Love It or Leak It

I've been in Washington for 40 years, and I've never seen anything as bizarre as the Clarence Thomas hearings. The most intimate details of Thomas's life were dragged before the entire nation and combed over by the august Senators. We were treated to lurid details of pornographic movies; the hearings were turned into the stuff of soap operas. Two lives will never be the same again.   How did it happen?   The whole episode hinges on a breach of ethics committed by someone in Congress who leaked an FBI report to the press.   Back in September, Anita Hill submitted a charge of sexual harassment to the FBI. The FBI investigated and found the evidence too weak to warrant further action. Its report was distributed to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a big stamp marked "Confidential."   But some senator (or senate staffer) decided to ignore the stamp. Here was just the thing for a last-ditch effort to undermine Clarence Thomas. The report was released just in time to delay the Senate vote and give opponents more time to bring Thomas down.   I have to tell you, this kind of political maneuvering hits close to home. I did it myself, when I was working in the White House.   In fact, that's what I went to prison for.   My name is generally associated in the public mind with Watergate. But it all began with the Daniel Ellsberg case. Ellsberg was an anti-war activist who stole top-secret government papers and leaked them to the press. The White House panicked. President Nixon thought the leak threatened national security. He immediately authorized an FBI investigation with the aim of prosecuting Daniel Ellsberg.   One night President Nixon called me and said, "Chuck, we've got to stop that man. Do everything possible." And I did. I got hold of some FBI reports containing statements about Ellsberg that were highly damaging. Perfect, I thought. These are sure to undercut his credibility.   And I leaked the FBI reports to the press.   Well, I paid for that act with seven months in a prison cell. It was called obstruction of justice. So now I hold the dubious distinction of being the first person in America to go to prison for leaking an FBI report about a person under investigation.   Ironically, I pleaded guilty after being told that it would establish a precedent and would prevent such a thing from ever happening again. But now it looks like someone else is trying the same trick. This time it was the FBI investigation of Clarence Thomas that was leaked to the press.   I can't help but wonder whether anyone will bother to track down who did it. If it weren't for that leak, the whole tawdry, sensationalized hearings would have been held behind closed doors, where it belonged--and the rights of innocent people would have been protected.   But don't count on any real action to plug the leak. Unfortunately, in our government today, who gets investigated for what depends more on politics than on a real sense of law and justice.


Chuck Colson



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