Daniel Ellsberg Explains Why Accountability for Trump is Critical

Interview with Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the now-famous Vietnam War-era "Pentagon Papers" to the press, conducted by Scott Harris 

Although several days have passed since former Vice President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have refused to concede the election, despite having lost the Electoral College vote. Most congressional Republicans have either signed on to the president’s false claims of election fraud or remained silent. Meanwhile, Trump’s appointed administrator of the General Services Administration has not recognized Biden’s victory, preventing the start of the transition process. And worrying to many in the Pentagon and beyond is Trump’s post-election firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

After U.S. Attorney General William Barr instructed federal prosecutors across the country to investigate charges of voting irregularities before states move to certify election results, the Justice Department’s top election crimes prosecutor Richard Pilger, resigned in protest. This latest episode of Trump regime efforts to subvert democratic norms and constitutional checks and balances occurred as the president’s legal team launched baseless legal challenges, alleging widespread voter fraud has unfairly deprived Trump of re-election.

Prior to the Nov. 3 election, the president refused numerous times to agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he should lose the vote. Now, many across the nation are preparing to mobilize to protect the outcome of the election, democracy itself, and to hold President Trump accountable for his many crimes, corruption and cruelties. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Daniel Ellsberg, a former career government analyst who in 1971 leaked the now-famous Vietnam War-era “Pentagon Papers” to the press. Here Ellsberg explains why he believes holding Trump accountable for his transgressions is critically important for democracy and the rule of law.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: I would say that in the case of these criminal and unconstitutional actions that he’s taken, there should be accountability. You’ve heard that word. What does that mean? I think that President Obama, when he came in made a definite error when he decided not to prosecute people who had been guilty of egregious latent crimes, including torture and universal surveillance — both of them unconstitutional and illegal, criminal in domestic law. And he put the attitude that some will be saying now — definitely once Biden is installed — that they will be echoing President Obama and that was, “Let’s look forward, not back.”

Well, wait a minute, prosecution does look back. That’s what calling people’s crimes and prosecutors — they look back, not at what you’re going to do or what you thought of doing, but what you did do in the past. And if you don’t prosecute, you’ve in effect decriminalized those actions.

And Trump has set precedents now as everybody knows. Some people give him credit for, some of the people who voted for him — but he set precedents, “here’s what a president can do and can assert, can get away with” — that I would say can’t be allowed to persist as precedents if we want to remain a democracy and not on the road to a clear-cut autocracy. Fascism, I would say. I do think the prosecutions should be pursued, not only of Trump, but of so many people who enabled him and we have, what is it? Eight, nine, 10 weeks now left of Trump for him to commit a lot more crimes. And, I would like to see people who know what’s planned or what’s happening to speak out in a way that we haven’t really seen at the time in the past. There have been some books come out —we have documents — to speak up, whistleblowers, people like Chelsea Manning or Ed Snowden.

And for example, contingency plans for provoking war with Iran. I feel certain from 50 years’ of experience here and watching and studying our government. I feel certain that Trump has such plans right now for provoking a war. Contingency plans, but readiness to exploit some incident or other and go to war, which would be a disaster greater than Vietnam and Iraq put together. Even if it didn’t go nuclear, which it probably wouldn’t, but it could go nuclear. I would like to see people telling that right now.

How about the pandemic? I’m sure that folks who may be fired tomorrow or the next day, have file drawers full of studies that contradict official studies paid for by the government or the taxpayer. That is, that shows what the president has been saying has not only been untrue, but that he has been advised that it would cause deaths. He has gone ahead with open eyes to jeopardize our health to the tune of hundreds of thousands of deaths and even more. Those documents should be out now. I mean, they should come to not just the Congress, but to the press and everybody, if (Dr. Anthony) Fauci is fired, he should take with him — and let me say before he’s fired, get himself fired by putting those documents out right now.

And, in other words, there’s a lot of work to be done to save our democracy in the next 10 weeks and the next 4 years throughout. We’re really just starting, we’ve dodged a bullet in a sense here of a disastrous four more years of Trump. But four more years of past Democratic programs, putting Obama and turning to another one, the issue of climate will not save the world, the world population from catastrophe. We have enough democracy left to get out there, even in the face of a pandemic. We’ll have to do more than that every day, every week, every, every year ahead of us. And we’ve got to change this country in the process of helping change the world fast or climate brings it all down.

For more information, visit Daniel Ellsberg’s website at ellsberg.net.

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