Daniel Ellsberg died on June 16, 2023. He was famous for, among other things, the public release of the Pentagon Papers, top-secret government documents detailing a massive pattern of government lies about the Vietnam War.
Lots of people see him as a hero. I’m one of them.
So how does the illegal retention and dissemination of classified documents make Ellsberg a hero — and make T***p a villain?
I think it’s pretty obvious. But I want to spell it out.
One: Ellsberg retained and disseminated classified documents, not for his own personal gain or aggrandizement, but for a serious and important matter of principle.
Two: He did this at considerable risk to himself.
Ellsberg knew he was committing a serious crime, and accepted the consequences. He knew he was almost certainly going to prison, probably for a very long time. (He avoided prison only because White House staff illegally wiretapped him and ordered a break-in at his psychiatrist’s office, leading to the case against him being dismissed.)
He did all this because of the specific content of the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers showed that the U.S. government had been systematically lying to its citizens about the Vietnam War. Among many, many other lies: The government knew the war was not winnable. And they kept pursuing it anyway. Nobody wanted to be responsible for losing the war — so they kept sending people into the meat grinder.
Ellsberg could do something about it. So he did. At great personal risk.
I have no freaking idea why T***p took those classified documents. The inside of his head is chaotic and baffling, and his motive is one of the great mysteries of this case. Was he planning to sell them, or use them as leverage in power games? Did he simply like the feeling of power and entitlement they gave him? But whatever his motive was, it sure as hell wasn’t government accountability or the preservation of democracy.
That’s the difference.