Nixon Before the 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 that was not the case. 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 by Chambers in violation of a judge’s orders. (The contents of those film rolls became known as the “Pumpkin Papers.”)
Nixon said the film showed proof of Hiss’s complicity in espionage.
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. Although Nixon admitted that HUAC had no independent evidence that Hiss had ever been a Communist, the grand jurors followed his suggestion two days later.