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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

'Pentagon Papers' Leak

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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An exhaustive study of the US’s involvement in Vietnam since 1945 is completed. The study was ordered in early 1967 by then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, partly to determine how the situation in Southeast Asia had gotten so out of hand. The study, entitled “United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967,” is by the “Vietnam Study Task Force,” led by Leslie H. Gelb, the director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon, and comprised of 36 military personnel, historians, and defense analysts from the RAND Corporation and the Washington Institute for Defense Analysis. The study is huge, composed of 47 volumes and spanning 7,000 pages of material. It covers the time from 1945, when Vietnam was under French colonial rule, through the 1968 Tet Offensive. The study conclusively shows that each US administration, from Harry S. Truman through Lyndon B. Johnson, had knowingly and systematically deceived the American people over the US’s involvement and interventions in the region. Historian John Prados will later observe that the study, later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers” after it is leaked by RAND analyst and task force member Daniel Ellsberg (see September 29, 1969 and March 1971), represents “a body of authoritative information, of inside government deliberations that demonstrated, beyond questioning, the criticisms that antiwar activists had been making for years, not only were not wrong, but in fact, were not materially different from things that had been argued inside the US government.” (Moran 2007)

Henry Kissinger.Henry Kissinger. [Source: Library of Congress]Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, determined to prove to President Nixon that news stories about the secret Cambodian bombings are not being leaked to the press by liberals in the National Security Council offices, urges FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap several of Nixon’s top aides, as well as a selection of reporters. Kissinger will later deny making the request. (Werth 2006, pp. 169) In March 1973, W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” background source, will confirm the wiretappings, saying: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the [Vietnam] antiwar protests. When it got near election time [1972], it was only natural to tap the Democrats (see Late June-July 1971 and May 27-28, 1972). The arrests in the Watergate (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) sent everybody off the edge because the break-in could uncover the whole program.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 271) Felt will tell Woodward that two of the reporters placed under electronic surveillance are Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg will leak the Defense Department documents to Sheehan (see March 1971). Eventually, future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will reveal that at least 17 wiretaps are ordered between 1969 and 1971. The logs of those wiretaps are stored in a safe in White House aide John Ehrlichman’s office. In all, 13 government officials and four reporters are monitored. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313) The FBI will send Kissinger 37 letters reporting on the results of the surveillance between May 16, 1969 and May 11, 1970. When the surveillance is revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee, it will be shown that among those monitored are Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist William Safire; Anthony Lake, a top Kissinger aide who will later resign over the secret bombings of Cambodia; and the military assistant to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, whom Kissinger regards as a political enemy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 21-22)

The Army drops all charges against six Green Berets accused of murdering a South Vietnamese interpreter, Thai Khac Chuyen, accused of being a North Vietnamese collaborator. The Green Berets did indeed murder Chuyen and drop his body in the South China Sea. The CIA, irate at the murder, alerted senior military officials and the Army begins courts-martial proceedings against the six. However, the White House convinces CIA Director Richard Helms not to let any of his agents testify at the trials; without their testimony, the Secretary of the Army, Stanley Resor, decides that the trials cannot continue. White House press secretary Ron Ziegler solemnly informs reporters that “[t]he president had not involved himself either in the original decision to prosecute the men or in the decision to drop the charges against them.” The news horrifies RAND Corporation defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg. He is convinced that President Nixon and his aides were indeed involved in the decision to stop the CIA from testifying in the case. Ellsberg has long known of a secret document detailing the origins of the Vietnam War; one of only fifteen copies of that document resides in a RAND safe. Ellsberg calls his friend Anthony Russo and secures the use of a Xerox copying machine. The two begin secretly making their own copies of the document. When Ellsberg later leaks the document to the press, it becomes known as the “Pentagon Papers” (see March 1971). (Reeves 2001, pp. 127-132)

Book cover of the Pentagon Papers.Book cover of the Pentagon Papers. [Source: Daniel Ellsberg]The New York Times receives a huge amount of secret Defense Department documents and memos that document the covert military and intelligence operations waged by previous administrations in Vietnam (see January 15, 1969). The documents are leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department official who worked in counterintelligence and later for the RAND Corporation while remaining an active consultant to the government on Vietnam. Ellsberg, a former aide to Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and a member of the task force that produced the Defense Department documents, has, over his tenure as a senior government official, become increasingly disillusioned with the actions of the US in Vietnam. (Herda 1994) The documents are given to Times reporter Neil Sheehan by Ellsberg (see May 1969). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313)
Ellsberg Tried to Interest Senators - After he and his friend Anthony Russo had copied the documents (see September 29, 1969), Ellsberg had spent months attempting to persuade several antiwar senators, including William Fulbright (D-AR), Charles Mathias Jr (R-MD), George McGovern (D-SD), and Paul “Pete” McCloskey (R-CA), to enter the study into the public record, all to no avail. But McGovern suggested that Ellsberg provide copies of the documents either to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Ellsberg knew Sheehan in Vietnam, and decided that the Times reporter was his best chance for making the documents public. (Reeves 2001, pp. 333; Moran 2007) Ellsberg originally gave copies of the documents—later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers”—to Phil Geyelin of the Washington Post, but the Post’s Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee decided not to publish any of the documents. Ellsberg then gave a copy to Sheehan.
Documents Prove White House Deceptions - The documents include information that showed former President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a secret commitment to help the French defeat the insurgents in Vietnam. They also show that Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, had used a secret “provocation strategy” to escalate the US’s presence into a full-blown war that eventually led to the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident. The documents also show that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, had planned from the outset of his presidency to expand the war (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) , and show how Johnson secretly paved the way for combat troops to be sent to Vietnam, how he had refused to consult Congress before committing both ground and air forces to war, and how he had secretly, and illegally, shifted government funds from other areas to fund the war. Finally, the documents prove that all three presidents had broken Constitutional law in bypassing Congress and sending troops to wage war in Vietnam on their own authority. (Herda 1994)
Times Publishes Against Legal Advice - The Times will begin publishing them in mid-June 1971 (see June 13, 1971) after putting Sheehan and several other reporters up in the New York Hilton to sift through the mountain of photocopies and the senior editors, publishers, and lawyers argued whether or not to publish such a highly classified set of documents. The management will decide, against the advice of its lawyers, to publish articles based on the documents as well as excerpts from the documents themselves. (Moran 2007)

The New York Times publishes the first of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” the Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (see January 15, 1969 and March 1971). The Washington Post will begin publishing the papers days later. (Reeves 2001, pp. 330; Moran 2007) The first story is entitled “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement,” and is labeled the first of a series. (Moran 2007) The opening paragraph, by reporter Neil Sheehan, reads, “A massive study of how the United States went to war in Indochina, conducted by the Pentagon three years ago, demonstrates that four administrations [Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon] progressively developed a sense of commitment to a non-Communist Vietnam, a readiness to fight the North to protect the South, and an ultimate frustration with this effort—to a much greater extent than their public statements acknowledged at the time.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 330)
Nixon Believes Publication May Discredit Predecessors, Not Him - President Nixon, who is not mentioned in the papers, at first is not overly worried about the papers being made public, and feels they may actually do him more good than harm. (Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) In a tape-recorded conversation the same day as the first story is published, Nixon tells National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger that in some ways, the story helps him politically, serving to remind the voting public that the Vietnam War is more the product of his predecessors’ errors than his own. Nixon says that the publication just proves how important it is for his administration to “clean house” of disloyal members who might take part in such a “treasonable” act. (Moran 2007) “This is really tough on Kennedy, [Robert] McNamara [Kennedy’s secretary of defense], and Johnson,” he says. “Make sure we call them the Kennedy-Johnson papers. But we need… to keep out of it.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 331)
Kissinger Argues that Leak is a Threat to Nixon's Administration - However, Kissinger is furious, yelling to his staff: “This will destroy American credibility forever. We might as well just tell it all to the Soviets and get it over with.” Kissinger convinces Nixon to try to stop the Times from publishing the documents by in part appealing to his masculinity—Nixon would not want to appear as a “weakling” to his foreign adversaries, Kissinger argues. Kissinger himself fears that his former association with Ellsberg will damage his own standing in the White House. Kissinger says he knows that Ellsberg is a womanizer and a “known drug user” who “shot at peasants in Vietnam,” and that information can be used to damage Ellsberg’s credibility (see Late June-July 1971). (Reeves 2001, pp. 334; Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) One of the arguments Kissinger successfully uses to stoke Nixon’s ire is that the papers were leaked by one or more “radical left-wing[ers]” to damage the administration’s credibility. Nixon calls the leak a “conspiracy” against him and his administration. (Moran 2007) Nixon soon attempts to stop further publications with a lawsuit against the Times (see June 15, 1971). The Post will also become involved in the lawsuit. (Herda 1994) Nixon initially believes former Kissinger aide Leslie Gelb, now of the Brookings Institute, is responsible for leaking the documents. Although Nixon does not know this, he is quite wrong. Gelb has always worried that the documents would cause tremendous controversy if ever made public. Only 15 copies exist: five in Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird’s safe; copies under lock and key at the Kennedy and Johnson presidential libraries; several copies in the hands of former Johnson administration officials, including McNamara and his successor, Clark Clifford; and two at the RAND Corporation. Nixon widens his speculation over the leak, telling his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman that someone on Kissinger’s staff may have leaked the documents, or maybe some unknown group of “f_cking Jews.” Regardless of who it is, Nixon says, “Somebody’s got to go to jail for that.” It is Kissinger who quickly figures that Ellsberg was the leaker. (Reeves 2001, pp. 331-334)

After the New York Times publishes excerpts from the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971), Attorney General John Mitchell sends a telegram to the Times at the behest of President Nixon demanding that the paper stop further publication of the excerpts. Mitchell argues that disclosing the information would cause “irreparable injury to the defense interests of the United States,” and claims that the publication is in violation of laws against espionage. The Times “respectfully declines” to cease publication of articles based on the documents. (Herda 1994)

Dr. Marvin Goldberger.Dr. Marvin Goldberger. [Source: Teises Institutas]One consequence of the Pentagon Papers’ publication (see March 1971) is a heavy social and academic backlash against scientists on the Jason Project. The “Jasons,” as they are sometimes called, are mostly physicists and other “hard” scientists from various universities who have worked as ad hoc consultants to the Pentagon since the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite in October 1958. Though most of the Jasons are strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, and the Pentagon documents tell of the Jasons’ ideas for “a real alternative to further escalation of the ineffective air war against North Vietnam,” the public focuses on the Jasons’ association with the government’s war effort. After the Papers’ publication, Mildred Goldberger, wife of scientist Marvin Goldberger, recalls that the Jasons’ “name was mud.” Jack Ruina, the head of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), which often worked with some of the Jasons, says that the Jasons became “the devil” in many eyes. Some of the scientists are publicly labeled “war criminals” and “baby killers,” some have their offices burgled and their homes vandalized, and many face serious questions about their motives and commitment to pure, objective science. Some of the scientists repudiate the Jasons’ work on behalf of the war effort; longtime member Goldberger tells one group of demonstrators, “Jason made a terrible mistake. They should have told [former Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara to go to hell and not have become involved at all.” Others refuse to discuss Vietnam and their work with the Jason Project in their seminars and classes; one, Murray Gell-Mann, is forcibly removed from a Paris university lecture hall after refusing to defend his work with the Jasons to his audience. Physicist Charles Towne accuses the universities of curtailing the Jasons’ freedom of speech. Some of the scientists are falsely accused of helping produce plastic fragmentation bombs and laser-guided shells; some of them are compared to the Nazi scientists who developed nerve gas for use in the concentration camps. A November 1974 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will sum up the debate: “The scientists became, to some extent, prisoners of the group they joined…. At what point should they have quit?” The decisions they faced were, the article will assert, “delicate and difficult.” (Finkbeiner 2006, pp. 102-113)

At the behest of President Nixon (see June 15, 1971), the Justice Department files a motion with the US District Court in New York requesting a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the New York Times to prevent further publication of articles stemming from the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971). The landmark case of New York Times Company v. United States begins. The government’s argument is based on the assertion that the publication of the documents jeopardizes national security, makes it more difficult to prosecute the Vietnam War, and endangers US intelligence assets. The Times will base its defense on the principles embodied in the First Amendment, as well as the argument that just because the government claims that some materials are legitimately classified as top secret, this does not mean they have to be kept out of the public eye; the Times will argue that the government does not want to keep the papers secret to protect national security, but instead to protect itself from embarrassment and possible criminal charges. The court grants the temporary restraining order request, forcing the Times to temporarily stop publishing excerpts from the documents. (Herda 1994; Moran 2007)

The New York Times publishes its third installment of the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971 and June 14, 1971). A furious President Nixon demands an immediate court injunction to keep the paper from printing more excerpts. He orders: “I want to know who is behind this and I want the most complete investigation that can be conducted.… I don’t want excuses. I want results. I want it done, whatever the cost.” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger informs Nixon that he believes Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the documents to the Times, is a “fanatic” and a “drug abuser.” Attorney General John Mitchell says that Ellsberg must be part of a communist “conspiracy” and suggests he be tried for treason. Nixon calls together a group of loyal White House aides to investigate Ellsberg’s leak of classified documents. The group will become known as the “plumbers” for their task to “plug the leaks” (see Late June-July 1971). Other undercover operators, including CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, are recruited by White House special counsel Charles Colson. (Herda 1994)

American citizens and lawmakers are outraged by the information revealed in the publication of portions of the so-called Pentagon Papers (see June 13, 1971, June 14, 1971, and June 15, 1971). Senator George McGovern (D-SD), a sponsor of legislation to withdraw all US troops from Vietnam by the end of 1971, says the documents tell a story of “almost incredible deception” of Congress and the American people by the White House. McGovern says he cannot see how any senator can ever again permit the president to make any foreign policy decisions without first going through Congress. Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) expresses concern over the leaking of the documents, but calls their contents “shocking.” Representative Paul McCloskey (R-CA) says the papers show “the issue of truthfulness in government is a problem as serious as ending the war itself.” McCloskey complains that, according to the documents, the briefings he and other Congressional members had received regarding the war had been “deceptive… misleading [and] incomplete,” often while Army officials who knew more of the truth stood silently by his side. “This deception is not a matter of protecting secret information from the enemy,” McCloskey says, “the intention is to conceal information from the people of the United States as if we were the enemy.” (Herda 1994)

President Nixon tries to come up with ways to use the recently leaked “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971) to his own advantage. If the papers contain anything about former president John F. Kennedy’s supposed role in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, “I want that out,” he tells aide Charles Colson. “I said that [Diem] was murdered.… I know what those b_stards were up to.” Did former President Lyndon B. Johnson stop the US bombings of Vietnamese targets just before the 1968 elections to try to prevent Nixon from being elected? “You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff and it might be worth doing,” chief of staff H. R. Haldeman suggests (see June 17, 1972). (Reeves 2001, pp. 334-335)

A federal court, issuing a ruling in the case of New York Times Company v. United States (see June 15, 1971), refuses to order the Times to turn over its copy of the Pentagon Papers for government inspection, saying that it will not authorize a government fishing expedition into the files of any newspaper. (Herda 1994) The court’s decision is overruled the next day, but by this point it is, for all intents and purposes, too late. The Washington Post prints its second installment and releases the article to the 341 newspapers that subscribe to its national news service. Within hours, newspapers across the country are publishing the Post excerpts. Daniel Ellsberg, who originally leaked the documents to the Times (see March 1971), is secretly traveling around the country, making the documents available to other news outlets. (Ellsberg is so successful at staying hidden that he is interviewed by CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite for a June 23 news special without the FBI being able to find him. Ellsberg will eventually surrender himself to the police (see June 28, 1971).) (Reeves 2001, pp. 335-336)

Hearings over the legality of publication of the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 15, 1971) begin in federal court. Although the main newspaper publishing the Papers is the New York Times, the legality of the publication of an article derived from the Papers in another newspaper, the Washington Post, is also challenged in the hearings. The Justice Department will file charges against the Post similar to those already filed against the New York Times. (Herda 1994)

After a series of rulings and appeals that fail to remove the temporary restraining order against the New York Times in the case surrounding its publication of the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 18, 1971), the newspaper files a request to have its case against the government heard in the US Supreme Court. Fearing that the articles will soon begin appearing in newspapers all over the country, the government asks the Supreme Court to block publication of the Papers in the press, and the Court agrees. Other newspapers hold off publication of similar articles until the Court can rule. (Herda 1994)

Opening arguments in the Pentagon Papers case of New York Times Company v. United States (see June 15, 1971 and June 24, 1971) begin in the Supreme Court. The government argues that the publication of articles based on the documents constitutes a “grave and immediate danger” to US interests, and that the “integrity of the institution of the presidency” must be protected. For the Times, the arguments are that, first, since it took days for the government to respond to the publication of the first articles, the documents must not be that sensitive; lower courts could not find a single sensitive document among the documents; the government had no right imposing restraints on a newspaper’s First Amendment rights to publish in this situation; and that many times in recent history the Times and other news outlets had published “leaked” information, often information that was deliberately leaked by government sources. (Herda 1994)

Daniel Ellsberg.Daniel Ellsberg. [Source: PBS / Corbis]The source of the Pentagon Papers leak, former defense consultant Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971), surrenders to police. He is indicted for theft, conspiracy, and espionage. (National Security Archives 6/29/2001; Online Highways 8/18/2007) Almost two years later, all the charges against Ellsberg will be dismissed because of government misconduct (see May 11, 1973).

President Nixon authorizes the creation of a “special investigations unit,” later nicknamed the “Plumbers,” to root out and seal media leaks. The first target is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (see June 13, 1971); the team will burglarize the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in hopes of securing information that the White House can use to smear Ellsberg’s character and undermine his credibility (see September 9, 1971). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who supervises the “Plumbers,” will later say that the Ellsberg burglary is “the seminal Watergate episode.” Author Barry Werth will later write, “[L]ike all original sins, it held the complete DNA of subsequent misdeeds.” During the upcoming court battle over the documents, Nixon tells his aide Charles Colson: “We’ve got a countergovernment here and we’ve got to fight it. I don’t give a damn how it’s done. Do whatever has to be done to stop those leaks.… I don’t want to be told why it can’t be done.” Whatever damaging information the “Plumbers” can find on Ellsberg will be itself leaked to the press, Nixon says. “Don’t worry about his trial [referring to Ellsberg’s arrest on conspiracy and espionage charges (see June 28, 1971) ]. Just get everything out. Try him in the press… leak it out.” (Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) As he is wont to do, Nixon refers to his own success in convicting suspected Communist spy Alger Hiss in 1950. “We won the Hiss case in the papers,” he says. “We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it.… It was won in the papers…. I leaked out the papers. I leaked everything.… I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury.” (Kutler 1997, pp. 10; Reeves 2001, pp. 337-338) In July 1973, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt, the notorious “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005) will tell reporter Bob Woodward that Nixon created the Plumbers because the FBI would not do his bidding in regards to Ellsberg. Had the FBI agreed to investigate Ellsberg to the extent Nixon wanted, he would not have created the “Plumbers.” “The problem was that we [the FBI] wouldn’t burglarize” (see June 30-July 1, 1971), Felt will say. Ehrlichman will later testify, “Those fellows were going out as substitutes for the FBI.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 107)

The Supreme Court rules 6-3 not to permanently enjoin the New York Times and other press organs from publishing articles derived from the Pentagon Papers (see June 26, 1971). Three justices, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, and Thurgood Marshall, insist that the government can never suppress the publication of information no matter what the threat to national security; the other three in the majority, Potter Stewart, Byron White, and William Brennan, use a more moderate “common sense” standard that says, though the government can suppress publication of sensitive information under circumstances of war or national emergency, this case did not meet the criteria for such suppression. Chief Justice Warren Burger is joined by Harry Blackmun and John Harlan in dissenting; they believe that the president has the unrestrained authority to prevent confidential materials affecting foreign policy from being published. The Times’s lawyer says that the ruling will help ensure that a federal court will not issue a restraining order against a news outlet simply because the government is unhappy with the publication of a particular article. (Herda 1994)

As another assignment for the newly formed “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), President Nixon orders chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to have the Brookings Institute burglarized (see June 17, 1972). The Brookings Institute is a Washington think tank which Nixon believes has copies of the Pentagon Papers. As secretly recorded, Nixon tells Haldeman: “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that” [presumably referring to the Democrats]. “They have a lot of material. I want—the way I want that handled, Bob, is get it over. I want Brooking. Just break in. Break in and take it out. You understand.” Haldeman replies: “Yeah. But you have to get somebody to do it.” Nixon says: “Well, you—that’s what I’m just telling you. Now don’t discuss it here. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out.” Haldeman is untroubled by the order: “I don’t have any problem with breaking in.” Nixon is direct in his orders for the burglary: “Just go in and take them. Go in around 8 or 9 o’clock. That’s right. You go in and inspect and clean it out.… We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?” The next day, Nixon repeats: “Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute’s safe cleaned out.” (PBS 1/2/1997; Reeves 2001, pp. 339; Werth 2006, pp. 84-87)
"Talk to Hunt" - When asked who will do it, Nixon replies: “That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t discuss it here. You talk to Hunt.” Nixon is referring to E. Howard Hunt, a recently retired CIA officer currently performing secret operations for Nixon’s aide Charles Colson. Haldeman says approvingly that CIA director Richard Helms “says he’s ruthless, quiet, careful. He’s kind of a tiger.… He spent 20 years in the CIA overthrowing governments.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 339)
"Black-Bag" Team Assembled - Ehrlichman’s deputies Egil “Bud” Krogh and David Young, whom he has put in charge of the operation, soon report that they’ve assembled a “black-bag” team and have recommended a “covert operation” to burglarize an office at the Institute. (Krogh sums up Nixon’s thinking quite eloquently: “Anyone who opposes us, we’ll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn’t support us, we’ll destroy.”) Ehrlichman approves the project, noting it must not be “traceable.” The same team of burglars who rifle the office will later be used to break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). (Herda 1994; Fremon 1998; Werth 2006, pp. 84-87) The Brookings Institution burglary never takes place. (PBS 1/2/1997) Ehrlichman will later claim that the Institution was never burglarized because he “shot it down” (see Late December-Early January 1997). (Herda 1994)
Newspaper Editor Targeted for Burglary - Another project, which also apparently never takes place, involves stealing documents from the safe of the editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Hank Greenspun. “Plumbers” burglar James McCord will later explain that Greenspun is a target because of his relationship with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and former Hughes associate Robert Maheu, and that Maheu has damaging information on a Democratic presidential candidate, Edmund Muskie, that the Nixon aides want. However, author Carl Oglesby will later claim that the material refers to Nixon and not to Muskie. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) In 2001, historian Richard Reeves writes that the files contain information about Nixon and Democratic National Committee chairman Lawrence O’Brien. Nixon’s close friend and political financier Charles “Bebe” Rebozo had just gotten $50,000 in campaign cash from Hughes, and O’Brien is earning $13,000 a month lobbying for one of Hughes’s corporations. (Reeves 2001, pp. 431)
Call Girl Operation Turned Down - Another “Plumber,” G. Gordon Liddy, suggests using a coterie of Washington, DC call girls to infiltrate the Democratic campaign organization and bring out information, a suggestion that is not seriously considered. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Inappropriate Conversation? - During the discussion, White House counsel John Dean interrupts to say, “Excuse me for saying this, but I don’t think this kind of conversation should go on in the attorney general’s office.” They are meeting in the office of Attorney General John Mitchell. (Reeves 2001, pp. 431)

Nixon aide John Ehrlichman gives a progress report on the activities of the “Plumbers” to the president. “Plumbers” head Egil Krogh has “been spending most of his time on the Ellsberg declassification,” Ehrlichman reports, referring to the probe into “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see Late June-July 1971). “We had one little operation. It’s been aborted out in Los Angeles, which, I think, is better that you don’t know about. But we’ve got some dirty tricks underway. It may pay off.” The “little” Los Angeles project—designated “Hunt/Liddy Special Project No.1” in Ehrlichman’s notes—is the burglary of the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding (see September 9, 1971). The “aborted” mission refers to Ehrlichman’s refusal to countenance a second break-in, this time of Fielding’s home. (Reeves 2001, pp. 368-369)

During a conversation on how to best use the “Pentagon Papers” to their own advantage (see June 17, 1971), President Nixon asks chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger why they could never prove that former President Lyndon Johnson halted US bombings of Vietnam for political reasons. Haldeman has suggested that they could use such proof to blackmail Johnson. “G_ddamnit, I asked for it,” he says. “I said I needed it.” Kissinger replies: “Bob and I have been trying to put the thing together for three years. We have nothing here, Mr. President.” Then Haldeman interjects, “But there is a file on it.” Nixon pounces. “Where?” Haldeman replies that White House aide Tom Charles Huston is sure that such a file exists at the Brookings Institution. Nixon suggests that someone break into the Institution and take the files (see June 30-July 1, 1971). “I want it implemented.… G_ddamnit, get in there and get those files. Blow the safe and get them.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 334-335)

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. (Arnold 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.” (Arnold 5/11/1973)

Erwin Griswold.Erwin Griswold. [Source: US Department of Justice]Former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, who represented the United States before the Supreme Court in the landmark Pentagon Papers case in 1971 (see March 1971 and June 30, 1971), now writes that he saw nothing in those documents that threatened national security. In 1971, without ever actually reading the documents, Griswold argued that their publication constituted a “grave and immediate danger to the security of the United States.” Griswold writes in a Washington Post op-ed that he relied on the judgment of “three high officials, one each from the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Security Agency” to explain to him why the documents posed such a threat. (In 2006, then-White House counsel John Dean will write that Griswold “did not insist on knowing what was actually contained in the Pentagon Papers, and he never found out, even as he insisted on the importance of their continued secrecy.”) In 1971, Griswold told the Court: “I haven’t the slightest doubt myself that the material which has already been published and the publication of the other materials affects American lives and is a thoroughly serious matter. I think to say that it can only be enjoined if there will be a war tomorrow morning, when there is a war now going on, is much too narrow.” Griswold now writes: “I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication [of the documents]. Indeed, I have never seen it even suggested that there was such an actual threat.… It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but rather with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another.” (Griswold 2/15/1989; Dean 6/16/2006; Siegel 2008, pp. 200)

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