Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, appeared on "The Last Word" on the 40th anniversary of their initial publication to talk to Lawrence O'Donnell about their impact and their legacy.
The initial publication of the highly classified report on the Johnson administration's secret discussions about Vietnam on June 13, 1971 prompted a firestorm, and led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on press freedom. On Monday, exactly 40 years later, the National Archives officially began releasing the now-declassified Papers.
"What do you make of the official release of the papers now?" O'Donnell asked. Ellsberg said that he hoped the release would spur people to read the Papers again.
"We are in the midst right now of two, three, several Vietnams," he said. "The Afghan War is almost a replay of Vietnam and I think people don't understand it as well as they could if actually they re-read the Pentagon Papers."
O'Donnell asked if he thought the release of the Papers had helped hasten the end of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg said that, while the release hadn't affected Nixon's view of the war, it had made him worry that Ellsberg also had material on his administration's actions in Vietnam. His response to this was to order a series of then-highly illegal actions against Ellsberg which, unlike Vietnam, did help bring his administration down.
(Ellsberg repeated the startling fact that the wiretaps and break-ins that Nixon authorized are all legal now.)
"I was part of a chain of events along with a lot of other people that ended the war," he said.
"What was it like to turn against your friends in this world [the RAND Corporation] that you were working in?" O'Donnell asked.
"Nobody's asked me that," Ellsberg said. "it was a very anguishing experience...however, there was a war's worth of lies at stake, and I think that shortening the war was something that I did the best I could."