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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



Jun 7, 2023

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 Chambers was the hub of a spy ring in State in those years.  
But might he also help Hiss?  Could it have been Wadleigh who gave Chambers all those documents?  How might Hiss make a case that it was Wadleigh who passed the papers that Chambers said he got from Hiss?  Would Chambers have any reason to falsely accuse Hiss if he could truthfully accuse Wadleigh?  
Lloyd Paul Stryker’s cross-examination succeeded in making Wadliegh look like a ridiculous head-in-the-clouds dreamer.  (Just like Chambers, Stryker hints, all these commies are weirdoes unlike the solid, respectable Alger.). Wadleigh made such a fool of himself that, when once Murphy objected to Stryker’s cross-examination, Judge Kaufman couldn’t rule on the objection because he was laughing so hard that he had hidden his face in his papers.
Back at the Grand Jury, there was a dramatic scene in the room where all the witnesses sat before being summoned to the presence of the Grand Jury.  When Wadleigh and Hiss saw each other, they exchanged pleasantries and then Wadliegh told Hiss “The F.B.I. came to see me and I got sort of panicky and told them that I had given some documents to Chambers.”  Hiss purported to be “astounded.”  (Hiss at 187.). I would love to have ten great actors perform Hiss being astounded — reactions all the way from “My God, there was a spy ring in State.  Horrors!”  to “You, too, Julian?!”  See also Grand Jury Transcript at 3949; Weinstein at 298.
Alistair Cooke wrote that Hiss might have been “a greater Wadleigh.”  Rebecca West, in her review of Cooke’s book, says that this view “speaks of chaotic moral and intellectual values.”  She supports this opinion in her memorable prose.  1950 University of Chicago Law Review at 672-73, available at 
The Baltimore Sun newspaper interviewed Wadleigh shortly before he testified in the second trial.  By then he was disgraced and destitute.  The newspaper described Wadleigh as “[p]ossessed of a self-esteem amounting almost to self-deification” and “look[ing] pityingly on the remainder of humanity, . . . distressed when it so often fails to respond to his guidance from a self-erected mountain.”  Thomas O’Neill, “Wadleigh Set for New Role,” The Baltimore Sunday Sun, Nov., 27, 1949, page 5, col. 1.
Questions:  No one has ever suggested that Wadleigh was lying.  Can you think of any reason he would lie to corroborate Chambers?  After you’ve listened to this Podcast, do you agree with me that, after all was said and done, Wadleigh helped the Prosecution and damaged Hiss?  At the second trial, Wadleigh told the jury in detail how he, a mild Socialist and not a Communist, gave information to the Soviet Union because he wanted to help fight fascism, not to promote Communism.  He thought he was helping his country in the long run, not hurting it.  Do you have sympathy for Wadleigh’s intentions and/or acts?