My Six Parallels
By Alger Hiss, reprinted from The New York Times, July 23, 1973
For several years – increasingly in recent months – I have had a sense of déjà vu. The impression comes from a series of incidents in recent political trials together with disclosures seeping out of the Watergate swamp. I am reminded of parallels with incidents in my Congressional hearings and trials that began 25 years ago next month.
These are my six parallels:
- Tapping of telephones and bugging of dwellings. Some weeks before my appearances before the grand jury that indicted me for perjury, my lawyer was told by the F.B.I. agent in charge of the Baltimore office that the F.B.I. had three file drawers full of my telephone conversations. The agent remarked that there had been nothing in the transcripts to support the charges Whittaker Chambers had made. The law at that time did not permit me at my subsequent trial to demand these transcripts, although as early as the Olmstead case Justice Holmes had called wiretapping “dirty business.” During my trial and my appeal, my home telephone was tapped and my apartment was bugged. Similarly the home and office telephones of my lawyers were tapped. Tapping of the lawyers continued through the period when they prepared a motion for a new trial. I was then in jail with no telephone to tap. But I have reason to believe that as recently as a year ago my telephone was once again being tapped.
- Using as principal witness an unstable informer beholden to the prosecution. In the Berrigan case, the chief prosecution witness was Boyd Douglas, who had a record of impostureship and tall tales and who, as a Federal prisoner facing additional charges, was under the thumb of the prosecution. In my case Whittaker Chambers had a similar record and as an admitted perjurer could have been indicted at the pleasure of the Department of Justice. A young congressman, Richard M. Nixon, publicly opposed the indictment of Chambers on the ground that it would destroy the case against me.
- Tendentious and prejudicial press stories based on official leaks or statements. In the Berrigan case, prior to the indictment, J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I., testified before a congressional committee that the F.B.I. had discovered a plot to capture Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels in Washington. Prior to and during my trials there was a barrage of inspired adverse publicity, including the release (before my indictment) by Mr. Nixon of documents Chambers had produced which he claimed to have received from me.
- Delay in producing Government records as ordered by the court. In the Ellsberg case this tactic was so manifest that it led to sharp reproof by the judge. In my case the confusion and stress of a lengthy and complex trial led my counsel to discover only after the second trial, when it was too late, that some papers ordered produced had never in fact been forthcoming. An instance of delay that, because of perseverance by my counsel, did not succeed; we had asked for Chambers’ passport file. The prosecution contended that it would take two or three weeks to locate it. When we obtained an order, on formal motion, the file was produced that same afternoon.
- Forgery by typewriter. In the Ellsberg case, a statement by E. Howard Hunt, a member of the White House “plumbers,” disclosed that he had been granted access to State Department files and had forged a telegram from President Kennedy purporting to order the assassination of Diem. I noted that Hunt, unable to get from the F.B.I. the kind of typewriter used by President Kennedy when he was in the White House, regarded his forgery as a poor one because, he said, since the Hiss case typewriting is subject to special scrutiny. In my case it was only after my conviction that my counsel, on consulting a metallurgist, discovered that the old Woodstock (which after my indictment we had located in a junk shop) had been tampered with to make its typing conform to the typeface irregularities of the machine that, on his retirement from business, my father-in-law had given to my wife.
- Attempts to influence the trial judge. It came out in the Ellsberg case that Judge Byrne had met with President Nixon at the San Clemente White House during the trial to discuss the possible appointment of the judge as Director of the F.B.I., a post then vacant because of Hoover’s death. In my case, after the first trial had ended with a hung jury there was an immediate widespread attack, led by Congressman Nixon, [claiming] that the trial judge, Samuel Kaufman, was partial to the defense. On the day the jury was dismissed, Mr. Nixon called for a congressional investigation of Judge Kaufman’s fitness to serve on the bench. This action, treated by a sector of the press as a demand for impeachment, was calculated to influence whatever judge would preside at the second trial. (Judge Kaufman was not selected to serve at that trial.)
These parallels illustrate Professor Francis A. Allen’s point that political trials are “particularly susceptible to unwise and even abusive uses.” This susceptibility, the imbalance between the vast power of the Federal Government and the limited resources of an individual defendant, plus the inevitable attraction of the media to such cases, make it of paramount importance that in political trials there be the most faithful adherence to those safeguards of individual rights (of late so patently in jeopardy in our country) that have been a major accomplishment of the centuries-long development of Anglo-American law.
Finally, I note with fresh optimism that the present climate of opinion should facilitate speedy action in the case brought last fall by the American Civil Liberties Union (under the seldom-implemented Freedom of Information Act) for release of all the F.B.I. files in my case – files denied to scholars and to the press until now.
My hopes, as they have always been, are for vindication. I am not interested in seeing the Biter Bitten.