they might affect public response to his earlier role in helping to convict Alger Hiss." Weinstein's scholarship will not, if our sample of those who claim to have been misquoted and misrepresented is accurate and representative, stand the test of time. And yet false history is a disservice to the present as well as to the future.

When H.R. Haldeman's book, "The Ends of Power," reported that the Soviets had asked the United States in 1969 to join in an attack on China, Kissinger and Rogers immediately denied the account, prompting a round of debate on just what a publisher's obligations were to check out an author's assertions. Mr. Haldeman's publisher, Thomas Lipscomb of Times Books, said at the time, "A book publisher's function is different from a newspaper publisher's. We are not under obligation to check on the accuracy of every claim or opinion by an author. Our job is to provide a forum. We do not choose liars but then everyone from Talleyrand to Kissinger has been accused of telling less than the truth."


Other publishers said they follow the practice of sending specialized manuscripts to outside experts for an independent reading. Ashbel Green, the Knopf editor who worked on Allen Weinstein's book, tells us they didn't subject it to an outside reading because "Allen showed portions of the manuscript to his own group of experts, some of whom know the Hiss case inside out and others of whom were experts on the period."

Our own view, after witnessing the eager acceptance "Perjury" has achieved among the generalists, is that all of us - the public, the publisher, the critics, the author and history itself - would have been better served if the early reviews had been exposed to the vetting of a Fred Cook or a John Lowenthal, whose arguments in The Nation on the case have never been adequately answered (Cook's book on the case, incidentally, ought to be updated and reissued). Or, more interestingly, if they had been shown to William Reuben, co-plaintiff in the suit to liberate the Hiss papers from the FBI, who has spent fifteen years researching the life of Whittaker Chambers, is preparing a book called "Richard Nixon and the Frameup of Alger Hiss," and probably knows more about the facts and figures of the case (either because or in spite of his intense belief in Hiss's innocence) than anyone not directly involved.

The many questions raised as a result of our own mini-investigation into Weinstein's "Perjury" suggest how important it is, in the absence of other procedures to guarantee the integrity of advocacy scholarship, that the future publishers of books on a case which is far from over provide their authors with the resources and informed vetting required to protect them from the pitfalls of partisanship. For the ultimate test of Weinstein's scholarship has less to do with daily or weekly reviewers' reactions to his intimidating pose of fairness and thoroughness than with how it will survive the independent studies of men like Cook, Reuben, Peter Irons and others, and Alger Hiss's own impending coram nobis petition to set aside the verdict in his case.


Pitfalls of Partisanship

In interviews, advance publicity and his publisher's advertising and jacket copy for "Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case," Allen Weinstein, the Smith College historian temporarily at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif., has presented himself to the world as a young man who "set out to write the definitive, objective work in the belief that Hiss was innocent" and that Whittaker Chambers had "falsely accused him of Communist ties and espionage," but who concluded after five years of intensive research that Hiss had indeed been guilty.

As Time, to which an advance copy of the book "was made "available" two months before publication, put it in a three-page feature, "Weinstein turned up previously undisclosed evidence that inexorably led him to his unqualified verdict: 'The jurors made no mistake in finding Alger Hiss guilty as charged.'" It is, at first, difficult not to be swept along by the avalanche of people and documents which, according to the author, "confirm" or "corroborate" one or another aspect of Chambers's story.

The image Weinstein projects is of the truth-seeking scholar who traveled 125,000 miles, interviewed "over eighty people who had special knowledge of the case or its protagonists," carefully studied the transcripts of a score of Congressional hearings, two trials and various appeals, analyzed 80,000 documents made available under the Freedom of Information Act, and diligently plowed through archive after archive in this country and abroad, files at departments throughout the federal government, and the voluminous Hiss defense files, before painfully deciding that Alger Hiss indeed passed stolen State Department papers to Chambers as part of an underground Soviet espionage apparatus in the late 1930s.


No wonder the first round of reviewers are stampeding to honor this historian who ostensibly altered his beliefs to fit the facts as he found them, and to proclaim that this unfinished Cold-War business is at last resolved. George Will writes in Newsweek that Weinstein's book is a "historic event. . . . It is stunningly meticulous and a monument to the intellectual ideal of truth stalked to its hiding place. It is also a substantial public service. . . . The myth of Hiss's innocence suffers the death of a thousand cuts, delicate destruction by a scholar's scalpel." Alfred Kazin in Esquire calls "Perjury" "an impressively unemotional blockbuster of fact." He writes: "After this book, it is impossible to imagine anything new in this case except an admission by Alger Hiss that he has been lying for thirty years."

The book is important because the case is important. Not merely Hiss, wrote Alistair Cooke in 1950, but a generation was on trial. Chambers himself called the case an epitomizing one. "It epitomized a basic conflict. And Alger Hiss and I were archetypes. That is of course what gave the peculiar intensity to the struggle." Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (who believes Hiss guilty) complained of Chambers's writings - after Hiss was convicted of perjury at a second trial (the first ended in a hung jury) that they divided the world into "messianic Christian anti-Communists" and "atheistic Communists"; but for many others, if Hiss was guilty then the New Deal was corrupt, the State Department had been subverted, Yalta was a sellout, the U.N. was a Communist plot, the possibilities of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union were shattered, incipient Cold-War repression became defensible. While Weinstein gives the Hiss case too much credit for inciting the Cold-War hysteria (the Un-American Activities Committee hearings on Hollywood, preparation for the trial of Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act, the Truman Executive Order on loyalty, the Mundt-Nixon bill all predated Hiss), it undoubtedly facilitated and accelerated the meteoric rise of McCarthy and McCarthyism.


John Strachey, writing in 1962, put the case in its most cosmic context when he identified Chambers as part of the literature of reaction, "not only against Communism but against five hundred years of rationalism and empiricism; against, in short, the enlightenment."

Weinstein takes it upon himself to update what he calls the "iconography" of the Cold War with the iconography of Watergate. He quotes philosopher Richard Popkin, who argued that "Unravelling the Ellsberg burglary will unravel what was involved in Richard M. Nixon's whole career: fraud, fakery, framing of innocent victims. . . . When we know more about how the Ellsberg case was plotted, we will know how the Hiss case itself was constructed . . . the Hiss case may turn out to be the American Dreyfus case."

Weinstein seems put out that many liberals and moderates began to view Hiss as a spiritual ancestor of the Ellsbergs, Berrigans, Spocks and Coffins - conspicuous for having fought government injustice and illegality during politically motivated trials. "As anti-war sentiment converged with popular outrage over Watergate," he writes, "Hiss found himself transformed from a symbol of deception into one of injured innocence. Watergate and more responsive media brought Hiss, in short, a renewed measure of public acceptance. . . . Watergate helped create a new generation of believers in Hiss's innocence. The cultural verdict of the previous quarter century - indeed, the jury's verdict itself - was abruptly brought into question by Americans unfamiliar with the complex facts and history of the case."


Weinstein has aligned himself with those Cold-War intellectuals who presumably sleep better at night secure in the knowledge that there was an internal Communist espionage menace (Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Remington, Sobell, Coplon, et al.) which might have justified the Cold- War repression with which they collaborated and/or helped rationalize.

Here it should be noted that Weinstein himself seems not above enjoying a little iconographic con, so to speak, of his own. A review of his previous writings reveals no commitment to the innocence of Alger Hiss. If he did believe Hiss to be innocent, he never said so in print - certainly not in his major writings on the case in The American Scholar (1971), Esquire (1975), The New York Times (1976) and The New York Review of Books (1976). And even though he recently told the editor of The Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Mass.) in a front-page interview that in 1974 he wrote with R. Jackson Wilson a high school textbook, "Freedom and Crisis: An American History," "which concluded that Hiss was innocent," a close reading of the chapter on the case fails to reveal any such conclusion (although in fairness it should be pointed out that, as in his American Scholar article, he raises real questions about Chambers's reliability).

My own suspicion that Weinstein was not quite as scholarly as he appears to be commenced, I should confess, a few years ago when I was shown a copy of his letter to the Justice Department requesting access to materials on the Rosenberg case. He assured the U.S. Attorney General that, unlike some other writers whom he proceeded to name with quite reckless abandon, he believed the Rosenbergs guilty. I say "reckless," because I was one of the writers he named (although his reference to me was syntactically ambiguous) despite the fact that at the time I had written nothing about my views on the Rosenbergs' innocence or guilt. Anyway, my suspicion was sufficient to cause me, after rereading Weinstein's earlier articles on the Hiss case, to conduct an elementary source check with some of the people he interviewed for "Perjury" (to see if they were accurately quoted), and to examine some of the documents he cites (to see if they are cited in context). The preliminary results suggest that the hurry to any sort of judgment on the case based on "Perjury" alone, may be somewhat premature.


In his American Scholar article ("The Hiss Case Revisited"), Weinstein concluded a rigorous, tough-minded and generally fair discussion of the pros and cons of the case by restating the uncertainties which he seemed to feel made contemporary assessments of innocence or guilt incautious. He wrote: "Perhaps only a master novelist can bridge our present impasse, but the historian still must attempt to establish the facts where possible and where not, to expose the inconsistencies of partisan accounts." The time has come for a thoroughly researched reassessment of the Hiss case, but without the release of the grand jury records, the executive files of HUAC and the relevant records, the "complete" story of that controversial affair may never be known. Granting the episode's pivotal importance in the political life of recent America, however, historians must begin to confront the case itself to prevent either of its partisan versions from hardening into myth.

After reading and rereading "Perjury," I couldn't agree more. Whatever his original motives and aspirations, Professor Weinstein is now an embattled partisan, hopelessly mired in the perspective of one side, his narrative obfuscatory, his interpretations improbable, his omissions strategic, his vocabulary manipulative, his standards double, his "corroborations" circular and suspect, his reporting astonishingly erratic (brilliantly enterprising where it serves, nonexistent where it complicates, and frequently unreliable). His conversion from scholar to partisan, along with a rhetoric and methodology that confuse his beliefs with his data, make it impossible for the nonspecialist to render an honest verdict on the case. This condition, however, should not inhibit us from rendering a necessarily negative verdict on the scholarship itself.


Narrative Obfuscation

Followers of the Hiss case have heard much about the Woodstock typewriter (Was it a forgery? Did Chambers have secret access to it? Was the machine at the trial the one which really typed the letters introduced in evidence?, etc.), the Bokhara rugs (What sort of secret agent would give four identical rugs as presents to his four most secret operatives?), the dispute over how well and for how long and under what names ("Carl," "George Crosley" or "Karl") the Hisses knew Chambers, under what circumstances they met and when and where, and did Hiss give Chambers an apartment, a car, a loan, etc.? All of these matters came up at the two perjury trials and have been fought and refought in court appeals and in the magazine articles and books which have been coming out regularly since the last court appeal in 1952.

But until Weinstein came along we have heard nothing outside of Chambers's own memoir, "Witness," to corroborate Chambers's version of what he claimed were his six years in the Communist underground. Since Weinstein found no new witnesses who could directly implicate Hiss, he places great stress on the many people he talked with and the many documents he consulted which appear to corroborate Chambers's statements on matters other than Hiss. His reasoning is clearly that if Chambers was telling the truth about such matters as J. Peters and Colonel Bykov's being the head of the Communist underground, and telling the truth about how he was recruited into the party by "Charles" (Sam) Krieger, and telling the truth about Felix Inslerman, the microfilm photographer with whom he said he worked in the C.P. underground, and telling the truth about setting up with literary agent Max Lieber an espionage front called the American Feature Writers Syndicate, then it might be reasonable to assume that Chambers was a credible witness.


What Weinstein does not tell us, however, is that he has transposed "Witness" from the first to the third person and that much more of "Perjury" than one might deduce from the footnotes draws on material in the earlier book. Such a narrative strategy gives us Chambers's version of events sometimes in his own voice, sometimes in Weinstein's voice, and sometimes imputed to other characters in the drama, without our ever being quite sure which is which, but all of it adding up to a psychological structure that lends Chambers a perhaps undeserved credibility, and in which any inconsistencies in Chambers's story are concealed or glossed over. The problem is compounded by Weinstein's failure to flag contested claims as they arise.

For example, the extremely important matter of the date on which Chambers quit the party. That date is critical because the papers Chambers produced, allegedly from Hiss, were all dated between January and April 1938. If Chambers quit the party in 1937, as he stated under oath on at least sixteen separate occasions, then his story is seriously compromised. It was only after he produced the seemingly incriminating papers in November 1948 that he "remembered" leaving the party in April 1938 and mentioned espionage for the first time. How does Weinstein handle this matter?


As early as the introduction we are told that Paul Willert, an Oxford University Press editor, "gave Chambers translating work prior to the latter's break with the CP in April 1938 and later that year warned Chambers that a Comintern agent had arrived from Europe looking for him." The story is purportedly Willert's (I say purportedly because Willert told me he never knew Chambers was a Communist or warned him about a Comintern agent), but the 1938 date given for Chambers's break is Weinstein's. Again, on page 5, Weinstein describes Chambers in the HUAC witness chair. "After defecting in 1938, Chambers asserted he had lived in hiding, sleeping by day and watching through the night with gun and revolver. . . ." But if he had not intruded as narrator, Weinstein would have had to cite Chambers as saying he left the party in 1937, which was Chambers's story at the time, and which he repeated on six subsequent appearances that same month. Moreover, in April 1949 Chambers told the FBI that he left the party one month before he had received the manuscript from Oxford. Throughout the book we encounter entries like: "When Chambers defected in April 1938 he took with him as evidence...."

The one time Weinstein mentions the discrepancy in dates, he says, "More than a decade had passed since his described friendship with the Hisses and Chambers later admitted inaccuracies in his original August 3 testimony and in some cases at the August 7 hearing. Thus he met Hiss in 1934, not 1935, and his defection from Communism came in 1938 rather than in 1937."

But these were not "admissions." They were adjustments, essential to the credibility of Chambers's tale, and Weinstein never lets the reader in on the grand dimensions of Chambers's conflicting court and committee testimony and FBI statements.


The Scholar as Reporter?

Arguably, Weinstein's deceptive narration could be cured by proper footnoting, but the confusion it creates in terms of who is corroborating what, is compounded by what turn out to be the author's considerable limitations as a reporter.

As historian-detective, Weinstein deserves the highest compliments for tracking down and sitting down with such as J. Peters (a major character in Chambers's memoir, who accepted voluntary deportation to Hungary in February 1949); Ella Winter, whom Chambers allegedly tried to recruit; Karel Kaplan, a Czech historian privy to accused spy Noel Field's interrogation about Hiss and Maxim Lieber, Chambers's literary agent, and alleged co-conspirator, who was forced to live outside the country for eighteen years. And on principle Weinstein should be credited with unearthing long-forgotten conflicting memorandums in the Hiss legal files. But one should closely examine the way he uses what he was told by these historically important characters (some of whom I reached in an attempt to check out Weinstein's "corroborations"), and carefully scrutinize the interpretation he puts on the Hiss legal documents.

J. Peters (Joszef Peter)

Consider Weinstein's much-trumpeted interview with this man, whom he confidently describes, despite Peters's "pro forma denials," as "the head of the Communist underground in this country," a "professional Soviet agent." To help document his description of Peters, he cites David Dallin's account of Soviet espionage, which characterizes Peters as: "Indefatigable . . . an outstanding leader, man of many aliases and a multitude of clandestine assignments, who remained at his American post from 1933 to 1941. His era was marked by great exploits [and] . . . [he was] the most active, energetic, and resourceful man in those obscure depths of the underground where Soviet espionage borders on American communism."


What Weinstein neglects to mention is that the passage in question was unfootnoted, that Dallin's papers, which were promised to Yale by 1970, have never arrived, and that Dallin's chief source is none other than Whittaker Chambers (so he is corroborating Chambers with Chambers). Credentials aside, however, what is the new, albeit inadvertent, evidence Peters has provided? Here, believe it or not, is the totality of what Weinstein refers to when he says that he heard Peters "confirm details of Chambers's underground work." It occurs in footnote 95, Chapter 1: "My long talk with Peter in Budapest was his first with a non-Communist Western scholar since his 1949 deportation and included his first public comments on the Hiss-Chambers case. Peter smiled once during our talk when I suggested that his frequent use of the terms 'open' and 'secret' Communist parties when describing the division in American CP ranks indicated an awareness of that second realm which most Party 'functionaries' would deny having possessed."

If anything more than Peter's smile was involved in his confirmation of Chambers's activities, we are given no evidence of it.


Ella Winter

He tracks down Lincoln Steffens's widow, Ella Winter, in London, and reports her recollection:

"While walking along a Manhattan street with a friend during the mid-Thirties, Chambers, who had previously tried - and failed - to recruit her for the underground using the name 'Harold Phillips' suddenly came into view. 'Don't take any notice of that man,' her friend, a leading film distributor, quickly cautioned her. 'That was Whittaker Chambers, who is doing secret work for the Party.'"

But when I wrote Ella Winter to ask whether that was indeed her recollection she replied: "My film friend did not say 'who is doing secret work for the party.' On the contrary, we had just passed Sidney Howard on Fifth Avenue and the bogus Chambers, who knew my film friend, asked me if I knew Sidney Howard and would I introduce him.' I did not introduce him to Sidney Howard.

"Chambers never 'tried to recruit me for underground work' or even for the CP," Miss Winter adds.

Sam Krieger

With an introduction from Alden Whitman of The New York Times, Weinstein travels to Rhonert Park, Calif., where he interviews Sam Krieger, the man who recruited Chambers into the Communist Party and, according to Weinstein, "an important Communist organizer during the Gastonia textile strike of 1929," who "fled to the Soviet Union" during the 1930s before he returned to California where he now lives in retirement. He also reports that Krieger took Chambers to his first C.P. meeting, whereupon he was immediately signed up, and shortly thereafter joined the IWW [International Workers of the World] too.


But when I sent Mr. Krieger photostats of the pages in Weinstein's book concerning him, he replied, "No, Weinstein's account does not correspond with what I told him, nor did I tell Weinstein, in our interview, that I was the Clarence Miller of the Gastonia, N.C. textile strike, who subsequently fled to the Soviet Union.

"Also, Chambers was not admitted to the party at his first meeting nor did he bring two Columbia University friends, whom he was trying to recruit, to a branch meeting. Likewise, I never told Weinstein that Whittaker Chambers became a member of the IWW after joining the Communist Party." (The sources Weinstein cites for these latter "facts" are an FBI summary report on Krieger.)

Karel Kaplan

One of Weinstein's more spectacular finds was Prof. Karel Kaplan, who left Czechoslovakia in 1976 with a significant archive collected during his eight years as archivist for the Czech Communist Party's Central Committee. According to Weinstein, Kaplan, a member of the Dubcek 1968 commission which investigated the political purge trials of the late Stalin era in which Noel Field figured prominently, had read the long interrogations of both Noel and Herta Field by Czech and Hungarian security officials (after they went to live in Czechoslovakia) and he shared his findings with Weinstein in Munich where "he described to me the material in those files that dealt with Alger Hiss."

Kaplan, according to Weinstein, confirmed Hiss's relationship with Field "in the Communist underground."


"According to Kaplan, Field named Alger Hiss as a fellow Communist underground agent in the State Department during the mid-thirties," writes Weinstein, quoting Kaplan: "Field said that he had been involved [while at the State Department] and that Hiss was the other one involved after he joined the Department. One major reason Field gave to his interrogators for not having returned to the United States in 1948 was to avoid testifying in the Hiss-Chambers case."

Weinstein cites but does not quote extensively a two-page letter Field wrote Hiss after he got out of prison and read Hiss's book, "In the Court of Public Opinion." Field offers to provide an affidavit attesting to the falseness of the evidence implicating Hiss (as it related to Field) and expresses his belief in Hiss's innocence. Weinstein cites but does not quote from Flora Lewis's account, in her biography of Noel Field, of the torture he endured in prison - torture, one assumes, which has a bearing on the reliability of anything he may have said.

I wrote to Kaplan, now employed with Radio Free Europe in Munich, and he wrote back, among other things: "N. Field testimony, as far as I can remember, did not contain any facts or explicit statements which would indicate that A. Hiss was delivering U.S. documents to the Soviet Union."


Maxim Lieber

Weinstein states in his introduction that "the revelations of five participants in Soviet intelligence work in the United States and Europe during the 1930s - Joszef Peters, Nadya Ulanovskaya, Maxim Lieber, Paul Willert and Hede Massing - proved particularly instructive."

Peters was a well-known Communist Party official in the 1930s who wrote pamphlets and ran for public office but who, as we have already seen, denied participation in any "Communist underground" operation in the United States. Massing's story about having met Hiss in Field's apartment was (a) given under threat of deportation (not mentioned by Weinstein) and (b) denied by Field. Willert tells me he never "participated in Soviet intelligence work in the U.S.," never told Weinstein he did, and never knew Otto Katz to be a "high ranking Comintern representative," as Weinstein suggests he did. Ulanovskaya is a peripheral figure (with at best secondhand information garnered from her late husband), who left the United States in 1934 without ever having met Hiss. But the man Weinstein cites sixteen times as "confirming" or "corroborating" or "participating" in secret work with Chambers, is Chambers's one-time friend, business associate and literary agent, Maxim Lieber, now living in Connecticut after spending the years 1950-68 first in Mexico and then in Poland, a refugee from the domestic Cold War.


Weinstein calls Lieber a "sometime associate [of Chambers] in the underground," and says Lieber identified Peters as "the head of the whole Communist espionage apparatus in this country," and "worked with [Chambers] for a time on an underground project." Weinstein writes that "convincing corroboration of Peters's work as an agent during the 1930s came from . . . my interviews with Maxim Lieber, whom Peters assigned to occasional underground jobs."

He describes Lieber's role in the American Feature Writers Syndicate as that of an "agent" engaged in "espionage abroad," "a front for Soviet espionage." Weinstein says Lieber gave Col. Boris Bykov ("the chief agent for Russia in the United States during the thirties") "low marks" as a spymaster. Weinstein credits Lieber with warning Chambers, who believed the KGB was after him, about Otto Katz (another client). He quotes Lieber as saying, "Some things are romanticized in "Witness," but most of it - as I know of the incidents - is true."

But when I talked with Lieber, who freely admits to having been in the party and who represented party authors, among others, he told me (a) "I never read "Witness" - Weinstein is quoting me out of context." (He asked if he could borrow the office copy.) (b) "I was never a member of any underground and I never worked with Chambers on any underground project." (c) "The account of the American Feature Writers Syndicate (which was designed to sell the works of my clients such as Erskine Caldwell and Josephine Herbst overseas, and was not an underground project at all), is an amalgam of a little truth and a lot of fiction - I don't know where Weinstein got that stuff unless it is in "Witness" - but it did not come from me, which is what he makes it sound like." (d) "I could not have identified Peters as the head of the underground because I knew nothing of the underground. I only met him once at the very end - and I do not remember meeting anyone named Bykov. I have no idea who was the head of the Communist underground in America. And I could not have warned Chambers about Katz, since I had no idea who Katz was supposed to be. To me, he was a client. I never met or saw Priscilla or Alger Hiss or even knew about them until the trial. Weinstein's story is sheer poppycock. My son says I should consult a lawyer."


Donald Hiss and "the Woodstock Cover-up"

Asked by a sympathetic interviewer, "Would you say you made any discovery that clinches the case against Hiss?," Weinstein told Politicks, "The strongest incriminating evidence I found in the defense files concerns what I call the real 'Woodstock cover-up.'" Weinstein goes on to zero in on the role of Alger's brother Donald, whom he accuses of having traced the whereabouts of the typewriter to a Washington trucker and junk dealer named Lockey in February, but keeping the FBI and the Hiss lawyer who ultimately found the typewriter (McLean) in the dark about it until April. Gary Wills, writing in The New York Review of Books, found this discovery "the most damaging of all. It knocks into a cocked hat all the theories of a planted, altered, or forged typewriter."

But Weinstein never discusses in detail a February 26, 1951 memo in the defense files which gives Donald Hiss's version of the episode, and when I wrote Donald Hiss to ask if Weinstein had accurately included his own explanation for "the mysterious pause" of two months, he replied, "Mr. Weinstein had exactly one interview with me. . . . Weinstein raised three subjects and only three during the interview. . . . He made no mention whatsoever of the typewriter or my search with Mike Catlett for it. [He] asked if I would be available to answer any further questions should they occur to him. To this I answered that I would be available at any time. He has never contacted me by mail or telephone since then. The interview was extremely brief and lasted no more than 10 to 15 minutes."


Weinstein is not, of course, required to believe Alger Hiss's brother, but the canons of scholarship would seem to insist that he hear Donald's version before dismissing it. Had he interviewed Donald Hiss he would have been told that on his February trip to Lockey, Donald discovered not the Woodstock but a different old typewriter, the Royal, and "The above trip to Lockey was reported by me to McLean." He would have been told a lot more, but my point is not to argue the merits of the case, merely to note the inadequacy of Weinstein's much-ballyhooed research.

Weinstein's other piece of significant incriminatory information - the one which stimulated his headline-making 1976 charge in The New York Review of Books - is that memorandums in the Hiss defense files proved that "Alger Hiss lied." According to Weinstein, "A defense lawyer, John F. Davis, on December 28, 1948, wrote the chief counsel that Alger Hiss asked him earlier that month to check on an old typewriter 'which he remembers he gave to the son of Claudia Catlett [a housekeeper] who used to do the washing.'

"Hiss shortly thereafter denied to the FBI and the Grand Jury specific knowledge of the missing typewriter. . . . This means," Mr. Weinstein asserts, that "Hiss deliberately misled the FBI, the Grand Jury and two trial juries about his knowledge of the Woodstock typewriter's whereabouts." He adds that "Mr. Hiss three times between December 10 and 15 told the Grand Jury that he had no knowledge of how the typewriter had been disposed of."


But a reading of the Davis memo, a search through the Hiss files and a reading of the correspondence which followed the Weinstein article in The New York Review reveals that Weinstein has reached a shaky conclusion and not shared with the reader the available contrary evidence on which to make an independent judgment. First, the Davis document is, on its face, ambiguous. It refers to "an" old typewriter, not "the" old typewriter. Second, Weinstein doesn't mention other evidence which suggests that it was not Hiss who recalled the machine at all, it was his stepson, Timmy Hobson; that Hiss merely relayed the message to counsel. In that context, asking counsel to "check on" something seems as much evidence of uncertainty as of certainty. Finally, Weinstein never explains the Hiss legal memorandums which document four simultaneous typewriter searches for three typewriters. If Hiss really knew where the typewriter was all along and if he knew which of his old typewriters was sought by the FBI, why would he waste his lawyers' and everybody else's time carrying on these simultaneous searches?

Strategic Omissions.

Selectivity is a "historian's prerogative," but some conspicuous omissions of key documents or accounts which complicate Weinstein's thesis (accompanied by a seemingly bold confrontation of less problematic materials) further undermine one's confidence in the enterprise. A typical example is his handling of the important evidence bearing on Chambers's claim, first made in November 1948, to have stored the stolen papers and microfilms in an envelope in a dumbwaiter at his nephew's house in Brooklyn in 1938. Weinstein dramatically deals with the contention that the materials could not have fit in the envelope, by describing a simulated experiment of his own where everything fitted. But he omits any mention of the defense's ultimate claim in an affidavit filed to support Hiss's 1952 motion for a new trial, by a chemist, Daniel P. Norman, president of New England's largest and oldest firm in the business of testing chemicals and papers, who tested the papers and the envelope and asserted that they lacked the markings and chemical stains which would inevitably accompany ten-year storage. Weinstein doesn't have to agree with Norman to acknowledge his findings.


In some cases a strategic omission is accompanied by what we might call a false inclusion, which occurs as a result of Weinstein's never-defined and interchangeable use of such terms as "Communist underground" and "secret work." Thus a "Marxist study group" becomes a "Communist cell" becomes a "secret apparatus" becomes "underground work" becomes "espionage." In the case of New Deal economist Victor Perlo, accused by the notoriously unreliable Elizabeth Bentley of heading a spy ring, Weinstein writes in a footnote that, ". . . the witness's former wife, Katherine Perlo, had corroborated Bentley's charges against her ex-husband in an anonymous letter - later acknowledged by Mrs. Perlo - sent to the FBI several years earlier. Mrs. Perlo accused her husband of engaging in espionage and named others in the group, her list of names being comparable to Bentley's later one."

In fact, Mr. Weinstein neglects to mention that Mrs. Perlo was under a psychiatrist's care suffering from "mental disorder" when she wrote the anonymous letter and that she sent it to the President (not the FBI), charged membership in the Communist Party but said nothing about espionage, and in addition to naming her ex-husband as a member of the group, also included her psychiatrist.

A more blatant omission-distortion, because he uses her to "confirm" and "recall" the Ware group (another so-called spy ring identified by Elizabeth Bentley) concerns Weinstein's handling of the depositions, interviews and papers of the novelist Josephine Herbst. He says she confirmed that "the Ware group sometimes filched documents," and that they photographed the "stolen" government documents in the apartment she shared with John Herrmann. But I requested copies of Miss Herbst's affidavits (on file with the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee) and a close reading reveals that she never used the word "stolen" or "filched," that whatever documents the Ware group had were trivial and intended not for Moscow but The Daily Worker and that "She was absolutely certain that her apartment in Washington had never been used for developing pictures while she was there. It was a small apartment, she said, and the developing equipment would have taken a noticeable amount of space and [she] was sure she would have remembered." Weinstein uses Herbst to "corroborate" that Chambers met Hiss in 1934, but neglects to quote the FBI document which says she never met the Hisses or any member of the Ware group except Pressman whom she met in the CIO "and stated she knew nothing of the connection between her husband [Herrmann], Chambers and Ware."


It should by now not be necessary to list all of Weinstein's simple errors of fact. He says the HUAC hearings of August 3, 1948, marking Chambers's first appearance in public, were "unexpected" and that what Chambers would testify to was not known in advance, when in fact a press conference was held by the committee on August 2 in which (as The New York Times reported) Chambers was referred to as the next day's witness on the subject of Soviet espionage. He has Chambers working at The Daily Worker in New York two years before the paper was published there. He has Chambers telling the committee on the occasion of his first appearance that he defected "in 1938" when on eight different times that day he gave the date as 1937. He has Chambers rejoining the Communist Party in 1931 - a year before even Chambers alleged that he rejoined the party. He states that Gardner (Pat) Jackson was Jerome Frank's assistant when Jackson never worked in the same office as Frank. He claims that Stryker was attractive to Hiss's advisers because of his books which included "The Art of Advocacy." But "The Art of Advocacy" wasn't published until 1954, etc., etc., etc.

He makes the mistake of assuming that FBI memorandums provide answers rather than clues. Taking such documents at face value may be a sign of naiveté rather than malevolence. He complains of Hiss pressure on the Catlett family to "remember" the date on which they received the family Woodstock in a way which would help Alger, but neglects to consider or mention the impact of wholesale FBI harassment of potential witnesses, including threats of perjury suits, social disgrace, deportation, inspecting bank records and income tax returns, and arranging for hostile witnesses to lose their jobs. And when he does examine the possibility of FBI skullduggery, his imagination runs short. Thus, when he considers the charge that Chambers's memory of a $400 loan from Hiss was influenced by FBI agents who one week earlier had gained access to records of Hiss's savings and checking accounts, he dismisses the possibility because the FOIA files show: "The records were not sent to New York, where Chambers was then being interrogated by agents of the FBI field office, but remained in the Washington field office." One is tempted to remind Weinstein that the Bureau was not unaware of the telephone.


It is symptomatic of the sloppiness of the work that, without explaining the discrepancy, he says in the introduction that he has interviewed more than eighty people with special knowledge of the case but lists in the Appendix only fifty-six interviewees who gave important information. He includes some secondhand gossip about what Priscilla Hiss is supposed to have said at a Chicago dinner party in 1968, and when challenged on his sources, invoked the name of Alden Whitman, formerly of The New York Times, as one who checked out the story. Whitman told me, "I have no recollection of my checking out any Chicago dinner party." It never occurred to Weinstein to ask Mrs. Hiss.

Interviewees can always be found to claim they were misquoted, but the responses of Winter, Krieger, Willert, Kaplan and Lieber suggest that the distortions are too central to Weinstein's general mode of argument to be ignored, especially in the context of his selective use and misuse of documents not generally available for inspection. Can it be, one finally asks, that so many distinguished social commentators have been taken in by such a vulnerable enterprise? Without pretending to pass on whether it is the illiberal climate, the compelling iconography of Allen Weinstein, or simply the mesmerizing message of the thousands of "facts" he has assembled, which has caused the unfortunate celebration of his dubious achievement, this much can be said:

"Perjury" settles nothing about the Hiss case. It sets forth some new riddles, fails to solve them and ignores some old ones. Oddly, it doesn't really seem to take full advantage of the new Freedom of Information Act materials, thousands of which were still coming in as "Perjury" was coming out. It doesn't provide a serious motive or theory to account for Hiss's behavior since he was released from prison. Whatever new data Weinstein may have gathered are fatally tainted by his unprofessionalism, his apparent intolerance for ambiguity, especially when it gets in the way of his thesis. It would be a tragedy if the immediate impact of this unfair book were to deprive Alger Hiss, now 73, of a fair hearing on his upcoming coram nobis petition to set aside the verdict of the trial (his first court challenge to his perjury conviction since 1952). One suspects, though, that the only permanent damage Weinstein has wrought may be to the reputations of himself and those who too eagerly endorse his findings. The target of "Perjury" is Alger Hiss and his claim of innocence, but its temporary victim is historical truth.


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