30 years ago today, on the morning of June 17th, 1972, Washington police answered a call at the Watergate office complex and found five men burglarizing the office of the Democratic National Committee. The burglars had been hired by staff members of the committee to re-elect the President (known as Creep). That was President Richard Nixon. That day was the beginning of the Watergate scandal. Two years later, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace.
Today, on the anniversary of Watergate, we are going to talk to one of the great American whistle-blowers, Daniel Ellsberg. The same people who raided the DNC offices burglarized the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, a year earlier.
Ellsberg worked as an analyst at the Department of Defense. He went public with the classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers during that time. The Pentagon Papers were a 7,000-page study of America’s 30-year involvement in Indochina that led to the Vietnam War. The Pentagon-commissioned report revealed a massive government cover-up.
After the Times published the classified documents on June 13, 1971, the Nixon Justice Department responded quickly and furiously. Just after the third installment was published, the Justice Department secured a restraining order preventing further installments from being printed. Within two weeks, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had not shown compelling evidence to justify blocking publication.
Ellsberg was charged with espionage, theft and conspiracy for leaking the papers. But the charges against him were eventually dropped by a federal judge, who wrote that a pattern of “gross government misconduct” was so appalling that the administration’s retaliatory actions “offend the sense of justice.”
- Daniel Ellsberg, former defense and state department official who revealed the Pentagon Papers 30 years ago. He is author of the book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, forthcoming from Viking press in October.