Posted at 7:50 AM on April 24, 2007
by Jeff Horwich
I know I promised to write about this last week, and then got promptly swept up with getting the show together. Better late than never.
I wrote about Daniel Ellsberg and his connection to a group called the "Minnesota 8." If you heard the interview with Ellsberg on the show, you heard me relate what that connection is. Here's a more detailed version, as I heard the story told at the gathering this month where I met Ellsberg (who related most of this story):
The plan was for Ellsberg to be asked some basic question about a government statement on Vietnam. He was to answer, "No, that is false." The defense attorney was to ask something to the effect of, "False? Well, can you prove that?" At this point, Ellsberg was to say, "Well, as a matter of fact I can" and whip out the first 1,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers from his briefcase, to be admitted as relevant evidence at trial. (I know -- wow. Who knew?)
In Ellsberg's telling of the story, he misspoke. His response was something more incendiary, like, "No, the president is lying." This evidently tipped off the judge something was up, and he called the defense attorney to the bench and berated him for any shenanigans he was planning to unleash. The judge declared (as Ellsberg recalls, though the attorney remembers it differently) that both he and the attorney would be held in contempt if they tried to introduce any evidence challenging the government, or attempting to put the government on trial. In any case, the judge barred the evidence -- having no idea what was actually in the briefcase.
Ellsberg left, without contributing his big moment to the trial. The Minnesota 8 all went to prison (except for one who pleaded guilty). And Ellsberg was left to ponder what to do with these Pentagon Papers. Five months later, in June of 1971, they first appeared in the NYTimes. Ellsberg himself faced 115 years in prison for the leak (and got off the hook when Nixon's goons bungled their investigation of him).
I went to meet Ellsberg and interview him at a fundraiser hosted by one of the members of the Minnesota 8. Four others of the "8" were in attendance. The fundraiser was for a play commissioned by the Minnesota History Theater about the Minnesota 8, which they're hoping to stage next year.
One of the "8," Frank Kroncke, has set up a basic web site to compile information about the group: Minnesota8.net. You can scout around there for much more info, including his write-up of this episode. But I thought the Minnesota connection was just so cool -- and totally unknown to most Minnesotans, I think -- that I had to convey the version as Ellsberg told it to that roomful of people.
And there you have it. ~~ Whew. ~~