18. Nixon believed the Pentagon Papers proved the existence of a left-wing conspiracy
As noted earlier, the Pentagon Papers did not contain information detrimental to Richard Nixon, nor his presidency. Instead, there is much within them to indicate that the administrations of the four preceding presidents, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, had deliberately and systematically deceived the American people over American involvement in Southeast Asia. But it was Nixon’s reactions to the Papers which linked him with them in the minds of the public, and which began the decline of his presidency, even as he was withdrawing American troops from South Vietnam.
Many of Nixon’s decisions were made based on the advice and counsel of his closest aides. Henry Kissinger in particular was adamant about stopping publication in the first place, and prosecuting Ellsberg for espionage. Both acts linked the Nixon Administration with the Papers, and both made it appear, especially to Nixon’s enemies, that he was trying to use the departments of government to hide something. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon’s true enemies were not the newspapers which published the study, but the members of his own staff who controlled the administration’s response.