BOSTON — A Harvard University professor and writer for The New Yorker is asking a court to order the release of documents related to two grand juries that sat in Boston nearly 50 years ago to investigate the leak of the Pentagon Papers.
Jill Lepore said in documents filed in federal court on Monday that the long-secret records will shed light on the probe into the publication of the top-secret study that revealed the U.S. government misled the public about the Vietnam War. While much is known about the Pentagon Papers, a great deal about the Boston grand juries that convened in 1971 remains a mystery, she says.
"Why and when was the investigation opened? Why was it closed? To what lengths did the government go in conducting the investigation? Did those lengths include illegal wiretapping, as critics alleged at the time?" Lepore asks in the filings. "Unsealing the records is the only way to know the answers to these questions," she said.
The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School filed the case on behalf of Lepore, who is seeking witness testimony, FBI reports and other documents related to the 1971 grand jury investigation. Lepore describes the investigation as a "landmark in the history of the federal government's willingness to investigate and prosecute dissidents, scholars, journalists, and anyone else suspected of involvement with the release and publication of classified government material."
Some details about the grand juries were revealed in newspaper accounts at the time, including the names of people who were subpoenaed to testify. They included linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, who received a copy of the Pentagon Papers from leaker Daniel Ellsberg, a friend of his. The goal of the second grand jury appears to have been to investigate Neil Sheehan, The New York Times reporter who first wrote about the documents, Lepore says.
Among those supporting the effort to unseal the documents is Ellsberg, the RAND Corporation analyst who gave the papers to The New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers. Ellsberg says in a declaration filed in court that it is important "now more than ever" to release the grand jury investigation records because it represented one of the government's earliest attempts "to use the Espionage Act to indict journalists for doing journalism."
"The theory that journalists can be charged under the Espionage Act for publishing information to the American public is one that has never been tested in the courts. The Boston grand jury records could shed light on the government's strategy for investigation of journalists, and its theory of the constitutionality of such an approach," Ellsberg said.