Although the historical record is still incomplete on Watergate and Iran-Contra, the available evidence indicates that both scandals originated in schemes by Republicans to draw foreign leaders into plots to undermine sitting Democratic presidents and thus pave the way for the elections of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about those two Twentieth Century scandals is how little Official Washington really understands them – and how these earlier scandals significantly contrast, rather than compare, with what is unfolding now.
We may be entering a post-Pentagon Papers era that shifts the power back to political elites, who seem more emboldened to go after leakers.
In October 1969, a national security official named Daniel Ellsberg began secretly photocopying 7,000 classified Vietnam War documents. He had become increasingly frustrated with the systematic deception of top U.S. leaders who sought to publicly escalate a war that, privately, they knew was unwinnable. In March 1971 he leaked the documents –