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On the other hand, Whittaker Chambers was "a contributing editor of Time (...) from 1925 to April 1938, (he) had been a Communist, a writer of radical literature, an editor of the Communist Daily Worker. He had also been what was then vaguely known as a Communist courier."
The major starting point of the case was Chambers' disappointment with the communist doctrine and the dual attitude Stalin had when signing the 1939 pact with the Nazi leadership. Therefore, according to Time Magazine, he "abandoned the party in revulsion and despair, and became a determined enemy of Communism." Consequently, outraged by the dramatic turn that the soviet politics had taken, he began expressing his views on the collaborators of the soviet regime in the U.S. It is in this way that Chambers contacted Berle, who, after the discussion he had with the former communist partisan, wrote in his notes from September 2, 1939 the information presented by Chambers in their discussions; Alger Hiss's name is associated with information regarding his position in the Administration as "Assistant to Sayre-CP-1937," as "member of the underground Com.-Active, Baltimore boys." Information was given in respect to his wife, Pricilla, who was also a member of the socialist party. Finally, in relation to Alger Hiss, there was also noted the period which determined his involvement with the soviets that was the "early days of New Deal."
These proved to be essential for the development of the case because they represented the basic proof Berle needed to begin inquiring into the matter. After a series of personal investigations, he finally decided to take his notes to the Department of Justice which in turn called Chambers for additional questioning relating to his statement. Nonetheless, Hiss's reputation was still intact and he successfully participated at the Yalta Conference and the San Francisco UN Conference. After Hiss's appointment as the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a very strived for position in the field, he was somewhat twisted by Secretary of State James Byrnes to address the still unproven suspicions of his affinities with communist groups in America and abroad. Hiss thus officially affirmed his complete lack of involvement in activities similar to those he was accused of.
The matter however worsened and "In the spring of 1948 Thomas Donegan, a special assistant to the Attorney General, spread before a federal grand jury in New York an FBI report on Alger Hiss." From this point on, because of the official level that the entire situation had reached by implicating the House Un-American Activities Committee, every public statement would represent on the record appreciations. From this perspective, when Hiss firmly denied any involvement with soviet services or any knowledge of former party member, Whittaker Chambers, he in fact had committed perjury. This would be proven, if not very clearly in the court of law at the time, through additional documents and official records which would be presented to the public years later.
In support of the allegations of espionage there were numerous testimonies, among which that of Elisabeth Bentley, one of Chamber's former communist colleagues who testified to knowing Alger Hiss, among others from the party lines. In response, "Alger Hiss also denied the accusations." In his testimony before the House Committee, Hiss clearly and unequivocally stated that "To the best of my knowledge. I never heard of Whittaker Chambers until in 1947, when two representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked me if I knew him and various other people, some of whom I knew and some of whom I did not know. I said I did not know Chambers. So far as I know, I have never laid eyes on him, and I should like to have the opportunity to do so."
The determination in denying the accusations and the fame and respect he was enjoying from his colleagues permitted Hiss to convince his adversaries of the relativity of the charges he was faced with. Nonetheless, an important role was played by the Republican Congressman Richard Nixon, whose intervention in the case also stirred rumors according to which the attempt to indict Hiss with espionage was politically motivated. Notwithstanding, a subcommittee was created in order to establish the truthfulness of the two sides of the story. In this process, all sorts of questions were being asked, with apparently no direct connection to the case. In the end however, to Richard Nixon's perspective, Chambers proved his point-of-view by offering certain details of Hiss's personal life and passions that at least an acquaintance if not a friend would have access to. Linder points out that "in discussions after the hearing, (August, 16, 1948) Committee members indicated they were now convinced Hiss was lying based on large parts on the response about the warble." Moreover, as Edward White notes, "a lengthy interview with Chambers convinced Nixon that the Chambers case was so airtight that the Justice Department had no choice but to ask for an indictment of Hiss." As a consequence, the House Committee considered Hiss's testimony to be "vague and evasive," while Chambers' to be "forthright and emphatic." The events continued to evolve and, following Chambers' public accusation of Hiss being a liar, the latter filed suit against him.
The libel suit represented the turning point in the Hiss-Chambers case. It was not so much the trial itself, but what it meant in terms of evidence brought in support of the affirmations made. It is in this context that the Pumpkin Papers emerged and sealed Hiss's fate. They played a crucial role in Chambers' defense because they represented the evidence needed to attest the relationship Chambers and Hiss indeed had, and therefore opened the road for the accusation of perjury and for finally proving Hiss's implication in the soviet espionage.
The Pumpkin Papers represented "samples of the documents that Chambers had provided to Soviet intelligence" which he had kept " as an insurance policy (...) documents he had hid one night on his farm in a hollowed-out pumpkin in fear that the Soviets might try to steal and destroy them." They consisted of sixty five pages of secret documents, four notes handwritten by Alger Hiss, and five strips of 35 mm film. "The two developed microfilm rolls only contained copies of more solemn State Department documents from the same frame time as the typed copies Chambers had disclosed." Therefore, they indeed were a certification of the fact that Chambers had in fact a material and factual support of his claims and accusations in relation to Alger Hiss's activities. Their content dealt with the State Department's activities in various areas, including "the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, and Germany's takeover of Austria. Other frames dealt with subjects that hardly seem the stuff of spy novels, such as diagrams of fire extinguishers and life rafts. All of the documents that bore dates came from the period from January 5 through April 1, 1938"
The controversy surrounding these documents revolves around a number of different aspects. On the one hand, the respective documents pointed out the existence of a clear case of espionage. For instance, one of the documents was dated January 6, 1938 and concerned secret information regarding the "change in direction force of the economic development of Manchukuo from the South Manchuria Railway to a new company, the Manchukuo Heavy Industry Development Company, which will be a holding company jointly owed by the Manchukuo Government and the Japan Industries Company." The most important aspect of such documents was not necessarily the actual information they contained, as sometimes they were mere plans for life rafts, but rather their actual existence outside the diplomatic circuit. The "Report on the new economic organization in Mnchukuo" for example was meant for restricted circulation, from the American Consul in Yokohama, Japan, to the Secretary of State in Washington. Despite the clear evidence of espionage, due to legal loopholes, there could have been no indictment for espionage.
On the other hand, there was still the accusation of perjury for which Hiss could be accounted because he had lied before the Committee about him knowing Chambers.
In connection with this point, there are two contradictory testimonies regarding the papers. Following their more or less voluntary release, as Chambers had to be subpoenaed by the Committee in order to hand over the entire material, both Hiss and Chambers testified before a Grand Jury up to mid December 1948. Throughout these testimonies however, when asked about the papers which constituted the proof of the defense, "at any time did you, or Mrs. Hiss in your presence, turn any documents of the State Department, or of any other Governmental organization, over to Whittaker Chambers," Hiss refused to admit any wrong doing or meetings with Chambers with such aim, "never, excepting, I assume, the title certificate to the Ford (...) and to no unauthorized person." However, the prosecutor managed to swiftly underline the discrepancy between his affirmation and Chambers' "Mr. Hiss, Mr. Chambers has…[continue]
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