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It may be time for a new Daniel Ellsberg—any takers?

Updated: Apr 13, 2019

The job description is cut-and-dried: release top secret government papers and face 115 years in a federal prison.

That's what confronted Daniel Ellsburg when, in 1971, he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study of the U.S. government decision-making during the Vietnam War. The New York Times and other newspapers printed the exposé, and the American people learned that they had been systematially lied to about the progress and so-called success of the war in Southeast Asia.

Ellsberg was tried and found not guilty of espionage or treason, this despite a concerted government effort to railroad him. He is alive and well and living in Chicago. But he's 88 years old, and if there's a torch to hand off, it's no longer his responsibility to run with it.

I do remain confident that the Mueller Report is chock full of incriminating tidbits about the president, tidbits that—even if they don't rise to the level of crimes—can slow down, maybe even derail some of the programs he supports and the people who defend him. We have seen countless expressions of Trump's sociopathic vengeance this past week alone: the Mueller Report could impede him and his lackeys. But with William Barr obstructing the progress of disclosure—and obfuscating the process with other conspiracy claptrap—we may never get to see the real version.

Of course I'm in no way advocating breaking the law. Any such suggestion would be impertinent, even though Trump is on record as directing border agents to break the law in his behalf: we should hold ourselves to a higher standard—admittedly a low bar. Further, in the current charged environment where the president has already labeled the press as the enemy of the people, it seems likely that the "miscreant" who exposes the Mueller Papers will face harsh censure from the vengeful and petty autocrat. Of course even Trump, as unmindful of history as he is, must comprehend his own danger: in 1971 exposés came by way of newspapers; now they come via a link from who-knows-where?

In a nation where we still honor legality—or at least pay it lip service—we should not seriously consider seeking out a new Daniel Ellsburg. But either now or in 2020 some man or woman of courage will finally carry out—and legally we hope—what Daniel Ellsburg did 48 years ago: restore some faith in the White House and some integrity to our government.

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