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Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the Hiss-Chambers espionage case, which gripped America 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. Comments and politely phrased corrections or criticism are welcome by the writer and narrator, at



Apr 19, 2023

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.  Starting now, Hiss and Chambers are each looking at being the defendant in a criminal trial and going to prison — punishments that no newspaper or Congressional committee can inflict.
Both men and their wives testify to a Grand Jury.  Chambers has to explain his recent denial to this same Grand Jury that any espionage was committed.  See if you accept his explanation for the 180 degree change in his testimony.  Nixon refuses to turn over the Pumpkin Papers to the Grand Jury, and they threaten him with prison!  Nixon says, “Go ahead, make my day” and a compromise is agreed to.  An FBI expert testifies that the typed spy documents that Chambers had produced were typed on the same typewriter as some letters that the FBI had obtained and that were definitely typed on the Hisses’ family typewriter.  That means that the spy documents were typed on the Hiss family typewriter.  Hiss tries to explain how, if he wasn’t a spy, 65 pages of documents, obviously prepared for spying, got typed on his home typewriter; and how, if he got Chambers/Crosley out of his life by 1936, Chambers has all this paper from Hiss (and don’t forget the four handwritten notes) dated 1938.  See if you accept his explanation.  In the last hours of its life, the Grand Jury votes to indict Hiss for perjury.  Chambers and Mrs. Hiss are not indicted.  Alger Hiss loses another round, but he is far from defeated.  
REFERENCES for further research and QUESTIONS
Episode 16:  The Grand Jury proceedings (and related hallway fights and shouting matches between Nixon, the FBI, the Justice Department, and Hiss) are discussed in Weinstein at 293-324, Hiss’s memoir at 190-98, and in Chambers’ ‘Witness’ at 723-27, 761-64, and 780-84.  
The only comprehensive review of the Grand Jury transcript was written by me (pardon my immodesty) and is available at   If you would like a copy, send me an e-mail at
Grand Jury transcripts are kept secret for good reasons (explained briefly in the Podcast).  What got this Grand Jury transcript published was a precedent-setting lawsuit by the American Historical Association in which I played a small part.  AHA convinced the court that the historical significance of the event overcame the usual rule of secrecy.  In addition, all the principals were dead and many of their family members and friends supported publication.  The transcript is a (to me) fascinating glimpse into the thought processes of members of the Grand Jury and the government attorneys.  Chambers, for his earlier denial of any espionage, is roasted, fried, broiled, and fricasseed.  But, in the end, they accept his explanation.  Then, slowly, they refocus their anger on Hiss as the evidence against him accumulates and their patience with his clever wording wears out.  Hiss’s Exculpatory Theory #1 — that Chambers broke into the Hiss home and typed up the spy documents himself when no one was looking and then hid them and even denied their existence under oath for ten years — finally snaps the endurance of everyone else in the room.
Questions:Do you accept Chambers’ explanation for his recent perjury to the Grand Jury?  Do you accept Hiss’s Exculpatory Theory #1?(He had two more in his back pocket, which he used in later years.). What do you think Nixon was trying to accomplish by bringing the rolls of Pumpkin Paper film into the Grand Jury room and holding them up in the air, but refusing to hand them over?  Was he maybe hoping to get arrested and be on every front page again?  If you had been on the Grand Jury, would you have voted to indict Hiss?  Mrs. Hiss (the alleged typist)?  Chambers?  All of them?