15. The Pentagon Papers transformed the Nixon Administration
When the Pentagon Papers were first revealed to the public via The New York Times, Richard Nixon’s reaction was anger at what he considered traitorous behavior on the part of the revelation, but his inclination was to do nothing. Nixon thought that the revelations were damaging to his predecessors in the White House, and that publication would do his administration no harm. It was his top aides, chiefly Henry Kissinger, who persuaded him otherwise, and led to the attempt to stop publication in court. When that failed, the administration went further, in activities which would eventually tie the Pentagon Papers to Watergate.
Within a week of the publication of the papers the White House established a covert group called the Special Investigations Unit. It was known colloquially as The Plumbers. The unit’s first illegal activity was a botched burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, an act reported to John Ehrlichman, who informed Nixon that there had been an operation, “…which, I think, is better that you don’t know about”. The conversation, as with so many others of the Nixon Administration, was recorded on the secret taping system installed in the Oval Office by an increasingly paranoid President, at the time he was still running for re-election.