The Burger Court (1969–86)

First Amendment

What happened to Daniel Ellsberg?

Ellsberg was first indicted on theft of government property charges on June 29, 1971 (the day before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the New York Times Co. v. United States decision). He faced a second indictment in Los Angeles in December 1971 for thirteen counts ranging from conspiracy to espionage to theft of government property. Ellsberg and codefendant Anthony Russo faced a trial beginning in January 1973. The trial lasted eighty-nine days. U.S. District Court judge William Matthew Byrne Jr. dismissed the charges after a series of disclosures, including the revelation that White House operatives had engineered a burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to obtain his file. The FBI had intercepted Ellsberg’s phone conversations and, apparently, President Richard Nixon spoke to Judge Byrne about him becoming the new FBI director. The judge determined: “The bizarre events have incurably infected the prosecution of this case … the only remedy available that would assure due process and a fair administration of justice is that this trial be terminated and the defendants’ motion for dismissal be granted and the jury discharged.” Ellsberg continues in his role as a lecturer, writer, and activist, campaigning against government corruption and nuclear weapons. In 2002, he published a book about the Pentagon Papers entitled Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.


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