Vietnam’s Redux:  the Hypocrisy of the Plumbers Prosecution

Overview

The facts themselves are simple:  Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of a massive, top secret study culminated in publication of the Pentagon Papers by The New York Times, beginning in June of 1971.  But Ellsberg had access to 54,000 more pages of classified information through his work for the Rand Corporation.

A newly-formed White House investigative unit, known as the Plumbers, decided it needed to learn more about Ellsberg’s interests and intent.  In an effort to determine who else Ellsberg might be working with and what else he might leak, they broke into the offices of his psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, and searched his files.  When their burglary became known seven months later, in the course of the burgeoning Watergate scandal, not only was the Ellsberg prosecution for leaking government secrets thrown out of court, but these White House officials and their superiors were prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. 

Just months later, hearings before the Senate’s Church Committee disclosed that these sorts of highly questionable “black bag jobs” had been undertaken almost routinely against American citizens — in the name of national security and without court authorization — by the FBI, the CIA and military intelligence agencies since at least as far back as 1936.

It is the interplay of these three events – the leak of the Pentagon Papers, the prosecution of the Plumbers, and the subsequent Church Committee disclosures– that has never been explored and forms the basis for this book.

Indeed, upon closer review, the Plumber prosecution by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force seems every bit as constitutionally abusive as the break-in itself: 

  • Those responsible for the prosecutions were well aware of the history of prior break-ins, later so vividly revealed by the Church Committee.  They had served in senior positions in the same Department of Justice that had committed and condoned these practices for decades. 
  • The actual prosecutions were redundant and completely unnecessary, since everyone involved had already been convicted or was under indictment and about to be tried for the far more serious Watergate cover-up. 
  • Seemingly, the primary reason for the Plumbers prosecution was to change practices of the intelligence community.  While the defendants could have been prosecuted for the burglary itself (and, indeed, had already been indicted for this crime by a Los Angeles County grand jury), the federal prosecution was deliberately framed to create new law, designed to foreclose any national security defense to future Fourth Amendment violations.  A laudable goal, perhaps, but one more properly achieved through regulation or legislation than through an individual criminal prosecution of questionable legitimacy.
  • Even at that, WSPF prosecutors were so eager to prevail that they secretly conspired with the judges, brow-beat witnesses, and suppressed exculpatory evidence which flagrantly denied defendants the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

When viewed in light of what is known today, it was the same people, the Democrat elites who had brought us the Vietnam War, who then brought us the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.  In spite of their lofty platitudes and reformist agendas, they also undermined our constitutional form of government and broke new ground in violating the guarantees of our Bill of Rights.

Of course, none of this was realized at the time — which is why this book needs to be written.