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The Hiss-Chambers case gripped the nation in 1948 and still provokes controversy. Take a deep factual dive into the story of two brilliant, fascinating men, sensational Congressional hearings, spy documents hidden in a dumbwaiter shaft and a pumpkin, the trial of the century, and the launch of Richard Nixon’s career.
 
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This is my final Podcast, and the shortest one — just my last thoughts after decades of study. The Hiss-Chambers Case will live on because it is important post-WWII American history, and also a great yarn, a feast for trial lawyers, and an example of the endless fight between totalitarianism and freedom, between shiny lies and messy reality. I hope…
 
Whittaker Chambers This Podcast, the second to last, is the longest one. The Hiss-Chambers Case did not die. Many new facts were discovered, the majority of them harmful to Hiss, starting in the 1970s. The Freedom of Information Act led the US government (after a lawsuit) to produce about 40,000 pages of paper, mostly from the FBI. Hiss made the fi…
 
As Chambers wrote to his friend Bill Buckley, most of us think the story of Oedipus ends when he learns he married his own mother and puts his eyes out. In fact, however, Oedipus lived for years afterwards. After the trials, Chambers lived for 10 years and Hiss for 45. Neither escaped The Case, nor did their wives and children. (Add this, by the wa…
 
Several people have told me that, of my 38 episodes, this is their favorite. See if you agree. It is all about the question Hiss could never answer: how, if Hiss is innocent, did the 64 Typed Spy Documents get typed on his home typewriter. You may recall that Hiss first told The Grand Jury that Chambers broke into his house in 1938 and typed them o…
 
Alger Hiss is taken to prison Alger Hiss’s conviction — technically for perjury, but effectively for treason — was a major event. It was a disaster for The Establishment, especially liberal Democrats, and vindication for Republicans and populist Democrats. The 18 month labyrinth of HUAC hearings, depositions in Hiss’s libel suit, grand jury proceed…
 
Prosecutor Thomas F. Murphy In this Podcast, we hear the closing speeches, and the verdict of the second jury. In a mirror image of the first trial, this time it was Hiss’s lawyer Claude Cross who was quiet, even plodding, and it was Prosecutor Murphy (like Hiss’s barrister Stryker at the first trial) who delivered the barn-burner. Then — after a y…
 
Edith Murray This is a short podcast, describing a last-minute rebuttal witness for The Prosecution. Into court came a black woman named Edith Murray. Alistair Cooke (at 299) found her “lively.” She testified that, at times in 1935 and 1936, she had been the household servant (cleaning and cooking) for Whittaker and Esther Chambers. She knew them a…
 
Psychiatrist Dr. Carl Binger This Podcast presents the testimony of an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Binger. He opined that Whittaker Chambers suffered from a mental illness, called “Psychopathic Personality,” which causes its sufferers to make false accusations that they sincerely believe to be true. Dr. Carl Binger was supposed to be, to use a b…
 
Hede Hassing, a key witness in the 2nd trial The second trial: new Judge (an elderly Republican), a new jury (seven women!), a new lawyer for Hiss (Boston’s distinguished, quiet Claude Cross), a new strategy by each side, and a lot more witnesses. The next three Podcasts bring you three witnesses who did not testify at the first trial, but did at t…
 
Pic: Hiss Defense Attorney Lloyd Paul Stryker At last we hear the two great trial lawyers, Lloyd Paul Stryker for The Hiss Defense and Thomas Murphy for The Prosecution, sum up the evidence and loose their rhetorical flourishes. Stryker, remember, was going for a hung jury, just trying to get one or two jurors to hold out for a Not Guilty verdict n…
 
Podcast #28 recounts the testimonies of three black Washingtonians named Catlett. Claudia Catlett, the Hisses’ household servant, had only one memory of Chambers being in the Hiss house. She’d likely have seen him more if he’d been coming by regularly to pick up spy documents. Two of her sons, teenagers when the alleged spying occurred, did handyma…
 
Podcast #27 is short, covering the testimony of Mrs. Priscilla Hiss and the “character witnesses.” Mrs. Hiss corroborates her husband down the line. However, she is notably nervous on the witness stand, and admits to changing her story in a few ways, all favorable to her husband, since The Grand Jury. Favorable testimony by family members is risky.…
 
In Podcast 26, Alger Hiss takes the stand! In the courtroom corridor, Hiss said: “I have been waiting for this a long time.” (Smith at 383.). Lloyd Paul Stryker walked him through his golden resume, emphasizing all the times he had been trusted with secrets and remained loyal (as far as anyone knew). Hiss denied every bad act of which Chambers had …
 
Each side in this Case had a male homosexual secret. Remember that we’re in 1949, when conservatives thought that male homosexuality was a sin and a crime and enlightened liberals thought that gay men were tragic mistakes of nature, mentally ill, women trapped in men’s bodies, but fortunately there was talk therapy, shock treatment and, if all else…
 
There were two disagreements between the Hisses and Chamberses. First was whether Hiss had been a Communist and Soviet spy with Chambers in the mid- and late 1930s. Who was telling the truth could not be proved. Hiss would never confess and, from his point of view, it’s almost impossible to prove that you did not do something years ago. As for proo…
 
This Podcast is the closest the trials get to high comedy. Dreamy, arrogant State Department economist, Henry Julian Wadleigh, worked in the same area as Hiss (several levels below Hiss). Wadleigh testifies that he passed State Department documents to Chambers in 1937 and 1938 without authorization. He thus corroborates Chambers’ testimony that Cha…
 
Photo: http://www.spartacus-educational.com Now comes the witness who, in my opinion, dooms Alger Hiss. He gives expert testimony supporting Chambers’ claim that the typed spy documents were passed to him by Alger Hiss after Mrs. Hiss typed them on the Hiss home typewriter. Lloyd Paul Stryker did not ask this witness a single question on cross-exam…
 
Robert Stripling & Richard Nixon Everyone always asks about the topic of this Podcast #21: “What was in the secret State Department documents?” These are the 126 pages that Chambers introduced as the last documents that Hiss gave him. State Department men authenticated them as copies (or summaries or excerpts) of actual State Department documents, …
 
Lloyd Paul Stryker, Hiss's Defense Atty (Digital Commons) Whittaker Chambers, and then his wife Esther, testify in court. Both their direct testimonies were rocky due to Stryker’s objections and Judge Kaufman’s rulings. Their cross-examinations by Stryker were brutal. Chambers sat there and passively took blow after blow, but Mrs. Chambers shouted …
 
Pic: Prosecutor Thomas Murphy In this Podcast, I deliver, in my best courtroom voice, short versions of Prosecutor Murphy’s down-to-earth opening statement for the government and Lloyd Paul Stryker’s incandescent overture for the Hiss defense. See which one you think is more impressive — Murphy’s calm, rational promise of convincing evidence or Str…
 
Federal Courthouse, NY, 1938 This is a short podcast to acquaint you with the actors about to come on stage in the drama of Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. They are the government Prosecutor Thomas Murphy, Hiss’s principal defense lawyer Lloyd Paul Stryker, Judge Samuel Kaufman, and the jury. Additional Research Murphy, a 6’ 4” muscular giant of…
 
Pic: Library of Congress Alger Hiss is going on trial for perjury. This Podcast is a survey, at 23,000 feet, of the possible arguments for The Prosecution and for The Hiss Defense. Of each side’s possible arguments, which are strong and which are weak? This may be of special interest to real trial lawyers, or to the inner Perry Mason who lurks with…
 
Picture: Library of Congress With this Podcast, we leave Washington and the political boxing ring and move to New York City and the courts. There’s still drama and tension, but no more pumpkin patches on dark and frigid nights, no more rescues of Congressmen from the high seas. The process is more deliberate and the consequences are greater. Starti…
 
Certainly, this Case was painful for Chambers — bringing him close to prison for perjury, ending the quiet and lucrative life he had enjoyed for years and costing him the only decent and decently paying job he had ever had. All the same, Chambers loved melodrama, and can you imagine any more satisfying melodrama than, on a dark and freezing night, …
 
In this Podcast, Chambers appears on Meet The Press and repeats his accusations. Hiss sues him for libel, after assembling a Dream Team of eminent lawyers to vindicate his reputation.(Chambers was superbly represented, too.)In a pre-trial interview called a deposition, Hiss’s lawyer William Marbury asks Chambers to produce any written documents he …
 
This is the Podcast of the public hearing at which Chambers and Hiss sat a few feet apart and testified against each other for six hours. It was one of the big stories of 1948. A history of HUAC says it was the most dramatic and crowded event of the Committee’s public history. One newspaper blared that it was “C Day” — C for Confrontation. People w…
 
Republican members of the House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). (Library of Congress) Sandwiched between the drama of the Commodore Hotel (last week’s Podcast) and the equally sensational televised confrontation of Hiss and Chambers (next week’s), this Podcast #12 is a backgrounder on the political climate of 1948, the setting which was sh…
 
Pic: Library of Congress In Podcast 11, Nixon and Stripling pull off another tactical masterstroke. They bring Hiss and Chambers together, to the surprise of both of them, in a hotel room in New York City. Despite the locale, it’s a formal hearing of Nixon’s HUAC Subcommittee and there is a transcript (not to mention half a dozen memoirs). Nixon as…
 
In Podcast 10, Nixon’s HUAC Subcommittee reacts skeptically to Hiss’s new George Crosley story. Hiss, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, is shocked, shocked that the Representatives would even think of taking the word of the Communist and traitor Chambers over that of a distinguished personage such as himself. Representative Hebert suggests that H…
 
Alger Hiss, like Chambers, gives secret testimony to Nixon’s HUAC Subcommittee. He is outraged that they are thinking of trusting Chambers, whom Hiss labels a Communist and a traitor (Hiss pre-channeling Senator McCarthy). When confronted with Chambers’ detailed knowledge of his domestic life 10-15 years ago, Hiss drops his claim that he never knew…
 
Campaigning for the US Senate, 1950. Pic - Library of Congress In this 8th podcast, we explore the thinking of Richard Nixon. Put yourself in his position. You’re 35, elected to the House in a Republican wave year from a district that is usually safely Democratic. Your plum Committee assignment was Education and Labor. But, on HUAC, this throbbing …
 
Members of the House Un-American Activities Committee visit the home of Chairman John Parnell Thomas; (l-r) Rep. Richard B. Vail, Rep. Thomas, Rep. John McDowell, Robert Stripling, chief counsel, and Rep. Richard M. Nixon] Picture: Library of Congress Were Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss good friends from 1934 through 1937? Chambers says ‘yes’ an…
 
Richard M. Nixon, Library of Congress Alger Hiss calmly and patiently denies Whittaker Chambers’ two charges: that the two of them were in the Communist underground in 1934-37 and that they became close friends. The Commie-hunters on the House Un-American Activities Committee are swept away by his poise and simplicity and tell him what a wonderful …
 
Above, Elizabeth Bentley, who gave evidence at the first HUAC hearing. Pic: Library of Congress In 1948, Whittaker Chambers is Time Magazine’s Senior Editor. He is forced against his will to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee about his past in the Communist underground. He names seven names, but the Committee zeroes in on one of …
 
Photo: Craig Whitehead on Unsplash The backdrop of this case is American Communism — infatuation with it and disillusionment with it. Communism predicted a violent upheaval that would produce a better life. In actual practice, it produced only drab, poverty-stricken dictatorships that killed and starved millions. Around 1935, the American Communist…
 
Whittaker Chambers tries to have a peaceful life, working a farm and becoming a high-paid and powerful editor at Time Magazine. But his past in the Soviet underground won’t go away. Stalin’s pact with Hitler impels him to inform the government about the underground. Worse, from time to time government investigators ask him for more and more informa…
 
Picture: Library of Congress Meet Whittaker Chambers: brilliant, melodramatic, painfully sincere, perpetually discontented and idealistic, and physically hard to forget; writer of controversial poems, plays, short stories, and communist journalism; and, as spymaster for Soviet Military Intelligence, traitor to the United States. Further Research Ep…
 
Meet Alger Hiss: Johns Hopkins, Harvard Law, Supreme Court clerk, left Wall Street to join a New Deal farming agency, counsel to a Senate Committee at age 30, aide to president Roosevelt at Yalta, Secretary General of the UN’s founding conference, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace . . . and the most highly placed traitor i…
 
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