The Advocate, 1978
The following interview with Alger Hiss was conducted on November 2, 1978 by Joseph P. Ippolito, Herbert Travers and Professor Charles P. Kindregan of the Suffolk University Law School in Boston. It was published in the Fall 1978 issue of the school’s newsletter, the Advocate. At the time of the interview, Hiss and his attorneys were preparing for oral arguments on his coram nobis petition – which had been filed earlier that year – to invalidate his 1950 perjury conviction. The transcript begins shortly after the start of the interview.
Advocate: I would characterize what we’ve been talking about so far mostly as relating to prosecutorial misconduct, and the petition alleges, at least as I see it, prosecutorial misconduct in several forms: the maintenance of an informer within the defense; the pretrial statements given by Chambers to the FBI – the concealment of them from the defense; critical facts concerning the typewriter in which the government claimed the stolen documents were copied or abstracted – that these were kept from the defense; and that the prosecution suffered perjury to be committed by its witnesses without protest. All four of these bases of the petition seem to suggest prosecutorial misconduct, not your innocence, Mr. Hiss. I’m just wondering why at the outset you made the statement that you were not so much concerned with prosecutorial misconduct as with establishing your own innocence. I think you’ve characterized the petition as directed towards characterizing your innocence.
Hiss: I spoke of my desire of how the petition should be drafted. Counsel said to me early on, it would be very difficult to get any judge in the Southern District of New York after this passage of time to say “I, Judge So and So, am convinced that Hiss is innocent.” It should be possible to get a judge to say this was an unfairly obtained conviction, because of prosecutonal misconduct, and it will be expunged. This is counsel’s question that…
Advocate: … but the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts went a long way down that road, toward conceding your innocence.
Hiss: I don’t think so. If you read that carefully, I think you’ll find that the Chief Judge said that they could not question collaterally the decision of the Federal Court. They had to assume my guilt. Now I have reason to believe, of course, the Chief Judge who wrote that spoke to a man of The New York Times, a special reporter on the judiciary, Goldstein, up in a meeting in Canada of the American Bar Association, and indicated that the court actually believed me innocent. That’s not what the case stands for.
Advocate: The case is revolutionary in that they no longer require a statement of contrition.
Hiss: I told them frankly that if that was necessary, I wasn’t going to participate. Now let’s get back to what the Professor has said.
Advocate: I can understand the advice of counsel in reference to this petition. Are you suggesting that there is other information that has since been made available to you by the Freedom of Information Act that would point in the direction of your innocence? I think since Watergate we have been subject to a smoking gun type of mentality.
Hiss: We have no smoking gun.
Advocate: Do you have anything that tended to point in the direction of your innocence?
Hiss: I will repeat myself on what I said at the outset, that the government’s case was based on Chambers’ testimony, plus alleged documentary evidence. I think the petition and the facts as developed in court and in the documents we have from the FBI demonstrate that none of the documentary evidence corroborates Chambers, therefore there was no credible provable evidence of guilt under the law as it then stood, unless you choose to believe Chambers. I have said all along that the test is the credibility of Chambers versus me. Under the law of perjury, his testimony isn’t enough. Therefore there was not legal probative evidence, in the case, of my guilt. This is my position, but if people want to believe Chambers, as obviously Weinstein does, that’s their privilege. I don’t think the courts will. My interest is not in the battle of books, but in the court’s decision.
Now can we go on with the typewriter issue a little further? As a lawyer, my chief objection to what the government did in the field of the typewriter, was that by withholding from us and the Court the information they had, they deprived us of the opportunity to cross examine Feehan [Ramos C. Feehan, the prosecution expert on typewriters]. We waived cross examination. We didn’t realize the frailty of the opinion evidence. We had not ever handled a case, none of our counsel had, where opinions had been submitted in regard to typewriters and handwriting was involved. We quite literally thought of it, as Murphy said in his summation, like fingerprints. It must be the same typewriter, so we then devoted ourselves to demonstrating that we did not have the typewriter, which we believed, which I still believe. Had we been able to cross-examine Feehan, had we been able to bring witnesses, other expert witnesses, like Mrs. McCarthy or Mrs. Ehrlich, to contradict him, the whole thing would have been different. There, in summation, Cross and Stryker would have been saying “It’s Chambers versus Hiss, and you’ve got two opinion experts; these documents don’t prove anything by themselves; they’re not immutable, they are just the opinion of a man whose judgment is very fallible.”
This is my chief objection to what happened: we never had a chance to cross-examine Feehan, and if you will examine his testimony in the first trial and compare it to the second trial, he is so much stronger in the second trial, because he knows he is not going to be cross-examined. We have F.B.I. documents in which the assistant prosecutor assumes we are going to produce witnesses against him, which shows they don’t regard him as infallible and one of the memoranda says, “Shouldn’t we get a second expert, if Hiss has two and we only have one, it won’t look good.” But they didn’t have a second witness, that’s part of the reason why they decided, no, they’d stick with Feehan.
But, as a lawyer of some experience, this is where I put my finger on the dirt that was done to me. Sure, Edith Murray was thrown in as a very dramatic witness at the very end when we couldn’t investigate and I think this was a type of use of false testimony. I think she was perfectly honest, I think she was led to say things out of loyalty to the Chamberses, for whom she worked. She was a rebuttal witness. I think she was the next-to-the-last witness. Now, the theory I have of how 230,099 ever came into our hands is really very simple. Mr. Lockey, who ran the junk yard where it was found, was approached by my brother and Mike Catlett in, oh, I think February. He wasn’t at home. Mrs. Lockey said she knew nothing about the typewriter. They told her what they were looking for, and why. They thought it had come through Marlow and various other people to Mr. Lockey. They came back later because of Mr. Lockey, they wanted to talk to him. He then said, “I’m sorry, I just threw it out.” When he said he threw it out, he meant in his own outdoor junk yard. They went out and looked and they found the one he had just thrown out, but it was a Royal. So they then said, “You’re mistaken, the one we’re talking about is the one you got from Marlow, and so on, and it’s an old Woodstock.” No typewriter was found.
Later, Mike Catlett came back to my brother Donald and said, “Look he has found it, he’s got the right typewriter.” Donald was so assured of this, he simply called Ed McLean in New York. McLean came down, met Mike. Donald went away for the weekend, as he planned to do, and it was Ed who found the typewriter. We didn’t comment on the fact that it was workable, that it had been lying outdoors, as everyone said, for months, in the rain and snow; this is rather strange, but it never led us to think that it was the wrong machine. I think Mr. Lockey was an honorable junkman. He had the chance to make a sale. If he could find the real old one, it must have been in miserable condition; how could he sell that to this nice gentleman from New York who wants an old Woodstock? There were a lot of old Woodstocks in those days, so he gets one that looks like it, almost exactly the same kind, as far as he can tell, and he makes a sale. He gets $15. This is where I think the mystery becomes mysterious. I don’t accuse anybody of conspiracy. Now, we don’t need to contend that it was doctored. It may very well have been, but that’s a different issue. In other words, somebody else may have played a hand with Mr. Lockey, but I don’t need to go into that. I think Mr. Lockey simply sold another old Woodstock, and Feehan couldn’t tell one old Woodstock from another, as he demonstrated.
Advocate: So whatever doctoring you’re assuming would have happened after it had been found. You’re not suggesting it was planted.
Hiss: If there was any doctoring, it was done in the interim between the time that Donald and Mike first spoke with Mrs. Lockey, and the time several months later when Ed McLean picked it up; I don’t assert there was any doctoring. There was some evidence, as you know, from what Dr. Norman and others have said, that it may have been doctored. All I need at this time to prove, and to have accepted, is that it was not my typewriter that we got, and that this was withheld from us, and had we known it, and had we known that Feehan had said that all three sets of documents came from the same typewriter, and that this was a physical impossibility, we would have had a totally different ballgame.
Advocate: I know you may not want to assess blame, but do you in some way feel that counsel
Hiss:.. my counsel? No, positively not, I was there…
Advocate: … with respect to the failure to cross-examine Feehan?
Hiss: Claude Cross said several times, “I wish I had cross-examined Feehan,” but he had no basis to.
Advocate: At that time he thought it was your typewriter?
Hiss: Positively. And I was convinced that Chambers had gotten access to our typewriter sometime after we got rid of it. It’s much simpler to know that all he did was get access to a Woodstock, and that what I said at the time of sentencing, that this was forgery by typewriter, was in fact accurate, but not in the way that I thought. I thought the forgery was in obtaining my own machine.
Advocate: Did you consider even preparing a cross examination of Mr. Feehan? He testified in the first trial, too, didn’t he? After that, was there any discussion of cross examining?
Hiss: Yes, yes, Claude Cross thought of examining, but Claude was urged by everyone who had been to the first trial not to. They said, “You don’t have any basis for it. Our own experts had said the same thing that he said.” So honor seemed to keep us from it. You should not use in cross examination something you do not genuinely believe yourself, so to make up something which would confuse him was contrary to our sense of principle. I’m assuming that Murphy, when he cross examined the Catlett boys, must have really believed they were mistaken. Otherwise, he had no right to try to confuse them. Two uneducated simple fellows, up here away from home before a strange kind of jury; the whole case might have been different, too, if it had been tried in Washington, where blacks are treated in a different way; where Chambers’ story about coming to my house once a week or ten days in the middle of the night knocking on the door and ringing the bell, when at the house I lived in on 30th Street you could hear people snoring next door. Whenever I shaved in the morning, my opposite neighbor would know that I was up and about. He testified to it. A fellow named May. It was unbelievable that Chambers could have been, but in Washington, people would know that Georgetown is a quiet, residential, dead area after 9 o’clock at night. People just didn’t go around knocking on doors and ringing bells at 2 in the morning or 3 in the morning, whenever he said he’d come back from his trips, but that’s beside the point.
Advocate: Would you like to go on to the withheld documents? As to the Chambers statements which were unsigned, my understanding of the law is, and I may stand corrected on this, is that at that time these were not statements which would have been turned over, which the prosecution was under any obligation to turn over.
Hiss: Two points I would make here. I’m not sure what the law was at the time. A very good argument could be made that you have stated it correctly. Second, when the Jencks case came along, the court did not say we are now changing the law as it did in Brown, in regard to Plessy v. Ferguson. So the position we are now taking is seeking, if the court wishes to say, “We think this is highly improper, but it was all right then,” let them say it.
Advocate: The Jencks rule should then be retroactive?
Hiss: We think it should.
Advocate: There is no law on that?
Hiss: We think there is no law. And secondly, it’s obvious what Murphy did was tricky in the sense that he was preventing us from having access to what would have been very helpful. So when he said “Don’t let him sign it”… after all, if you are an honorable prosecutor, and you have confidence in your case, you’re not going to keep the normal procedures from being followed, of having things signed that they believe to be a statement. So we regard that as highly improper. I’m glad to have you state it the way that you do, because this is a trial run for what the U.S. Attorney’s is going to say against us.
Advocate: I’ve always believed, personally, that prosecutors should have an open file, but of course even today they don’t. As to the holographic statement by Mr. Chambers, some commentators have said all along that Chambers’ attitude toward you reflected possibly a homosexual attachment of one kind or another, and there have even been reports that President Nixon has made this explanation to some people. Have you ever developed any, well let me ask you this, have you ever given any thought to what use would have been made of these statements, this holographic statement by Mr. Chambers at trial if you had had it? What would you have done?
Hiss: You will remember that both the psychiatrists who testified, testified that they felt that Chambers had homosexual tendencies. That testimony was based on very thin evidence, and they said so. We had had a number of reports, none of which panned out, with one exception. There was one man who said, yes, he had had a homosexual experience with Chambers at some kind of a convention when they were roommates. He said he woke up and Chambers was practicing fellatio on him. But, my counsel felt that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. It would look bad; that we were trying to smear someone. Had we known that Chambers had admitted to a pathetic ten-year period, this would not only have strengthened the testimony of the two psychiatrists, but we now know that this period in his life exactly coincides with the period in which he says he was receiving stolen documents. Many of the tales he tells about picking up documents late at night in deserted parks and street corners, are the kind of pickups of a lonely homosexual. He says in his statement there was no lasting relationship with any of these pickups. For a man of Chambers’ peculiar – I don’t want to overstate it – character, he had an obvious gift of fantasy, which he certainly had as a writer, to have transposed these instances of which he presumably was very ashamed.
He wasn’t a modern homosexual who feels perfectly justified. He was secretive. He hid it from his wife. I think this would’ve been a very telling argument that this was part of his fevered imagination. The meetings he had with people he said were conspirators could simply have been the people he was picking up. I think it would have much affected his credibility. Now you may ask why we have put it in such a minor position in the petition. That’s because of the difference in times. This is a civil liberties organization; they defend the rights of people who are homosexuals. We certainly don’t want to make, … in fact, we discussed for hours whether we should leave it out all together. The end conclusion was that this is a legal fact; it’s one of the statements that was withheld and cannot possibly be squared with the law before Jencks, that only signed statements … because it was signed. The whole thing was holographic.
Advocate: And wouldn’t it have been useful in Dr. Binger’s testimony?
Hiss: And also toward his general credibility, Chambers’ credibility.
Advocate: In connection with Chambers’ activities, wasn’t Mr. Horace Schmahl primarily assigned to examining the question of Mr. Chambers’ homosexuality? That allegation does appear in some of the literature.
Hiss: If so, it’s inaccurate because Weinstein is rather inaccurate. One of the documents that we have given as an exhibit is a defense trial pattern, a list of issues that the defense intended to explore, which we found, for some strange reason, in Murphy’s files. It’s quite early in January or February. It shows how able a lawyer Ed McLean was, because most of the basic issues were sketched out. That was one of the things which Schmahl was going for: the typewriter. I’d say the homosexuality was a minor issue. Chambers’ history in terms of his credibility certainly was.
Advocate: If you had the inconsistent statements made by Chambers at trial, one of the possible defenses against Chambers was the psychological motivation. If you had had the inconsistent statements, it seems to me they would have gone against that defense, because Chambers’ statements made in 1946 didn’t in any way try to implicate you in espionage, but only as a member of the Communist Party…
Hiss: If you try to ruin a man in terms of his career, that does not seem to be very kindly. You see, my theory of why Chambers made the charge of espionage is that it was very much a last-minute thing, after I sued him for libel. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to hurt me before, but it hadn’t occurred to him to try to hurt me in that way. So that wouldn’t bother our theory; inconsistent statements were helpful in showing that his testimony was a tissue of fabrications. Now, going back to the homosexual question. I can’t tell you on how many occasions Harold Shapero, who was Stryker’s chief assistant, and one of the few survivors… I’d say half-a-dozen times Stryker said to me, “Alger, are you sure he never made a pass at you?” And thinking back as honestly as I can, he made the most about his heterosexual conquests which sounded a bit unlikely, he wasn’t that attractive. Stryker said, “It would clear everything up, the jury would buy that right away.” I don’t know if Stryker was right.
Ed McLean, in one of the documents of the defense files, went to see Chambers at Westminister, because Chambers claimed to have some things I had given him. Ed was the least psychiatrically-oriented person I’d ever known. He asked him, “What did Mr. Hiss give you? What was it?” Chambers said, “He gave me a love seat.” We moved out of the apartment which Chambers occupied. There were a number of pieces of furniture we did not take with us, and one of those was a small sofa, which I distinctly said, “Sure, you can have it.” I wouldn’t have called it a love seat. Ed said, “Well, he did think that was a love seat.” That upset him. Chambers said, “Oh, you want to see something that used to belong to Alger Hiss?” Now I’m almost exactly quoting from Ed’s memorandum of the conversation. He said Chambers went trotting upstairs, like a little puppy, and he came back with two carefully folded pieces of ancient fabric. He said he heard a drawer being opened. Obviously these were fetishes of some kind, he’d been saving. He said in awe, “These used to be part of the slip covers.” Ed was so upset; he said there’s something spooky here, and he said every time Chambers referred to my wife, he was very hostile and thought of every nasty thing he could say, but whenever he talked about me, it was as though he was doing me a favor with everything he’d ever said, so that there’s no question that what Stryker, Cross, Binger, Murray, all believed that Chambers had some sort of peculiar homosexual attachment to me. Never overt, and this was like the things in Shakespeare’s phrase about “Hell hath no fury like woman scorned!” He felt doubly damaged when I cut off relations, that that was a rebuff, as if he had had a real relation with me, and I’d said, “Get lost.” So that statement would have made a tremendous amount of difference to the morale of my attorneys. But this is the kind of thing they believed, they thought was somehow being kept from me, and I’m sure now that if Cross and Stryker were alive this would be one of the things they would find most reprehensible on the part of the government.
Advocate: Can I raise a question of Mr. Horace Schmahl, whose name has come up? He apparently was a defense investigator, and your petition indicates on the basis of new evidence that he was coopted to some extent by the prosecution. Are you saying that there is anything improper in a prosecutor interviewing a prospective defense witness, or investigator, as long as the prosecutor does not disrupt the defense tactics or planning or cause him to breach any confidential communication?
Hiss: That last clause is the trick. If Schmahl is the man who turned over this confidential outline of defense tactics, he’s obviously breached the confidence. I would think any prosecutor who talks to an employee of counsel on the other side, whether a confidential investigator or a secretary, should make that fact known. This was a secret. We never knew what Schmahl was telling in these meetings with the FBI or the prosecutor. Yes, we do think that was improper.
Advocate: Do you have any evidence that Schmahl was in fact revealing defense tactics, confidential information to the prosecution?
Hiss: Yes, yes. I think some of those are cited as examples in the exhibits. The plan with regard to the typewriter was very important, with regard to their determination that the typewriter which we, in fact, found was not the right one. He never told us that. They were ahead of us. He gave them information on Mr. Martin, Mr. Fansler’s partner. He gave them names of other people; yes, he was very helpful to them in their own investigation.
Advocate: One of the cases in which I did get back to the exhibits, the exhibit that mentions that Schmahl was subject to being arrested for posing as an FBI agent. It also mentions that he was a suspected Nazi. That would suggest that, those charges, whether or not true, in the hands of the government would be enough to put a man who needed a license to operate under the thumb of the FBI.
Hiss: Exactly, right. That’s the implication. Now the same thing, jumping back to Chambers. Chambers having confessed in a holographic statement to his homosexuality, which he was ashamed of, had put himself under their thumb in an unusual way. Now, all people who claim to be co-conspirators who testify against their co-conspirators are likely to be subject to the charge that their self-interest calls for them to tell the prosecutor just what the prosecutor wants. Chambers was, in this respect, subject to immediate prosecution for perjury. He had admitted lies, there’s just no question. He was saved by the government, because the Grand Jury sua sponte wanted to indict him, and they were told “Look, we don’t have any case against Hiss, if his chief witness is being prosecuted for perjury.” What kind of confidence does that show you really have in your chief witness, if you only don’t indict him for perjury to make him a more respectable-looking witness? In addition, they had his confession of homosexuality, about which he was desperately anxious to hide. So he was under their thumb, and as the petition shows, he met with them 39 times, from early January to just before trial. He was with them day after day, all day long. Think of how subject to influence this makes any witness. He was living with the prosecution. This is hardly the way that you get the most objective testimony of a witness.
Advocate: In a follow-up question on the Schmahl aspect, didn’t he leave the defense team’s employ at some time? If he was really under their thumb, it must have been a soft thumb-pressure to allow him to leave.
Hiss: He was fired. We didn’t have any more money, and he was being absolutely useless the last month. McLean said to me “We just don’t have the funds. He’s drawing down per diems; he’s going off on trips.” But that didn’t mean that we felt he was hostile.
Advocate: On the contrary, didn’t your lawyer offer him further work?
Hiss: That’s right; we tried to hire him back later, when we had some money. If he had come in with information we would have been very pleased, as a volunteer. He retained his confidential relationship with us right through the motion for a new trial. It was only when Chester Lane said to me “Did you ever know that Horace Schmahl was a double agent?” I said, no. I had no such knowledge, but I did know that on one occasion Ed McLean said to me, “Schmahl says he can get documents from New York from HUAC because he has connections with HUAC. What do you say?” I said, “We’re not playing that kind of game. Tell him thanks, but no thanks.” It’d be improper, and I said to Ed “What would you have done if I said, go ahead and do it?” Ed said, “That’s a different question, that’s an iffy question.” From then on Schmahl’s work wasn’t very helpful, and he may actually, it now occurs to us, he may have been trying to compromise us, getting us to accept improper documents that he got secretly from the House Committee – and then suddenly have it blown, which would have been very embarrassing to us.
Advocate: One of the other things in the petition with regard to Schmahl is that possibly the FBI made a deal with him based on not arresting him for impersonating an officer or an agent. Did you ever come up with any evidence that he was actually impersonating an FBI officer or agent?
Hiss: If you look at the exhibits you’ll see that this is reported to the FBI, that he had. They think they could have prosecuted him. We didn’t know about it. He never told us he was impersonating an FBI agent.
Advocate: When he did, was he working for your defense counsel?
Hiss: That I don’t know. In other words, there might have been other occasions. Yes, I think one of the charges is that when he was employed by us he told somebody he was working for the FBI, but they seem to have other instances.
Advocate: What I guess I would assume would be a key in the testimony, because it points out one of those little concrete moments in time, is the incident of the car purchase and where he [Chambers] got the money for it: the alleged $400 loan. Now this is an instance where you have charged that prior inconsistent statements have been withheld, but aren’t the prior inconsistent statements at least quite curious in that if he had been prompted by the FBI, why would he have gotten the numbers and the dates wrong? And if he wasn’t prompted by the FBI that was a hell of a stab in the dark.
Hiss: Our theory on that is that some people in the FBI were playing it straight, and some weren’t. And that he got a tip-off about a withdrawal that I’d made at a particular time, but he didn’t get the exact data, so he made a stab in the dark and used the wrong figure. But, remember that, before that, his wife, presumably on his say so, had said that the money for the car came from his mother. So everything seems to us to indicate that it was a stab in the dark after he had been given partial enlightenment. It was a stab in the twilight, let’s say, not the dark. Somebody said “Hey, did you know that Hiss had withdrawn some money? I don’t know how much it was, but it was a sizable sum of money.” After all, a dozen FBI agents were working on this case, maybe more. I don’t know. We thought it was worth bringing up, but if I was a U.S. Attorney, I’d make the same argument you’re making in opposing me. The Judge will have to resolve it.
Advocate: Weinstein’s book ends up with a whole appendix on conspiracy theories. He mentions the various types that have been put forward. There’s a lot of them, and you mention that you didn’t support a lot of them. If you read Weinstein, one might think that you did support one or two of these theories.
Hiss: There’s a lot of misleading implications in Weinstein’s book. For example, he says that he started out being very favorable to my point of view. I have absolutely no evidence to that. I would have thought it would have been improper for him to indicate that. He’s supposed to be a historian. In the article in The Nation, Victor Navasky says there was no written record that he had that point of view. I think that’s good P.R.
Advocate: As far as the various conspiracy theories go?
Hiss: I have never been a believer. I have believed that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI did some pretty dirty tricks – call that conspiracy if you like – and I would say to Mr. Weinstein, in the words of Patrick Henry, “If that’s conspiracy, make the most of it.” It is a charge I make. This was improper tactics on the part of the FBI and the prosecutor.
Advocate: How about Mr. Nixon?
Hiss: Well, that was clearly opportunistic. And I think he clearly prejudiced all the jurors. I think he had a great deal to do with obtaining the indictment, particularly with preventing the indictment of Chambers. I suppose if Chambers had been indicted, it would have been somewhat of a standoff. I don’t see how they would have gone forward and prosecuted me with Chambers also indicted.
Advocate: I’ve never understood why a Junior Congressman, such as Nixon, would have any influence with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a Democratic Administration.
Hiss: I don’t think he did. Now he got before the Grand Jury, that’s where his influence was, and with the public.
Advocate: As far as you know, was your indictment recommended by the U.S. Attorney’s Office?
Hiss: Yes. Positively. I’d like to know what Nixon and the prosecuting attorney said.
Advocate: Do you have any way of getting those in connection with the present petition?
Hiss: No, we tried, but were badly slapped down under the Freedom of Information Act, knowing that it did not perfectly apply; the government did not oppose; the same Mary Daly (of the U.S. Attorney’s Office) said, “Look, there are so many references to the Grand Jury testimony in FBI documents that we have gotten, because they are privy to them, it’s not quite fair.” So much of it has now leaked, but not the part I’d be most interested in, so we made a motion before the very judge that now has the case before him.
Advocate: And the part you’d be most interested in is Richard Nixon?
Hiss: Nixon and what the prosecuting attorney said.
Advocate: Was that Mr. Murphy also?
Hiss: No, it was, I think, Donegan, his assistant.
Advocate: Do you ascribe very much importance to both the statements recorded in the Watergate tapes and the written statements in Six Crises? Do you think those were slips or accurate statements?
Hiss: You know, I’ve been doing my best not to give any support to the conspiracy theories. So it’s a question I would like to duck, but I won’t. I think when Nixon says the FBI found the typewriter it means they knew the typewriter we found was at Lockey’s, because there are too many other similar statements. A letter written of which I have a copy, by McDowell, says the FBI found it. That was written contemporaneously. There was a press item in December ’48 in Washington, saying the FBI found the typewriter. The man who wrote that was located; at that time he was working for one of the major Republican candidates.
Advocate: Are you talking about Lasky?
Hiss: No, this is a more reputable fellow, who said, “I have no idea now where I got the information but I must have believed it was credible. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written it. It must have come to me as a leak from the committee.” Then two committee reports, which we paid no attention to then, said the same thing. Then there was an article published in, I think, the American Weekly, which used to circulate with Sunday newspapers, and the man who wrote that said he had access to FBI documents for his story about Edith Murray. In that, he, too, said that the FBI found the typewriter. I think there must be something to this, but I don’t think it was conspiracy. I think it may prove that they knew about the typewriter, they looked at it, they knew it had the wrong serial number and therefore left it where it was. I don’t mean they planted it there, but they chose to walk by on the other side, and let us pick it up.
Advocate: For what strategic purpose was the typewriter introduced?
Hiss: I’m sorry to say that there was no strategic purpose. I insisted. I said, “Look, this is an important part of the evidence; we have sought it. I think everything ought to be above board and open. It can’t hurt me, because I got rid of it before the date of the documents, but I think it ought to be in evidence.” Somebody ought to talk to Harold Rosenwald and Harold Shapero and see if there was any opposition. I really don’t know. I would have insisted. You see, we were absolutely convinced of the honesty of the Catletts. A very fine man who later became an NAACP lawyer, a black man who I think taught at Howard, I’ve forgotten his name, wished to be helpful to me personally, because I had signed a brief amicus before the Supreme Court about restrictive covenants. That was obviously a racist procedure, and Phil Jessup and I wrote the brief amicus saying it was contrary to the Civil Rights Covenant of the United Nations Charter. And this man thought I had done something, with no benefit to me, on racial issues and he wished to be helpful. He met with them. Here he was, a friendly black lawyer … because we didn’t want the New York lawyer Stryker, or a Boston lawyer, like Claude Cross, to disturb them. And he was convinced as to the accuracy of their story. So we had no doubt.
We were surprised and shocked at the skill and the ruthlessness with which Murphy upset them; and he had them angry, calling names, saying, “The FBI put this down, not me. I didn’t put that in the statement.” Then Murphy was able to say to the jury, “Well, if any of you believe that the FBI did anything wrong in this case, acquit this man.” Today that would hardly be a good statement to make, but then, particularly that jury, really felt that he was charging them that they would be guilty of treason if they didn’t believe that. That was quite a trial. If you read Mr. Murphy’s flamboyant summation, you’ll see. Remember, too, this: this is something nobody has gone into. In Murphy’s opening in the first trial he stated accurately the law of perjury: “If you don’t believe Chambers, the government has no case.” In Stryker’s summation, he kept going back to that, “If you don’t believe Chambers, there is no case. Pay no attention to all these corroborations; that only corroborates a supposed true statement.” Murphy never said that again. This is quite accurate. This was the basic issue. Was Chambers credible or was I? Murphy was straightforward enough to state what was the rule of law.
Advocate: I don’t mean to be repetitive, but on an issue which we went by… in talking about the Grand Jury and Congressman Nixon’s role in it, you said you would very much like to see the minutes of the Grand Jury. Do you have any reason to suspect or to know what might be in it?
Hiss: Because there were press accounts almost immediately after, in which he said what he had told them, that he had urged them to indict me, so I believe he did; but I can’t prove it.
Advocate: Would that have any legal effect as far as you know for a witness to try to persuade the Grand Jury?
Hiss: At this time we’re not attacking the indictment. I think there are various grounds on which to attack. This would simply please my curiosity, because I have never understood why the Grand Jury which voted by a divided vote – there have been various reports as to what the vote was – and I know they refused to indict my wife, even though they were asked to by the U.S. Attorney, because a grand juror did report that.
Advocate: I’ve always wondered, why did you agree to meet with Mr. Chambers and Mr. Nixon in a New York Hotel? Why did you not demand a meeting in some public forum?
Hiss: I didn’t know Chambers was going to be there. I was asked if I would meet McDowell. I had known McDowell in some respect. McDowell called my office and said he was going to be in town and said he would like to see me, so I said, “Come to my office.” He then called me, and said, “It would be more convenient if you’d come over to the Commodore,” which was just across the street, and before he hung up, he said, “Oh, there will be one or two others here.” He might have said Nixon would be there, but he didn’t say it’d be the second appearance. And when I came in, it was all set up for a Committee hearing. They said, “You wanted to meet Chambers, you’re going to meet him.” I knew something was funny, that’s why I asked Chuck Dollard to go with me.
Advocate: Concerning Mrs. Murray, as I understand she did not testify at the first trial, she testified only at the second trial and in rebuttal, at the very end of the trial. She was a woman who had, between the time in question and the time of her testimony, suffered a nervous breakdown. Wouldn’t it be consistent, you have suggested she was coached…
Hiss: I wouldn’t go that far, I try to be subtle and say she was a suggestible witness. To me, a suggestible witness is somebody who learns what you want them to say, and picks it up to please you. That isn’t strictly coaching. You don’t say, “Look, say it this way. Now try it again.” But a suggestible witness can be imposed upon, and I think she was such a witness. But I’d go as far as to say I think she was coached. It comes down to the same thing. I think she knew what they wanted her to say.
Advocate: Well, apparently she first saw you in person at a very hectic, suggestive, as you allege, setting, at the courtroom where you were the focus of attention.
Hiss: No, outside the courtroom, as I stepped off the elevator.
Advocate: But weren’t her preliminary statements, I guess around the 25th of September, concerning a lady from Washington and a tall slender man, although not as strong as this statement she later made, were they not corroborative of what Chambers had been saying?
Hiss: No, I think you have misstated what the earlier interrogation shows. As I remember it, she said, “No, I don’t think I’ve seen either of these pictures.” She was told who they were. Sometime later she said, “This looks like somebody I know. Isn’t she an actress? This looks like a lady from Washington. Yes, I think maybe it was the lady from Washington.” And then, sometime later, she said, “Once there was a tall slender man with that lady,” but at no time till she came up to New York did she say she could identify me. Then, when she saw me at the landing, this would be a pretty easy identification.
Advocate: She did not say after looking at your photographs of yourself and your wife, that they looked something like them …
Hiss: She might have. I’d have to go back to the documents.
Advocate: … and looks something like, in regard to you, whom she thought she’d only seen once, and in your wife’s case, whom she’d thought she’d seen four times, that she looked very much like …
Hiss: You’re now talking about the specific validity of the charge we’ve made. This is the way it’ll be argued in court. If I were arguing this, I would want to examine the documents, before replying. In the documents we’ve got, there are the threads of what they eventually had her say, but I think it’s very thin. In a cross examination, which may not have been put in the petition, she said that when first shown the pictures she said, “I think I’ve seen them in the movies.” Now, maybe that should be put in the petition. Maybe that’s stronger. On cross examination, that was the first thing she told Claude Cross, and of course she denied she was told the name. She said “I think I’ve seen them in pictures.” Well, of course, she was very likely to have seen us on a newsreel. It was very much a part … every time we went in and out of court. No, I don’t think the Murray case is the strongest case. I really think she was a suggestible witness, and it’s significant that they didn’t put her on in the direct case where there was no way of investigating her, checking on her.
Advocate: But it’s also consistent with the analysis that it was trial-tactic discretion and not misconduct.
Hiss: And also with Victor Rabinowitz’s belief that the first trial was a trial run and that they were there to strengthen their hand. Now I think it was a very skillfully done prosecution, the more I study it the more I give Murphy credit for unscrupulous ability. In that sense, you can say that he was more able than my counsel, but only because he was willing to be unscrupulous, and of course my counsel weren’t. I’ve been very interested as the questions have come, I don’t get even the suggestion that you find any impropriety on the part of the prosecution.
Advocate: I wouldn’t assume that at all …
Hiss: It may just be the way it came up in questioning.
Advocate: Perhaps if we were interviewing the prosecutor, we would’ve asked about nothing else, … and I think perhaps you’ve picked that up because we expected a different kind of petition, and it raises the question that, if the motion from the petition is granted, that the legal judgment will be that the prosecution acted improperly, but that we can’t really hope for any ultimate legal judgment as to your guilt or innocence. Am I stating that correctly?
Hiss: Well, as you can tell from what I said before, I think the material as it now exists in the public record will indicate that none of the corroborative material was probative for its alleged purpose. In order to prove my innocence, it’s quite possible that Chambers is telling the truth, but had nothing to back him up. Sure, I can understand people saying that; but it comes down, I think, to the validity of my testimony versus Chambers’. And I said that from the beginning, the credibility of two men. Actually, I think anybody who believes Chambers ought to have their head examined. He was a very strange creature.
Advocate: Well, that’s a very telling point especially in the context of why he held on to these documents. Now, he and yourself had some sort of relationship. Weren’t you, or a person like you who was well respected and influential, the only type of person whom those documents could hurt – because to bring them forward he would have to implicate himself? The only way he could use them would be against a person who had more to lose.
Hiss: There may have been a blackmail in his mind when he saved them. See, we have not mentioned Malcolm Cowley. Malcolm Cowley was told by Chambers in 1940 that Francis Sayre was the head of a communist unit in the State Department, and Cowley was so flabbergasted that he burst out,”You know, Sayre was President Wilson’s son-in-law.” Every one of these documents could have been used to implicate Francis P. Sayre. Mrs. Chambers served as Sayre’s brother’s secretary; John Nenns Sayre was in the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Mrs. Chambers was a volunteer worker. So he knew. He was a magpie. He told Wadleigh a lot about Charles Darlington, Wadleigh’s boss. Wadleigh asked him, “How do you know all about Charles Darlington?” He said, “I make it my job to know, to find out about people connected with people I know.” He was a magpie, he picked up all kinds of things. He made charges. As we go through documents … I just sent two off to Gerard Piel, head of the Scientific American, he calls Gerry Piel a communist, which tickles Gerry Piel. There are 50 or 60 people that he alleged were to be communist, and some he alleged to be spies. People asked me, “Why did he say this about you?” He didn’t, at first. He picked on any number of people, including Laurence Duggan, and the first person to be the goat was Harry White. White died of a heart attack, and they had to get somebody else. And that’s when they closed in on me, on the afternoon of the day after White’s death.
Advocate: Thank you, Mr. Hiss.