Gravel V. United States - History

History

On Tuesday, June 15, 1971, Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) received a copy of the Pentagon Papers from Ben Bagdikian, an editor at The Washington Post. Over the next several days, Gravel (who was dyslexic) was assisted by his congressional office staff in reading and analyzing the report. Worried his home might be raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gravel smuggled the report (which filled two large suitcases) into his congressional office, which was then guarded by disabled Vietnam veterans.

On the evening of June 29, 1971, Gravel attempted to read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. A lack of a quorum, however, prevented the Senate from convening. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds, Gravel convened a meeting of the subcommittee and spent an hour reading part of the Pentagon Papers into the record. Prevented by his dyslexia from continuing, Gravel had the remainder of the Pentagon Papers entered into the record.

Gravel subsequently arranged to have the Pentagon Papers published by a private publisher. The publisher was Beacon Press, a non-profit book publisher owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

A federal grand jury was subsequently empaneled to investigate possible violations of federal law in the release of the report. Leonard Rodberg, a Gravel aide, was subpoenaed to testify about his role in obtaining and arranging for publication of the Pentagon Papers. Senator Gravel intervened and asked a court to quash the subpoena, contending that forcing Rodberg to testify would violate the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.

A district court refused to grant the motion to quash but did agree to proscribe certain questions. The trial court also held that publication of the Pentagon Papers by a private press was not protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling (although it modified the categories of barred questions). The United States appealed the barring of questions, and Senator Gravel appealed the ruling regarding publication. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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