THE GOVERNMENTS INTIMIDATION of Samuel L. Popkin, assistant professor of Government, attained a new plateau of ludicrousness yesterday when government attorneys filed a second contempt motion in Federal District Court. Popkin had agreed, following a citation for contempt of court last week, to answer those questions already posed to him by the Boston grand jury investigating the Pentagon Papers leak. Yesterday he did just that for over five hours. Yet he refused, as he has all along during the five months of the investigation, to answer questions which pertained to his academic contacts and sources.
So it evolves that this morning, the government will try once more to pressure Popkin into responding to inquiries about subjects he feels (and rightly so) are within the realm of academic privilege. Attorneys will present a contempt motion that could result in Popkin's imprisonment for up to ten months without resolving the basic issue of academic privilege on which he bases his silence.
Sending Sam Popkin to jail serves no just purpose. The very thought of it makes us wonder what we are coming to when an academician cannot engage in confidential research without the government forcing him to break that confidence under threat of imprisonment. That Popkin must live in the shadow of a ten-month jail sentence is repugnant in a society which purportedly values freedom of thought and association. If District Court Judge Francis Ford has any sense of justice, he will excuse Popkin today from further appearances before the grand jury, and he will tell the government exactly where to go.