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May 11, 1973: All Charges Against Pentagon Papers Leaker Dropped; Judge Blasts Governmental Misconduct

US District Court Judge W. M. Byrne, Jr dismisses all charges against “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971) and Ellsberg’s co-defendant, Anthony Russo. [New York Times, 5/11/1973] Byrne was shocked to learn that Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt had supervised the burglary of the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (see September 9, 1971). The source of the information was probably White House counsel John Dean. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 307] Initially, government prosecutors had insisted that Ellsberg had never been wiretapped, but FBI director William Ruckelshaus found that Ellsberg had indeed been recorded, during a conversation with former Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, who had been wiretapped (see June 19, 1972). Ruckelshaus tells the court that Halperin had been monitored for 21 months. It is the first public acknowledgement that the Nixon administration had used wiretaps against its political enemies (see June 27, 1973). Additionally, the government had broken the law when it failed to disclose the wiretap to Ellsberg’s defense lawyers. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 313] Byrne cites “improper government conduct shielded so long from public view” and an array of governmental misconduct in dismissing the charges. “The conduct of the government has placed the case in such a posture that it precludes the fair, dispassionate resolution of these issues by a jury,” Byrne rules. Ellsberg and Russo were charged with theft, conspiracy, and fraud in the case. The government’s actions in attempting to prosecute Ellsberg and Russo “offended a sense of justice,” he says. One of the governmental actions that Byrne decries was the wiretapping of Ellsberg’s telephone conversations by the FBI in 1969 and 1970, and the subsequent destruction of the tapes and surveillance logs of those conversations. Byrne is also disturbed by the burglary of the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist by government agents (see June 30-July 1, 1971 and September 9, 1971), and the apparent involvement of the FBI and the CIA in the prosecution of the case at the “request of the White House.” Referring to the burglary, Byrne says, “We may have been given only a glimpse of what this special unit did.” After the trial, Ellsberg is asked if he would disclose the Pentagon documents again, and he replies, “I would do it tomorrow, if I could do it.” [New York Times, 5/11/1973]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Anthony Russo, Daniel Ellsberg, Morton H. Halperin, W. M. Byrne, Jr, US Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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