Appeals court says that Nixon’s attempt to prosecute Pentagon Papers reporter must stay secret — 50 years later

Thankfully, the grand jury failed to bring charges and the DOJ eventually dropped its case. But we largely do not know why, or the full extent of the DOJ’s investigation.

Historian Jill Lepore has been on a years-long legal quest to have documents from this same grand jury investigation unsealed once and for all. For a while it looked like she would succeed. A district court had previously granted at least some of her request. But the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling earlier this week, making it uncertain whether the 50+-year-old documents will ever see the light of day. It is a disappointing ruling, one that also flies in the face of precedent in other circuits that says judges can indeed release this type of information to serve the public interest.

This case is particularly important because for the first time since then, the Justice Department is again trying to charge someone with “conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act” related to receiving and publishing classified information. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange currently sits in prison in the United Kingdom, appealing extradition to the United States, where he faces 17 counts under that same law. Virtually every press freedom group in the world has condemned the charges as a threat to press freedom.

Supporters of the Assange prosecution often argue that “the U.S. would never prosecute a real journalist using these tactics.” Well, the Nixon administration attempted to do just that, and it’s vitally important for both the historical record and current events that we see exactly what happened 50 years ago. And use that information to make sure it never happens again.

You can read the full ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals via Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, below:

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