My latest reading of Monica Crowley’s Nixon in Winter covered the discussions between Richard Nixon and Monica Crowley about a number of topics: the book Silent Coup, Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Nixon, the identity of Deep Throat, Whitewater, sexual harassment (since this was the time of the Clarence Thomas hearings and the Bob Packwood scandal). In this post, however, I want to focus on something else.
On pages 304-305, Monica talks about Alger Hiss, one whom Richard Nixon as a Congressman said was a spy for the Soviets. In the 1990’s, Russian military officer Dmitri Volkogonov claimed that Soviet archives “failed to show that Hiss had been a Communist Party member and a spy for Moscow” (Monica’s narration). Nixon responded to this news as follows to Monica:
“Five other Russians before him claimed that he was and that [Whittaker] Chambers and I were right. And these five had access to the KGB archives, where the records are. You don’t study the party archives! They’ve been sanitized. Spies don’t carry a party card; if they do, they’re not spies. You’ve got to look at the KGB files, which, of course, have been destroyed.”
Monica goes on to narrate that the Russian general later recanted his claim, saying that he had not looked through all of the intelligence archives and thus was not sure about Hiss’ innocence. But, except for the New York Times, a number of prominent media outlets did not report the general’s retraction.
I remember reading about Volkogonov’s initial claim that Soviet archives exonerated Hiss, but I never read about his retraction. Nixon’s reasons for his skepticism, as well as the Russian general’s retraction, helps me to make sense of things I have read about Hiss. When I was reading Ann Coulter’s Treason, for example, and Ann was arguing that the Venona cables show that Hiss was spying for the Soviets (which is actually debated), I was confused, for had not Hiss been exonerated in the 1990’s? Apparently not! But see here for more information.
Incidentally, while I’m on the Hiss case, I recently liked this line from Christopher Hitchens about Whittaker Chambers, the ex-Communist who accused Hiss of having spied for the Soviets: “Meyer Schapiro, one of the moral heroes of the democratic left, once said that Whittaker Chambers was incapable of telling a lie” (see here). From my reading, Chambers does strike me as a decent, quiet man, but I’ve not read a whole lot about him. I have Chambers’ book Witness, and I recently bought Sam Tanenhaus’ biography of Chambers from the Goodwill.