The Treason of Richard Nixon: From Possibility To Certainty Part One

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

THE TREASON OF RICHARD NIXON: FROM POSSIBILITY TO CERTAINTY

PART ONE PART TWO

The title is not an attempt at cheap provocation, but an attempt to capture the raw truth of an event almost entirely forgotten and rarely spoken of, perhaps out of conscious avoidance of the disturbing qualities of the event itself. What follows contains no new revelations, and is an attempt at arranging all available materials to craft a substantial narrative around the event, and make a thorough case of what took place, rather than to score a simple ideological point. Those who wish a more succinct piece on the same event might prefer “The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon’s ‘treason'” by David Taylor, or “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. All of the documents cited in this piece are via Parry’s article, and the full outlines of the plot given below is thanks to Parry’s work and The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon by Anthony Summers. I do not agree with all of Parry’s conclusions on all issues, but that someone is doing such solid, vital journalism while relying solely on the individual donations of readers, is one more shameful mark of the established press now, which is happy to subsidize so many banal and unnecessary voices.

I first came across this scandal, as did many others, in 2002, when I read The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens. Though the future Secretary of State was indicted for many acts, stunning, depraved, and unknown to me, this piece of election subterfuge stood out – had it failed, most if not all of the other acts he would be involved in could not have taken place. Hitchens would, in turn, obtain the substantial proof of the allegation from The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon by Summers, a thorough devastation of the ex-president’s life and career. Hitchens would give a positive review of the book in the Times, “Let Me Say This About That”, and he would appear alongside Summers to promote the book, on the Australian radio program, “Late Night Live” with Philip Adams, on Wednesday, November 15, 2000. In the following excerpt from the interview, Hitchens would single out the book’s reporting and confirmation of the relevant scandal, the spoiling of the 1968 Paris Peace Talks to end the Vietnam war, as its most vital point:

PHILIP ADAMS
Christopher, Kissinger pointed out in his memoirs that Nixon rather liked people to fear his madness. Of course, in ’69, he tells Kissinger to warn the Soviet ambassador that he was out of control on Indochina and capable of anything. Is there any evidence that he behaved this way with his staff and aides, or did he just direct this terrifying prospect at the Russians?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
Oh no, there’s every kind of evidence that his staff and aides grew to recognize the symptoms. I think the locus classicus would be the Haldeman diaries, where you have an almost weary assumption by Haldeman that the president’s at it again. “The P.” as he calls it, in his diaries. And very often, Haldeman will not act on some bizarre instruction or order. Because he thinks that probably when the president either sobers up, because there was a tremendous tendency for one scotch to make a gigantic difference…or just shakes off the mood. Wait twenty four hours, and he’ll have forgotten he told me to do this, or countermand it on second thought. That’s true of what I think is the most salient chapter of Mr. Summers’s book, namely, the conspiracy, because there is no other word for it…to try and sabotage the Paris Peace Talks in 1968.

ADAMS
I’d like you to talk to that, Christopher, because it is the blockbuster revelation, isn’t it?

HITCHENS
It is-

ADAMS
Or the confirmation of it.

HITCHENS
The confirmation. You have the skeleton, and quite a lot of the flesh of the story by inference, and by induction, in the Haldeman diaries, ’cause Haldeman discusses quite freely the fact that Nixon tried, contemplated trying, using, the fact he himself had been bugged. In 1968. As a weapon against the democrats in 1972. Okay, if you think bugging is a scandal, this is Watergate obviously, what if I bring out you bugging me? And then realizing he can’t do that, without revealing why he’s being bugged. Now, that’s all in the memoirs and diaries of his closest associate. And you can also context that it was about Viet Nam he was being bugged in 1968. Now, why would they be doing this? Why would they have- Why would’ve President Johnson wanted to tap candidate Nixon, and the answer is now very plain from the book we’re discussing. That he had opened an illegal backchannel to the South Vietnamese junta and said to them, “Look, if you don’t gratify the democratic administration by consenting to the Paris peace talks, if you don’t do them that favor, and discredit their re-election campaign, you will get a better deal in the incoming Republican administration.”

ANTHONY SUMMERS
Can I break in?

ADAMS
Yes, of course Anthony.

SUMMERS
The breakthrough for me, journalistically, was to be able to obtain the FBI surveillance file. As Christopher Hitchens has said, Johnson, who was given human information, indicating human intelligence, indicating what Nixon and his people were up to in terms of trying to sabotage the peace initiative, he ordered FBI surveillance to try and establish it. In fact, he didn’t establish it fully, because the reports didn’t come in till after the election. Not least because J. Edgar Hoover was less than keen to obey the president’s order in truly expeditious fashion. But the result that we have today is the FBI surveillance file which shows quite clearly that Nixon’s intermediary, Anna Chennault, who I also interviewed extensively, many times, was in constant touch, in those days before the election, carrying messages to the South Vietnamese ambassador in Washington, talking about “her boss”. And it’s complex, and you can’t explain it in a hurry on radio, but it becomes completely clear in context, that when she talks about “her boss”, she’s talking about Richard Nixon.

The FBI surveillance file is now easily available, a document I came across on Robert Parry’s “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'”, and the text which Summers cites is as follows1:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

The most succinct, and acerbic, overview of the scandal can be found in The Trial of Henry Kissinger, where Hitchens sums it up in one acrid paragraph:

Here is the secret in plain words. In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. The means they chose were simple: they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one. In this way, they undercut both the talks themselves and the electoral strategy of Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. The tactic “worked,” in that the South Vietnamese junta withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby destroying the “peace plank” on which the Democrats had contested it. In another way, it did not “work,” because four years later the Nixon administration concluded the war on the same terms that had been on offer in Paris. The reason for the dead silence that still surrounds the question is that, in those intervening four years, some twenty thousand Americans and an uncalculated number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians lost their lives. Lost them, that is to say, even more pointlessly than had those slain up to that point. The impact of those four years on Indochinese society, and on American democracy, is beyond computation. The chief beneficiary of the covert action, and of the subsequent slaughter, was Henry Kissinger.

A more detailed overview of the conspiracy was given by a man who was within its near radius, Clark Clifford, Secretary of Defense for President Lyndon Johnson when the peace talks were thwarted, and who gave extensive space to it in his 1991 memoir, Counsel to the President, co-written by Richard Holbrooke, a member of the United States negotiating team at the Vietnam peace talks in Paris. For some lengthy book excerpts I include their footnotes, separate from this post’s footnotes, so that readers may have a solid idea on the sources of their information, and this approach is taken here:

BUI DIEM AND THE “LITTLE FLOWER”

At about this time, a new and potentially explosive factor entered the picture our discovery, through intelligence channels, of a plot – there is no other word for it – to help Nixon win the election by a flagrant interference in the negotiations.

History is filled with characters who emerge for a moment, play a critical, sometimes even decisive, role in a historic event, and then recede again into their normal lives. Such was the function of two people who played key roles in electing Richard Nixon in 1968: Bui Diem, South Vietnam’s Ambassador in Washington, and Anna Chennault, the Chinese-born widow of General Claire Chennault, the commander of the famed Flying Tigers in Burma and China during World War II.

Mrs. Chennault, a small, intense, and energetic woman who was often seen in the company of her close friend Tommy Corcoran, was chairwoman of Republican Women for Nixon in 1968. Early in the year, she took Bui Diem to New York to meet Nixon. When Diem alerted his closest friend in the Administration, Bill Bundy, to the meeting, Bundy raised no objections; it was quite appropriate for an Ambassador to meet with a former Vice President. But Bui Diem neglected to mention to Bundy that, at Nixon’s request, he had opened a secret personal channel to John Mitchell and other senior members of the Nixon team through Chennault and John Tower, the Republican Senator from Texas.10

There was almost no one in Washington as well informed as the popular and affable Bui Diem. The State Department kept him informed of the negotiations in Paris, his own government sent him reports on the Bunker-Thieu [Bunker is Ellsworth Bunker, the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam] talks in Saigon, and he maintained close relations with many prominent Americans, especially Republican conservatives such as Senator Tower and Everett Dirksen, the Senate Minority Leader. It was not difficult for Ambassador Diem to pass information to Anna Chennault, who was in contact with John Mitchell, she said later, “at least once a day.”11 Even more important, Diem could convey advice from the Nixon camp to Thieu.

In his memoirs, Diem claims he sent only two “relevant messages” to Saigon during October. While they “constituted circumstantial evidence for anybody ready to assume the worst,” he wrote, “they certainly did not mean that I had arranged a deal with the Republicans.” Some of Diem’s messages to Saigon later became public. On October 23, he cabled Thieu: “Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you had already softened your position.” October 27: “The longer the present situation continues, the more we are favored…I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage.”12 Despite his disclaimer, I believe there were other messages, delivered through other channels; Diem correctly suspected he was under surveillance by American intelligence, and tried to fool his watchers by using more secure channels.

Diem was not Anna Chennault’s only channel to Saigon. As he wrote in his own memoirs, “My impression was that she may have played her own game in encouraging both the South Vietnamese and the Republicans.” She took seriously Nixon’s request that she act as “the sole representative between the Vietnamese government and the Nixon campaign headquarters,”13 and she certainly found other routes of communicating with President Thieu [Nguyen Thieu], including the South Vietnamese Ambassador to Taiwan, who happened to be Thieu’s brother.

What was conveyed to Thieu through the Chennault channel may never be fully known, but there was no doubt that she conveyed a simple and authoritative message from the Nixon camp that was probably decisive in convincing President Thieu to defy President Johnson – then delaying the negotiations and prolonging the war. Rather proudly, she recounted one specific message she received from John Mitchell in the last few days of the campaign. “Anna,” she quotes him as saying, “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon, It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you have made clear to them.”14

The activities of the Nixon team went far beyond the bounds of justifiable political combat. It constituted direct interference in the activities of the executive branch and the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, the only people with authority to negotiate on behalf of the nation. The activities of the Nixon campaign constituted a gross, even potentially illegal, interference in the security of the nation by private individuals.

We first became aware of these activities through the normal operations of the intelligence community in the weeks prior to the election. Gradually we realized that President Thieu’s growing resistance to the agreement in Paris was being encouraged, indeed stimulated, by the Republicans, and especially by Anna Chennault, whom we referred to as the “Little Flower.” In total privacy – and, at the President’s direction, without consulting Humphrey [Vice President Hubert Humphrey] – the President, Rusk [Secretary of State Dean Rusk], Rostow [National Security Adviser Walt Rostow], and I discussed what to do about this attempt to thwart the negotiations.

It was an extraordinary dilemma. On one hand, we had positive evidence that the Little Flower and other people speaking for the Republican candidate were encouraging President Thieu to delay the negotiations for political reasons. On the other, the information had been derived from extremely sensitive intelligence operations of the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency; these included surveillance of the Ambassador of our ally, and an American citizen with strong political ties to the Republicans.*

*It should be remembered that the public was considerably more innocent in such matters in the days before the Watergate hearings and the 1974 Senate investigation of the CIA.

In a decision filled with consequences for the election and for history, President Johnson, although furious at Mrs. Chennault, decided not to use the information or make it public in any way. There were several contributing factors to his decision:

  • Underestimation of the damage. Bunker [U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker] continued to predict that Thieu would accept our position within a few days. As a result, the President and Rusk seriously underestimated the harm the Chennault channel caused to the negotiating efforts
  • Weakening of support for Saigon. Johnson and Rusk still worried about losing American support for Thieu if information about his behavior and motives became public. For those who liked irony, there was plenty in Thieu’s defiance of Johnson while the Administration continued to shield him from the wrath of American public opinion. President Johnson had sacrificed his political career as a result of his efforts to save South Vietnam, but as far as Thieu was concerned, Johnson was just a lame duck – the choice was between Humphrey and Nixon.
  • Effect on the negotiations. Rusk was concerned that revealing the Chennault channel would reveal to Hanoi the strains between Saigon and Washington, stiffen Hanoi’s position, and disrupt the negotiations
  • Ambivalence about Hubert Humphrey. Finally, and most important, there was the question of President Johnson’s feelings about Hubert Humphrey. Throughout the campaign, the President treated his Vice President badly, excluding him from National Security Council meetings, and threatening to break with him over the platform plank on Vietnam.15 What mattered to President Johnson at that moment was not who would succeed him, but what his place in history would be.

Characteristically, the generous Humphrey does not even mention the incident in his memoirs,16 even though one of his staff told him about Bui Diem’s efforts on Nixon’s behalf, and he could reasonably have claimed that these events cost him the Presidency.

***

Perhaps in the wake of a decade of post-Watergate revelations about intelligence activities, the decision not to go public may seem fussy and old-fashioned; but whether the President was right or wrong, it was an exceedingly tough call. Had the decision been mine alone to make, I would either have had a private discussion with Nixon, making clear to him that if he did not sent a countervailing signal to Thieu immediately he would face public criticism from the President for interference in the negotiations; or I would have allowed the incident to become public, so that the American public might take it into account in deciding how to vote. Had he been the candidate himself, this is what I believed Lyndon Johnson would have done.

All this raises a critical question: what did Richard Nixon know, and when did he know it? No proof – in the terminology of the Watergate era, no “smoking gun” – has ever turned up linking Nixon directly to the secret messages to Thieu. There are no self-incriminating tapes from the campaign, and the whole incident has been relegated to the status of an unsolved mystery. On the other hand, this chain of events undeniably began in Richard Nixon’s apartment in New York, and his closest adviser, John Mitchell, ran the Chennault channel personally, with full understanding of its sensitivity. Given the importance of these events, I have always thought it was reasonable to assume that Mitchell told Nixon about them, and that Nixon knew, and approved, of what was going on in his name.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

(Picture of Anna Chennault, from the Papers of Anna Chennault, at the Schlesinger Library.)

The FBI intercept of a conversation between Chennault and an associate in the Nixon campaign, known to Johnson along with a select few others, was a possible smoking gun but one of only many that would be unveiled decades later. The vote in 1968 would take place on November 5th, and though some reporting at the time spoke of the bombing halt and the Peace Talks as a last minute maneuver crafted to swing the election in the favor of Humphrey, the work to implement the talks was on-going for a long time. Nor were the intrigues of Nixon to interfere in the talks a last minute move either, but begun a year before, with Anna Chennault, the woman who would serve as Nixon’s weapon for spoiling the talks, already brought into the fold. Despite its occasional reliance on stereotypes, perhaps the most vivid description of Chennault that I’ve come across is from Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1968, and one of the few contemporary books to devote some investigative space to the episode, which was then only unsubstantiated rumor for those outside the circles of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and their closest intimates, though which White ultimately considers to be only a deadly rumor without proof, and deciding the matter in Nixon’s favor:

There is no way of getting at the dilemma of both parties except by introducing, at this point, the completely extraneous name of a beautiful Oriental lady, Anna Chan Chennault, the Chinese widow of war-time hero General Claire Chennault. Mrs. Chennault, an American citizen since 1950, comes of a line that begins with Mei-ling Soong (Madame Chiang K’ai-shek) and runs through Madame Nhu (the Dragon Lady of South Vietnam) – a line of Oriental ladies of high purpose and authoritarian manners whose pieties and iron righteousness have frequently outrun their brains and acknowledged beauty. In the campaign of 1968, Mrs. Chennault, a lady of charm, energy and great name, had become chairman or co-chairman of several Nixon citizen committees, wearing honorific titles which were borne by many but which she took more seriously than most. In that circle of Oriental diplomacy in Washington once known as the China Lobby, Anna Chennault was hostess-queen. Having raised (by her statement later) some $250 000 for the Nixon campaign, she felt entitled to authority by her achievement. And, having learned of the October negotiations by gossip and rumor and press speculation, as did most Americans, she had undertaken most energetically to sabotage them. In contact with the Formosan, the South Korean and the South Vietnamese governments, she had begun early, by cable and telephone, to mobilize their resistance to the agreement – apparently implying, as she went, that she spoke for the Nixon campaign.

Summers, who would interview Chennault for his book, would give a more in-depth account of the background between the intertwining of Chennault and Nixon in the year before the election:

The intrigues of 1968 really began the previous year. While Chennault was traveling in Asia, she received a spate of telegrams asking her to visit Nixon in New York. Robert Hill, a Republican foreign policy specialist, met her at the airport and escorted her to Nixon’s Fifth Avenue apartment. While Hill waited in another room, Nixon introduced her to John Mitchell.

Chennault agreed that day to provide Nixon with advice on Vietnam in the coming months, working through Hill and Texas Senator John Tower. “When we do things,” Nixon told her as the meeting ended, “it’ll be better to keep it secret.” He seemed even then, Chennault recalled, “conspiratorial.”

In July the following year, as the election drew nearer, Chennault went to the Nixon apartment with South Vietnam’s ambassador Bui Diem-a visit documented by both their diaries. A surviving internal staff memo addressed to “DC,” Nixon’s campaign pseudonym, pointed out that it “would have to be absolute [sic] top secret.” “Should be,” Nixon replied in a scrawled notation, “but I don’t see how-with the S.S. [Secret Service] If it can be [secret] RN would like to see. . . .”

Nixon had told Chennault he wanted to “end this war with victory,” a sentiment he now always repeated at the meeting with her and Bui Diem. “If I should be elected the next President,” Chennault recalled his telling Bui Diem, “you can rest assured I will have a meeting with your leader and find a solution to winning this war.” Nixon had met with Thieu in Saigon the previous year. Now, he told Thieu’s ambassador that Chennault was to be “the only contact between myself and your government. If you have any message for me, please give it to Anna, and she will relay it to me, and I will do the same. . . .”

According to Chennault, she met more than once that year with President Thieu in Saigon. He complained about the pressure the Johnson administration was putting on him to attend peace talks and told her: “I would much prefer to have the peace talks after your elections.” He asked her to “convey this message to your candidate.” She did. From time to time President Thieu also sent her word through Ambassador Diem. He also used other messengers, including a colonel on his military staff, apparently because he did not entirely trust his own ambassador.22

In the weeks that followed Chennault had several more meetings with Nixon and Mitchell in New York. They told her to inform Saigon that were Nixon to become president, South Vietnam would get “a better deal.” “The message,” she told the author, “was relayed.”

Asked if Nixon and Mitchell were trying to cut a deal to help win the election, Chennault nodded. “They worked out this deal to win the campaign,” she said. “Power overpowers all reason.”

“It was all very, very confidential,” in Chennault’s description. The air of intrigue was pervasive. At the July meeting Bui Diem remembered, Mitchell had been “silent, didn’t say a word.” Chennault noted that he worried constantly about wiretapping and kept changing his private telephone number. Chennault meanwhile told Nixon she could always be reached through Robert Hill, the party official who had arranged the first meeting, Rose Woods, or another prominent Republican, Patricia Hitt.

This allegation was related by Chennault to Summers, but as well to veteran political correspondent Jules Witcover, which he describes in his memoir, The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch: Half a Century Pounding the Political Beat. The relevant fragment2:

Much later also, I tracked down Anna Chennault at a small office she kept in Georgetown, and while saying she could not talk because she was writing a book of her own (yet to appear), she insisted she had acted under instructions from the Nixon campaign in contacting the Saigon regime. “The only people who knew about the whole operation,” she told me, “were Nixon, John Mitchell [Nixon’s campaign manager] and John Tower [senator from Texas and Nixon campaign figure], and they’re all dead. But they knew what I was doing. Anyone who knows about these things knows I was getting orders to do these things. I couldn’t do anything without instructions.”

The introduction of Chennault to ambassador Bui Diem is described in another book, The President’s Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, which devotes a chapter titled “This is Treason!” to the backchannel:

Nixon was not a man to take chances. He knew how much he stood to lose if Johnson succeeded in the Paris peace talks. “If there’s war, people will vote for me to end it,” he told his aides. “If there’s peace, they’ll vote their pocketbooks – Democratic prosperity.”

And so he took out some insurance. He needed to know what Johnson was offering Hanoi, how he was selling it to Saigon, and whether, after all this time, all this trouble, the way out of this benighted war might open up just in time for election day.

Anna Chennault was the cochair of Republican Women for Nixon. The Chinese-born widow of General Claire Chennault, who commanded the Flying Tigers in China in World War II, she was petite, striking, and at forty-three nicknamed the “Little Flower” or, alternatively, the “Dragon Lady.” She and Nixon had met in 1954, when he made a vice presidential trip to Taiwan. She was close to President Thieu’s brother, Nguyen Van Kieu. On July 12, Chennault and South Vietnamese ambassador Bui Diem, a popular, affable, and extremely well-connected diplomat, met with Nixon and his campaign manager, John Mitchell, in Nixon’s New York apartment. According to Diem’s account, the purpose was to open a secret back channel between the Nixon campaign and Saigon.

“Anna is my good friend,” Nixon told the Diem. “She knows all about Asia. I know you also consider her a friend, so please rely on her from now on as the only contact between myself and your government.” If you have a message, send it through her, and he would do the same, Nixon said. “We know Anna is a good American and a dedicated Republican. We can all rely on her loyalty.” He promised to make Vietnam a top priority if he won, “and to see that Vietnam gets better treatment from me than under the Democrats.”

Thus had Nixon put in place a way for him to send his own messages, apply his own pressure, make his own promises to Saigon, while staying on top of Johnson’s moves.

There is the possibility that even at this early point, Chennault’s interference may have been discovered, without it necessarily being connected to Nixon. The possibility exists, accompanied by all these uncertainties, because at a later date many of the documents that resulted from the surveillance of Chennault were collected, declassified, and made public. One document, however, commissioned in August 3rd, 1968, by Bromley Smith, a national security aide in the Johnson administration, remains entirely redacted. It no doubt has something to do with the Paris peace talks and Chennault, but anything else can only be guessed at. Here is all of the text that is public at this time3:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

RECEIVED WASHINGTON COMCENTER
5:33 P.M. SATURDAY AUG 68

RECEIVED: LBJ RANCH COMCENTER
5:05 P.M. SATURDAY 3 AUG 68

TOP SECRET

SENSITIVE

SANITIZED

Z E V
EEA973
00 WTE10
DE WTE 2975

FROM BROMLEY SMITH
TO THE PRESIDENT
CITE CAP81797

T O P S E C R E T SENSITIVE

[REDACTED]

SANITIZED
E.O. 13526 Sec. 3.5
NLJ 10-96
By isl NARA, Date 1-10-11

At the same time that Nixon was using Chennault as an active intermediary with Ambassador Bui Diem and the South Vietnamese, he was being given top secret briefings on the diplomatic negotiations taking place between the Administration and both sides of the civil war. We have a quote from a Nixon ad man when Gloria Steinem profiled the 1968 Nixon campaign, made on September 20th of that year. Had Nixon’s attitude toward Communism changed over the years?, asked Steinem. “Oh no, absolutely not,” replies the ad man. “He understands those people. He knows you have to be tough or they’ll take us over. You see, I have some special knowledge – though, of course, Mr. Nixon has more. I happen to know he’s had top secret briefings – but I have some knowledge from old friends in the military. They come back and tell me the way it really is. If we don’t stop the Chinese here, they’ll keep right on going. Of course, he can’t say anything about Vietnam because it might interfere with the talks in Paris. Mr. Nixon’s a man of real integrity-he won’t take advantage of his special knowledge if it would help Ho Chi Minh, But he knows the enemy, and he knows they hope to win because of all these misguided sympathizers pressuring us here. I’m for him because he won’t let that happen.”4

This would lead up to a conference call between Johnson and the candidates on October 16th, a little more than two weeks before the election, where he would brief them on the negotiations taking place. Thanks to the declassification of these recordings, we now know what was said on the call. From here on, I divide the narrative of this crucial narrative of 1968 by date.

OCTOBER 16, 1968

The audio from the following call, along with its transcript, is available at the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program, record “WH6810-04-13547-13548”. The call took place between 11:41am and 11:57am, between Johnson, Republican candidate Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace, former Democrat, segregationist, and candidate for the American Independent Party. The following are excerpts where Johnson makes clear the importance of maintaining secrecy over the negotiations, and the candidates not making any counter-offers in public speeches, as this would jeopardize negotiations5:

(A clip on youtube of the audio of this phone call in its entirety, with accompanying transcript.)

From “Lyndon Johnson and presidential candidates conference call” (1:34-5:23):

JOHNSON
This is in absolute confidence because any statement or any speeches or any comments at this time referring to the substance of these matters will be injurious to your country. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

First, I want to say this: That our position, the government position, today is exactly what it was the last time all three of you were briefed. That position namely is this: We are anxious to stop the bombing [of North Vietnam] and would be willing to stop the bombing if they would sit down with us with the Government of [South] Vietnam present and have productive discussions. We have told them that we did not think we could have discussions if, while we were talking, they were shelling the cities or if they were abusing the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone]. From time to time, beginning back late last Spring, they have nibbled back and forth at these various items. Each time they do, there is a great flurry of excitement. Now, we have been hopeful one day that they would understand this. We don’t want to call it “reciprocity”; we don’t want to call it “conditions,” because they object to using those words, and that just knocks us out of an agreement. But we know that you join us in wanting peace the earliest day we can and to save lives as quickly as we can and as many as we can. So, one day we’re hopeful, and the next day we’re very disillusioned.

Now, as of today they have not signed on and agreed to the proposition which I have outlined to you, nor have they indicated that this would be a satisfactory situation to them in its entirety. Our negotiators are back and forth talking to them, and they have just finished their meeting in Paris this morning. But, yesterday in Saigon, because there are exchanges constantly going on, there came out a report that there was an agreement that would be announced at a specific hour. This morning in Paris the same thing happened, and [Averell] Harriman had to knock that down. We posted a notice here at the White House that said the same thing.

Now, very frankly, we would hope that we could have a minimum of discussion in the newspapers about these conferences, because we’re not going to get peace with public speeches, and we’re not going to get peace through the newspapers. We can get it only when they understand that our position is a firm one, and we’re going to stay by it. And what you all’s position will be when you get to be President, I would hope you could announce then. Because we have really this kind of a situation. If I’ve got a house to sell, and I put a rock bottom price of $40,000 on it, and the prospective purchaser says, “Well, that’s a little high, but let me see.” And he goes–starts to leave to talk to his wife about it, and [First Lady] Lady Bird [Johnson] whispers that, “I would let you have it for $35,000.” And then he gets downstairs, and Lynda Bird [Johnson] says, “We don’t like the old house anyway, and we get it $30,000.” Well, he’s not likely to sign up.

The three things that Johnson is demanding as necessary from North Vietnam is that there be no shelling of the cities of South Vietnam, no crossing of the DMZ separating the two sides of the country, and that the elected government of South Vietnam, the GVN, be at the table. These are the three things he refers to in the next excerpt, where all three candidates affirm their agreement on the need for secrecy and non-interference with the diplomatic negotiations.

From “Lyndon Johnson and presidential candidates conference call” (6:03-7:57):

JOHNSON
Now, we do not have to get a firm contract on all these three things. But I do have to have good reason to believe that it won’t be on-again-off-again Flanagan; that I won’t have to stop the bombing one day and start it the next. Now, obviously, they can deceive me, and we know that in dealing with the Communists that they frequently do that. We have had a good many experiences of that right in these negotiations.

But what I called you for was to say in substance this: our position has not changed. I do not plan to see a change. I have not issued any such orders. I will con–I will talk to each of you before I do, and all of you on an equal basis. I know you don’t want to play politics with your country. I’m trying to tell you what my judgment is about how not to play politics with it. And I know all of you want peace at the earliest possible moment. And I would just express the hope that you be awfully sure what you’re talking about before you get into the intricacies of these negotiations. Over. Now, I’ll be glad to have any comment any of you want to make or answer any questions.

HUMPHREY
No comment, Mr. President. Thank you very much.

NIXON
Yep. Well, as you know, my–this is consistent with what my position has been all along. I’ve made it very clear that I will make no statement that would undercut the negotiations. So we’ll just stay right on there and hope that this thing works out.

JOHNSON
George, are you on?

WALLACE
Yes, sir, Mr. President, and of course, that’s my position all along, too–is the position you stated, yes, sir. And I agree with you that we shouldn’t play any politics with this matter so that it might foul up the negotiations in any manner.

Though he gave his assent in the phone call, Nixon actually had a very different attitude which he was fully open about a few years later. He would also reveal that he knew in advance of the eventual bombing halt on October 31st, through a mole in the negotiating team: Henry Kissinger. It was his involvement which brought this scandal into the purview of Hitchens’ book, and it is in The Trial of Henry Kissinger that the reader can find out where this source is revealed: from the memoirs of the capo di tutti capi himself, Richard Nixon. From Trial:

There had to be secret communications between Nixon and the South Vietnamese, as we have seen. But there also had to be an informant inside the incumbent administration’s camp – a source of hints and tips and early warnings of official intentions. That informant was Henry Kissinger. In Nixon’s own account, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the disgraced elder statesman tells us that, in mid-September 1968, he received private word of a planned “bombing halt.” In other words, the Johnson administration would, for the sake of the negotiations, consider suspending its aerial bombardment of North Vietnam. This most useful advance intelligence, Nixon tells us, came “through a highly unusual channel.” It was more unusual even than he acknowledged. Kissinger had until then been a devoted partisan of Nelson Rockefeller, the matchlessly wealthy prince of liberal Republicanism. His contempt for the person and the policies of Richard Nixon was undisguised. Indeed, President Johnson’s Paris negotiators, led by Averell Harriman, considered Kissinger to be almost one of themselves. He had made himself helpful, as Rockefeller’s chief foreign policy advisor, by supplying French intermediaries with their own contacts in Hanoi. “Henry was the only person outside of the government we were authorized to discuss the negotiations with,” says Richard Holbrooke. “We trusted him. It is not stretching the truth to say that the Nixon campaign had a secret source within the US negotiating team.”

Though Nixon is very opaque if not rankly dishonest about many parts of this episode in his memoir, never mentioning Chennault or his successful attempt to spoil the peace talks, he is explicit and up front over the use of Kissinger to hand over information. He is equally explicit in his true reaction to the eventual halt: “anger and frustration” at what must be an attempt by Johnson to win the election for Humphrey. Nixon describes the secret diplomatic channel from the starting point of Johnson calling him on October 31st to let him know of the announcement that night of the bombing halt, then moves back to September when he first began using Kissinger to get information on the peace talks, and I follow the excerpt up until the conference call of October 16th:

More than anything else, Humphrey had Lyndon Johnson to thank for the eleventh-hour masterstroke that almost won him the election.

On October 31 I was to address a nationally televised rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. I set aside a couple of quiet hours in the afternoon, and I was sitting in my study at home making notes for the speech later that evening when the telephone rang. It was a White House operator: the President was placing a conference call to Humphrey, Wallace, and me. A moment later Lyndon Johnson was on the line.

He got right to the point. There had been a breakthrough in Paris, he said, and after wide consultations among his advisers, he had decided to call a total bombing halt over North Vietnam. He would make the announcement on television in two hours. As Johnson went one, I thought to myself that whatever this meant to North Vietnam, he had just dropped a pretty good bomb in the middle of my campaign.

Johnson said, rather defensively, “I’m not concerned with an election. You all are concerned with an election. I don’t think this concerns an election. I think all of you want the same thing. So I thought if I laid it on the line that way, and presented it to you, you would at least have a complete, full understanding of all the facts.”

Johnson explained that he had not been able to persuade Saigon to agree to the provisions of the bombing halt, so that South Vietnam would not be joining in the announcement.

When Johnson finished, and we had asked some perfunctory questions, George Wallace said, “I’m praying for you.”

Humphrey said, “I’m backing you up, Mr. President.”

I thanked Johnson for making the call and seconded Humphrey’s pledge of support.

The telephone call over, I could feel my anger and frustration welling up. Johnson was making the one move that I thought could determine the outcome of the election. Had I done all this work and come all this way only to be undermined by the powers of an incumbent who had decided against seeking re-election?

I remembered how categorical Johnson had been at our briefing earlier that summer. Then he had been contemptuous of those who wanted a bombing halt, and his arms had sliced the air as he insisted that he was not going to let one ammunition truck pass freely into South Vietnam carrying the weapons to kill American boys.

In fact, the bombing halt came as no real surprise to me. I had known for several weeks that plans were being made for such an action; the announcement was the other shoe that I had been waiting for Johnson to drop. What I found difficult to accept was the timing. Announcing the halt so close to the election was utterly callous if politically calculated, and utterly naive if sincere.

I had learned of the plan through a highly unusual channel. It began on September 12, when Haldeman brought me a report from John Mitchell that Rockefeller’s foreign policy adviser, Henry Kissinger, was available to assist us with advice. In 1967 Kissinger had served Johnson as a secret emissary, passing Johnson’s offers for a bombing halt to the North Vietnamese via French intermediaries. At one point Johnson even recommended a direct meeting, but the North Vietnamese were recalcitrant, and the “Kissinger channel” came to an end in October 1967. Kissinger, however, retained the respect of Johnson and his national security advisers, and he continued to have entr&eaute;e into the administration’s foreign policy circles.

I knew that Rockefeller had been offering Kissinger’s assistance and urging that I make use of it ever since the convention. I told Haldeman that Mitchell should continue as liaison with Kissinger and that we should honor his desire to keep his role completely confidential.

Two weeks after his first meeting with Mitchell, Kissinger called again. He said that he had just returned from Paris, where he had packed up word that something big was afoot regarding Vietnam. He advised that if I had to say anything about Vietnam during the following week, I should avoid any new ideas or proposals. Kissinger was completely circumspect in the advice he gave us during the campaign. If he was privy to the details of negotiations, he did not reveal them to us. He considered it proper and responsible, however, to warn me against making any statements that might be undercut by negotiations I was not aware of.

I asked Haldeman to have Bryce Harlow call the Republican Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen. “Have Ev tell Lyndon that I have a message from Paris,” I suggested. “Leave the hint that I know what’s going on, and tell Ev to nail Lyndon hard to find out what’s happening.”

I also told Haldeman to have Agnew ask Dean Rusk whether there was anything to “rumors” we had heard.

That same day I sent a memo to my key staffers and writers ordering them to put the Vietnam monkey on Humphrey’s back, not Johnson’s. I wanted to make it clear that I thought it was Humphrey rather than the President who was playing politics with the war.

A few days later Haldeman sent me a memorandum with more information from Kissinger to Mitchell.

Our source feels that there is a better than even chance that Johnson will order a bombing halt at approximately mid-October. This will be tied in with a big flurry of diplomatic activity in Paris which will have no meaning but will be made to look important.

After covering other diplomatic matters, the memo continued:

Our source does not believe that it is practical to oppose a bombing halt but does feel thought should be given to the fact that it may happen – that we may want to anticipate it – and that we certainly will want to be ready at the time it does happen…

Our source is extremely concerned about the moves Johnson may take and expects that he will take some action before the election.

That same day I learned that Dean Rusk had reassured Agnew that there were no new developments and that the administration would not “cut our legs off” with an announcement in October. If there were any change, he said, Johnson would call me right away. Rusk did say, however, that although there was nothing currently planned, the situation was “fast-changing.”

On October 9, the North Vietnamese in Paris publicly called on Johnson to stop the bombing while he still had the power to do so. Johnson, of course, knew what the public did not know: secret negotiations for a bombing halt were already taking place.

Three days later we received another secret report from Kissinger saying that there was a strong possibility that the administration would move before October 23. Kissinger strongly recommended that I avoid making any statements about Humphrey’s hurting the prospects of peace. Rather cryptically, Kissinger strongly reported that there was “more to this than meets the eye.” I thought that this report from Kissinger was uncomfortably vague. Why was he trying to get me to avoid making statements about Vietnam and why was he so insistent about laying off Humphrey? One factor that had most convinced me of Kissinger’s credibility was the length to which he went to protect his secrecy. But what if Johnson’s people knew that he was passing information to me and were feeding him phony stories? In such a tense political and diplomatic atmosphere, I was no longer sure of anything.

Over the next few days rumors became rampant that something big was about to happen in Paris. Reporters demanded to know what was happening, and in response to their questions, the White House press office released a statement that there were no breakthroughs in Paris and no change in the situation.

I was campaigning in Missouri on October 16 when word arrived from the White House that Johnson wanted to clarify matters with a conference call to all three candidates. When the call came, I was in Kansas City’s Union Station, about to address a large rally in the main waiting room. I took his call in a tiny room behind the platform. The “room” was like a telephone booth with a glass door. Throughout our conversation people wandered by, staring quizzically at me jammed into this closet.

We had a bad connection, so that I had to strain to make out Johnson’s words. He told us to read his Press Secretary’s statement. There was no breakthrough in Paris. The rumors were wrong. He urged us not to say anything. He said that there had in fact been some movement by Hanoi, but that anything might jeopardize it. I asked for some assurance that he was still insisting on reciprocity from the Communists for any concessions on our part, and Johnson replied that he was maintaining that three points had to be met: (1) Prompt and serious talks must follow any bombing halt; (2) Hanoi must not violate the Demilitarized Zone; and (3) the Vietcong or the North Vietnamese would not carry out large-scale rocket or artillery attacks against South Vietnam’s major cities. If these conditions were fulfilled, of course, I would support whatever arrangements Johnson could work out.

When I saw Johnson that night at the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York, he gave me further assurances that he would not accept any arrangement without reciprocity, and again requested that I be careful about what I had to say on Vietnam. After the dinner, I instructed Haldeman to pass the word that, in view of Johnson’s request, I would not be making any major speeches criticizing the conduct of the war.

Nixon had Kissinger, but he also had other sources to let him know about negotiation developments, channeled through Bryce Harlow, a Nixon campaign aide who would later serve as counselor to the president. Harlow would tell Nixon’s top aide, H. R. Haldeman, that developments were still too confused to know whether there was to be a bombing halt on the morning of October 16th, with no sources named6, along with two notes that expected a bombing halt based on information passed along from Texas Senator John Tower, one of which is the following7:

Agnew thinks something coming – (large?) day
Rusk leaked normal ease
didn’t want it known they talked =
Ottenad has told people
McW [Charlie McWhorter] heard from someone

Bryce thinks this is all smog

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

McWhorter was another Nixon aide; Ottenad was Tom Ottenad, a reporter for the St-Louis Dispatch who, as we’ll see later, was one of the few journalists of the time to look into the possibility that the peace talks had been deliberately sabotaged; Agnew was Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s vice presidential candidate who also, again as we’ll soon see, was the man through whom Anna Chennault would pass information on her attempts to stop the negotiations.

There was also a note from Bryce Harlow on the October 17th, citing a specific source, Rusk’s deputy, Harry W. Shlaudeman8:

October 17, 1968

TO: DC
FROM: Ellsworth

Called Rusk but he had his assistant, Shlaudeman [Harry W. Shlaudeman, Special Assistant to United States Secretary of State], talk to me. Said Rusk had already talked to Agnew. Said Rusk told Agnew the White House statement spoke for itself. Said Rusk emphasized to Agnew that there are a number of essential matters still under negotiation and discussion at Paris, that it is still up to Hanoi, that they are still working at it, that it is hard to predict, and especially emphasized that the President will be in touch with Mr. Nixon if anything important develops.

The “DC” mentioned here and in all other notes was a codename for Richard Nixon9.

That Nixon had another secret source for information about the on-going talks, someone other than Kissinger, someone high up and deep within the Johnson circle – we know this because he refers to him as such in his memoirs. Whether this man was Shlaudeman, Rusk, or someone else is unknown to me. He remains unnamed and I have come across no revelation of his identity in any other source. From RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, nearly a week after Johnson’s October 16 conference call:

On October 22, Bryce Harlow received information from a source whose credibility was beyond question. It was from someone in Johnson’s innermost circle, and, as events turned out, it was entirely accurate. I read Harlow’s memorandum several times, and with each reading I became angrier and more frustrated:

The President is driving exceedingly hard for a deal with North Vietnam. Expectation is that he is becoming almost pathologically eager for an excuse to order a bombing halt and will accept almost any arrangement…

Clark Clifford, [Joseph] Califano, and Llewellyn Thompson are the main participants in this effort. [George] Ball is in also, though somewhat on the fringe.

Careful plans are being made to help HHH exploit whatever happens. White House staff liasion with HHH is close. Plan is for LBJ to make a nationwide TV announcement as quickly as possible after agreement; the object is to get this done as long before November 5 as they can…

White Housers still think they can pull the election out for HHH with this ploy; that’s what is being attempted.

I fired off a battery of orders: have Mitchell check with Kissinger; have Dirksen and Tower blast the moves by the White House; have Dirksen call Johnson and let him know we were on to his plans. I even considered having Harlow fly to Vietnam to talk to General Andrew Goodpaster to get a firsthand military view of the situation there. But I was simply venting my frustration; no matter what I did, Johnson continued to hold the whip hand.

The initial results of my orders raised some doubts about Harlow’s secret source. Kissinger had not heard anything about Johnson’s plan, and when Ev Dirksen confronted Johnson with the rumor, he denied it with a vehemence that convinced even his skeptical old friend. He said that there was nothing new to report from Paris, and he chided Dirksen for being taken in by such obvious rumors at this stage of his life.

During this period, Nixon was not simply receiving information from various sources on the peace talks. From The Arrogance of Power by Anthony Summers, we know from his interviews with Chennault that on the very day that Nixon was pledging fealty to Johnson, he was meeting with Chennault to undermine them:

In the weeks before the election, with growing signs of an impending bombing halt and the acceptance of peace talks, Nixon publicly voiced support for President Johnson. Privately, he admitted years later, he seethed with resentment. Today any objective reading of the notes and minutes of Johnson’s meetings that fall reveals a president sometimes too hesitant in going forward for the taste of his own aides but genuinely devoted to the cause of peace. Nixon, however, was convinced the peace initiative was at least in part a political ploy, designed to swing the election to Humphrey.

Chennault stoked this resentment, apparently flying to Kansas City to meet with Nixon on October 16, the very day that Johnson briefed Nixon and the other candidates on his Vietnam plans, urging discretion in their public statements.23 She bore with her a long written presentation that deplored the rumored bombing halt and recommended a long-term approach to the conflict. The same day Agnew received a briefing on the coming halt, originating with unnamed sources. Two days later Chennault saw the South Vietnamese ambassador again. A few days after that there was another meeting with Mitchell.

She and Mitchell were now in touch by phone almost daily. “Call me from a pay phone. Don’t talk in your office,” he would urge her. When she joked about possible wiretaps, he was not amused. Mitchell’s message, she said, was always the same: If peace talks were announced, it was vital to persuade President Thieu not to take part.

OCTOBER 28, 1968

A reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, Beverly Deepe Keever, who had arrived in Vietnam in 1962 and would stay for the next seven years, would hear of a possible story related to the Peace Talks and notified her editor. She would write of the event thirty five years later in her memoir, Death Zones and Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting (excerpt is taken from a chapter excerpt dealing with the bombing halt, “The Unexploded Election-Eve Bombshell”), and I bold the most important part:

During October 1968, I was busier than usual covering the impact of a talked-about permanent bombing halt, which was Hanoi’s precondition for entering into peace talks with the allies. Most of my dispatches were published on page 1, often leading the Monitor. I interviewed senior military commanders along the DMZ and in Saigon, secured comments from Western diplomats, including one who had recently visited Hanoi, and sought input from other sources who assessed troop movements in Laos. At the same time I was synthesizing reports that Pham Xuan An [a stringer hired to help with oral and written translations] had gleaned from sources inside and outside the palace and the Vietnamese High Command.

Then, out of the blue, I learned of such outlandish rumblings that on October 28 I sent an advisory to the Monitor‘s overseas editor, [Henry S.] “Hank” Hayward: “There’s a report here that Vietnamese Ambassador to Washington Bui Diem has notified the Foreign Ministry that Nixon aides have approached him and told him the Saigon government should hold to a firm position now regarding negotiations and that once Nixon is elected, he’ll back the Thieu government in their demands. If you could track it down with the Nixon camp, it would probably be a very good story.” I was so busy I had no chance to remember my assist eight years earlier in the NBC studios when my boss, Sam Lubell [with whom she had polled voters in key precincts about the 1960 presidential election], had predicted Nixon would lose the presidency to John Kennedy. Now, Nixon was facing Democrat Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was saddled with President Lyndon Johnson’s increasingly controversial Vietnam policy. I received no response to my cable from Boston.

The National Security Agency (NSA), would make the following summary of Thieu’s public remarks on that day10:

THIEU’S VIEWS ON PEACE TALKS AND BOMBING HALT

XXCC
[REDACTED] 28 OCT 68 [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]
[REDACTED]

SECRET.
((THIS IS)) A SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT ON MR. THIEU’S SPEECH [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]
1. Since the Vietnamese government is ardently laboring [REDACTED] together with the U.S. side to put into practice the items that were naturally agreed upon at the U.S.-Vietnamese Honolulu Summit Conference (19 July), President Thieu emphasized the point that President Johnson must also keep his promises.

((Thieu)) said that it appears that Mr. Nixon will be elected as the next president, and he thinks it would be good to try to solve the important question of the political talks with the next president (no matter who is elected. ((Thieu)) believes that our standpoint should be prepared and strengthened now rather than in the future.

OCTOBER 29, 1968

It’s on this date that we have the event which would trigger the surveillance of Anna Chennault, which would in turn reveal her connection to the Nixon campaign. On the night of October 28th, Eugene Rostow would contact his brother, Walt Rostow, Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Adviser, about a startling piece of information he’d come across. Walt Rostow would ask that his brother dictate what he’d just relayed, so that he might pass on this important information to the president the next day. The following are the related papers, the two documents dictated by Eugene about a stunning discovery and the memo by Walt to the president introducing his brother’s findings, and identifying the source11:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

October 29, 1968

Last night I received a telephone call from an old friend in New York, a man of experience and a careful and even exact reporter. He said he had attended a working lunch that day with colleagues in Wall Street. Two were men closely involved with Nixon. One of them explained to the group that Nixon was handling the Vietnam peace problem “like another Fortas case.” He was trying to frustrate the President, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he took office “he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.”

E. V. Rostow

The “Fortas case” refers to Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas, who was nominated to be chief justice in 1968, but whose confirmation was filibustered to prevent the confirmation, with Fortas eventually withdrawing his nomination. Nixon would appoint Warren Burger as Chief Justice after his election in 1968.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Oct. 29, 1968

Walt:

I had a further talk with my informant about the luncheon conversation he attended yesterday.

The man who spoke was a member of the banking community, a colleague, a man he has known for many years, and one in whose honesty he has absolute confidence. The speaker is reputed to be very close to Nixon — as close as Gabriel Hauge (it was not Hauge). (He feels he cannot give me his name.)

The conversation was in the context of a professional discussion about the future of the financial markets in the near term.

The speaker said he thought the prospects for a bombing halt or a cease-fire were dim, because Nixon was playing the problem as he did the Fortas affair — to block. He was taking public positions intended to achieve that end. They would incite Saigon to be difficult, and Hanoi to wait.

Part of his strategy was an expectation that an offensive would break out soon, that we would have to spend a great deal more (and incur more casualties) — a fact which would adversely affect the stock market and the bond market. NVN [North Vietnamese] offensive action was a definite element in their thinking about the future.

These difficulties would make it easier for Nixon to settle after January. Like Ike in 1953, he would be able to settle on terms which the President could not accept, blaming the deterioration of the situation between now and January or February on his predecessor.

Gene

In this cover letter, Walt Rostow reveals the name of the source: Alexander Sachs.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Tuesday, October 29, 1968
6:00 a.m.

Mr. President:

I just called Gene and asked him to dictate to Miss Nivens what he told me last night. Here it is.

I asked him to go back to Alexander Sachs and see how much further detail he can get on the people involved and how close, in fact, they are to Nixon.

W.W. Rostow

After the election, in a report he compiled on the scandal, Walt Rostow would relate the surrounding events of these revelations12:

From October 17 to October 29 we received diplomatic intelligence of Saigon’s uneasiness with the apparent break in Hanoi’s position on a total bombing cessation and with the Johnson Administration’s apparent willingness to go forward. This was an interval, however, when Hanoi backed away from the diplomatic breakthrough of the second week of October. Only towards the end of the month was the agreement with Hanoi re-established. As late as October 28, Thieu, despite the uneasiness of which we were aware, told Amb. Bunker [U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker] he would proceed, as he had agreed about two weeks earlier. [REDACTED]

In the early morning hours of October 29 the President and his advisers met with Abrams [The American commander in Vietnam, General Creighton W. Abrams]. Before going to that meeting, I was telephoned at home by my brother, Eugene Rostow. He reported the first of his messages from New York on Republican strategy — from Alexander Sachs.

During the meeting with Abrams word came from Bunker of Thieu’s sudden intransigence. The diplomatic information previously received plus the information from New York took on new and serious significance.

President Johnson, in the course of October 29, instructed Bromley Smith, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, to get in touch with the Deputy Director of the FBI, Deke DeLoach and arrange that contacts by Americans with the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington be monitored.

OCTOBER 30, 1968

Deputy Director of the FBI, Cartha “Deke” DeLoach would send the following report to Johnson, a result of surveillance of the Vietnamese embassy13:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

SECRET/SENSITIVE

October 30, 1968

Following from Deke DeLoach:

Early this morning, approximately 7:45 A.M., Ambassador Bui Diem of the Vietnamese Embassy was contacted by a woman who did not identify herself but whom he seemed to recognize by voice. The FBI believes this woman to be possibly Anna Chenault [sic], widow of General Clare [sic] Chenault [sic]. The woman commented that she did not have an opportunity to talk with the Ambassador on 10/29/68 inasmuch as there were so many people around. However, she thought that perhaps the Ambassador would have some more information this morning. The woman then asked what the situation is. The Ambassador responded that “just among us” that he could not go into specifics on the telephone but something “is cooking.” The woman then asked if Thailand is going to be the representative of both South Vietnam and the Viet Cong to which the Ambassador responded “no, nothing of this sort yet.” The Ambassador then suggested that if the woman had time today she should drop by and talk with him as time is running short. She replied that she would drop by after the luncheon for Mrs. Agnew today.

After receiving this, Johnson would contact his friend Georgia Senator Richard Russell at 10:25 A.M., and explain the problem14:

(A clip on youtube of the audio with accompanying transcript of this phone call in its entirety.)

From “Phone call between Lyndon Johnson and Georgia Senator Richard Russell” (0:10-1:51):

JOHNSON
How are you, my friend?

RUSSELL
Good. I’m sorry about the phone being off the hook upstairs. Everybody’s running around trying to fix it, and yesterday the phone was (inaudible) somebody’s listening.

JOHNSON
Got some kids. I understand you got some children in the house.

RUSSELL
No no.

JOHNSON
Every phone’s off the hook at my place when I got that sixteen month grandson. He’s a mechanic. He works on it all the time.

RUSSELL
He’s got an inquiring mind. Goes into things. See what it’s about.

JOHNSON
Well, I’ve got one this morning that’s pretty rough for you.

We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee-our California friend-has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends, both-our allies and the others. He’s been doing it through rather subterranean sources here.

And he has been saying to the allies that “you’re going to get sold out. Watch Yalta, and Potsdam, and two Berlins, and everything. And they’re [the Johnson administration] going to recognize the NLF. I [Nixon] don’t have to do that. You better not give away your liberty just a few hours before I can preserve it for you.”

One or two of his business friends divulged it first a couple of days ago, about the time he [Nixon] made the statement that he had rumors that the staff was selling out, but he did not include me in it. You saw that, didn’t you?

The “California friend” is, of course, Richard Nixon.

From “Phone call between Lyndon Johnson and Georgia Senator Richard Russell” (2:56-4:41):

JOHNSON
The next thing that we got our teeth in was one of his associates-a fellow named [John] Mitchell, who is running his campaign, who’s the real Sherman Adams [Eisenhower’s chief of staff] of the operation, in effect said to a businessman that “we’re going to handle this like we handled the Fortas matter, unquote. We’re going to frustrate the President by saying to the South Vietnamese, and the Koreans, and the Thailanders [sic], ‘Beware of Johnson.'”

“At the same time, we’re going to say to Hanoi, ‘I [Nixon] can make a better deal than he [Johnson] has, because I’m fresh and new, and I don’t have to demand as much as he does in the light of past positions.”

Now, when we got that, pure by accident, as a result of some of our Wall Street connections, that caused me to look a little deeper.

RUSSELL
I guess so.

JOHNSON
And I have means of doing that, as you may well imagine.

RUSSELL
Yes.

JOHNSON
And…Mrs. [Anna] Chennault is contacting their [South Vietnamese] ambassador from time to time-seems to be kind of the go-between, the Chiang Kai-Shek deal. In addition, their ambassador is saying to ’em that “Johnson is desperate and is just moving heaven and earth to elect Humphrey, so don’t you get sucked in on that.” He is kind of these folks’ agent here, this little South Vietnamese ambassador.

Now, this is not guesswork.

The “means of doing that” are, obviously, the various intelligence agencies.

From “Phone call between Lyndon Johnson and Georgia Senator Richard Russell” (5:00-8:21):

JOHNSON
Mrs. Chennault, you know, of the Flying Tigers.

RUSSELL
I know Mrs. Chennault.

JOHNSON
She’s young and attractive. I mean, she’s a pretty good-looking girl.

RUSSELL
She certainly is.

JOHNSON
And she’s around town. And she is warning them to not get pulled in on this Johnson move.

Then he [the ambassador], in turn, is warning his government. Then we, in turn, know pretty well what he [Thieu] is saying out there. So he is saying that well, he’s got to play it for time, and get it by the next few days. Now, the Soviets are climbing the wall, and Hanoi is, and of course our people in Paris are, because they have agreed that they will let the GVN come to the table. That has been the thing we have insisted on. They have met our demands. The Soviets have said that we understand that we’re gonna resume if they violate the DMZ and we can see that immediately after we make the announcement whether they are or not. We have reserved the right for reconnaissance and we have made it clear it’s an act of force, and not an act of war, in our announcement. And we got South Vietnam, and all the allies aboard on a one day. We announce it one day and we meet the next. But Hanoi wanted more time, so they demanded a couple of weeks, and then ten days, and then a week, and we wouldn’t do it, because we thought that Saigon couldn’t stand to wait that long between the time of the announcement and the time of the meeting. So we have insisted on one day because Hanoi had said productive discussions could begin the next day. So, we took them at their word. About that time, Humphrey made a fool speech in which he said that he would stop the bombing without a comma or a semicolon, he’d just make it period.

RUSSELL
Well, that’d kill the whole thing.

JOHNSON
Well, it did for ten days, and then Bundy made a fool speech. And they all of them had to dissect that and take it- (inaudible) Yes yes, the Adlai Stevenson group and they just get the tail of the dashboard right at the right time, they do the wrong thing, every time. But we wore that out, we got it back on the track. And in getting it back on the track, meantime, Nixon gets scared to death, so he gets into the thing. And it gets off the track at the other place. Now, everybody had approved the one day thing. Then they came along and approved the three day thing, and they actually got down to the wording of the announcement, a joint announcement to be made by the two of us. And it was all agreed upon, all satisfactory, and then Nixon gets on and says no use selling out now, just wait a few days. And you can’t trust Johnson, may want to, really he’s gonna pet the North Vietnamese, NLF, on the back, just like Roosevelt did to Russia. And that scares them.

OCTOBER 31, 1968

On 4:10 pm, Johnson would call Everett Dirksen, Republican Senator for Illinois, and explain to him that he’d uncovered Anna Chennault attempting to spoil the peace talk negotiations through the promise that the South Vietnamese would get a better deal with Nixon. The language is colorful, and though the transcript is my own and there may be errors, the sense is still very clear that Johnson is very upset and deeply disturbed by what is taking place. I give the most relevant excerpts15:

(A clip on youtube of the audio with accompanying transcript of this phone call in its entirety.)

From “Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen phone call October 31 1968” (0:34-5:40):

JOHNSON
Everett, we have said to the…first of all, I cannot tell you this, that’s gonna be quoted. Because I can’t tell the candidates, and I can’t tell anybody else. I haven’t talked to a human. I want to comply with it, trust, but I sure don’t want it told to a human.

DIRKSEN
I give you my solemn word.

JOHNSON
Alright. The situation is this: since September of last year, we have told Hanoi that we would stop the bombing. We’re anxious to stop it. When they would engage in, these are the keywords, prompt, productive discussions that they would not take advantage of. That is September. March 31st I came to the conclusion that no living man can run for office and be a candidate, and have them all shooting at him, and keep this war out of politics, and get peace. So I concluded, that I should not run because I’d just prolong the war by doing it. So I said then, we’re stopping the bombing in ninety percent, we will stop it in the rest. If there can be any indication that’ll not cost us additional lives. We got, just a lot of procrastination, up until October. During October, they started asking questions what did I mean by prompt, and what did I mean by productive. Now, the facts of life are, they tried two offensives in May and August and they got very severe setbacks. The facts are that they’ve had thirty thousand forty thousand leave the country to re-fit. The facts are that they’re not doing at all well. But they can continue to supply what they need for a very long time. But in October we started getting these nibbles. What did the president mean? What did he say when he said he had to have prompt and productive, not take advantage. We said, that we would consider productive if the GVN had to be present. They said they were just generals and stooges, and satellites, and Johnson put them in, always saying they would never sit down with those traitors. We said, you’ve got to sit down with them, before we can ever work out the future. We can’t settle the future of South Vietnam without them being present. We’re not going to pull a Hitler-Chamberlin deal. They said they would never do it. So, on October 7th or the 11th, I’ve forgotten, they said, “Well now, what else, is that all the president wants? If we would sit down with the GVN, what would he do?”

Now, they made no commitment, they didn’t indicate they accepted, they just asked the question. But, you know, in trading, when a fellow says how much would you take for that horse, you kinda think that means something. So, we followed it up, and we said, “No, we don’t want to limit ourselves. The GVN’s got to be present, and we’ve got to have productive discussions, and we think they could be productive, if they were present. But we can’t have a (pamajon?) and say we’ll do that, and say we’ll meet a year from now. It’s got to be a prompt meeting, a week, two weeks, three weeks, something like that. So, they said, “Well, if we could work everything out, we could meet the next day.” So, we came back the next day, and said, if you let the GVN come in, and we’ll meet the next day, we would like to take that up with our government. (coughs) They said, “Well, what else do you want? Is that all?” Right off that, [Averell] Harriman said, “No, these are facts of life. We know you’re not going to sell out, and engage in reciprocity, and you’re not going to accept conditions, and your pride, and your asiatic face will not let you do that. You’ve got to save face, we understand that. But we could not sit at a conference table if you were shelling the cities.” In other words, if I were talking to Dirksen in my living room, and my son was raping his wife, he’d have to get up and leave, quit trading, and run and protect her. So, we just could not sit there, if you were shelling the cities. Nor could we sit there, and have a productive discussion if you were abusing the DMZ.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

From “Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen phone call October 31 1968” (7:51-11:05):

JOHNSON
And we told them all that. Told the Russians, if that gets into the paper, the deal’s off. That’s why you cannot say this to anybody, it’s gonna get in the paper. Because these folks are the most sensitive people in the world. But, we have said this, and about that time, some of Mr. Nixon’s people come in and tell both sides, “I have information about who you had a glass of beer with last night, you don’t know it, but I do.” And we have ways and means, you get my point, don’t you? You have ways and means of knowing what’s going on in the country. We know what Thieu says, when he talks out in Vietnam, we know what happens here. And some of Mr. Nixon’s people are getting a little unbalanced, and unfrightened, like Hubert did, when he said, no comma, no period. Like Bundy did. About the time you called me last week, they started going into the South Vietnamese embassy and also, sending some word to Hanoi. Which has prolonged this thing, a good deal. The net of it is despicable and if it were made public, I think it would rock the nation. But the net of it was, that if they just hold out a little bit longer, that he’s [Nixon] a lot more sympathetic and he could kinda, do better business with him than they can with their present President. And, in Hanoi, they’ve been saying that, well, if you won’t settle this thing, I’m not bound by all these things. So, I haven’t had this record, and I could make a little better deal with you. There. I rather doubt Nixon has done any of this. But there’s no question what folks for him are doing it. And very frankly, we’re reading some of the things that are happening. So, as a consequence, while Thieu and all of our allies are ready to go on a bombing ceasefire, cessation, it just may be temporary, we might be back on it in the next day, if they don’t follow these two things, if they violate the DMZ, or if they shell the cities. We could stop the killing out there, we could get everything we asked for, the GVN in there, but: they got this question, this new formula put in there. Namely: wait on Nixon. And they’re killing four, five hundred every day, waiting on Nixon.

Now, these folks I doubt are authorized to speak for Nixon, but they’re going in there, and they range all the way from attractive women to old line China lobbyists. And some people, pretty close to him in the business world. I was shocked when I looked at the reports. And I’ve got them. And so forth.

From “Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen phone call October 31 1968” (19:52-20:33):

Now, I’ve been at this five years, and if I don’t wanna sell my country out, I’d have sold it out five months ago and gone on, run for president and got this war behind us, then got me re-elected. But I am a conscientious, earnest fella trying to do a job. And I’m gonna do it. I get peace at four o’clock Saturday noon, I’m damn sure gonna get it, come hell or high water, and woebe onto the guy who says you oughta keep on killing. But I really think it’s a little dirty pool for Dick’s people to be messing with the South Vietnamese ambassador and carrying messages around for both of them. And I don’t think people would approve of it if it were known. So, that’s why I’m afraid to talk.

From “Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen phone call October 31 1968” (21:56-24:03):

I don’t see it making any difference in the political campaign ’cause first of all, conference won’t happen till it’s over with, I think I’d be glad to say that all the candidates have a, co-operate with me and we oughta have one voice in foreign affairs. And while they criticize my conduct of the war, they have never told the enemy that he’d get a better deal. But this last few days, Dick is getting just a little bit shakey, and he’s pissing on the fire a little. Now, you oughta guide him just a little bit, because they’re not running against me, I’m not gonna be here, you’re gonna be my senator, and you’re gonna represent me, and whatever I want done, I’m gonna be down at Purnell. But he oughta go back to that old (inaudible), say…as a matter of fact, we have a transcript where one of his partners said he’s gonna play this one just like Fortas. He’s gonna take the Republicans and the Southerners and he’s gonna frustrate the President by telling South Vietnamese, just wait a few more days and he’s not connected to this war, he can make a better peace for them. And by telling Hanoi, that he isn’t running this war, didn’t get them into it, be a lot more considerate of them than I can, because I’m pretty inflexible, calling them sonsofbitches. Now, that’s not very easy to work under those conditions. Anymore than it is, when Hubert says he’ll stop the bombing without a comma semicolon but period. They neither one of them got a damn thing to do with it between now and January the 20th. And I’m gonna stop the earliest second I can. And I can stop it for nothing if I want to, I have five times before. But I’m not gonna stop it unless they agree the GVN will be at that table.

What is crucial to see here is the focus on the negotiations themselves. He takes issue with what Nixon or Nixon’s people are doing, but he also criticizes Humphrey for making declaring that he’ll end the bombing without conditions. Both of these things are making it more difficult to set up a peace conference, a conference which he emphasizes will take place after the election. If he’d simply wished to win another term, Johnson says he would have ended the bombing a long time ago: “Now, I’ve been at this five years, and if I don’t wanna sell my country out, I’d have sold it out five months ago and gone on, run for president and got this war behind us, then got me re-elected. But I am a conscientious, earnest fella trying to do a job. And I’m gonna do it. I get peace at four o’clock Saturday noon, I’m damn sure gonna get it, come hell or high water, and woebe onto the guy who says you oughta keep on killing.”

Two hours later, Johnson would again speak to all three candidates via conference call16. During the call, Johnson would once again emphasize the conditions that he’d required to halt the bombing, discreetly chastise Humphrey and Nixon for their interference, and make clear that he was soon going to announce a halt to the bombing:

JOHNSON
Do you hear me all right?

HUMPHREY
Yes, sir.

NIXON
Yes, sir.

WALLACE
Yes, sir.

JOHNSON
I have with me Secretary Rusk and Clifford and General Wheeler and Mr. Helms of the CIA and Mr. Rostow. I’m reading from – I want to read a brief background to you from my conference call to you of October 16 so you can get a predicate to what I’m about to say. I said then-this is in absolute confidence, any statement or any speeches or any comment at this time referring to the substance of this conversation will be injurious. I don’t think there’s any question about that and I know you would not want that to happen.

First, our position-the government’s position today-is exactly what it was the last time all three of you were briefed. That position mainly is this. We’re anxious to stop the bombing and would be willing to stop the bombing if they – Hanoi – would sit down with us, with the Government of South Vietnam present, and have productive discussions. We have told them that we did not think that we could have productive discussions if, while we were talking, they were shelling the cities, or if they were abusing the DMZ. That was on October 16th, when I talked to you. The next sentence said, “From time to time they have nibbled back and forth at these various items.” Each time they do, there is a flurry of excitement, and so on and so forth.

Since that time, they have sent their man back to Hanoi. We have continued to have our regular weekly meetings and other meetings. We have been in touch with a good many Governments in the world, from Eastern Europe to India to the Soviet Union, all these people working every hour to try to (a) get them to accept the Government of South Vietnam – that they’re all puppets and that they’d never sit down in a room with, and (b) trying to inform them that we would be glad to stop the bombing, but that the bombing could not continue stopped if they (a) shelled the cities or (b) if they abused the DMZ.

On Sunday night, I was informed by Paris that there were very good indications that they would let the Government of Vietnam come and be present at the conference and that they fully understood what would happen if we stop the bombing and they shell the cities or abuse the DMZ. When I got back to Washington from New York, I went back to the Soviet Union and pointed out that I did not want to deceive anybody and didn’t want them to be deceived, didn’t want to stop the bombing and have to start it again, but I wanted to make it abundantly clear that if they would let the Government of Vietnam come to the meetings and if they thoroughly understood what would happen, then I wanted to seriously consider this matter. But I had doubts – repeat doubts – that the North Vietnamese would stop shelling the cities or would stop abusing the DMZ. The Soviet Union came back to me on Tuesday or Wednesday and said that my doubts were not justified. Ambassador Harriman came back to me and said, “We have repeated to you at least 12 times-we’ve repeated to North Vietnam at least 12 times-in 12 meetings, and some meetings we repeated it several times-that we could not have a productive discussion in an atmosphere of shelling the cities or abusing the DMZ. Therefore, you may be sure we understand it.” While this was going on, we’d gone out and talked to all of our allied countries, and at that time they all tentatively agreed that this was a wise move.

Now, since that time with our campaign on, we have had some minor problems develop. First, there have been some speeches that we ought to withdraw troops, or that we’d stop the bombing without any-obtaining anything in return, or some of our folks are-even including some of the old China lobbyists, they are going around and implying to some of the embassies and some of the others that they might get a better deal out of somebody that was not involved in this. Now that’s made it difficult and it’s held up things a little bit. And I know that none of you candidates are aware of it or responsible for it, because I’m looking in my transcript here, when we talked before, and I asked for your comments. The Vice President said he had no comment, but thanks very much. Vice President Nixon said, “Well, as you know, this is consistent with what my position has been all along and I made it very clear. I’ll make no statements that will undercut the negotiations. So we’ll just stay right on that and hope that this thing works out.” And then Mr. Wallace said, “Yes, sir, Mr. President, that’s been my position all along, too, the position you stated, and I agree with you that we shouldn’t play any politics in this matter, so it might foul up the negotiations.”

Now, I concluded last March that I couldn’t as a candidate stop this war. And I concluded that I ought to stop it the first day I can. I’m going to try to stop it as soon as I can. Therefore, I am planning to issue an order-I’m meeting with the [National] Security Council tonight -I’m planning to issue an order that will stop the bombing that will set a date for a meeting where the Government of Vietnam will appear, and I’m making it very clear to the intermediaries. I can’t do it in public because they’ll say it’s a condition and reciprocal and we’ll never get an agreement-and you must not make that statement either, but I think you ought to know it. And we’re going to have to wait for 24/48/72 hours to see what happens at the DMZ and see what happens at the cities, and we may have to start the bombing just as fast as we stopped it. But I have considered this matter day and night since March 31st at least.

Johnson would again declare that his primary purpose for the bombing halt was not political: “I’m not concerned with an election. Y’all are concerned with an election.” He would state clearly that any reneging on the conditions would mean a resumption of the bombing, and all three candidates offered their support:

JOHNSON
Now, I would hope, and I’m going to say so in my statement tonight, that this would not be to anyone’s advantage, except to the countries, to peace and to the men in Vietnam.

First of all, the conference won’t be held until after the election, probably, we would hope, the 6th or 7th of November, or sometime in that period. We would hope that the Government of Vietnam would have time to get their men there and, of course, the other governments have got to get the NLF there. I would hope that all of you could say – like you said here the other day – that you felt that you didn’t want to do anything to undercut the negotiations; that you recommended peace at the earliest possible date; this is not peace, this is not a settlement, this is just one step that indicates that if they do not shell the cities, and if they do not abuse the DMZ – both of those would be great military advantages for us at a time when we’re giving up bombing that we can’t do for the next 90 days anyway on account of the weather in North Vietnam. We can use that very effectively in other places.

I told General [Creighton] Abrams to return, to give them all he’s got in South Vietnam and Laos, but be prepared for this order. The order will not go into effect for several hours after it’s issued. It’s got to go all over the Pacific, put out some 12 hours. I would think that when I get through with the Security Council sometime this evening from 8 [p.m.] on, I’ll make a statement to the public. I have confidence enough in y’all that I’ve called you even before I’ve called my own legislative leaders. I’ve told you every bit of the information I have. Every diplomatic and military adviser I have recommends this course.

I would not want it on my conscience that I had left the Presidential arena and refused to run to try to get peace, and then when they agreed, that I – the thing – the thing that I insisted on most, bringing the GVN into the table – that I said, “No, I’ve got to put it off because I’m concerned with an election.” I’m not concerned with an election. Y’all are concerned with an election. I don’t think this concerns an election. I think all of you want the same thing. So I thought if I laid it on the line that way and presented it to you, you would at least have a complete, full understanding of all the facts. I’ll be glad to give you any of the written recommendations. All the files are open to you-be glad to show you what happened. Nobody will know whether it’ll be a success or not until we really get into these discussions and these talks with the GVN present. If they shell the cities or if they abuse the DMZ, General Abrams already has his orders, and he is directed to respond immediately without even coming to Washington.

JOHNSON
Now, my position is this. I can’t wait. I have got every adviser, military/civilian/CIA/Ambassadors-Bunker, Goodpaster [General Andrew Goodpaster], Abrams – every one of them recommend this course. So, I am going to recommend it to the nation. I am going to issue the order. I would just hope you all would do likewise.

NIXON
Okay. Thank you.

HUMPHREY
Thank you.

WALLACE
Mr. President, I just pray that everything you do works out fine, and I am praying for you.

JOHNSON
Well, I need it. Any other comments?

NIXON
We’ll back you up. Thank you, Mr. President.

HUMPHREY
We’ll back you up, Mr. President.

WALLACE
We’ll back you, Mr. President.

JOHNSON
Thank you very much.

I quote again Nixon’s perspective on this discussion from his memoir:

More than anything else, Humphrey had Lyndon Johnson to thank for the eleventh-hour masterstroke that almost won him the election.

On October 31 I was to address a nationally televised rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. I set aside a couple of quiet hours in the afternoon, and I was sitting in my study at home making notes for the speech later that evening when the telephone rang. It was a White House operator: the President was placing a conference call to Humphrey, Wallace, and me. A moment later Lyndon Johnson was on the line.

He got right to the point. There had been a breakthrough in Paris, he said, and after wide consultations among his advisers, he had decided to call a total bombing halt over North Vietnam. He would make the announcement on television in two hours. As Johnson went one, I thought to myself that whatever this meant to North Vietnam, he had just dropped a pretty good bomb in the middle of my campaign.

Johnson said, rather defensively, “I’m not concerned with an election. You all are concerned with an election. I don’t think this concerns an election. I think all of you want the same thing. So I thought if I laid it on the line that way, and presented it to you, you would at least have a complete, full understanding of all the facts.”

Johnson explained that he had not been able to persuade Saigon to agree to the provisions of the bombing halt, so that South Vietnam would not be joining in the announcement.

When Johnson finished, and we had asked some perfunctory questions, George Wallace said, “I’m praying for you.”

Humphrey said, “I’m backing you up, Mr. President.”

I thanked Johnson for making the call and seconded Humphrey’s pledge of support.

The telephone call over, I could feel my anger and frustration welling up. Johnson was making the one move that I thought could determine the outcome of the election. Had I done all this work and come all this way only to be undermined by the powers of an incumbent who had decided against seeking re-election?

Johnson would announce the bombing halt on TV at 8pm that night. A partial excerpt17:

Good evening, my fellow Americans:

I speak to you this evening about very important developments in our search for peace in Vietnam.

We have been engaged in discussions with the North Vietnamese in Paris since last May. The discussions began after I announced on the evening of March 31st in a television speech to the Nation that the United States – in an effort to get talks started on a settlement of the Vietnam war-had stopped the bombing of North Vietnam in the area where 90 percent of the people live.

When our representatives-Ambassador Harriman and Ambassador Vance-were sent to Paris, they were instructed to insist throughout the discussions that the legitimate elected Government of South Vietnam must take its place in any serious negotiations affecting the future of South Vietnam.

Therefore, our Ambassadors Harriman and Vance made it abundantly clear to the representatives of North Vietnam in the beginning that-as I had indicated on the evening of March 31st-we would stop the bombing of North Vietnamese territory entirely when that would lead to prompt and productive talks, meaning by that talks in which the Government of Vietnam was free to participate.

Last Sunday evening, and throughout Monday, we began to get confirmation of the essential understanding that we had been seeking with the North Vietnamese on the critical issues between us for some time. I spent most of all day Tuesday reviewing every single detail of this matter with our field commander, General Abrams, whom I had ordered home, and who arrived here at the White House at 2:30 in the morning and went into immediate conference with the President and the appropriate members of his Cabinet. We received General Abrams’ judgment and we heard his recommendations at some length.

Now, as a result of all of these developments, I have now ordered that all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam cease as of 8 a.m., Washington time, Friday morning.

I have reached this decision on the basis of the developments in the Paris talks.

And I have reached it in the belief that this action can lead to progress toward a peaceful settlement of the Vietnamese war.

Nixon would give a speech that same night at Madison Square Garden. Again, from RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon:

While I believed that Johnson would not go out of his way to help Humphrey unless he were forced to meet a clear-cut partisan challenge, the last thing I wanted to do was to give the President an excuse to get angry with me in public. I hoped to avoid Johnson’s going all out for Humphrey with every resource at the command of the White House.

There was nothing more I could do. Even though I knew what was coming – had known about it for weeks – the timing and impact were completely in Johnson’s hands.

At the Madison Square Garden rally on October 31 I responded to the bombing halt announcement in what I considered the only responsible way: “I will say that as a presidential candidate, and my vice presidential candidate joins me in this, that neither he nor I will say anything that might destroy the chance to have peace.” One reporter wrote: “President Johnson gave Richard M. Nixon a trick and Vice President Humphrey a treat for Halloween when he announced a complete halt to the bombing of North Vietnam last night.” The bombing halt unquestionably resulted in a last-minute surge of support for Humphrey. The militant liberals came back to the fold. Even those McCarthy zealots who had pledged never to support Humphrey now had an excuse to vote for him. The bombing halt also undercut one of my most effective issues – the inability of the Democratic leadership to win a permanent peace. Studies made after the election showed that public opinion had been particularly volatile during this period, and the hope that the halt might lead to a peace settlement resulted in massive voter shifts to Humphrey.

I isolate one part of the last for emphasis, and I italicize the ending for further emphasis: “At the Madison Square Garden rally on October 31 I responded to the bombing halt announcement in what I considered the only responsible way: ‘I will say that as a presidential candidate, and my vice presidential candidate joins me in this, that neither he nor I will say anything that might destroy the chance to have peace.'”

NOVEMBER 1, 1968

Due to time differences, Johnson’s speech would be broadcast in Vietnam the next day. We might return to the memoir of foreign correspondent Beverly Deepe Keever, as she describes the speech, Thieu’s rejection, and her report to her editors on what might have prompted the reversal. This transmission, dealing with possible involvement by the Nixon campaign to foil the talks, was a major scoop, but one that was in vain. All details implying such involvement were eliminated from her reporting, because this involvement did not appear to be just politics, or diplomacy, but outright treason.

[On] October 31, Johnson announced that he had ordered a complete end to the bombing of North Vietnam within 12 hours and that the date for the first negotiation session with Hanoi was set for November 6, the day after the U.S. presidential election. Johnson’s speech was received in Saigon on November 1, which, as I reported, many Vietnamese viewed as an ill-timed insult because it was made on Vietnam’s National Day and the anniversary of the Kennedy administration’s support for the overthrow of President [Ngo Dinh] Diem. Then, just four days before the U.S. election, President Thieu surprisingly rejected Johnson’s peace initiative. In a bombshell televised speech before the National Assembly on Vietnam’s National Day, Thieu announced that South Vietnam would not send delegates to negotiate in Paris by November 6; he feared the Viet Cong’s National Liberation Front would be seated as a legitimate coequal of his government. I reported that his speech was a direct rebuke to President Johnson. “In effect, Mr. Thieu said LBJ double-crossed him,” one longtime Asia observer told me. “And Mr. Thieu is pretty nearly right.”

To explain Thieu’s stunning announcement, I cabled Hayward on November 4: “Purported political encouragement from the Richard Nixon camp was a significant factor in the last-minute decision of President Nguyen Van Thieu’s refusal to send a delegation to the Paris peace talks – at least until the American Presidential election is over.” I relied mostly on “informed sources” for my scoop – an eye-opening exclusive news report – and added that “the only written report about the alleged Nixon support for the Thieu government was a cable from Bui Diem, Vietnamese ambassador to Washington,” confirming what I had asked Hayward to check out days earlier. But my momentous scoop was not published. Hayward cabled back that the Monitor had deleted all my references to Bui Diem and to the “purported political encouragement from the Nixon camp,” which, he wrote, “seems virtual equivalent of treason.”

On the morning of November 1st, all this still lay in the future. The fraying, however, had already begun when Johnson would take a call at 8:30 am from one of the architects of the war, Robert McNamara, congratulating him on the bombing halt speech, after which the President would bring up Nixon’s interference18:

JOHNSON
Bob?

MCNAMARA
Good morning, Mr. President.

JOHNSON
How’re you doing?

MCNAMARA
I knew you’d be the only other person in town working this morning.

JOHNSON
No, no, but we have been working, you know.

MCNAMARA
I know it. I know it. I just wanted to call–I won’t take a second, but I just wanted to call and say–

JOHNSON
Please do.

MCNAMARA
Congratulations. I think it was terrific, Mr. President.

JOHNSON
What we are in trouble about, you see, are these candidates. They have been playing with them. One said he would stop the bombing–no comma, no semi-colon–period.

MCNAMARA
Yeah.

JOHNSON
So they get that and they think that if they’ll wait 10 days he’ll stop the bombing everything will be over with–that’s what Hanoi thinks. Then Nixon comes along and his people tell them that I’m not stopping the bombing and I’m not selling you out and I’m not for letting them take you over and this crowd will sell you out just like they did China, and you better wait until I get in. Now you’ve got all the South Vietnamese and maybe the Koreans thinking that. The damned trouble we’re going to have. We had this thing wrapped up, signed, sealed, ready to go two weeks ago, and we got this speech of stopping the bombing, period. So [Le Duc] Tho took off for Hanoi, and we couldn’t get him back. Then we got this ready, and we found out that they’ve been playing with the South Vietnamese, and we started watching their messages. It’s the damndest mess you ever saw. It’s just almost–well, it’s just heresy. It’s just unbelievable. So we tried to get them aboard. We had a joint announcement that they agreed on with us. But then they all got to fighting and they wouldn’t do it. So today, the last thing I heard, I was up late, was that Thieu said that this was entirely unilateral.

That the South Vietnamese had abruptly changed their demands, and that this might have been caused by interference on the part of Nixon’s intermediaries, was brought up in a phone call later that morning to Senator Richard Russell19:

RUSSELL
Yes?

JOHNSON
Lyndon Johnson. How are you, Senator? Dick, how are you?

RUSSELL
Pretty good, Mr. President. How are you?

JOHNSON
Fine. I just wanted to figure out what you thought over night and what bases you thought were untouched, what your reaction was, to the statement, and what we should have said, we didn’t.

RUSSELL
Well, I thought you made a fine statement, Mr. President.

JOHNSON
Now, the damn fools in Saigon, we don’t know what they’re going to do. Last night, they came back and made three demands on me. One was, we set no date for the conference. Well, I can’t do that, because the main thing I’m getting out of this is they let GVN come to the table. That’s what I’ve been demanding all these years, and now they’ve agreed to it. So I’ve got to have a date. And we so told–no date for the conference. Well, I can’t do that, because the main thing I’m getting out of this is they let GVN come to the table. That’s what I’ve been demanding all these years, and now they’ve agreed to it. So I’ve got to have a date. And we so told–

RUSSELL
I thought that they already agreed they’re we going to meet and talk on Wednesday [November 6 1968].

PRESIDENT
They all agreed 2 weeks ago. And then they agreed to one day a week ago. But after Nixon’s operatives got busy with them, they started playing for January. And the first statement that South Vietnam put out was that this was a unilateral action by the President. And old man Bunker stayed with them all night. They put out another one this morning that said that they hoped it would lead to peace, that you couldn’t tell what if it was good, that he really didn’t know whether any good would come from it or not, just wouldn’t predict.

According to encrypted messages sent by South Vietnam’s ambassador in the United States, Bui Diem, there was never any possibility of any agreement to a peace talk which might result in Humphrey being elected instead of Nixon. If an impasse went against Johnson and brought Nixon to power, then so be it: the diplomatic impasse would continue. From Arrogance by Summers:

In the last week of October Thieu’s ambassador, Bui Diem, sent two encrypted radio messages from Washington to Saigon. The first, he wrote in his memoirs, noted: “Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm….” The second – again, this is Bui Diem’s account – mentioned that he was “regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage.”

The former ambassador repeatedly told the author he would let him see the full text of those messages, but never produced them. His published version of the second cable, it seems, was almost certainly an exercise in damage limitation. The actual message was more troubling, according to the former State Department executive secretary, the late Benjamin Read.

Read’s notes cite Saigon’s ambassador as reporting that he had “explained discreetly to our partisan friends our firm attitude” and “plan to adhere to that position.” “The longer the impasse continues,” Bui Diem told Saigon, “the more we are favored,” and Johnson would “probably have difficulties in forcing our hand.”

This same view is expressed in a formerly top secret intercept made by the National Security Agency (NSA) of comments made by President Thieu on October 18, 1968, obtained presumably through surveillance20:

TRANSMITTED HEREWITH IS A [REDACTED] MESSAGE.
PLEASE ADVISE IF ANY LIMITATIONS ON DISTRIBUTION ARE REQUIRED.
THIS MESSAGE WAS TRANSMITTED TO THE WHITE HOUSE ONLY.
[REDACTED]
XXMMENP01FTB23108
3/0/[REDACTED] -68
[REDACTED]

THIEU’S VIEWS ON NLF PARTICIPATION IN VIETNAMESE GOVERNMENT

XXCC
[REDACTED] 19 OCT 68 [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]

[REDACTED] OF WHAT PRESIDENT THIEU SAID
[REDACTED] ON 18 OCTOBER.

[REDACTED] as to whether or not the Vietnamese are opposing the U.S. in this and concerning the possibility ((of the U.S.)) making a decisive move to halt the bombing alone; the following [REDACTED]

He said the U.S. can, of course, cease bombing, but is unable to block Vietnam ((from bombing)). Concerning the enforcement of the bombing halt, this will help candidate Humphrey and this is the purpose of it; but the situation which would occur as the result of a bombing halt, without the agreement of Vietnamese government, rather than being a disadvantage to candidate Humphrey, would be to the advantage of candidate Nixon. Accordingly, he said that the possibility of President Johnson enforcing a bombing halt without Vietnam’s agreement appears to be weak; [REDACTED] just how effective can it be within the short time before the election, even though it is effectively enforced?

Though Nixon had again pledged his loyalty in the conference call, his manner was entirely different off the phone. He and his campaign manager, John Mitchell, were in a panic over the effects of the bombing halt on the election, of the possibility that their meddling had been found out, and yet they were still determined to make sure that Thieu would toe the line and the Peace Talks would not take place. From Arrogance by Summers:

On the evening of the thirty-first, during a conference call to the presidential candidates to brief them on the bombing halt, Johnson dropped a heavy hint that he was aware of the machinations to undermine his efforts. Nixon merely joined the opponents in promising the president his full support.

Behind the scenes, however, panic and pantomime gripped the Nixon camp. Mitchell [campaign manager and later Attorney General John Mitchell] went through the motions of interrogating campaign staffers-none of whom was in the know-asking if they had been “in touch with any embassies.” Then he “reassured” administration contacts that his people had not been talking to the South Vietnamese.

Chennault suddenly found she could no longer get through to Mitchell. Certain now of the wiretapping he had always feared, Nixon’s closest aide was avoiding direct contact with her. That night, however, as she was finishing dinner at the Sheraton Park Hotel, Chennault was called to the phone.

It was Mitchell, tension in his voice, asking her to call back on a safer line. When she did, he picked up on the first ring. “Anna,” he said, “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position, and I hope you made that clear to them…Do you think they really have decided not to go to Paris?”

Realizing that the administration was working around the clock to change Thieu’s mind, Nixon’s man wanted to make sure he remained firm in his refusal.24 Thieu duly obliged. On November 2, only three days before the election, he announced publicly that his country would not take part in peace talks under present conditions.

NOVEMBER 2, 1968

The withdrawal of Thieu and South Vietnam from the peace talks on this date is described as follows in Richard Nixon’s RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. As said already, Anna Chennault goes entirely unmentioned in this book, and is absent in this excerpt:

The Democrats’ euphoria was dampened on November 2, when President Thieu announced that his government would not participate in the negotiations Johnson was proposing.

Thieu’s reaction was totally predictable. He watched American politics no less carefully than did the leaders in Hanoi. Given his disapproval of any bombing halt, and the fact that Humphrey was now talking like a dove, it was scarcely in Thieu’s interest to acquiesce in a bad bargain. By holding back his support, Thieu fostered the impression that Johnson’s plan had been too quickly conceived and shakily executed.

Lyndon Johnson would again speak with Senator Everett Dirksen, and more so than in his other conversations, he was obviously very upset. In this excerpt, he describes the slow development of the peace talks, and their interference through Nixon. Though Clifford would write of there being no smoking gun linking the work of agents like Chennault and the Nixon campaign, and though in the past Johnson had expressed uncertainty in his phone calls about whether there was a connection between the candidate and the “old China crowd”, he obviously now believes the two elements to be linked21:

(A clip on youtube of the audio with accompanying transcript of this phone call in its entirety.)

From “”This is Treason!” Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen Phone Call” (0:10-2:58):

DIRKSEN
Hello?

JOHNSON
Everett, how are you?

DIRKSEN
All right.

JOHNSON
I want to talk to you as a friend, and very confidentially, because I think that we’re skirting on dangerous ground. I thought I ought to give you the facts, and you ought to pass them on if you choose. If you don’t, why, then I will a little later.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
We have, on October the 13th, an agreement where Thieu [Nguyen Thieu, president of South Vietnam] and Ky [Nguyen Cao Ky, prime minister of South Vietnam], considering the bombing halt. At that time, President Thieu stressed, quote There must not be a long delay.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
That is, a delay between the halt and the conference.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
On October the 15th, Thieu agreed to a proposal that we worked out of 36 hours.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
On October the 23rd, after the North Vietnamese demanded two or three weeks, Thieu reluctantly agreed to three days delay. On October the 28th, we agreed on the joint announcement.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
Bunker and Abrams [U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker and Creighton Abrams, General in the U.S. Army] reached an explicit agreement with Thieu that the gap between the bombing and the talks would be two or three days. With three days the outer limit. Both Thieu and Ky stressed on us the importance of a minimum delay.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
Then we got some of our friends involved. Some of it’s your old China crowd…

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
And…here’s the latest information we’ve got: the agent says that she’s- they’ve just talked to the boss [Nixon] in New Mexico, and that he says that you must hold out, that . . . Just hold on until after the election.

Now, we know what Thieu is saying to ’em out there. We’re pretty well informed on both ends. Now Nixon’s man travelling with him today, said quote He did not understand that Thieu was not aboard. Did you see that?

This spokesperson was one of Nixon’s aides, Bob Finch, whose name Johnson insisted on getting wrong. We return to RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon:

On the heels of Thieu’s recalcitrance, I asked Bob Finch to put the word out to newsmen that the prospects for peace were not as advanced as Johnson’s announcement might have made them seem. Providing background in his capacity as “an aide to Richard Nixon,” Finch explained, “We had the impression that all the diplomatic ducks were in position.” Then for the record he said, “I think this will boomerang. It was hastily contrived.”

Johnson saw the news story with Finch’s comments. He was furious, and he made his displeasure known. Bryce Harlow urged me to call Johnson to calm him down – and I did so Sunday morning, November 3.

“Who’s this guy Fink?” Johnson asked. “Why is he taking out after me?”

I said, “Mr. President, that’s Finch, not Fink.”

He ignored my correction and continued to refer to Finch as “Fink.”

It was on this day that Johnson would receive information that would be published in an FBI intercept two days later, the intercept that Summers considered so vital in confirming a link between Chennault’s efforts and the Nixon campaign, “And…here’s the latest information we’ve got: the agent says that she’s- they’ve just talked to the boss [Nixon] in New Mexico, and that he says that you must hold out, that . . . Just hold on until after the election.”22:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Received Washington CommCen
9:08 P.M. EDT Monday 4 Nov 68

Received LBJ Ranch CommCen
8:34 P.M. CDT Monday 4 Nov 68

EEA659
00 WTE10
DE WTE 4183

FROM WALT ROSTOW
TO THE PRESIDENT
CITE CAP82650

S E C R E T

THE NEW MEXICO REFERENCE MAY INDICATE AGNEW IS ACTING.

TWO REPORTS FOLLOW.

REPORT ONE:

On November Two Instant, a confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, reported that Mrs. Anna Chennault contacted Vietnamese Ambassador, Bui Diem, and advised him that she had received a message from her boss (not further identified), which her boss wanted her to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to “hold on, we are gonna win” and that her boss also said “hold on, he understands all of it”. She repeated that this is the only message “he said please tell your boss to hold on.” She advised that her boss had just called from New Mexico.

Was Richard Nixon in New Mexico on that day? No, he was in Texas. His nominee vice president, however, was in his plane on a campaign stop in Albuquerque when this call was made.

“Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968 Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, Document 212” deals with a report of the phone calls from Vice Presidential nominee Spiro Agnew’s plane on that day, one conducted by the FBI and initiated by Johnson a week after the election. The following is from the accompanying summary:

In a telephone conversation on November 12, 1968, President Johnson discussed the Anna Chennault affair with FBI Deputy Director Cartha Dekle “Deke” DeLoach. Johnson told DeLoach that he had “some pretty good information” and “hard” evidence that the most significant directive from the Republican campaign to the South Vietnamese Government occurred by way of a November 2 communication between Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew and Anna Chennault. The President therefore requested that DeLoach check all of the telephone calls originating from the telephone connection in Agnew’s chartered campaign plane at the Albuquerque airport.

The next day, DeLoach called the President with a report on these calls. One of the phones on the plane had been used five times. The first call was made at 11:59 a.m., a personal call from Agnew to Rusk that lasted 3 minutes. The next call was made to Texas and another two calls were made by Agnew staffer Kent Crane to New York City. A fifth call was made to the Nixon/Agnew campaign headquarters at the Willard Hotel in Washington at 1:02 p.m.

The President verified that Rusk had talked with Agnew. He added: “We think somebody on the plane talked to the woman. We think pretty well that they talked to her and talked to Rusk, and talked on the same thing. And we think that they told Rusk-that they wanted to know what was happening in these relations. And Rusk made notes of it, he didn’t exactly know what time, but he estimated that it was about 2 o’clock. And hers, it was immediately followed by a call to her, we think. And what we want to know is what time that was and when it was.”

There were five phone calls from the plane, one to Rusk, one to campaign headquarters, one to Texas, and two to New York City. Nixon, as said, was in Texas that day for a rally. Who was in New York City? Anna Chennault was in New York City. Item one of the “her boss” FBI cable deals with the tap revealing that Chennault had said those words. Item two in the cable dealt with her location on November 2nd23:

REPORT TWO:

The November One, last, edition of the “Washington Post,” a daily newspaper in the Washington, D.C. area, carried an article concerning Mrs. Anna Chennault. The article indicated that Mrs. Chennault intended to proceed to New York City where she would await the election results on November Five, next, with presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon.

On November Two, Instant, at Seven Ten A.M., Mrs. Chennault’s car was observed in the parking garage at Two Five One Zero [2510] Virginia Avenue, N. W.

At One Forty Five P.M., she departed her residence and entered the automobile. It was being driven by her chauffeur and proceeded to the Baltimore-Washington parkway where it was last observed heading north at Two Fifteen P.M.

Arrangements have been made with the New York office of the FBI for them to observe the car en route and to undertake discreet surveillance with reference to her activities while in New York.

The Arrogance of Power by Summers gives this episode thorough examination:

Spiro Agnew had made a campaign stop at Albuquerque, New Mexico, that day-and within the time frame that corresponded to Anna Chennault’s movements.25

Days later, when things quieted down, Johnson would order the FBI to check all calls made by the Agnew party. He was unfortunately ill served. Director Hoover, a long-term Nixon supporter on cordial terms with Chennault, had already warned her she was being surveilled. As much as possible, he told her, the bureau was merely “making a show” of obeying Johnson’s orders.

When it came to the Albuquerque calls, Hoover and his aide Cartha DeLoach ensured investigation was cursory and incomplete. Eventually, realizing he was being stalled, the president himself called to tell DeLoach: “Get me the information, and make it damned fast.”

Out of the mess, and the still partially censored files, come two salient facts. The first is that phone records show that an Agnew aide in Albuquerque, the very aide responsible for briefing Agnew on Vietnam, had made a call during the stopover to a “Mr. Hitt” at Nixon-Agnew headquarters.

Robert Hitt, an official of the Republican National Committee, was paymaster to the wireman Nixon used during the campaign to sweep for bugs and who conducted offensive bugging during the presidency. Hitt would also be named during the Watergate probe in connection with questionable cash transactions. His wife Patricia, cochairman of the campaign committee and a trusted Nixon friend from Whittier days, was as noted earlier one of the people Chennault earlier named as a potential go-between should Nixon wish to pass her messages.

The most important discovery, though, was relayed to the president by National Security Assistant Rostow when all the facts were in, ten days after the Albuquerque stopover. In a brief memo, referring to Chennault as “the Lady” and to Agnew as “the gentleman in Albuquerque,” Rostow reported that there had been a call placed to Chennault.26 Moreover, contrary to an earlier analysis, Agnew himself had had ample time to make the call.

The new information suggests a logical sequence to the events of those days. Following Thieu’s announcement that he would not join the peace talks, as the Nixon side had hoped, he faced renewed pressure from the outraged Johnson administration. In the wake of the announcement, word came to Chennault from Agnew in Albuquerque that she should urge the South Vietnamese to remain resolute.

As revealed by the wiretap on the South Vietnamese Embassy, she duly relayed the message to President Thieu that he should “Hold on,” because “we’re gonna win”: Nixon was going to win the election and would, as promised, give the South Vietnamese a better deal.

With whom did the message originate? Early on Rostow surmised in a report to the president that Agnew was “acting” on behalf of another party. While the report is still partially censored, the security assistant’s supposition is clear enough. Agnew and Chennault barely knew each other; Nixon’s running mate acted for no one but Nixon.27

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

(Puppets by Rick Meyerowitz, for a parody ad in an issue of National Lampoon in 1970. A description of the puppets and the shoot is described by Meyerowitz on his site, in “The Nixon & Agnew Puppets”)

From the same phone call with Dirksen quoted earlier24:

From “”This is Treason!” Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen Phone Call” (7:51-8:21):

JOHNSON
I said, now, there has been speeches that some we oughta withdraw troops, and including some of the old China crowd, going in and implying to the embassies.

JOHNSON
Now, Everett, I know what happens there. You see what I mean?

DIRKSEN
I do.

JOHNSON
And I’m looking at his hole card.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
Now, I don’t want to get in a fight with him there. I think Nixon’s gonna to be elected.

DIRKSEN
Yeah.

JOHNSON
And I think we ought to have peace, and I’m going to work with him.

Johnson would cut even further to the quick in another part of the call25:

From “”This is Treason!” Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen Phone Call” (8:46-9:03):

JOHNSON
Well, I don’t know who it is that’s with Nixon. It may be Laird [Melvin Laird, a Nixon campaign aide]. It may be [Bryce] Harlow. It may be [John] Mitchell. I don’t know who it is.

I know this: that they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.

DIRKSEN
That’s a mistake!

JOHNSON
And it’s a damn bad mistake.

He would cut even further to the bone, and say the unsayable in another fragment of the phone call26:

From “”This is Treason!” Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen Phone Call” (4:12-4:18):

JOHNSON
Now, I’m reading their hand, Everett. I don’t want to get this in the campaign.

DIRKSEN
That’s right.

JOHNSON
And they oughtn’t to be doing this. This is treason.

Richard Nixon would end the day with a rally in Texas, as described in his memoir:

On the day of Thieu’s announcement, I told a Texas rally: “In view of the early reports that we’ve had this morning, the prospects for peace are not as bright as they looked only a few days ago.” It was Saturday, November 2, less than three days before the election. Bombing halt or no, the campaign had to continue. I decided to treat Johnson’s announcement as a potentially beneficial diplomatic move botched by lack of planning rather than as a straight political ploy. I told my staff to get our spokesmen asking why we didn’t have the agreement worked out with our allies.

Of course, this we did have an agreement with their allies, the South Vietnamese, a very secret one and very much for the benefit of Richard Nixon.

NOVEMBER 3, 1968

During his furious call with Senator Everett Dirksen, Johnson made clear that he wanted Dirksen to contact Nixon on what was taking place27:

From “”This is Treason!” Lyndon Johnson Everett Dirksen Phone Call” (7:05-7:26):

JOHNSON
Well, now, what do you think we ought to do about it?

DIRKSEN
Well, I better get in touch with him, I think, and tell him about it.

JOHNSON
I think you better tell him that his people are saying to these folks that they oughtn’t to go through with this meeting [in Paris]. Now, if they don’t go through with the meeting, it’s not going to be me that’s hurt. I think it’s going to be whoever’s elected.

DIRKSEN
That’s right.

We can return to Nixon’s memoir on what he says of the events of November 2nd, where he mentions Dirksen contacting him about Johnson’s anger with him. What’s significant in this excerpt is that he mentions the statements by his aide, Bob Finch, critiquing Johnson for his failure to bring about the peace talks, but never brings up the primary thing that has Johnson furious, does not even bring it up to deny it: that he is conducting back channel diplomacy to foil these peace talks. From RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon:

The Democrats’ euphoria was dampened on November 2, when President Thieu announced that his government would not participate in the negotiations Johnson was proposing.

Thieu’s reaction was totally predictable. He watched American politics no less carefully than did the leaders in Hanoi. Given his disapproval of any bombing halt, and the fact that Humphrey was now talking like a dove, it was scarcely in Thieu’s interest to acquiesce in a bad bargain. By holding back his support, Thieu fostered the impression that Johnson’s plan had been too quickly conceived and shakily executed.

On the heels of Thieu’s recalcitrance, I asked Bob Finch to put the word out to newsmen that the prospects for peace were not as advanced as Johnson’s announcement might have made them seem. Providing background in his capacity as “an aide to Richard Nixon,” Finch explained, “We had the impression that all the diplomatic ducks were in position.” Then for the record he said, “I think this will boomerang. It was hastily contrived.”

Johnson saw the news story with Finch’s comments. He was furious, and he made his displeasure known. Bryce Harlow urged me to call Johnson to calm him down – and I did so Sunday morning, November 3.

An excerpt from the phone call at 1:54 P.M., where Johnson speaks of the three necessary preconditions of the talks – no shelling of the cities, no crossing the DMZ, the government of South Vietnam (GVN) at the table – and the failure of the talks, possibly due to Nixon offering a better deal to the South Vietnamese28:

(A clip on youtube of the audio with accompanying transcript of this phone call in its entirety.)

From “Phone call between Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon” (3:14-5:07):

JOHNSON
Now, the other day, we had talked to Thieu on October the 13th, and stressed that we had to have these points, and he agreed. On October the 15th, we reviewed it with him again, and he bought a 36 hour period between stopping the bombing and the conference. On October the 23rd, he agreed to a three day delay, on October the 28th, we agreed to the communique, that we both make a joint announcement. When and if, we could clear it with them. Get them signed on. Then the traffic goes out, that Nixon will do better by ya. Now, that goes to Thieu. I didn’t say, as I said the other day, I didn’t say with your knowledge, I hope it wasn’t.

NIXON
As a matter of fact, I’m not privy to what you were doing- The whole point is this, I think one thing we have to understand here is that you know, and I know, that with the hawk/dove complex out there, as there is here. And that everybody’s been saying, “Well, now, after the election, what will happen?” And, of course, there is some thought that Hanoi would rather deal now than deal later.

JOHNSON
Oh, yes-

NIXON
They think Nixon will be tougher.

JOHNSON
Ye-

NIXON
And I understand that. And I think that’s one of the reasons you felt you had to go forward with the [bombing] pause.

But my point that I’m making is this: that, my God, I would never do anything to encourage Hanoi, I mean Saigon not to come to the table, because basically, that was what you got out of your bombing pause. That good God, we want them over at Paris. We’ve got to get them to Paris, or you can’t have a peace.

Note that Nixon affects an innocence of the peace negotiations which he himself would later refute. “As a matter of fact, I’m not privy to what you were doing,” he says, though as we’ve already seen, he admits in his memoir that Henry Kissinger, among others, is passing his campaign information, and it is through these sources that he expects there to be a bombing halt.

What happened next on Nixon’s side after he put the phone down is described in The President’s Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy:

Then it was Nixon’s turn to call LBJ. Johnson was angry, accusing; Nixon poured it on thick. He’d gotten a report from Dirksen, he said, and in case Johnson ha missed it, he went over his message on Meet the Press. “My God, I would never do anything to encourage Saigon not to come to the table, because basically, that was what you got out of your bombing pause. That, good God, we want them over at Paris. We’ve got to get them to Paris, or you can’t have a peace.”

It all seemed to be enough. He hung up – and “Nixon and his friends collapsed with laughter,” reported the Sunday Times of London in an account of the episode months later. “It was partly in sheer relief that their victory had not been taken from them at the eleventh hour.”

This mask of innocence was not a momentary guise, but a face that Nixon presented again to Johnson in a phone call again on November 8. Taken from the transcript of the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program, “WH6811-04-13723-13724-13725”. Full conversation is on youtube, “Richard Nixon Lyndon Johnson Phone Call November 8 1968”, using audio files 13723.mp3 and 13725.mp3, both from the LBJ Library:

Excerpt runs from 1:10 to 3:30, in the clip.

NIXON
Now, getting to the one, the key point: is there anything I could do before that on this business of South Vietnam? If you want me to do something, you know I’ll do anything, because we’re not going to let these people stop these peace things, if you think I can do something.

JOHNSON
Dick, I told [Senate Minority Leader Everett M.] Dirksen [R-Illinois] last night I thought it’d be better to do it that way than to be calling on the trips. I think this: These people are proceeding on the assumption that folks close to you tell them to do nothing until January 20.

NIXON
[Unclear.]

JOHNSON
Now, we think–

NIXON
I know who they’re talking about, too. Is it [Senator] John Tower? [R-Texas]?

JOHNSON
Well, he’s one of several. Mrs. [Anna] Chennault is very much in there.

NIXON
Well, she’s very close to John.

JOHNSON
And the Embassy is telling the [South Vietnamese] President [Nguyen Van Thieu] and the President is acting on this advice. He started doing it back about October 18, following our talk on the conversation on October 16. I had two bad breaks in the month of October. The first one came from the other side. Hanoi felt that because of what Bundy had said–Mac Bundy-

NIXON
Yeah.

JOHNSON
–that to withdraw troops, and what Humphrey had said that he wouldn’t–

NIXON
They could wait.

JOHNSON
Well, he just said, “I don’t–I will stop the bombing, period, I don’t mean comma or semi-colon.” So, Hanoi picked up the next day and went home for two weeks. We had it all wrapped up there and then for the meeting. Now, I don’t know what’ll come out of the conference. But that was the way it was. They went off. In the meantime, these messages started coming out from here that Johnson was going to have a bombing pause to try to elect Humphrey and that they ought to hold out because Nixon will not sell you out like the Democrats sold out China. And we have talked to different ones. I think they’ve been talking to [Vice President-elect Spiro] Agnew. I think they think that they’ve been quoting you indirectly, that the thing they ought to do is to just not show up at any conference and wait until you come into office.

Don Fulsom’s Nixon’s Darkest Secrets, a profile of the seamiest elements of the president, has a number of hypotheses that I don’t agree with, but it does have this interesting insight into this last part of the conversation that I think is worth passing on:

In this discussion, Nixon not only threw loyal Texas Republican senator John Tower under the bus, but he also stressed the words “very close.” What Nixon was apparently alluding to was a not-so-secret affair Senator Tower was having with the fabled Dragon Lady.

The supposed lovers were both right-wingers and heavy partiers on the Washington cocktail circuit. Tower had replaced Lyndon Johnson in the Senate. The two men were bitter enemies. So Nixon probably had that in mind when he ratted out Tower to LBJ.

A former Tower associate says the senator, long after his second failed marriage, freely admitted having a long-term liaison with Chennault. Tower was very fond of Anna, and, the source added, after they broke up, Tower claimed Chennault went on to “a torrid fling” with Thomas McIntyre, a left-wing Democratic Senator from new Hampshire and a “heavy foreign policy hitter.”

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

(Ann Chennault with John Tower. Photograph from Michael Rougier, part of a piece that appeared in the Life issue of August 8, 1969, about a fashionable apartment complex: “Just Everybody Lives There: In Washington, It Used to be Georgetown – now it’s Watergate”. This photo appears on page 42 of the feature. The co-resident mentioned in an adjoining photo, John Mitchell, was Nixon’s Attorney General and Chennault’s point of contact in the sabotage of the ’68 peace talks. He would go to prison for his part in the scandal that shared the name of the luxury residence. His photo is on page 43 of this feature.)

Back to November 3: almost immediately after getting off the phone with Nixon, Johnson would speak with his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, where Johnson says that he thinks those agents acting to foil the peace talks are acting on behalf of Nixon. The conversation conveys the inability of Johnson and his aides to do anything with the information they have, and the proximity of a deal with the Vietnamese parties29:

(A clip on youtube of the audio with accompanying transcript of the recording of this phone call in its entirety.)

From “Phone call between Lyndon Johnson and Dean Rusk” (3:46-5:29):

JOHNSON
I told Nixon today, and I think I’m right, I said we thought that Thieu would come to this conference. He had signed on two or three times, even agreed to a joint communiqué.

RUSK
Yeah.

JOHNSON
But we knew we had problems, and I stated to you that we had problems. And I read him the paragraph where I said even the old China Lobby’s operating again and causing us some problems out there. And he said-

RUSK
On “Meet the Press,” he absolved you personally of any motives of this sort. He managed to get in some of what some of his advisors had said, and he said he dissociated himself from them. And then he said he would go-he thought that Saigon ought to go to the table in Paris; that he was willing to go to Paris or to Saigon, or to do anything else that you wanted him to after the elections; that he thought you were doing the right thing, and he was supporting you on it. So, he managed to get in these other wrinkles.

JOHNSON
Yes. I don’t think they say these things without his knowledge.

RUSK
Yeah.

JOHNSON
Of course-

RUSK
Well, certainly not without Agnew’s knowledge, there’s a cut out there somewhere.

JOHNSON
Ah-was Agnew doing the telephoning from New Mexico?

RUSK
Walt-Walt said he was the only top man in New Mexico that he could find-that Agnew was in New Mexico. And if he did do this, just after my telephone call with him, then he and I have got a problem.

JOHNSON
Did he call you from New Mexico?

RUSK
I don’t know where he called me from, because I didn’t have to check that with him. At the time, I thought nothing of it. I had so little information.

JOHNSON
See if your operator hadn’t got that tomorrow.

RUSK
All right, I’ll see if I can.

JOHNSON
Ah, well, what do we do now-just say nothing?

Two hours before his phone call with Nixon, Johnson had a phone call with Florida Senator George Smathers where he spoke of the “her boss” FBI intercept, and where he appears to make clear that he does not trust Nixon at all30:

(A clip on youtube of the audio with accompanying transcript of a large section of this phone call.)

From “Phone call between Lyndon Johnson and George Smathers” (0:13-2:27):

JOHNSON
His folks get into it. And they say that they know how to deal with these communists, and they’re not going to be soft on ’em. And if they’re elected, they’ll see it right on through with ’em, and that they’ll get a whole lot better deal with Nixon than they will with Johnson.

Now, first, that comes out of one of his associates, one of his top businesspersons. That was communicated to us by means that we have of knowing it. And it was rather shocking, in the light of what he said. So I started personally watching the traffic myself, and the next day, the traffic shows that that is going in and out of Saigon.

Do you follow me?

SMATHERS
Yeah.

JOHNSON
I’m not guessing, George. I know what I’m doing, you see. [They said] that Nixon is going to win; therefore, they ought to wait on Nixon.

So what he’s doing-my judgment is, on the surface, he was playing that he didn’t want to undercut me.

SMATHERS
Yeah.

JOHNSON
Under the table, his people-and this, I think, you can tell him for sure; there’s no doubt about it-his people (a) business-wise, and (b) political-wise were saying that you ought to wait on Dick.

Now, that’s got it pretty well screwed up.

SMATHERS
Yeah, it does.

JOHNSON
That’s a hell of a note, and it’s a sad thing for people that got boys out here [in Vietnam], to have folks leaving these impressions.

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
They’re going around and implying to some of the embassies that they might get a better deal out of somebody that was not involved in this-the “somebody not involved” is what they refer to as “their boss.”

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
“Their boss” is the code word for Mr. Nixon.

Clark Clifford would make the following diary entry on this day, published in Counsel to the President:

Sunday, November 3. In growing fury, Johnson told Senator Dirksen that he knew all about Anna Chennault’s activities. Dirksen, the man who probably came closest to being a true friend of both Johnson and Nixon (and who also knew Chennault well), immediately alerted Nixon to Johnson’s fury, warning that Johnson might make it public. Nixon called the President, who was at the LBJ Ranch awaiting the arrival of the Humphreys. (Ironically, hours later, the Johnsons and the Humphreys would make their only joint appearance of the campaign, in the Houston Astrodome.) Sensitive to Johnson’s mood, Nixon realized the danger to his floundering campaign if he could not placate Johnson, and the secret channel to Saigon became public. Anna Chennault and Bui Diem, at John Mitchell’s suggestion, had convinced Thieu to boycott the November 6 meeting in Paris; Nixon now persuaded Johnson that he had had nothing to do with these activities. President Johnson again decided not to go public.

NOVEMBER 4, 1968

We have already mentioned the discovery by Saigon correspondent Beverly Deepe Keever of the interference in the Paris Peace Talks on the part of Nixon, begun on October 28: “There’s a report here that Vietnamese Ambassador to Washington Bui Diem has notified the Foreign Ministry that Nixon aides have approached him and told him the Saigon government should hold to a firm position now regarding negotiations,” she would cable her editor, “and that once Nixon is elected, he’ll back the Thieu government in their demands. If you could track it down with the Nixon camp, it would probably be a very good story.” Her investigation would continue on into November 4, two days after Thieu publicly declared that he would not participate in the talks:

To explain Thieu’s stunning announcement, I cabled Hayward on November 4: “Purported political encouragement from the Richard Nixon camp was a significant factor in the last-minute decision of President Nguyen Van Thieu’s refusal to send a delegation to the Paris peace talks – at least until the American Presidential election is over.” I relied mostly on “informed sources” for my scoop – an eye-opening exclusive news report – and added that “the only written report about the alleged Nixon support for the Thieu government was a cable from Bui Diem, Vietnamese ambassador to Washington,” confirming what I had asked Hayward to check out days earlier. But my momentous scoop was not published. Hayward cabled back that the Monitor had deleted all my references to Bui Diem and to the “purported political encouragement from the Nixon camp,” which, he wrote, “seems virtual equivalent of treason.”

What was taking place on the other side of that conversation, in the United States, would only be learned forty years later. Again, from Keever’s Death Zones and Darling Spies:

Hayward could not have known then, but his description of Nixon’s “virtual equivalent of treason” was being privately echoed at the time by Johnson when he sputtered: “It would rock the world if it were known that Thieu was conniving with the Republicans. Can you imagine what people would say if it Hayward told me within a day or so: “The alleged Nixon involvement was interesting but needed confirmation from this end-which was not forthcoming-before we could print such sweeping charges on election day. It was a good story nonetheless, and you get major credit for digging it out.” Knowing the time-honored journalistic tradition of fairness, I understood when Hayward told me that without such confirmation, the Monitor had “trimmed and softened” my lead. The Monitor’s substitute lead simply implied that Thieu had acted on his own. Upon receiving the Monitor‘s Western edition days later, however, I saw my supposed-to-be scoop relegated to page 2, with no mention of Nixon, under a one-column headline. I could hardly recognize it. Yet 44 years later I was stunned to learn that President Johnson had indeed read and agonized over my lead with his top aides. Just as this book was being readied for publication, I was queried about my scoop’s Nixon-Thieu connection by veteran investigative reporter Robert Parry. On March 3, 2012, Parry published an amazing exposé on his online investigative news service headlined: “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason.'” Parry also included links to the telltale documents he had uncovered.

Forty years later, we would learn that Saville Davis, the Monitor‘s Washington correspondent, had visited both the Vietnamese embassy in D.C. and the White House for comment on this story.

This is the memo from Walt Rostow to Johnson, informing him of Saville Davis’s visit to the Vietnamese embassy31:

FROM WALT ROSTOW
TO THE PRESIDENT
CITE CAP82675

S E C R E T SENSITIVE EYES ONLY

LITERALLY EYES ONLY FOR THE PRESIDENT
HEREWITH FULL ACCOUNT SAVILLE DAVIS – BUI DIEM CONVERSATION.

EMBASSY OF VIETNAM; INTERNAL SECURITY – VIETNAM.

A source who has furnished reliable information in the past advised that on the late morning of November Four, Nineteen SixtyEight Saville Davis, Washington Bureau. Christian Science Monitor Newspaper, contacted a representative of the Vietnamese embassy, Washington D.C., and asked for an appointment with ambassador Bui Diem. When informed that the ambassador was busy, Davis stated he wanted to check out a story received from a correspondent in Saigon and that Davis plans to come to the embassy and wait for the ambassador to see him.

Davis said that the dispatch from Saigon contains the elements of a major scandal which also involves the Vietnam ambassador and which will affect presidential candidate Richard Nixon if the Monitor publishes it. Time is of the essence inasmuch as Davis has a deadline to meet if he publishes it. He speculated that should the story be published, it will create a great deal of excitement.

DTG: 041800Z NOV 68

This is the memo informing Rostow that Saville Davis is at the White House32:

11/4/68

Saville Davis of the Christian Science Monitor is upstairs: 347-4953

He said they are holding out of the paper a sensational dispatch from Saigon (from their Saigon correspondent) the 1st para of which reads:

“Purported political encouragement from the Richard Nixon camp was a significant factor in the last-minute decision of President Thieu’s refusal to send a delegation to the Paris peace talks — at least until the American Presidential election is over.”

He said he will await WWR’s comments.

Johnson was sufficiently excited by Davis’s questions to hold a conference call with two of his senior advisers, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and National Security Adviser Walt Rostow on how to deal with it. Though Nixon accuses Johnson of playing politics with the bombing halt, this conversation heavily stresses that politics must not be played with this, not even through off the record leaks to the press. The conversation would take place on 12:27 P.M. of that day33:

(A clip on youtube of the audio with accompanying transcript of this phone call in its entirety.)

From “Conference call Lyndon Johnson, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, Dean Rusk November 4 1968” (0:11-4:53):

JOHNSON
Hello, Dean? I think you and Clark and Walt ought to meet on this Saville Davis thing.

RUSK
Yes sir.

JOHNSON
It concerns me a great deal. I don’t want to be in the position of me being a McCarthy. I don’t know much more than I told the candidates themselves the other day, which my notes will reflect there. Namely, these folks had tentatively agreed out there to go along and then they started having doubts because we had reports of some folks-the old China Lobby-contacting embassies, et cetera. Now, I can’t get much more specific than that, A, because of the sensitivity of the source-

RUSK
Right.

JOHNSON
-and B, because of the limited nature of the information. I told Smathers that, Senator Smathers, who called saying that he understood from what I told Dirksen that I was likely to make public this information if it were confirmed and if they kept interfering with it. I also told Dirksen that I believed that the friends of one of the candidates was reporting to the folks out there that they ought to wait.

RUSK
Right.

JOHNSON
I did that on the basis of two things-one, the intercept from the Ambassador-

RUSK
Right.

JOHNSON
-saying that he had had a call and the boss said wait and so forth, and second, this China Lobby operation, the Madame involved.

RUSK
Yeah, that’s-

JOHNSON
Now, I don’t want to have information that ought to be public and not make it so. At the-on the other hand, we have a lot of-I don’t know how much we can do there and I know we’ll be charged with trying to interfere with the election. And I think this is something that’s going to require the best judgments that we have. I’m rather concerned by this Saville Davis conversation with the Embassy this morning.

RUSK
Now, which conversation?

JOHNSON
The Christian Science Monitor man called the Embassy this morning and wanted to see the Ambassador and he was unavailable. He told the party answering that he wanted to check out a story received from his correspondent in Saigon; that he planned to come to the Embassy and wait until he could see him; that the dispatch from Saigon contained the elements of a major scandal which involves the Vietnamese Ambassador and which will affect Presidential candidate Nixon if the Monitor publishes it. Time is of the essence inasmuch as Davis has a deadline to meet if he publishes it.

RUSK
Right.

JOHNSON
He speculated that should the story be published it will create a great deal of excitement.

RUSK
Right.

JOHNSON
Now, what he gets from Saigon is well and good and fine. But if he gets it from us, I want to be sure that A, we try to do it in such a way that our motives are not questioned and that if the public interest requires it, and two-and that’s the only thing I want to operate under, I’m not interested in the politics of it-the second thing is I want to be sure that what we say can be confirmed.

RUSK
Well, Mr. President, I have a very definite view on this, for what it’s worth. I do not believe that any President can make any use of interceptions or telephone taps in any way that would involve politics. The moment we cross over that divide we are in a different kind of society.

JOHNSON
Yeah.

Rostow would summarize the conclusions reached in a later report34:

FROM WALT W ROSTOW
TO THE PRESIDENT
CITE CAP82683

S E C R E T SENSITIVE EYES ONLY

DELIVER DIRECT TO THE PRESIDENT

FROM WALT ROSTOW

NOVEMBER 4, 1968

I have just returned from a meeting of over an hour with Sec. Rusk and Sec. Clifford on the China matter.

Saville Davis volunteered that his newspaper would certainly not print the story in the form in which it was filed; but they might print a story which said Thieu, on his own, decided to hold out until after the election.

Incidentally, the story as filed is stated to be based on Vietnamese sources, and not U.S., in Saigon

With respect to the body of information that we now have available, all three of us agreed to the following propositions:

–the information sources must be protected and not introduced into domestic politics.

–even with these sources, the case is not open and shut. On the question of the “public’s right to know,” Sec. Rusk was very strong on the following position: we get information like this every day, some of it very damaging to american political figures. We have always taken the view that with respect to such sources there is no public “right to know.” Such information is collected simply for the purposes of national security.

–so far as the information based on such sources is concerned, all three of us agreed: (A) even if the story breaks, it was judged too late to have a significant impact on the election. (B) the viability of the man elected as president was involved as well as subsequent relations between him and President Johnson. (C) therefore, the common recommendation was that we should not encourage such stories and hold tight the data we have.

Robert Parry’s “The Almost Scoop on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” was a follow-up to his “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'”, devoted exclusively to Keever’s explosive scoop, which might well have shifted an election and had consequences an ocean away. Keever would write of the aftermath in Death Zones and Darling Spies; this excerpt begins with quotes from Parry’s “The Almost Scoop”:

“The Christian Science Monitor‘s inquiry gave President Johnson one more opportunity to bring to light the Nixon campaign gambit before Election Day,” Parry recounts. Before deciding what to do, Johnson consulted in a conference call with Rostow, Defense Secretary Clifford, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. “Those three pillars of the Washington Establishment were unanimous in advising Johnson against going public, mostly out of fear that the scandalous information might reflect badly on the U.S. government,” Parry explains in summing up their extended answers. Johnson agreed with his advisers. An administration spokesman told Davis: “Obviously I’m not going to get into this kind of thing in any way, shape or form.” Based on these evasive responses to Davis, the Monitor decided against publishing my lead.

My lead gave Johnson a last-minute choice of remaining silent or going public with Nixon’s ploy on the eve of the election. The scoop also crystallized a unique split-screen moment: The most decisive period of the Vietnam War, settling the conditions for ending it, was moving in parallel with a most indecisive period in the American democratic process, the U.S. presidential election.

The White House joined the Monitor in keeping vital information secret from Americans about to cast their ballots for president while GIs and Vietnamese were dying in a faraway war. My incriminating lead provided a hinge-of-history moment- for the American election, the future of South Vietnam, and the thousands of Americans and Vietnamese dying and about to die in Southeast Asia as the war dragged on for four more bloody years. In what Parry describes in another context, my lead zeroing in on Nixon’s “treason” faded away into the United States’ “lost history”-history that in this case would be written with more blood and tears.

Vice President Humphrey was also alerted by his chief speechwriter, Ted Van Dyk, that Thieu was going to hold off sending a delegation to the Paris peace talks, and that “in 1968 the old China Lobby is still alive.” Humphrey fumed, “I’ll be God-damned if the China Lobby can decide this government.” Yet that is what happened. Thieu’s explosive address made national headlines and cast doubts on Johnson’s ability to get the peace talks going and end the war. Nixon’s speechwriter, William Safire, voicing the sentiments of numerous pundits and a reputable polling firm, observed, “Nixon would probably not be president were it not for Thieu.”

NOVEMBER 5, 1968

The election was extraordinarily tight down to the day of the vote, when counting went into late evening and early morning as Nixon and Humphrey held even in the tally of electoral votes, until finally the winner broke out a lead. For those final deciding hours which bled into the sixth day, we take the perspective of the man who won, who worked so hard for this victory and for which others would pay so much; from RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon:

I placed calls to Ted Agnew and Nelson Rockefeller. They agreed that victory was just a matter of time. Then I called in my senior staff. We sat and talked for almost two hours while we waited for the reported results to confirm our predictions. Several times I asked Mitchell or Haldeman to call our people in the key states to break loose better information than the TV commentators seemed able to supply. They always came back with the same message: Don’t worry – things are going well – we’re almost there. Almost. I had been almost there in 1960. Finally, around five o’clock, Mitchell and Haldeman persuaded me to try to nap. It was clear that the outcome would not be definite until the morning and at this point I had been up for almost twenty-two hours. I couldn’t get to sleep, and after half an hour I got up again.

Just before 8 A.M. [H.R.] Haldeman brought in word that both NBC and ABC had declared me the winner in California and Ohio. But there was still no movement in Illinois, and that was what I needed to confirm victory. One more state. At 8:30 the door burst open and Dwight Chapin rushed in. “ABC just declared you the winner!” he shouted. “They’ve projected Illinois. You got it. You’ve won.”

We hurried into the sitting room where the television set was on and we watched as ABC continued to survey the electoral vote count. After we had watched for a few moments, I put a hand on John Mitchell’s shoulder and said, “Well, John, we had better get down to Florida and get this thing planned out.” Before Mitchell could respond, tears welled up in his eyes. He said very quietly, “Mr. President, I think I’d better go up to be with Martha.” This was a doubly moving moment for us both. It was the first time that anyone addressed me by the title I had just won. It was also the first time that Mitchell had directly referred to his wife’s problems, which I knew had been an immense emotional strain on him. Martha had been in a rest home during the last weeks of the campaign, and I fully understood his desire to be with her now.

I went down the hall to the suite where Pat and the girls were waiting. They were so physically and emotionally exhausted that there wasn’t the elation one would normally expect. We all kissed and embraced. Julie went to her room and then called me in. She opened her briefcase and pulled out a piece of crewelwork she had done during campaign flights around the country. It was the Great Seal of the United States, with the inscription “To RN-JN” stitched at the bottom. “Daddy, I never had any doubt you would win,” she said as she hugged me. “I just wanted something to be ready right away to prove it.”

Of those mentioned in this excerpt, Agnew would leave the vice presidency over tax evasion, Martha Mitchell would become a comical figure during the Watergate scandal for her inappropriate blurtings, eventually confined against her will because of her leaks to the press, while H.R. Haldeman and John Mitchell would serve, respectively, as a senior adviser to the president and his attorney general, before both ending up in prison for obstruction of justice in the course of the episode of breaking in and cover-up which would force Nixon from office, Watergate.

The entry from Clark Clifford’s diary on this day, published in Counsel to the President:

Tuesday, November 5. Election Day at last – I spent the day in the Pentagon, lunching with Nitze and Westmoreland, meeting with Air Force Secretary Harold Brown, and carrying out routine business. I was disgusted with the campaign – with Thieu’s treachery, with Humphrey’s vacillation, with Johnson’s failure to give Humphrey enough support, with Nixon’s clever deviousness, with Chennault’s interference. I assumed Nixon would win, but still hoped for a miracle.

The day dragged on without shape or focus. We went about our work almost numb from fatigue and suspense. In the evening I went home to await the results with a few friends, thinking back to narrow victories in 1948 and 1960. But this time, the victory would go to Richard Nixon. With it came the beginning of a generation of Republican domination of the executive branch and the end of the great Democratic tradition that had begun with FDR in 1932 and run for thirty-six years.

NOVEMBER 7, 1968

Two days after the election, Walt Rostow would send the following report with the accompanying cover letter to president Johnson35:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

SECRET-EYES ONLY

Thursday, November 7, 1968
5:00 p.m.

Mr. President:

If you wish to get the story raw, read the last paragraph, marked.

Walt Rostow

DETERMINED TO BE AN ADMISTRATIVE MARKING
E.O. 12856, SEC. 1.1(a)

BY JOW ON 8/2/94

SECRET–EYES ONLY

The report:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

SECRET-NOFORN

’68 NOV 7 PM 3:51

1968 NOV 7 20 43

3:39PM RNK
PRIORITY 11-7-68 RNK
TO: WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM, ATT.: MR. BROMLEY SMITH 09
ROM: DIRECTOR, FBI

(SECRET – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION)

EMBASSY OF VIETNAM; INTERNAL SECURITY – VIETNAM.

On November Seven, Instant, a confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, furnished the following information:

On instant date, an unidentified male was in contact with Major Bui Cong Minh, Assistant Armed Forces Attache, Embassy of Vietnam, Washington, D.C. (WDC). The unidentified individual advised Major Minh that he had just received a call from General Westmoreland’s office, and General Westmoreland desired to see the unidentified man during the evening of November Seven, instant. In view of this appointment, the unidentified man desired to delay his visit to see Major Minh until Saturday, November Nine,

PAGE TWO (SECRET – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION)

next. Major Minh agreed and the unidentified man and his wife will visit Major and Mrs. Minh on Saturday November Nine, next, (possibly at Major Minh’s residence One Zero Eight Zero Five [10805] Georgia Avenue, Apartment Two Zero One [201], Wheaton, Maryland).

The unidentified man inquired as to how the peace talks were coming, and Major Minh expressed the opinion that the move by Saigon was to help presidential candidate Nixon, and that had Saigon gone to the conference table, presidential candidate Humphrey would probably have won.

GP-1

“If you wish to get the story raw, read the last paragraph, marked,” is the note on the cover letter, and the notable point in the last paragraph is: “Major Minh expressed the opinion that the move by Saigon [the refusal to participate in the Peace Talks] was to help presidential candidate Nixon, and that had Saigon gone to the conference table, presidential candidate Humphrey would probably have won.”

NOVEMBER 8, 1968

A conversation between Johnson and Everett Dirksen, where the president stresses that the message must be sent to Nixon that it remains urgent for Thieu to be at the peace talks. This remains Johnson’s priority, even after the election has been decided36:

DIRKSEN
I talked to Dick this morning.

JOHNSON
Yes Edward.

DIRKSEN
He’s coming to see you about this, at 1:30 is my understanding.

JOHNSON
Yes?

DIRKSEN
And, he has your background. Now, I hated the words. I said, it seems they sent some of their boys out to spy, and tell them to wait. So you’ll know that he knows the story.

JOHNSON
Well, what was his reaction?

DIRKSEN
Well. He said he didn’t send anybody. Well, maybe not. But maybe somebody else sent somebody. But-

JOHNSON
What was his reaction to the request that he tell somebody to go on and get that Paris meeting?

DIRKSEN
He didn’t give me very much reaction. He just cindered a little by saying “We didn’t do anything.” Well, that may well be, but there a lot of those people in (inaudible). You’ll know the kind of background that you have to talk to him to.

JOHNSON
Well, now the point is this’ll not going to wait till Monday. No no. Hell no. This’ll go right now. Because if they don’t go in there this week, we’re just gonna have all kinds of problems.

DIRKSEN
I thought from the arrangement that was made, coming up here on Monday, that’d be satisfactory.

JOHNSON
No, I told you last night, I oughta, I thought I’d hear early this morning, cuz we want Thieu to get a message so he can get a delegation Saigon to Paris next week. We think we’ve held up just every day, we’re killing men. We’re killing men.

On this same day, a secret intelligence report was sent to the President on a meeting between a trusted source and South Vietnam’s ambassador to the United States, Bui Diem. What is of interest is that the counter-proposal is so minutely different from the original U.S. one, and that what is most wanted is not a resolution of the war, but a slowing down of the peace process 37:

8 November 1968

The following is a report by a reliable and trustworthy American of his breakfast meeting with the Government of Vietnam (GVN) Ambassador Bui Diem on 8 November 1968, at the residence.

1. On the way to this meeting, the news had come over the radio that President Thieu had proposed that, under the “our side, your side”, formula, South Vietnam be designated head of the Allies delegation while North Vietnam be head of the Communist one. Bui Diem had the full text of Thieu’s statement. He commented that the GVN position represented only a small change in the original U.S. proposal – rather than a totally new and different formula – but that it satisfied a number of Vietnamese concerns: it gave the GVN a more prominent status than the NLF, it would put negotiations on a Vietnamese-to-Vietnamese basis rather than a U.S.-to-Vietnamese basis, and it would clearly represent a new stage of negotiations rather than a continuation of the previous phase. Asked if he thought there was much chance of Hanoi’s acceptance, he replied “no,” but he added that it put the GVN on the offensive rather than in the position of appearing to scuttle negotiations.

2. Asked if he thought that, under one formula or another, the negotiations would be able to resume soon, Bui Diem said that he thought it would take some time. He said that he thought the fact that the U.S. now had a President-elect would slow down the planning process on the U.S. side, since President Johnson would wish to inform and seek the opinions of the President-elect’s term, and it would also take some time to repair the damage to GVN-U.S. relations. Regarding the latter point, Bui Diem said that, while there was a minor substantiative difference in the U.S. and GVN positions – such as the U.S. willingness to leave GVN and NLF status at the peace talks ambiguous while the GVN wanted more precision – much of the difficulty

DECLASSIFIED
E.O. 12958, Sec. 3.6
NLJ 00-231
By com, NARA Date 12-19-00

SECRET/SENSITIVE

Rostow would also pass on another report on Anna Chennault’s activities, accompanied by a cover letter which urged that they act on the information. Had they done so, Nixon’s political career would have been destroyed four years before Watergate38.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Literally Eyes Only

THE WHITE HOUSE

WASHINGTON

Friday, Nov. 8, 1968
7:35 am

Mr. President:

First reactions may well be wrong.

But with this information I think it’s time to blow the whistle on these folks.

W. W. Rostow

Literally Eyes Only

The report:

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

245 AM 11-08-68 RDR
PRIORITY
TO: WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM, ATT.: MR. BROMLEY SMITH 02

FROM: DIRECTOR, FBI

S E C R E T – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION

EMBASSY OF VIETNAM

On November Seven, last, a confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, furnished the following information:

In late evening on November Seven, last, Mrs. Anna Chennault contacted Vietnamese ambassador Bui Diem and advised that the message on that date from South Vietnamese president Thieu “which our boss” was alright. She advised she had given “them” everything when she finally got back to her office to call, that “they” got the whole message.

Chennault stated the person she had mentioned to Diem who might be thinking about “the trip” went on vacation this afternoon and will be returning Monday morning at which time she will be in touch again and will have more news for Diem.

Chennault continued that “they” are still planning things but are not letting people know too much because they want to be careful to avoid embarrassing “you”, themselves, or the present

END PAGE ONE

NOVEMBER 11-12, 1968

On November 11, Nixon would visit the White House after a five day vacation in Key Biscayne, where he would meet with Johnson and his cabinet for the first time since the election. The moment is described in RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon:

On November 6 we flew aboard an Air Force jet to Key Biscayne for a postelection rest. On the way we stopped in Washington so that I could visit Eisenhower at Walter Reed Hospital. Few moments in my life have been more satisfying than entering his room as the President-elect. When he saw me, his face brightened and he said, “Congratulations, Mr. President!”

After a five-day rest in Key Biscayne we returned to New York to begin putting together an administration. Once again we stopped in Washington, this time for luncheon at the White House with President and Mrs. Johnson

When we entered the Cabinet Room, the briefers were already waiting for us: Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, and National Security Adviser Walt Rostow.

The main subject was Vietnam. The travail of the long war was etched on the faces around me. These were all able and intelligent men. They had wanted desperately to end the war before leaving office, but they had not succeeded. They seemed very nearly worn out. They had no new approaches to recommend to me. I sensed that, despite the disappointment of defeat, they were relieved to be able to turn this morass over to someone else.

When Johnson and I returned to the Oval Office after the briefing, he talked with a sense of urgency. “There may be times when we disagree, and, if such time comes, I will let you know privately,” he said. “But you can be sure that I won’t criticize you publicly. Eisenhower did the same for me. I know what an enormous burden you will be carrying.” He said that he wanted to do everything he could to help me succeed. “The problems at home and abroad are probably greater than any President has ever confronted since the time of Lincoln,” he said. Johnson and I had been adversaries for many years, but on that day our political and personal differences melted away. As we stood together in the Oval Office, he welcomed me into a club of very exclusive membership, and he made a promise to adhere to the cardinal rule of that membership: stand behind those who succeed you.

Johnson would comply with this ideal in the remaining years in which he lived, demonstrating once again that the priority was not Humphrey’s election or victory over Nixon, but an end to the war in Vietnam. If he simply wished for victory over Nixon, he had enough to annihilate his career. However, just as Nixon did not show his true face to Johnson, the president did not turn up all his cards on the table either. The same day that he counseled Nixon on what lay ahead, he demanded from Deke DeLoach the information already cited, the phone calls made from Spiro Agnew’s plane on the day of the “her boss” intercept39.

A CIA intelligence cable on two private parties attended by Thieu on November 11 and 12 would report that Thieu explicitly stated that he’d sent secret emissaries to Nixon’s election campaign40:

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
INTELLIGENCE CABLE

COUNTRY SOUTH VIETNAM

DOI 11-12 NOVEMBER 1968

SUBJECT

PRESIDENT THIEU’S COMMENTS ON PEACE TALKS IMPASSE AT PRIVATE DINNER PARTIES ON 11 AND 12 NOVEMBER 1968

ACQ VIETNAM, SAIGON [REDACTED]

SOURCE

[REDACTED]

SANITIZED
Authority NLJ 10-99
By cbm NARA, Date 1-28-2011

2. During the course of a dinner on 11 November 1968, at which he presided as a relaxed and genial host and self-assured strong man, president Nguyen Van Thieu spoke critically of the unprecedented pressure to which the U.S. government had subjected him during the pre-bombing halt discussions. According to Thieu, the americans had cited the size of the U.S. commitment in blood and money as justification for insisting that U.S. interests prevail and had cited the presence in South Vietnam (SVN) of a half million U.S. troops. Thieu said he had had to remind the Americans that the government of Vietnam (GVN) contribution to the war was in fact, larger than the U.S. commitment.

Thieu characterized the U.S. government action as a “betrayal” comparable to the U.S. abandonment of Chiang Kai-Shek as a result of the Yalta, Teheran and Casablanca conferences. He complained that the Americans had sent the Australian and Korean ambassadors to badger him into accepting the U.S. point of view. Thieu observed that vice president Nguyen Cao Ky, who was not present, was fully in accord with his policy on the Paris talks question, including his recently enunciated “our side-your side” formula.

4. Thieu told his quests that during the U.S. election campaign he had sent two secret emissaries to the U.S. to contact Richard Nixon. He indicated he might reshuffle the cabinet in an effort to please the new U.S. administration, mentioning specifically the posts of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

9. Thieu said that there had been no reaction from Washington to his two-delegation proposal since the recent meeting between President Johnson and President-elect Nixon. He expects Nixon to let Johnson try to solve the talks crisis and to go as far as possible toward reaching a settlement. This would make Nixon’s own job easier after inauguration and would leave for the Nixon administration the obvious measures to be taken to disengage the U.S. from SVN, thus allowing Nixon to be the “hero” who de-americanized the war.

Nixon would detail the November 11 meeting for his memoir, and Clark Clifford would recall it for his own:

I was impressed with the controlled manner in which Nixon conducted himself: always polite and deferential to President Johnson, careful not to reveal his private thoughts on any issue that still lay within the responsibility of the President. Where Johnson liked to obscure his strategy with a stream of Texas stories and rhetoric, Nixon was self controlled, and conveyed the impression of a man weighing every word. But one could easily overlook Nixon’s skill with words, because he left such a strong impression of physical awkwardness.

Rather opaquely, Nixon said he found no significant differences between his own views on Vietnam and those of the Johnson Administration: “I will do nothing until the Inauguration unless it is seen to be helpful by you. We must present a united front” – this from the man whose agents had sung the song of dissension to Saigon only a few days earlier.

“You can be very helpful in the next sixty-five days, especially with Saigon,” I said to Nixon. “I know you want to wind this up as much as we do.”

“The quicker the better,” the President-elect replied.

THE AFTERMATH PART I

The silence of Johnson and his closest aides would be kept after the election, and after Nixon’s inauguration, until their deaths. In my research on this episode, I came across various hypotheses on why Johnson kept their silence on Nixon’s backchannel diplomacy, with the major reason given that the information had been obtained illegally, without a warrant, and that therefore it would somehow damage the Johnson White House as much, if not more, than the Nixon campaign. This misunderstands the nature of the evidence against Nixon, which was prompted first by the tip of Alexander Sachs, which led to the FBI taps on Anna Chennault. This was a major national security issue which Chennault was sticking her fingers into, meddling into secret high level diplomatic talks, and it’s to be expected that a suspect would have their phone tapped, just as they would if they sold weapons or secrets. The tapping of the Vietnamese embassy in the U.S. and the NSA intelligence from Vietnam were incidental to the case, only confirming that for the South Vietnamese leadership, Nixon was the one. Even granting that their silence during the 1968 race was tactical, it does not explain their stone silence afterwards, which was closely kept for a specific reason, given by Clark Clifford in the conference call of November 2nd: “I think that some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story, and then possibly to have a certain individual elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubts that I would think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.” As Johnson said in his phone call with Everett Dirksen, “This is treason.”41

Two major stories would touch on the machinations of the South Vietnamese government to influence the 1968 election by sabotaging the peace talks. On November 15, The Chicago Daily News would published an article by Georgie Anne Geyer headlined “Saigon boast: ‘We helped elect Nixon'” which quoted Saigon generals gleeful over scoring Nixon’s victory, but without mentioning the Nixon-Chennault connection42:

CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, Friday, November 15, 1968

Saigon boast: “We helped elect Nixon”

By Georgie Anne Geyer
Daily News Foreign Service

SAIGON – Top Saigon officials are boasting privately they helped assure the election of Richard M. Nixon.

They are pleased about it. “We did it,” one of them said. “We helped elect an American President.”

Their reasoning is that by sabotaging President Johnson’s attempt to call a bombing halt two weeks before the elections they eliminated the support this would have brought for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

“FIFTEEN DAYS would have done it,” one cabinet minister said, obviously pleased, “but four days wasn’t enough, and we saw to that.”

The same minister charged, privately, that since last spring, when the United States began meetings with Hanoi in Paris, Washington has been “working for Hanoi.” The Saigon government characterizes any negotiation with its enemy as tantamount to treason.

But with Nixon as President, they believe they will have not only a more understanding fellow hard-liner but also will have time. “Johnson was under pressures to get this thing over,” the minister said, “but Nixon will have at least six months or a year.”

THE GOVERNMENT has long said it does not want peace now, that it wants it only when it controls more of the country and can make better use of it. The reasoning is: “We are winning now. Why should we give up anything?”

To many American officials here it is offensive that the government for which Mr. Johnson literally gave up the Presidency and sacrificed his political career should treat him in this way.

Two days later, columnist Drew Pearson would publish “Saigon Generals Played Politics With Election”, and this would briefly mention that Bui Diem had been secretly in contact with Nixon, and may have even passed money to some of his associates 43:

Washington-Saigon Feud

Details Leak Out of Backstage Fight Between U.S. and South Vietnam

By Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson

THE EXPLOSIVE details have now leaked out about the backstage blowup between the United States and South Vietnam, which threatened to wreck the Paris peace negotiations before they start.

All along the South Vietnamese had agreed, in principle, to a bombing halt, provided they were given a place at the truce table. As the delicate negotiations were about to bear fruit, however, they suddenly began throwing up procedural objections. In both Paris and Saigon, the Americans and South Vietnamese wound up shouting angry insults at each other.

The South Vietnamese leaders become convinced that President Johnson was trying to rush through an agreement on a bombing halt just before the election in order to win votes for Hubert Humphrey. They felt strongly that LBJ was selling them out, that he was more concerned about winning the election than winning the war.

The President, meanwhile, learned that Saigon’s Ambassador Bui Diem had been in touch secretly with Richard Nixon’s people. There were unconfirmed reports that South Vietnamese leaders had even slipped campaign cash to Nixon representatives. These reports made Mr. Johnson suspicious that the South Vietnamese were trying to sabotage the peace negotiations in the hope that Nixon would win the election and take a harder line.

In the early part of the new year, another reporter came much closer to the frightening truth, though it remained without the later substantiation of the various intelligence intercepts and the explicit admission of Anna Chennault in her role. This was the journalist Tom Ottenad, mentioned briefly earlier in a Bryce Harlow note as one of those who believed a bombing halt would soon take place. His inquiries at the Vietnamese embassy in D.C. got near enough to what had taken place to set off a warning note by the FBI, passed on to Johnson in the days before Nixon’s inauguration44:

4:45PM 1-3-69 JDR
PRIORITY
TO WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM, ATT.: MR. BROMLEY SMITH 004

WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM
’69 JAN 3 PM 5:11

S E C R E T – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION

EMBASSY OF VIETNAM; INTERNAL SECURITY – VIETNAM.

On January Three, instant, a confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, furnished the following information:

On the same date, Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem, Washington, D.C. (WDC), was in contact with Richard Dudman of the WDC bureau of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, this bureau having previously attempted to contact Ambassador Diem on instant date. Dudman made reference to an article which has been written for the St. Louis Dispatch, about Anna Chennault, concerning reports that Chennault had frequently been in touch with Vietnamese officials in WDC, encouraging Vietnamese officials to go slow with respect to expanded peace talks in Paris. Ambassador Diem denied these reports, stating that Vietnamese decisions are based

END PAGE ONE

PAGE TWO (S E C R E T – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION)

on a lot of factors, mainly the problems at home (Vietnam), and not on internal politics in the United States.

Dudman questioned as to whether there had not been some concern by the White House, or by Vice President Humphrey about Chennault’s activities, further that the St. Louis Post Dispatch had information to this effect and that there had been some kind of inquiry or complaint to the Vietnamese embassy, WDC, in this regard. Ambassador Diem denied this information, commenting that he (Diem) had been in touch with many friends in WDC, both Democrats and Republicans, and again denied knowledge of an inquiry or complaint in such a matter.

Ottenad would attempt to interview Walt Rostow for this piece, and would later attempt to speak to Lyndon Johnson and his aide, Tom Johnson, on the same subject. These later inquiries were turned down, just as Rostow would refuse to answer any such questions for the January 6, 1969 article45. Rostow may have wished to blow the whistle on the backchannel diplomacy of Nixon-Chennault, but now that the choice had been made to stay silent, he would abide by it46:

1/3/69 11:40 am

Phone conversation, Tom Ottenad of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and W. W. Rostow

Ottenad: I have been working on a story that I wondered if I might talk to you about. It’s on background basis, or however you want to talk about it. It has to do with the last period of the Presidential campaign about the time of the President’s announcement of the bombing halt and steps to broaden the Paris talks. I’ve been told that during that period some Republican contacts were made with South Vietnamese officials urging them to go slow in the hope that from their standpoint, they might get a better shake under Nixon than they would otherwise, and that these contacts–contacts of this type–were made by Mrs. Chennault. We have established this from a number of sources, and it’s not really about that as such that I was inquiring, but rather about another aspect of it. I was told also that this activity had come to the attention of the Administration, and I wondered–I wanted to ask you–if that is in fact correct.

WWR: I have not one word to say about that matter.

Ottenad: Not even on background or completely non-attributable basis?

WWR: On no basis whatsoever.

Ottenad: There is no point about my asking other questions related to it.

WWR: That is correct.

Ottenad: That would be just a waste of your time.

WWR: I’m afraid that’s right.

Ottenad: May I ask about a different but somewhat related matter — because I don’t know whether you will say the same thing to that or not; if it is, of course, I’ll drop the business right there. The other matter I’ve been told of is about this same time. Contacts were made indirectly by South Vietnamese officials with the Nixon camp asking — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — asking for an opportunity to meet with Nixon or one of his aides and hinting that South Vietnamese would not take action on the question of going to Paris until after the election. My question: Did that ever come to your attention.

WWR: I have nothing whatsoever to say about it.

Ottenad’s article, published on January 6 1969, would detail the Nixon-Chennault attempt to sabotage the Paris Peace Talks. Though it would identify Chennault’s role, that she was specifically acting on behalf of Nixon was left an open question, and vigorously denied by off-the-record sources of his campaign47:

Was Saigon’s peace talk delay due to Republican promises?

TOM OTTENAD

January 6, 1969

WASHINGTON – A well-known top official of committees working for the election of Richard M. Nixon secretly got in touch with representatives of South Vietnam shortly before the presidential election.

It was in connection with an apparent effort to encourage them to delay in joining the Paris peace talks in hopes of getting a better deal if the Republicans won the White House.

The government of South Vietnam had been expected to join the Paris discussions soon after President Lyndon B. Johnson announced plans on Oct. 31 to bring both it and the Communist National Liberation Front into the peace talks and to halt all American bombing of North Vietnam. However, it delayed doing so for four weeks.

Its action is credited by some political experts, including some of Nixon’s staff, with cutting the loss of votes that his aides believe he suffered in the election from the last-minute peace move. In this view, the Vietnamese delay lent credence to Republican charges that Mr. Johnson’s action was a political maneuver to help the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

Informed diplomats as well as administration sources and a number of Republicans, including some within Nixon’s own organization, have said that Republican contact with South Vietnamese representatives was made by Mrs. Anna Chennault. The initial contact was reported to have been made a few days before Mr. Johnson’s Oct. 31 announcement.

A high ranking official at the South Vietnamese Embassy here said it was “entirely untrue” that Mrs. Chennault had urged officials of his government to go slow in joining the Paris peace talks.

Mrs. Chennault, who was born in Peking is of Chinese descent, but became an American citizen in 1950. She is a vice chairman of one of the committees planning Nixon’s inauguration Jan. 20. The attractive 45-year-old woman, who claims many friends in high government and Republican circles, is to be escorted to the inaugural ball by Gov. Warren P. Knowles of Wisconsin, it was announced recently. Her name figures in speculation for possible appointment to a key position in the Nixon administration.

In a recent interview, she declined to confirm or deny reports that she had been in frequent touch with representatives of the South Vietnamese Embassy shortly before the Nov. 5 election. “Who told you that?” she asked with a half smile.

In response to further questions the petite, vivacious woman, who rates Bui Diem, South Vietnam’s ambassador to the U.S., and other diplomats and world leaders among her friends, refused to give much information.

“You’re going to get me in a lot of trouble,” she remarked. Toying with the high collar of her Chinese-style dress, a personal fashion trademark, she continued with a laugh:

“I can’t say anything…come back and ask me that after the inauguration. We’re at a very sensitive time…I know so much and can say so little.”

Asked whether others had made contact with the South Vietnamese she replied enigmatically, “I certainly was not alone at that time.”

Friends of Mrs. Chennault have said that she was in sympathy with high South Vietnamese officials, including some of the country’s embassy here, who favored awaiting the outcome of the American presidential election before making any move toward joining the Paris peace negotiations.

High administration sources here say that key South Vietnamese officials generally favored the election of Nixon over Humphrey. They say also that they received information from Saigon indicating that many believe South Vietnamese officials there believed Mrs. Chennault was acting on Nixon’s behalf in contacts with representatives of that country. They termed this belief understandable in view of South Vietnam’s reputation for political intrigue.

When told that the Nixon forces disclaimed any connection with her reported actions, Mrs. Chennault remarked with a laugh: “You’ve covered politics. What would you expect? In politics nothing is fair.”

Although Nixon advisers say they learned of Mrs. Chennault’s activities several days before the Nov. 5 election, they apparently took no steps to halt her or remove her from her connection with the campaign. Explaining why, one G.O.P. official said, “She wasn’t our baby. She wasn’t really part of the campaign.”

Another Nixon adviser also emphasized this thought, stressing that Mrs. Chennault was not part of Nixon’s personal campaign staff.

“She was co-chairman of a volunteer organization,” he said. “She wasn’t a foreign policy adviser. We were faced with all kinds of people who claimed to speak for Nixon on various issues but really didn’t.”

Another Republican aide said, “The difficulty is she is pretty free-wheeling. She took a number of independent actions in the campaign. We had to pull her back several times.”

Some sources who are friendly to Mrs. Chennault have said privately that the Nixon camp was aware of her actions. They did not make clear, however, at what point this reported awareness developed.

Sources in the Nixon camp insisted strongly that Nixon was adamant in his refusal to make political capital out of the Vietnamese conflict or of the peace negotiations. “I saw him explode one time and say he was not going to make the war a political issue even if it cost him the election,” said one aide.

In contrast, Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1968 presented the Nixon-Chennault backchannel diplomacy as an unsubstantiated rumor that may well have blown up in the face of the Democratic party, and therefore it was best that it had been left alone and unpublicized. I give lengthy excerpt of the section of White’s book devoted to the episode:

When the American administration announced the bombing halt of Thursday night, it did so believing that it had the full assent of the South Vietnamese government. It had, however, only the assent of its president Nguyen van Thieu. And so solemnly had Thieu been admonished by the American government to keep the secrecy of the preceding weeks of negotiation that he had kept the details of agreement secret even from his cabinet, his national assembly, and his vice-president and rival, Nguyen Cao Ky. Faced with a revolt of his assembly as the news leaked, menaced by a coup d’état of his vice-president, Thieu reneged. On Friday, Saigon time (Saturday, American time) came his shattering statement, “The Government of South Vietnam deeply regrets not to be able to participate in the present exploratory talks.”

There could be no doubt that someone had blundered; of such blunders great issues in politics can be made. But over the weekend of November 1st and 2nd, with the Presidency of the United States apparently at stake, both sides approached the blunder as if it were a political explosive. Given the proper twist, it could explode either way, and one must see the temptation of the Democrats to exploit hidden opportunity, the temptation of the Republicans to exploit public confusion.

There is no way of getting at the dilemma of both parties except by introducing, at this point, the completely extraneous name of a beautiful Oriental lady, Anna Chan Chennault, the Chinese widow of war-time hero General Claire Chennault. Mrs. Chennault, an American citizen since 1950, comes of a line that begins with Mei-ling Soong (Madame Chiang K’ai-shek) and runs through Madame Nhu (the Dragon Lady of South Vietnam) – a line of Oriental ladies of high purpose and authoritarian manners whose pieties and iron righteousness have frequently outrun their brains and acknowledged beauty. In the campaign of 1968, Mrs. Chennault, a lady of charm, energy and great name, had become chairman or co-chairman of several Nixon citizen committees, wearing honorific titles which were borne by many but which she took more seriously than most. In that circle of Oriental diplomacy in Washington once known as the China Lobby, Anna Chennault was hostess-queen. Having raised (by her statement later) some $250 000 for the Nixon campaign, she felt entitled to authority by her achievement. And, having learned of the October negotiations by gossip and rumor and press speculation, as did most Americans, she had undertaken most energetically to sabotage them. In contact with the Formosan, the South Korean and the South Vietnamese governments, she had begun early, by cable and telephone, to mobilize their resistance to the agreement – apparently implying, as she went, that she spoke for the Nixon campaign.

She had, however, neglected to take the most elementary precautions of an intriguer, and her communications with Asia had been tapped by the American government and brought directly to the perusal of President Johnson.

Although Johnson had been made aware of Mrs. Chennault’s messages even before his announcement of the bombing halt, he had not taken them seriously. It was not until Saturday, with the announcement of eleven South Vietnamese senators in Saigon of their support for Richard M. Nixon(!) and the repudiation of the Paris agreement by President Thieu, that the President’s wrath was lit. By Saturday he had accused Senator Everett Dirksen of a Republican plot to sabotage peace (which Dirksen, presumably hastened to relay to Nixon headquarters); and by Sunday, Johnson was in direct and bitter telephonic contact with Richard Nixon in Los Angeles (see footnote, page 383)*.

What could have been made of an open charge that the Nixon leaders were saboteurs of the peace one cannot guess; how quickly it might, if aired have brought the last forty-eight hours of the American campaign to squalor is a matter of speculation. But the good instinct of that small-town boy Hubert Humphrey prevailed. Fully informed of the sabotage of the negotiations and the recalcitrance of the Saigon government, Humphrey might have won the Presidency of the United States by making it the prime story of the last four days of the campaign. He was urged by several members of his staff to do so. And I know of no more essentially decent story in American politics than Humphrey’s refusal to do so; his instinct was that Richard Nixon, personally, had no knowledge of Mrs. Chennault’s activities; had no hand in them; and would have forbidden them had he known. Humphrey would not air the story.

For the sake of the record, I must add that in probing this episode during the weekend of its happening, this reporter’s judgement was that Humphrey’s decision was morally, if not tactically, correct. At the first report of Republican sabotage in Saigon, Nixon’s headquarters had begun to investigate the story; had discovered Mrs. Chennault’s activities; and was appalled. The fury and dismay at Nixon’s headquarters when his aides discovered the report were so intense that they could not have been feigned simply for the benefit of this reporter. Their feeling on Monday morning before the election was, simply, that if they lost the election, Mrs. Chennault might have lost it for them. She had taken their name and authority in vain; if the Democrats now chose to air the story, no rebuttal of the Nixon camp would be convincing; and they were at the mercy of Humphrey’s good-will.

On November 23, 1968, Johnson would speak again with George Smathers, explaining how important it was that they try to bring about a peace deal. This, I think, is one more piece of evidence that the bombing halt was not a political ploy, but a genuine attempt at peace talks – an attempt sabotaged by a political candidate. Here again, Johnson says why he cannot go public with his allegations: because of the sources and because it would destroy Nixon, rendering him unable to run the country when the United States was at war. Audio file is 13763.mp3, Conversation #13763 from “Highlights from LBJ’s Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”, full transcript is on Pastebin, “Lyndon Johnson George Smathers November 23 1968”:

This point in the clip is from to 3:38 to 4:21:

JOHNSON
This bunch of fools moved in, got South Vietnam not to go to the conference, because of Nixon, they just screwed up everything, and it’s taken us three or four weeks, and I didn’t expose it because I just couldn’t use those sources, and I didn’t want to make it impossible for him to govern. I think if I had said to the country: that this is an- and exposed, just brought it out, I think it’ll shock the country so, that he would have been seriously hurt. And so, I just told you, and he told Dirksen, and got it kinda back on the track again. But that damn woman is still messing around, causing trouble. That Ms. Chennault.

This incredible story would afterwards stay in the realm of intangible, unconfirmed mist, occasionally brought to the fore by memoirs of those involved in that election. In his own memoir, The Vantage Point, Johnson would allege that pro-Nixon forces had promised the South Vietnamese leadership a better deal, but would not claim that they were acting on the orders of Nixon himself, the allegations described in “LBJ Charges Pro-Nixon Move Beat Humphrey” by Jack Anderson, a column touting salient excerpts from Johnson’s forthcoming book:

WASHINGTON – Lyndon Johnson charges in his forthcoming memoirs that Richard Nixon’s allies insured Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 presidential defeat by secretly persuading the Saigon government to stay away from the Paris peace talks.

The former President’s memoirs entitled “The Vantage Point,” are being kept under tight wraps. But we can quote the highlights.

Here, for example, how Johnson describes the GOP-Saigon skulduggery:

“People who claimed to speak for the Nixon camp began encouraging Saigon to stay away from Paris and promising that Nixon, if elected, would inaugurate a policy more to Saigon’s liking. “Those efforts paid off.

“On November 1, after previously indicating that they would have made him the talks [sic], the South Vietnamese leaders decided not to participate. That I am convinced, cost Hubert Humphrey the presidency, especially since a shift of only a few hundred thousand votes would have made him the winner.

“I am certain the outcome would have been different if the Paris peace talks had been in progress on Election day.”

When Clark Clifford would bluntly state what he knew of the affair in Counsel to the President, it received a strange rebuke from former Nixon speechwriter William Safire, then a columnist for the New York Times who did not see the episode as an example of Nixon’s duplicity, paid for with American and Vietnamese blood, but as a precedent for the wiretapping of Watergate. The piece was “Clark Clifford’s Confession”, and here is its crux:

WASHINGTON- Do you remember what Watergate was all about? It was about the intrusion by the party in power into the rights of political challengers — the Ins using their power unfairly to block the Outs.

In his eye-popping memoirs, “Counsel to the President,” Clark Clifford shows in exquisite detail how Lyndon Johnson colluded with Moscow — and abused the power of our intelligence agencies — to try to block Richard Nixon’s challenge and swing the 1968 election to the Democrats’ Hubert Humphrey.

That revelation was not Mr. Clifford’s intent, of course; on the contrary, this Democrat, whose civilized partisanship I have long admired, charges the Nixon campaign with “gross, even potentially illegal, interference with the security affairs of the nation” by encouraging South Vietnam to avoid participating in a Paris meeting central to a 1968 election-weekend stunt.

In castigating Mrs. Chennault for foiling the scheme, Mr. Clifford is forced to reveal the basis of his suspicion of her: “the information had been derived from extremely sensitive intelligence-gathering operations of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the National Security Agency; these included surveillance of the Ambassador of our ally, and an American citizen with strong political ties to the Republicans.”

Recognizing that this was a startling admission of the abuse of government power to defeat a political opponent, Mr. Clifford footnotes: “It should be remembered that the public was considerably more innocent in such matters in the days before the Watergate hearings . . .”

John Mitchell, Nixon’s 1968 campaign manager, knew what Mrs. Chennault — who needed no guidance — was doing. Later, as Attorney General, he learned from the F.B.I. and C.I.A. exactly how the White House orchestrated N.S.A.’s eavesdropping on Nixon’s “Dragon Lady” and C.I.A.’s illegal surveillance of national-security aide Richard Allen. Returning to manage the 1972 Nixon campaign, Mitchell entrusted such unlawful intrusions to amateurs, for which he was jailed.

Clark Clifford’s memoirs confirm that. Watergate’s crimes grew from seeds planted in the power abuses of the Johnson Administration’s “October surprise.”

The piece is so brazen in its dishonesty that I’m sorry Safire is no longer alive so I might yell at him on twitter. As already stated, the wiretapping of Chennault began with the revelations of Alexander Sachs to Eugene Rostow, that high level diplomacy was being messed with. When Clifford writes “we first became aware of these activities through the normal operations of the intelligence community in the weeks prior to the election,” it is this that he is referring to. That it was an inquiry into a matter of national security whose thread appeared to lead to one of the candidates of the 1968 election, and nothing like the free ranging persecution campaign against all enemies of the Nixon White House, is a subtlety missed by Safire, but exactly the sort of dishonesty you might expect to shield against a dart that falls on a tender and vulnerable point. I was not the only one incensed by this column, which would provoke a letter from a former member of Johnson’s cabinet, “The Real Story of ’68 Vietnam Bombing Halt”, written by William Bundy, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs:

To the Editor:

William Safire’s May 23 column (“Clark Clifford’s Confession”) turns history on its head about the covert operation mounted in October 1968 by Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell and Anna Chennault to ditch President Lyndon Johnson’s agreement with Hanoi for serious peace negotiations to end the Vietnam War. I participated in the events of that month and have recently done extensive research on the period for my own historical purposes.

Mr. Safire states that Mr. Johnson’s bombing halt announcement on Oct. 31, 1968, looking to immediate negotiations, was an “election-weekend stunt.” On the contrary, “Counsel to the President,” Mr. Clifford’s memoir, shows that Mr. Johnson’s terms for a bombing halt, worked out in late June 1968, never changed. As Mr. Clifford relates with feeling, Mr. Johnson resisted many attempts to soften or shade these terms, forcing a platform confrontation that played a big part in the disastrous Democratic National Convention in August. Some election stunt!

About Oct. 29, as Mr. Clifford recounts in more general terms, Mr. Johnson and his inner circle (of which I was not part) learned through intercepted South Vietnam Embassy cables, particularly one of Oct. 27, that Anna Chennault was conveying via Bui Diem apparently authoritative “Republican” messages urging Mr. Thieu to abort or cripple the deal by refusing to participate.

That “smoking gun” cable included promises of later favor from Mr. Nixon, including a possible visit to Saigon before inauguration if he were elected. (As Mr. Nixon well knew, “reading the mail” of allied governments of importance to United States foreign policy was not an exceptional practice in the postwar period.) Thus alerted, Mr. Johnson requested Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance of Mrs. Chennault and the embassy, and the results amply confirmed her activity.

No Clifford “confession” was needed about these actions. The surveillance was disclosed fully in Senate Committee hearings in 1975, the F.B.I. testifying that it accepted Mr. Johnson’s request based on possible violations of the Neutrality Act and the Foreign Agents Registration Act, both concerning dealings by United States private citizens with the governments of other countries. Interference such as Mrs. Chennault’s is certainly something the United States Government is entitled to know about as a matter of national security, in a situation such as prevailed in late October 1968.

On Nov. 3, two days before the election, Mr. Johnson taxed Mr. Nixon with Mrs. Chennault’s activities, and Mr. Nixon categorically denied any connection or knowledge — almost certainly a lie in light of later disclosures. In the circumstances, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Humphrey decided, separately, not to raise what would surely have been a highly divisive issue so late in a campaign. A year later, Theodore White, describing the episode in his book on the 1968 campaign, rightly called Mr. Humphrey’s decision one of the most decent actions ever taken by an American political figure.

Mr. Safire has badly distorted what was indeed a black page in American political history. Clark Clifford’s honest and unflinching account nails down the conclusion that President Johnson acted throughout in the national interest as he perceived it. We still lack an honest account of what Richard Nixon did and knew, or in what interest, other than his own political gain.

The scandal remained in the netherworld of a few tangible facts – that Chennault had contacts with the Nixon campaign, that there were allegations of Chennault contacting the South Vietnamese, that the leadership of South Vietnam had wanted Nixon to win the election – until evidence began to come into place, giving what was ghostly a solid, disturbing form. There was Anna Chennault’s open admission of her role in The Arrogance of Power by Anthony Summers, and the FBI intercept reporting her phone calls to a representative of the Nixon campaign. In 2013, the Lyndon Baines Johnson presidential library would release the recordings of the calls between Johnson, the candidates, and his advisers, making obvious and clear that this was no cheap political stunt, but a serious attempt at ending the war, that was ultimately foiled by one man’s own desires. Finally, and most importantly, was the unsealing of the contents of what would be referred to as the “X Envelope”, one of the few times that history provides us a melodramatic Rosetta stone of the kind that are commonplace in thrillers. This was a collection of relevant documents in the possession of Walt Rostow, Johnson’s former National Security Adviser, including the FBI intercept, important transcripts, and other investigative materials, some of which have been cited here, and all of which can be found in the post by Robert Parry devoted to the envelope, “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'”. Parry would describe what took place with the envelope in 1973, a few months after the death of Lyndon Johnson from a heart attack, as the Watergate scandal which would eventually destroy the Nixon presidency unfolded:

As Johnson’s presidency ended in 1969 – and at Johnson’s instruction – Rostow had taken with him the White House file chronicling Nixon’s Vietnam gambit, consisting of scores of “secret” and “top secret” documents. Rostow had labeled the file “The ‘X’ Envelope.”

Also, by May 1973, Rostow had been out of government for more than four years and had no legal standing to possess this classified material. Johnson, who had ordered the file removed from the White House, had died. And, now, a major political crisis was unfolding about which Rostow felt he possessed an important missing link for understanding the history and the context. So what to do?

Rostow apparently struggled with this question for the next month as the Watergate scandal continued to expand. On June 25, 1973, John Dean delivered his blockbuster Senate testimony, claiming that Nixon got involved in the cover-up within days of the June 1972 burglary at the Democratic National Committee. Dean also asserted that Watergate was just part of a years-long program of political espionage directed by Nixon’s White House.

The very next day, as headlines of Dean’s testimony filled the nation’s newspapers, Rostow reached his conclusion about what to do with “The ‘X’ Envelope.” In longhand, he wrote a “Top Secret” note which read, “To be opened by the Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, not earlier than fifty (50) years from this date June 26, 1973.”

The man who had refused to answer the questions of Tom Ottenad, who would keep his silence about a sordid nasty affair till his very death, would leave behind the answers for the far, far future48.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

TOP SECRET

To be opened by the Director,

Lyndon Baines Johnson
Library not earlier than
fifty (50) years from this date June 26, 1973.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Those who wanted to know what took place would finally be given a brief mercy; though the envelope was only to be opened fifty years later, in 2023, “ultimately, however, the LBJ Library didn’t wait that long,” writes Parry in “‘X’ File.” “After a little more than two decades, on July 22, 1994, the envelope was opened and the archivists began the process of declassifying the contents.”

The end result of the duplicity in 1968 was the eventual betrayal of everyone. The soldiers, the civilians of Vietnam who would suffer the Christmas bombing, even those who thought they’d benefit from the deal, Anna Chennault and Nguyen Thieu. Anthony Summers, again in his invaluable Arrogance of Power would describe what happened after Nixon’s win:

As late as election eve the word from the White House was that the Chennault matter might “very well blow the roof off the political race yet.” In the end, though, Johnson’s advisers decided it was too late and too potentially damaging to U.S. interests to uncover what had been going on. If Nixon should emerge as the victor, what would the Chennault outrage do to his viability as an incoming president? And what effect would it have on American opinion about the war? “You couldn’t surface it,” recalled Johnson’s assistant Harry McPherson. “The country would be in terrible trouble.”

There was another reason the lid stayed on. Three days after the election Johnson was still considering whether to “blow the whistle” on Nixon. Instead, Rostow recalled, the president “actively sought and obtained Nixon’s cooperation . . . in delivering the word that the President-elect wished the South Vietnamese to proceed in moving towards a negotiation with Hanoi.”

As so often in his career, Nixon’s desperate need was to avoid exposure. Therefore, as both Johnson and Humphrey had predicted he would, Nixon now double-crossed President Thieu. He sent “strong word” to Saigon that it should reverse course and attend peace talks after all.

Anna Chennault was “flabbergasted” to find herself asked to accept Nixon’s new line. “What makes you change your mind all of a sudden?” she asked John Mitchell.

“Anna, you’re no newcomer to politics,” Mitchell responded. “This, whether you like it or not, is politics.”

Chennault stormed out in disgust, only to be harried with phone calls from other Nixon aides. At first she was urged again to send the changed signal to Saigon. When it became clear she would never agree, Nixon’s people began to fear that she might disclose the true story.29 A string of emissaries was sent to beg her not to talk to the press.

Chennault fended off reporters’ inquiries for a long time thereafter, in part, she claimed, because she feared for her safety.30 Later, at a White House function, Nixon thanked her effusively for her help in the election. “I’ve certainly paid dearly for it,” she replied curtly. “Yes, I appreciate that,” he responded. “I know you’re a good soldier.”

The best that could be said of Nixon’s duplicity is that the outcome in Vietnam would have remained the same. This, to my mind, does not make his actions any less vile. If one sells weapons or secrets to an enemy, no excuse can be made from the fact that they were not put to use, and no defense can be made from the claim that those who died as the result of the actions would have died in the war anyway, with other bullets or other weapons, they just happened to use yours. I do not see why there should be a distinction made, in this context, that Nixon’s priorities lay, after himself, with an ally rather than an enemy – it is still considered a treasonable offense when one sells classified secrets to an ally. What is most upsetting is that the will of the American people was subverted, only for the vain desires of one man. They wanted an end to the war as soon as possible, and so Humphrey, against Johnson’s wishes, argued for an unconditional bombing halt, while Nixon promised that he had a plan to end the war, though he had none, all while working backstage to delay any end that might inconvenience him. That this moment of American history is so seldom looked at is due to the very obvious reason that here we have democracy made into a sick joke, where American citizens cannot be given what they want on a simple vital issue affecting their children and their families, thanks to the collusion of a sociopath and a foreign government. While avoiding any blind or naive hopes about the peace process of 1968, Beverly Deepe Keever would speak of what might have been in an email to Robert Parry published in “The Almost Scoop on Nixon’s ‘Treason'”:

“If Johnson had confirmed my story or the Monitor had run it as filed, it’s hard for me to say what the impact would have been on the election…However, given how narrow Nixon’s margin of victory was, certainly Johnson’s confirmation might have swayed enough votes to be decisive.

“Hard for me to say without doing my own legwork, but polls I’ve come across indicate that might have been the case. Bui Diem quotes William Safire saying that Thieu made Nixon president…

“Tho[ugh] I can’t judge the impact of pre-election news about the Nixon camp’s liaison with Thieu, I think the more interesting question for me is: What would the U.S. and Vietnam be like if Humphrey had won?

“I think the final outcome would ultimately be the same for Vietnam, with the Communists seizing control of the South, perhaps via a coalition government to permit the U.S. to save face.

“And the war would have been shorter and less bloody without the incursions and bombing in Laos and Cambodia. Far fewer casualties and less cost to the treasuries on all sides.”

A lot of people would have to learn to be good soldiers. This, whether you like it or not, was politics.

WATERGATE AND THE FIREBOMBING OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE

When putting together the ‘X’ Envelope, former National Security Adviser Walt Rostow would include the following note49:

I am inclined to believe the Republican operation in 1968 relates in two ways to the Watergate affair of 1972.

First, the election of 1968 proved to be close and there was some reason for those involved on the Republican side to believe their enterprise with the South Vietnamese and Thieu’s recalcitrance may have sufficiently blunted the impact on U.S. politics of the total bombing halt and agreement to negotiate to constitute the margin of victory.

Second, they got away with it. Despite considerable press commentary after the election, the matter was never investigated fully.

Thus, as the same men faced the election of 1972, there was nothing in their previous experience with an operation of doubtful propriety (or, even, legality) to warn them off; and there were memories of how close an election could get and the possible utility of pressing to the limit — or beyond.

The two scandals were connected not simply through the callous arrogance of the central player in each, but a tangent which would remain below the surface for decades, waiting for the Chennault-Nixon episode to gather the substance of the hard proof of the ‘X’ envelope and the release of recordings and documents related to Watergate. Where I first learned of the link was, like many, in The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens. We might begin with Hitchens’ excerpt from Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman’s Diaries, an entry on January 12, 1973, when the Watergate scandal had already begun to rage full force:

The P [President Nixon] also got back on the Watergate thing today, making the point that I should talk to Connally [John Connally, former governor of Texas] about the Johnson bugging process to get his judgement as to how to handle it. He wonders if we shouldn’t just have Andreas [Dwayne Andreas, a businessman and heavy political contributor who gave heavily to Hubert Humphrey; his wikipedia entry is “Dwayne Andreas” and a Mother Jones article devoted to the man is: “Dwayne’s World” by Dan Carney] go in and scare Hubert. The problem in going at LBJ is how he’d react, and we need to find out from De Loach who did it, and then run a lie detector on him. I talked to Mitchell on the phone on this subject and he said De Loach had told him he was up to date on the thing because he had a call from Texas. A Star reporter was making an inquiry in the last week or so, and LBJ got very hot and called Deke [De Loach] and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release [deleted material – national security], saying that our side was asking that certain things be done. By our side, I assume he means the Nixon campaign organization. De Loach took this as a direct threat from Johnson … As he recalls it, bugging was requested on the planes, but was turned down, and all they did was check the phone calls, and put a tap on the Dragon Lady [Mrs. Anna Chennault].

Hitchens would go on to explain this cryptic post:

This bureaucratic prose may be hard to read, but it needs no cypher to decode itself. Under intense pressure about the bugging of the Watergate building, Nixon instructed his chief of staff Haldeman, and his FBI contact Deke De Loach, to unmask the bugging to which his own campaign had been subjected in 1968. He also sounded out former President Johnson, through former senior Democrats like Governor John Connally, to gauge what his reaction to the disclosure might be. The aim was to show that “everybody does it.” (By another bipartisan paradox, in Washington the slogan “they all do it” is used as a slogan for the defense rather than, as one might hope, for the prosecution.)

However, a problem presented itself at once. How to reveal the 1968 bugging without at the same time revealing what that bugging had been about? Hence the second thoughts (“that wasn’t such a good idea …”). In his excellent introduction to The Haldeman Diaries, Nixon’s biographer Professor Stephen Ambrose characterizes the 1973 approach to Lyndon Johnson as “prospective blackmail,” designed to exert backstairs pressure to close down a congressional inquiry. But he also suggests that Johnson, himself no pushover, had some blackmail ammunition of his own. As Professor Ambrose phrases it, the Haldeman Diaries had been vetted by the National Security Council (NSC), and the bracketed deletion cited above is “the only place in the book where an example is given of a deletion by the NSC during the Carter administration. Eight days later Nixon was inaugurated for his second term. Ten days later Johnson died of a heart attack. What Johnson had on Nixon I suppose we’ll never know.”

Hitchens would then go on to call Ambrose’s conclusions a little too tentative, and we can well see why, because it’s very obvious exactly what Johnson had against Nixon. The sentence from H. R. Haldeman’s entry for January 12, which begins so dramatically, “LBJ got very hot and called Deke [De Loach] and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release [deleted material – national security],” ends with the cliffhanger of a national security redaction, but this redaction is no mystery to us, we can light up the information darkness ourselves: “…that he would release everything related to the sabotage of the 1968 Paris Peace Talks by Anna Chennault under the orders of Richard Nixon, that disgusting, blood stained rat fuck cheat.”

Those familiar with Abuse of Power by Stanley Kutler, a fascinating and valuable collection of transcripts of the audio recordings from the Nixon White House, will know well that Haldeman’s diary entry was no isolated instance of focus during the Watergate scandal. The theme sounded in the diary entry, of using Johnson’s tapes as leverage, plays several times in the confidential meetings of Nixon and his intimates as they plan defenses.

A full excerpt of the entry in Abuse of Power on the conversation on July 1, 1972; Nixon with his top aide and major legbreaker, Charles Colson. Audio is from nixonlibrary.gov, “Nixon White House Tapes: July 1972”, “Tape 746 Conversations”, http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/forresearchers/find/tapes/tape746/746-016.mp3 (13:48-14:44).

JULY 1, 1972: THE PRESIDENT AND COLSON, 11:28-11:36 A.M., OVAL OFFICE

Nixon continues his fascination with wiretapping – of himself and others.

NIXON
…I don’t want an impression of the big brother thing, the White House and the President ordering buggings and snooping. But Goddamn Kennedy did it all the time. Bobby Kennedy had a record number of these bugs.

COLSON
Well, you saw Kevin Phillips? Did you see Kevin Phillips’ column this week?

NIXON
No. What did he say?

COLSON
How they bugged [Anna] Chennault’s telephones in ’68.

NIXON
Oh, in ’68 they bugged our phones, too.

COLSON
And this was ordered by Johnson.

NIXON
That’s right.

COLSON
And done through the FBI. My God, if we ever did anything like that you’d have the-

NIXON
Yes. For example, why didn’t we bug McGovern, because, after all, he’s affecting the peace negotiations?

COLSON
Sure.

NIXON
That would be exactly the same thing.

COLSON
That’s right. Well, Kevin [Phillips] did – of course, no one else will pick it up. He’s unfortunately considered our guy. But it’s a very devastating point, that they should not be using that-

One on October 17, 1972, between Nixon and Democrat turned Republican John Connally, former governor of Texas50. Transcript is from Kutler’s Abuse of Power, audio is taken from nixontapes.org, “Chron 4 Oval Office Conversations: July 1, 1972 – November 1, 1972”, OVAL 801-024 / OVAL 802-001, rmn_e801_24.mp3 (segment is 25:43-27:17).

NIXON
Incidentally, you know the situation with regard to our own. I told you about it.

CONNALLY
You just told me the plane was bugged, that’s all that it was.

NIXON
We are never, we are never going to put that out, you know.

CONNALLY
Well, this morning-

NIXON
There’s no reason to embarrass you. But I think that you will know what the situation is. Edgar Hoover told Mitchell that our plane was bugged for the last two weeks of the campaign. Now, the reason for bugging it, Johnson had it bugged. He ordered it bugged. And so was Humphrey’s. I think. I’m not sure about Humphrey’s. I know about ours. But the reason he says he had it bugged is because he was talking about – he had his Vietnam plans in there and he had to have information as to what we were going to say about Vietnam. But the plane was bugged, John, and that whole-

HALDEMAN
Two weeks.

NIXON
-by J. Edgar Hoover, and Johnson knew every conversation. And you know where it was bugged? In my compartment. So every conversation I had, for two weeks Johnson had it. Now, we’re not happy with it. We’re not going to say anything. It would look like hell.

HALDEMAN
I don’t know what the pressure is.

CONNALLY
They asked me at the press conference this morning if this went on during the Johnson administration. I said, “I don’t know; I wasn’t part of the Johnson administration; I was in Texas, being Governor of Texas.” But I said, “I would not want to give that or any other administration in my lifetime any seal of purity.” And everbody laughed.

HALDEMAN
They all laughed.

A month later, we might be the most fascinating exchange on the subject, between Nixon and his close aide Haldeman. Kutler prefaces it with the note that this “is a rather cryptic exchange”, and “apparently, the two men have an agreement of mutual convenience.” The reader who has come this far, or dipped into enough of this post to get a general idea, will not find it cryptic at all, and know exactly what they’re speaking about. The withdrawn national security items, dealing with a “whole series of events” that begin on October 17, obviously deal with the backchannel negotiations with the South Vietnamese government. I give full excerpt of this session as it appears in Kutler’s book. Audio for the video is from nixonlibrary.gov, “Nixon White House Tapes: November 1972”, “Tape 812 Conversations”, specific file 812-008 November 11 1972 Nixon Haldeman.mp3 (from the beginning of the file to 3:00):

NOVEMBER 3, 1972: THE PRESIDENT AND HALDEMAN, 10:46-10:54 A.M., OVAL OFFICE

This is a rather cryptic exchange involving Lyndon Johnson’s bugging of Nixon in 1968. Apparently, the two men have an agreement of mutual convenience; Johnson acknowledges his wiretapping of Nixon, Nixon makes no public complaints, and LBJ recognizes that Nixon did no wrong.

HALDEMAN
I talked to [former Johnson press secretary] George [Christian]. He talked to President Johnson again this morning. Johnson had his staff working all night reviewing his files and everything. Last night Johnson had his staff working all night reviewing his files and everything. Last night Johnson had said to George, you know, they’re going to deny this, and all. This morning Johnson – first of all, after reviewing the files, he’s not going to say anything. He was going to deny it. Now he’s not going to. He’s just going to slough it off.

NIXON
Good.

HALDEMAN
He then went into the whole series of events with Christian, starting October 17-

(Withdrawn item. National security.)

HALDEMAN
-reporting on talks with Ambassador Bui Diem and Thieu [President Nguyen van Thieu] over there. That refers to contacts with Ann Chennault.

(Withdrawn item. National security.)

-construct from this that Madame Chennault was dealing with Agnew. Remember we had that-

NIXON
Yeah.

HALDEMAN
And that’s what he said more than anything. Johnson told George, “I have no idea whether that was right or not.” He said, “I did call Nixon [in 1968] and go through the problem with him, and we agreed to have [Senator Everett] Dirksen…get it straightened out, and Dirksen met with [South Vietnam Ambassador Nguyen Van Bui] Diem on November 9 and went through all that, smoothed it over…

NIXON
You’re citing Johnson?

HALDEMAN
Johnson said that he decided at the time to interpret this as something foolish that someone did without Nixon’s knowledge, and that he and Nixon agreed to do nothing to slow the talks down, and we should look at the way he handled it in his books. That’s his position, which was that Nixon cooperated fully in proceeding with the peace talks and all that stuff. Then he said to Christian, he said – here’s the lead-in line. He said, “It is conceivable that somebody here may have asked the FBI to follow on up this.” See, last night he said it was absolutely not true. And he said, “So maybe it’s possible that Hoover did tell the President that he was asked to do this.”

Christian then said, “You better handle this thing straight…That is true, Hoover did tell the President that; you should know that.” And he said Johnson wasn’t surprised and didn’t try to deny it at all…Now it’s clear, Johnson knows the position we’re in; he knows that you know that Hoover did the bugging and that we did nothing about it. Johnson was very grateful for that…Christian also went into great detail with him about our concern about the FBI leak and our concern that, if we try to move on this story or anything like this, it could be a trap. In other words, the FBI may be prepared to leak on this.

NIXON
That’s right.

HALDEMAN
Johnson understood that immediately. He didn’t have to spell that out at all.

NIXON
Good.

A conversation between Haldeman and Nixon begins on the tangent of preventing the Watergate burglary team from testifying against anyone in the White House by immunizing them, which leads into the recording conducted by Hoover’s deputy, Cartha “Deke” DeLoach. Audio is taken from nixonlibrary.gov, “Tape 835 Conversations”, http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/forresearchers/find/tapes/tape835/835-008c.mp3 (Segment 2 runs from 23:20-28:26, Segment 3 runs from 34:00-40:00):

JANUARY 8, 1973: THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN, AND EHRLICHMAN, 11:31 A.M.-1:28 P.M., OVAL OFFICE

The President’s men brief him on the forthcoming burglars’ trial and report on Lyndon B. Johnson’s wiretaps during the 1968 campaign. Nixon believes he can use information of LBJ’s activities to gain Johnson’s and Hubert Humphrey’s support in quashing further Watergate inquiries.

SEGMENT 2

HALDEMAN
Well, the way it appears now is that Hunt is going to take a guilty plea on three counts, and he’ll do it after [U.S. Attorney Earl] Silbert’s opening statement and the jury is empaneled and sequestered. They will ask him, presumably, whether there were any higher-ups involved after he takes his guilty plea, and he’ll say no, and he’ll go to jail. The rest apparently will go to trial. The attorney for the Cubans, this guy [Henry] Rothblatt, is a super guy who wants to – I mean a zealot who wants to play the game with them. Liddy is not going to go guilty. He’s going to go for an innocent plea, go to trial on the basis of [looking] for an error. He thinks he can screw something up somewhere, that they’ll screw something up somewhere and [he will] get off. They all will sit – none of them will testify.

NIXON
But they’ll have to testify.

HALDEMAN
And none of them will take the stand, except McCord, who does intend to take the stand, but McCord has no firsthand knowledge of any involvement of other people; therefore, Dean’s not too worried about his taking the stand. All of the Cubans and Liddy, if convicted – which presumably they will be – and if immunized after conviction by the Congress in order to take them up there for stuff, will sit mute and will take contempt of Congress charges-

NIXON
And spend another year in jail.

HALDEMAN
Rather than testify before Congress. At least that’s their present position.

NIXON
Can the Congress bring them up and immunize them? Can the court immunize them?

EHRLICHMAN
Grand jury.

NIXON
What?

EHRLICHMAN
A grand jury proceeding. The court immunizes them. And the procedure would be after they are sentenced to bring them back in – the grand jury or the Congress, either one.

HALDEMAN
But they intend – the Cubans intend not to talk, and it’s not clear what the defense is going to be with the Cubans at this point.

EHRLICHMAN
Did you see the Marty Schram story over the weekend? There’s a story loose…to the effect that this is a CIA unit that’s bagged a lot of embassies, including the Chilean embassy. And that’s been kicking around now for two or three weeks. Newsday finally ran it. As a story. And they assert there is a CIA project officer that is running this unit and they’ve been in existence for some time51.

HALDEMAN
That may be part of it, they might be using it as (unintelligble) of other things. The one thing Dean raises in the congressional thing is whether we have in any way any hard evidence that the plane [in the 1968 campaign] was bugged. The reason he asked is that he sent me a strategy on the Hill of going for an attempt to force the Congress to investigate hanky-panky in both ’68 and ’72, rather than letting them just go do an investigation of ’72 activities. And he can intercede, but we can also start moving on individual Senators and some of the problems they wouldn’t like known as to what they’ve done and not done, but also the question of whether – see, that plane bug thing was logged out. Who had the story? Somebody had it – the [Washington] Star had the story.

NIXON
Johnson admitted it, I understand.

HALDEMAN
Well, sort of.

NIXON
Did you talk to him?

HALDEMAN
No, George Christian did. He finally admitted it to George. But the question is whether there will be hard evidence on it. The only input we have on it is J. Edgar Hoover, who is dead, I presume.

EHRLICHMAN
Well, [Cartha] Deke DeLoach is around. He’s never admitted it, to my knowledge.

HALDEMAN
Was DeLoach the one who did it?

EHRLICHMAN
Yep. Johnson called DeLoach and had him do it.

HALDEMAN
Well, maybe you do have hard evidence…

NIXON
Well, we have nothing now as far as Johnson is concerned, and we have nothing to worry about. Johnson did not support us, you know he played his usual kniving game, and at the present time I wouldn’t [give] any damn, I’d play that right up to the hilt. What does it do to the Bureau? It’s a nasty story. It’s just too damn bad. They should not have bugged the candidate’s plane!

SEGMENT 3

NIXON
Well, getting back to the bugging…It’s a hell of a reflection on Johnson. You don’t really have to have hard evidence, Bob. You’re not trying to take this to court. All you have to do is to have it out, just put it out as authrotity, and the press will write the Goddamn story, and the Star will run it now.

EHRLICHMAN
I think in the congressional context you have to be in a position to go to somebody like Hubert Humphrey and say Senator, there are very strong reasons why this whole inquiry is not a good idea, and here’s a statement that I’ll show you by a fellow who was in the Bureau at the time, and I think you’ll see the implications.

NIXON
Well, why don’t you get hold of Mitchell and see what he can give you? I assume Mitchell has been told.

HALDEMAN
I had a call to him.

NIXON
Mitchell has said, Bob, he has said candidly that J. Edgar Hoover told him. I don’t know how it came up that we found out about her [the wire-tapping of Anna Chennault, who was a go-between for Nixon and the South Vietnam government], why Hoover would ever have told her, or did we suspect?

EHRLICHMAN
Well, I think it was in that whole period of time involving bugging and the question of authorization and all that. You remember there was a lot of controversy at one point.

HALDEMAN
And Hoover was ingratiating himself with you and was always running around about how Johnson had the White House telephone lines all monitored and all that stuff, telling you what you ought to watch out for and what he was up to.

NIXON
Yeah. He said don’t make calls on your White House phones, I know. Well, why don’t you get at it tentatively?…

EHRLICHMAN
Well, let’s find out if Mitchell has anything hard. He may have squirreled away some files or something. If he didn’t, then I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t go to DeLoach and just say we’ve got this-

NIXON
Does he still work for [Donald] Kendall [of Pepsico]?

EHRLICHMAN
Sure…

NIXON
And then go to DeLoach and DeLoach’s got to come clean on it. We’ll go to Kendall and Kendall puts the arm on him and says he’s got to go ahead and say it. He was ordered to do it and he did have the President’s plane bugged…The reason for it, of course, was in order to get information [on] Vietnam…

HALDEMAN
Well, we could start pushing on the other bugging that Johnson did, because he did a hell of a lot of his own staff and everything else. You know, you could-

NIXON
Try and find the witnesses.

EHRLICHMAN
I was going to say one of the witnesses in the Watergate case is going to be a kid who Hunt recruited who was in the Muskie headquarters and then in the McGovern headquarters-

NIXON
Worked for Hunt?

EHRLICHMAN
Worked for Hunt, was paid $3,500, and finally broke off with Hunt because he refused to bug Gary Hart’s telephone over at McGovern headquarters. That’s going to re-open and re-escalate this whole political sabotage business, I would guess, and that will come fairly early in the trial, I would think, because that’s part of the conspiracy. Now, if Hunt pleads, maybe they won’t have to call that guy.

NIXON
What about Congress?

HALDEMAN
Oh yeah. It’ll be known that this guy’s around…

NIXON
…[A]nd it will come down to this – he was in the headquarters of one, the headquarters of another. That, believe me, doesn’t bother me too much. Good God, there are people planted in headquarters all the time.

EHRLICHMAN
The posture of this is that some people don’t know. It isn’t commonly understood out around the country that this is done or has been done in prior years.

NIXON
We know it was.

EHRLICHMAN
That’s right, sure.

NIXON
Well, let me say we have to use the material on the Johnson thing, and if Mitchell doesn’t have the hard evidence, we just put it out. We’ll float it out there…for now.

HALDEMAN
It is apparently true because (unintelligble) Christian, you see you had told Christian that we knew it. And then Christian (unintelligible) was playing the other side over President Johnson calling him about it. And Christian played it- Johnson, you know there is something to this, we can’t just deny it, you can’t ask the administration to lie. Because it’s provable and known by other people…He [Johnson] admitted it to George [Christian], admits to the discussion, which George found very enlightening, because Johnson had never admitted it to him before.

NIXON
Well, this is one of those things we have to [exploit?]

Wiretapping of the plane would emerge again in Nixon’s conversations after the scandal of Watergate had emerged full force. Part of the scandal was the fact that Nixon had tried to stop an FBI investigation into the Watergate burglars by claiming that national security secrets might be unveiled due to the CIA connections of burglars Howard Hunt and Robert McCord, and the fact that several of the burglars had been at the Bay of Pigs. Nixon was worried that his nominee for the head of the FBI, Patrick Gray, would end up being questioned by these matters, and so he decided to sabotage the nomination by having Gray be asked about the 1968 campaign bugging, which he believed would require Gray to lie, and that headlines about FBI surveillance of a political campaign would destroy his nomination. His paranoia gives Nixon an intense focus on this issue, as well as a myopia. He does not seem to consider the possibility that the moment this subject would be brought up that questions would arise as to why this wiretapping had taken place, and the answer would be that Nixon had acted against the interests of the country, of the fathers and mothers of soldiers overseas, of the soldiers themselves, in order to become president.

From a transcript by Stanley Kutler of a conversation with John Dean on March 7, 1973, with full transcript at the footnote52. Audio file is 871-004a.mp3, taken from “Tape 871 Conversations”, conversation #4. Conversational fragment is also on youtube, “Richard Nixon and John Dean Talk 1968 Campaign Surveillance May 7 1973 – YouTube”:

NIXON
In other words, let’s put him [Gray] on the griddle a little bit as to whether he approves or disapproves of certain things. Let me tell you how this is done the way I would do it.

“Mr. Chairman – I mean Mr. Director – it has been charged that electronic devices were used to – for the purpose of bugging the President – the candidate’s plane [in 1968]…I want to ask you. These charges have come to my attention. I want to ask you whether it’s true or false.” Then say “Now, Mr. Gray, have you investigated these charges? Do you approve of such things? Do you get my point?”

DEAN
Mm-hmmm.

NIXON
But, you see, what I mean is this. Why don’t we now – let’s get the stuff out in this hearing? Now that’s a perfectly logical place to do it. In other words, raise questions…[For example], “in the 1968 campaign, the FBI, at the request of the White House” – never say who – “at the request of the White House did some electronic surveillance of Vice President Agnew’s phone when he was in Phoenix? Is this true or not?…”

DEAN
Just the fact that they’re making the charge is going to be our headline.

NIXON
Secondly – that’s my point. Then, second, it has also been charged that the White House ordered the electronic surveillance. In other words, I want to put Gray in there. I told him that Hoover had told me, and I’m going to make him lie, because I think Gray’s not handling himself well.

NIXON
…Say you’re going to be the director of the FBI. “Mr. Chairman, I am concerned about the FBI being used by the White House for political purposes not only – I mean through the years. Now I want to know – I mean, Mr. Gray, do you have any knowledge that the White House has been doing it this year…Is this true or not? Did the FBI do this or not? Do you approve of that? Will you see that that’s not done in the future?” And then repeat it, see. Then I would go on, but mainly I’d go into this stuff that is new. Everybody knows about what happened in the Kennedy thing and rooting the reporters out of bed and all that sort of thing. But people do not know some of this other crap, about how Johnson used the FBI. But just go right down the line on some of it – stuff that you think is fairly good…[C]ertainly not the stuff [morals charges] with [Johnson aide] Walter Jenkins, but there’s other stuff that’s pretty good.

DEAN
Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

NIXON
….And then Gray lies. He lies, and then we will be willing to call and tell him because he lied under oath and then withdraw his name. Do you get my point?

DEAN
Exactly…

NIXON
….I ordered him when he was in this room. I directed him. I said you are to give a lie detector test to every individual who may have had anything to do with the electronic bugging of the President’s plane in 1968. No, Goddamn it, he hasn’t done that….He didn’t do it, did he? Has he used lie detector tests?

DEAN
No, sir.

NIXON
I told him to get [Cartha] DeLoach in. I ordered him to. Now we’re not going to screw around with a thing like this. Hoover would have lie detected him in one second, you know, if he’d been ordered. What I think is happening here, John, is that Gray – I know the type. He’s a nice guy, loyal in his own way. But he’s panting after the Goddamn job and is sucking up.

Nixon’s obsession that his plane was bugged during the ’68 campaign will be briefly discussed in the next section, “Oliver Stone’s Nixon”, but it appears to have been a misunderstanding on his part of what took place. Anna Chennault’s phones were bugged, because of her frequent contacts with the Bui Diem, the ambassador for South Vietnam and the rumors of her attempts to derail the peace talks. After the election, DeLoach appears only to have been able to pass on the area codes of the numbers which were called from Agnew’s plane – Texas, New York City, and so on. Nothing more specific about the numbers, and certainly not the content of the calls was conveyed. It is for this reason that it was so important that the FBI intercept establish that Anna Chennault was in New York City at the time of the calls. Nixon discovered that they had identified the contact between himself and Chennault, or come very close to it, and he’d misunderstood what methods they’d used and what they’d obtained, that the FBI had wiretapped the planes of the candidates.

The nature of the bugging was discussed by DeLoach himself, during an interrogation that was part of the Church Committee’s congressional investigation of the recent history of the intelligence agencies. From Volume 6 of the Church Committee Report, “Testimony of Courtney Evans and Cartha DeLoach, Former FBI Officials Accompanied By Charles A. McNelis, Counsel”. Here, DeLoach is asked about the retrieval of Agnew’s phone records by Senator Phil Hart of Michigan. Unfortunately, no context is given for this records request (specific page in the document is 193, page 29 of 34 in the pdf):

SENATOR HART of Michigan.
Now, the incident I had in mind bore on another public figure, Spiro Agnew. A request was made to get telephone records of candidate Agnew. What happened on that request?

Mr. DELOACH.
I received a call from Mr. James Jones, who was the top assistant to the President at the time. Senator, to the best of my recollection, late one evening, and he indicated the President wanted information concerning either Mr. Nixon or Mr. Agnew insofar as toll calls made from Albuquerque, N.Mex. were concerned. I told Mr. Jones I felt this was not a correct thing to do, particularly at this time of night, and while we would try to comply with the President’s specific request, we would not do it that night. The President then called me personally in my office late that night and indicated that did he understand my refusal to Mr. Jones correctly, and I said, yes, he did. I said, I thought that it would be wrong for us to try to obtain such information that late at night. The President then proceeded to tell me that he was the Commander in Chief and that when he needed information of that nature, he should get it. However, the conversation ensued that I reiterated my objections to it, and the President indicated all right, try to get it the following day. The Domestic Intelligence Division did get in touch with Albuquerque, and did obtain toll call slips. Now, this was no electronic surveillance, Senator. This was merely a matter of going to the telephone company and getting the results of toll calls made from a certain number several days prior to that to Washington, D.C. I believe there were five all total and this has been a matter of public record in FBI files.

Surveillance of Anna Chennault is brought up again a little while later, this time by Senator John Tower. There is, of course, the undercurrent here that has already been mentioned but goes unsaid in this hearing: Tower and Chennault were lovers. A part of this undercurrent, no doubt, is whether Tower was recorded as part of any surveillance of Chennault. Emphasis is placed on October 30th, 1968, and this is when surveillance began on all American visitors to the Vietnamese embassy in D.C. The following is from DeLoach’s first report, filed on October 30th; we have already seen this, but I quote it again for its importance here:

Early this morning, approximately 7:45 A.M., Ambassador Bui Diem of the Vietnamese Embassy was contacted by a woman who did not identify herself but whom he seemed to recognize by voice. The FBI believes this woman to be possibly Anna Chenault [sic], widow of General Clare [sic] Chenault [sic]. The woman commented that she did not have an opportunity to talk with the Ambassador on 10/29/68 inasmuch as there were so many people around. However, she thought that perhaps the Ambassador would have some more information this morning. The woman then asked what the situation is. The Ambassador responded that “just among us” that he could not go into specifics on the telephone but something “is cooking.” The woman then asked if Thailand is going to be the representative of both South Vietnam and the Viet Cong to which the Ambassador responded “no, nothing of this sort yet.” The Ambassador then suggested that if the woman had time today she should drop by and talk with him as time is running short. She replied that she would drop by after the luncheon for Mrs. Agnew today.

On October 31st, Johnson declared a bombing halt, and the next day, Thieu pulled out from the peace talks. Again in this questioning, no context is given for the reasons for DeLoach’s surveillance of Chennault. From “Testimony of Courtney Evans and Cartha DeLoach, Former FBI Officials Accompanied By Charles A. McNelis, Counsel” (specific page 195 in the document, 31 of 34 in the pdf):

Senator TOWER.
Mr. DeLoach, did the FBI institute physical surveillance of Mrs. Claire Chennault on October 30, 1968, at the direction of the President of the United States?

Mr. DELOACH.
Senator, to the best of my recollection on that specific case, the Executive Director, I believe the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, Mr. J. Bromley Smith, called me on one occasion and indicated the President of the United States wanted this done. I told Mr. Smith that I thought what he should do is call the Attorney General concerning this matter, and I believe either Mr. Hoover or I later received a call from the Attorney General indicating that this should be done.

Senator TOWER.
Was it done?

Mr. DELOACH
There was a physical surveillance on Mrs. Chennault, yes, sir.

Senator TOWER.
What did it include?

Mr. DELOACH.
The usual physical surveillance, as I recall, Senator, following her to places where she went in the city of Washington and as I recall a statement made this morning, also a trip that she made to New York.

Senator TOWER.
Did it involve the constant monitoring of any and all of her incoming and outgoing telephone calls?

Mr.DELOACH.
I believe the instructions of the President and the specific instruction and approval of the Attorney General, that a wiretap was placed on her telephone, sir.

Senator TOWER.
So, during the period of time between October 30, and November 7, all of her telephonic communications were monitored by the Bureau?

Mr. DELOACH.
I don’t recall the specific dates, Senator, but I do know that such surveillance was established.

Senator TOWER.
Who was the Attorney General at the time?

Mr. DELOACH
In 1968, sir?

Senator TOWER.
Yes, sir.

Mr. DELOACH.
I believe that would have been Mr. Clark.

Senator TOWER.
Would the FBI have undertaken this surveillance on its own initiative had they not been directed by the Attorney General to do so?

Mr. DELOACH.
That was the reason I referred Mr. Smith to the Attorney General. I felt that we should have the Attorney General’s concurrence, and as I testified earlier, to my knowledge the FBI did not place wiretaps on individuals unless it had the approval of the Attorney General. The answer therefore would be “no.”

We return to Nixon’s obsession with this wiretapping. Here is a conversation between Haldeman and Nixon on January 11, 1973, a day before Haldeman’s cited diary entry. The men discuss approaching Cartha DeLoach and getting the information on Johnson’s taping, and that it must be in a form of tangible, irrefutable evidence that’s usable, rather than a case of a series of people claiming knowledge of the event53.

Audio is from nixonlibrary.gov, “Nixon White House Tapes: January 1973”, “Tape 838 Conversations”, http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/forresearchers/find/tapes/tape838/838-018b.mp3 (Segment one runs from 16:10-19:54, segment two, mentioned in the footnote, runs from 27:55-28:40):

NIXON
Have you had any further development, Bob, with regard to the bugging at – I mean in regard to Mitchell and his talks with DeLoach? If he had?

HALDEMAN
Yes.

NIXON
Did he see DeLoach?

HALDEMAN
Yes. He talked to DeLoach.

NIXON
DeLoach denies?

HALDEMAN
No. DeLoach says it’s true and that he has hard – he thinks – he has some hard evidence or some specifics that will lock the thing up.

NIXON
Will he say so?

HALDEMAN
I don’t know whether he’ll say so, but he’ll give us the information so that we can say so, and that’s all we need.

NIXON
Well, what I want is this from DeLoach. We know he knows who is in charge of that, probably is still in the Bureau, a bugger. Do you know what I mean? The point on that is that Gray gives him a lie detector test, calls him in, or asks him – do you see what I mean…? That’s what I’d like him to do. I’d like to get it so it’s nailed down in terms of evidence, rather than that DeLoach told Mitchell or that Hoover, a dead man, told Mitchell, because Johnson will lie about this, if necessary, if we have to use it. My only view is that I would not want to use this story at all. This is something that I would use only for purposes of-

This approach ends on the next day with Haldeman’s diary entry, and the report that if this is brought up, Johnson will most certainly hit back with you-know-what.

The back channel diplomacy looms over Watergate in these conversations, but it also overhangs perhaps the most flagrant criminal act planned in the White House during that administration. This involved what is often referred to as “the firebombing of the Brookings Institute,” a shorthand phrase which misrepresents the primary intent of the act. The firebombing was not an attempt at vandalism, intimidation, or a false flag operation to be blamed on leftist radicals, but a cover for the actual achievement that Nixon wanted to pull off, a theft of papers from the Brookings vault.

The best description of this theft I have found which was planned, but never pulled off, can be found in Will, a memoir by G. Gordon Liddy, one of the leaders of the Watergate burglary team who also performed various intelligence and sabotage operations on behalf of the White House:

I continued my close association with Howard Hunt [a former CIA agent and the other leader of the Watergate burglars], often lunching with him at his club in Georgetown, and it was again through Hunt that ODESSA [a group put together by Liddy for intelligence and sabotage operations in the service of the White House] received its next assignment. Daniel Ellsberg had been associated in the past with Morton Halperin and the Brookings Institution and, according to Colson as relayed by Hunt, either or both of them were believed to be using Brookings for storage of substantial additional amounts of classified documents at least as sensitive, if not more so, than the Pentagon Papers. Further, the Brookings security vault might have evidence shedding light on the identity of any of Ellsberg’s criminal associates in the purloining of Top Secret Defense files; whether Paul Warnke and Leslie Gelb were among them; and whoever delivered the classified documents to the Soviet Embassy. Could we get into the vault, say, by using a fire as a diversion, and retrieve the materials?

The problem appealed to me because I recognized it as one turned down earlier by Jack Caulfield [a private detective used by the White House for investigations of their enemies]. He had mentioned it to me, with much rolling of eyes and nodding of the head in the direction of Colson’s office, as something too “far out” for his imagination and too risky for his nerve. I thought it could be done and so did Hunt. The problem was that the cover under which out men went in there had to be first-rate, and that meant costly. We devised a plan that entailed buying a used but late-model fire engine of the kind used by the District of Columbia fire department and marking it appropriately; uniforms for a squad of Cubans and their training so their performance would be believable. Thereafter, Brookings would be firebombed by use of a delay mechanism timed to go off at night so as not to endanger lives needlessly. The Cubans in the authentic-looking fire engine would “respond” minutes after the timer went off, enter, get anybody in there out, hit the vault, and get themselves out in the confusion of other fire apparatus arriving, calmly loading “rescued” material into a van. The bogus engine would be abandoned at the scene. The taking of the material from the vault would be discovered and the fire engine traced to a cut-out buyer. There would be a lot of who-struck-John in the liberal press, but because nothing could be proved the matter would lapse into the unsolved-mystery category.

Hunt submitted the plan for approval, but this time the decision was swift. “No.” Too expensive. The White House wouldn’t spring for a fire engine.

The task given to Liddy by his superiors was to retrieve the documents in the safe at Brookings because these were part of the national security papers which Daniel Ellsberg had taken, photocopied, and leaked to New York Times. We know that this was not an entirely honest assessment of what was expected to be found in the safe, because in his memoir, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the former president provides a slight variation on why he wants this mad burglary to take place:

Ellsberg was not our only worry. From the first there had been rumors and reports of a conspiracy. The earliest report later discounted, centered on a friend of Ellsberg, a former Defense Department employee who was then a Fellow at the Brookings Institution. I remembered him from the early days of the administration when I had asked Haldeman to get me a copy of the Pentagon file on the events leading up to Johnson’s announcement of the bombing halt at the end of the 1968 campaign. I wanted to know what had actually happened; I also wanted the information as potential leverage against those in Johnson’s administration who were now trying to undercut my war policy. I was told that a copy of the bombing halt material and other secret documents had been taken from the Pentagon to Brookings by the same man. I wanted the documents back, but I was told that one copy of the bombing halt report had already “disappeared”; I was sure that if word got out that we wanted it, the copy at Brookings might disappear as well.

We might take Nixon at his word here, that he still genuinely thought the bombing halt was a political act, and he wished to know of the secret planning used to launch it as an attack against the campaign during the ’68 election, or that “the events leading up to Johnson’s announcement of the bombing halt” don’t refer to what took place on Johnson’s side, but on Nixon’s. That the “one copy of the bombing halt report had already ‘disappeared'” refers to some of the papers which Rostow took with him. Nixon, whatever his paranoia, whatever his delusions, knew that the backchannel work he orchestrated in ’68 was devastating enough that he made no mention or reference to it in his own memoir, leaving our entirely the name of Anna Chennault. Johnson may well have the restraint and code of honor to stay silent about the file against Nixon – but if something like the Rostow papers fell into the hands of other Democrats, would they show anything like the same discretion? Again, the obsession with the Brookings institute safe is not a single instance in Nixon’s memoir, but surfaces several times, often in his angriest, most frightening moments in the recordings of the White House. Transcript is from Kutler’s Abuse of Power, audio is taken from nixontapes.org, “Chronological Release 1: 443 hours of tapes released by the National Archives during 1999; recordings were made between February 1971 and July 1971”, specific audio file 524a, rmn_e524a.mp3 (segment is 28:55-31:22).

JUNE 17, 1971, THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN, EHRLICHMAN, AND KISSINGER, 5:17-6:13 P.M., OVAL OFFICE

A few days after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon discusses how to exploit the situation to his advantage. He is interested in embarrassing the Johnson Administration on the bombing halt, for example. Here, he wants a break-in at the Brookings Institution, a centrist Washington think tank, to find classified documents that might be in the Brookings safe.

HALDEMAN
You maybe can blackmail [Lyndon B.] Johnson on this stuff [Pentagon Papers].

NIXON
What?

HALDEMAN
You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff and it might be worth doing…The bombing halt stuff is all in that same file or in some of the same hands…

NIXON
Do we have it? I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it.

HALDEMAN
We can’t find it.

KISSINGER
We have nothing here, Mr. President.

NIXON
Well, damnit, I asked for that because I need it.

KISSINGER
But Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together.

HALDEMAN
We have a basic history in constructing our own, but there is a file on it.

NIXON
Where?

HALDEMAN
[Presidential aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God there’s a file on it and it’s at Brookings [Institution, a centrist Washington “think tank”].

NIXON
…Bob? Bob? Now do you remember Huston’s plan [for White House-sponsored break-ins as part of domestic counter-intelligence operations]? Implement it.

KISSINGER
…Now Brookings has no right to have classified documents.

PRESIDENT NIXON
…I want it implemented…Goddamnit, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.

HALDEMAN
They may well have cleaned them by now, but this thing, you need to-

KISSINGER
I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.

HALDEMAN
My point is Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them around.

Audio for the following is taken from nixontapes.org, “Chronological Release 1: 443 hours of tapes released by the National Archives during 1999; recordings were made between February 1971 and July 1971”, specific audio file 533a, rmn_e533a.mp3 (segment is 26:54-28:08).

JUNE 30, 1971: THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN, MITCHELL, KISSINGER, ZIEGLER, AND MELVIN LAIRD, 5:17-6:23 P.M., OVAL OFFICE

E. Howard Hunt, of later fame with the “Plumbers” and the Watergate break-in, was no stranger to Nixon. Here, the President wants to use Hunt’s talents for breaking into the Brookings.

NIXON
Alright. Incidentally, Brookings. I don’t want anybody at Brookings ever to come in. All their appearances here are cut off. Immediately. That clear? You know what our friend tells us.

HALDEMAN
Brookings has got a lot of stuff now. Don’t you want to send the Colonel over and pick it up?

NIXON
No no no no no. The thing to do-

HALDEMAN
A large file from the Defense Department downstairs- Brookings has no contracts, but they still have a lot of material-

NIXON
…They [the Brookings Institution] have a lot of material, the way I want that handled, Bob, I want Brookings, I want them just to break in and take it out. Do you understand?

HALDEMAN
Yeah. But you got to have to have somebody to do it.

NIXON
That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t discuss it here. You talk to [E. Howard Hunt]. I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in.

HALDEMAN
I don’t have any problem with breaking in. It’s a Defense Department approved security-

NIXON
Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.

HALDEMAN
Make an inspection of the safe.

NIXON
That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.

JULY 1, 1971 8:45-9:52 A.M.

NIXON
When you get to [John] Ehrlichman now, will you please get – I want you to find me a man by noon. I won’t be ready until 12:30 – a recommendation of the man to work directly with me on this whole situation. Do you know what I mean? I’ve got to have – I’ve got to have one – I mean, I can’t have a high minded lawyer like John Ehrlichman or, you know, Dean [John Dean, White House chief of staff] or somebody like that. I want somebody just as tough as I am for a change. Just as tough as I was in the Hiss case. Where we won the case in the press. These Goddamn lawyers, you know, all fighting around about, you know…I’ll never forget. They were all too worried about the [Charles] Manson case. I knew exactly what we were doing on Manson. You’ve got to win some things in the press.

These kids don’t understand. They have no understanding…of politics. They have no understanding of public relations. John Mitchell is that way. John is always worried about: “is it technically correct?” Do you think, for Christ sakes, that the New York Times is worried about all the legal niceties. Those sons of bitches are killing me. I mean, thank God, I leaked to the press [during the Hiss controversy]. This is what we’ve got to get – I want you to shake these (unintelligible) up around here. Now you do it. Shake them up. Get them off their Goddamn dead asses and say now that isn’t what you should be talking about. We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?

Did they get the Brookings Institute raided last night? No. Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute’s safe cleaned out and have it cleaned out in a way that it makes [it look like] somebody else broke in.

OLIVER STONE’S NIXON

This episode remained dormant in the three decades after Watergate, and afterwards I look at how, despite the influx of confirming information, it remained on the fringes, an incident perhaps too disturbing, too potentially disruptive, to be given public exposure. For this was a political moment where a presidential candidate did not simply act in a way which people might disagree with, but made sure to betray the people’s will. The voters of 1968 wanted an end to the war, and Richard Nixon, who claimed to speak for the common man, who claimed to write for the silent majority worked to prevent this taking place, so that a few thousand more common men might know the sweet cold dirt.

Before reaching that point, we might stop briefly in 1995, the year after the disgraced president’s death, when Oliver Stone’s Nixon was released. One might expect this man celebrated and vilified for his conspiracies, who prides himself on exposing the underside of American history to give space to this little known moment of collusion between a U.S. presidential candidate and the leadership of a foreign power, but Stone does not, and I think I know why: this conspiracy would interfere with the overarching conspiracy theory which Nixon presents. Nixon is a strange movie, in that I’m uncertain who it was made for; those ignorant of the president and his administration will be utterly lost as to what is taking place and even who many of the characters are, while those with knowledge of the events will be astonished at the dull superficiality with which it treats some of the most fascinating and squalid moments in White House history. In an otherwise perceptive review, “Poor Richard” by David Denby, has this sections contrasting this movie’s imaginative speculations with that of Stone’s JFK:

In all, Nixon sticks much closer to ascertainable fact than did JFK (which was, I admit, entirely reckless on the subject of Lyndon Johnson and the assassination of John F. Kennedy). Stone offers only one major speculative line – Nixon’s alleged involvement as vice-president in CIA plots to assassinate Castro. The plots failed, and the plotters, including Mafia gangsters and Cuban émigrés who became furious at Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs, connived in JFK’s assassination. (Or so Stone’s Nixon thinks.) Years later, even though he had nothing personally to do with Kennedy’s death, Nixon muses incoherently over the old conspiracies and secrets.

What this misses is that the movie’s entire conception is that Nixon inhabits a vast superstructure of conspiracy, by which he becomes president, who he eventually goes against, a betrayal that results in his eventual ouster from office. Nixon is played by Anthony Hopkins as a bewildered child, a middle aged man who still resembles a boy dressed in a business suit, an idiot savant with no sense for people but a genius for diplomacy. The movie makes its conception obvious in a sequence that takes place on the day before the assassination of John Kennedy. Visually, it is very well thought out. Kennedy will be killed while in his motorcade, and we start out in darkness with the corner title “1963 DALLAS” before bright lights switch on and we discover we are at a car show. The movie gives us its most striking image, one that has a power too often lacking in Oliver Stone’s movies, that of ambiguity: beautiful women in red, white, and blue walk about the car holding whips. They are chaste, yet very erotic, an eroticism in the service of industry, and the whips are either idle fun, sexual props, or symbols of menace. This points to the primary appeal for me of Nixon, the contrast of the staid square man, self-appointed representative of the silent majority, wandering among the discordant psychedelic imagery associated with the youth culture then revolting against him.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Nixon is at this car show, and he is not the villain in what follows – he wears a white hat. The true villain is the wealthy oilman named Jack Jones, and Jones invites Nixon to his mansion where a shadowy council of unnamed men meet. They despise Kennedy, want Nixon to run for president again, and they have a foreshadowing of what will take place the next day. Dialogue is taken from the script, available here:

JONES
Dick, these boys want you to run. They’re serious. They can deliver the South and they can put Texas in your column. That would’ve done it in ’60.

NIXON
Only if Kennedy dumps Johnson.

JONES
That sonofabitch Kennedy is coming back down here tomorrow. Dick, we’re willing to put up a shitpot fulla money to get rid of him — more money’n you ever dreamed of.

NIXON
Nobody’s gonna beat Kennedy in ’64 with all the money in the world.

CUBAN
Suppose Kennedy don’t run in ’64?

NIXON
Not a chance.

CUBAN
These are dangerous times, Mr. Nixon. Anything can happen.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Nixon leaves Dallas on the day of the assassination, and we have shots of him and those eagerly awaiting Kennedy looking expectantly up at the sky. The cabal that will make Nixon president controls their world like a god of the sky.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

After the assassination, there’s a scene with J. Edgar Hoover and his top lieutenant, Clyde Tolson.

TOLSON
It’s between Nixon and a Kennedy again, Edgar … Who do you want?

HOOVER
Kennedy — never. He’ll fry in hell for what he did to me. But Nixon doesn’t know that, which is why I’m gonna have to remind him he needs us a helluva lot more’n we need him.

Nixon meets Hoover and Colson at the Del Mar racetrack. A race is just finishing when the horse in the lead, Olly’s Boy, crashes to the ground, the script describing it as such, “Then, Olly Boy’s right foreleg snaps. It sounds like a rifle shot.” The horse falls just as the leading horse in the ’68 election, Bobby Kennedy fell. “Who do you want?” asks Tolson. Hoover: “Kennedy — never. He’ll fry in hell for what he did to me.” Hoover and the shadowy oilmen have arranged for Nixon to be president, expecting that he’ll do their bidding. Hoover: “I’m gonna have to remind him he needs us a helluva lot more’n we need him.”

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

We are given no details of the ’68 election, nothing of the advertising campaign and racial manipulation depicted in vital books like The Selling of the President by Joe McGinniss and Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills, as these would go against the movie’s thesis of a conspiratorial theory of history, a “beast” as the script calls it, that is a military industrial complex which remains an eternal power behind the throne, occasionally shuffling its figureheads. There can be no room for the Nixon-Chennault back channel either, because this would annihilate the movie’s universe and its conception of Nixon’s character. We would then have a man apart from the beast, from the security state, demonstrating full agency outside of this colossus, and working to prolong a war for his own selfish ends. If a shabby mediocrity like Nixon can act on his own against the wishes of the security state, then the colossus can’t be as all-powerful as this movie imagines it. In the service of a questionable idea, Nixon buries a substantial truth.

The only reference to the Nixon-Chennault episode anywhere this movie isn’t to be found in the film itself, but in the published screenplay, Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film, which is accompanied by a group of essays by veterans of the Watergate affair, such as John Dean and E. Howard Hunt, as well as journalists who covered the scandal. One of these is “Nixon’s Secrets” by the late newsman Daniel Schorr, a short essay that is more interesting than the accompanying film. The piece relates four of Nixon’s paranoid obsessions, what fueled those obsessions, and the lack of substantial basis for any of them. Three of the obsessions are the Bay of Pigs “Secret”, the Diem Assassination “Plot”, and the Hughes-O’Brien Threat. These involve, respectively, that beyond the seamy facts of the Cuban invasion and Castro assassination attempts there was an additional dark secret, that Kennedy had directly ordered the killing of the leader of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, and that Larry O’Brien, head of the Democratic National Committee, had knowledge of a secret loan made by Howard Hughes to the 1972 Nixon election campaign, which led to the break-in attempt of the DNC headquarters at the Watergate. The fourth obsession was the previously mentioned idée fixe that Lyndon Johnson had wiretapped Nixon’s campaign plane in ’68.

The two fragments from Schorr’s essay which follow are an introductory excerpt and the full segment devoted to the bugging of the campaign plane:

It is with no sense of vindictiveness that I examine what made this talented and tormented politician go off the rails. I conclude that his paranoia, whatever its origin, led him to imagine conspiracies that he came to believe and which served as premises for action. The line between deception and self-deception seemed often blurred, leading his subordinates to act on premises that sometimes mystified them. My research leads me to conclude that Nixon nourished at least four grand delusions.

3. The “Bugged” Campaign Plane

It was an article of faith for Nixon that all the dirty tricks, surveillance, and wiretaps he sponsored were simply getting back at Democrats who had done the same things. As his favorite example he often said that in 1968 the FBI had bugged his campaign plane on orders from President Lyndon Johnson. The FBI had, in fact, wiretapped a Nixon supporter, Mrs. Anna Chennault, who served as a contact with the Saigon government. But there had been no eavesdropping on Nixon or his campaign plane. Nevertheless, Nixon told Haldeman he thought the “Johnson bugging process” could be “cranked up” to get the former President to use his influence with congressional Democrats to call off the Watergate investigation.

The message was conveyed to the LBJ ranch and Johnson countered with the threat that “if the Nixon people are going to play with this,” he would release something about Nixon. That something was deleted from Haldeman’s published diary as a national security secret. However, the secret was revealed in the book, Hoover’s FBI by Cartha D. (Deke) DeLoach, who was number 3 in the FBI and liaison with the White House in both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. Not only did the FBI wiretap Anna Chennault but the National Security Agency intercepted and decoded cablegrams from the South Vietnamese Embassy to Saigon, urging that President Thieu hold off on peace negotiations to get a better deal from Nixon after the election.

What the FBI did not do, DeLoach says, is bug the Nixon campaign plane. For one thing, DeLoach told me, it would have been unfeasible to get a bug on a plane guarded by the Secret Service. But, soon after the election, says DeLoach, Director J. Edgar Hoover, currying favor with the new President-elect, visited him and told him his campaign plane had been bugged on President Johnson’s orders. It was a myth that Nixon believed, probably until his dying day.

The conspiratorial perspective of the movie is very close to that found in a paper by entrepreneur and investor Mark Gorton, that I came across in “The Astounding Conspiracy Theories of Wall Street Genius Mark Gorton” [archive link] by Hamilton Nolan. “Fifty Years of the Deep State” puts forth the thesis that an all-powerful cabal has ruled the United States for the past fifty years, one involved in drug running and murder, their behind the scenes shenanigans occasionally poking through the veil with the Iran-Contra scandal. In this narrative, George H. W. Bush is “the greatest criminal mastermind in American history.” Those who fought against the cabal, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, are felled by assassination and scandal. The section on Nixon, (specific page in scribd document, page 8, opening section is from the very beginning):

Dear Friends and Loved Ones,

Today, Nov 22, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. About 6 years ago, quite by accident, I took a passing interest in the assassination of JFK. My research into the assassination of JFK took me on a path into the dark underbelly of the CIA, and from there, I traced a web of criminality that ran throughout the huge sections of federal government, the political power structure, and the business interests that control our country.

As I researched more, I learned that the criminal network behind JFK’s assassination did not retire after his killing. Instead, the need to cover up past crimes has motivated them to commit more crimes in a never ending cycle that continues to this present day.

I have tracked this criminal network through time, and I have learned that this cabal has been the most significant political force in the United States for the last 50 years. Yet most people don’t have any idea that it exists.

Nixon’s Relationship with the Cabal

Nixon was not a Cabal member, but he was controllable. Nixon’s political career had been sponsored by Cabal members Prescott Bush and Dulles Brothers and their Eastern business establishment allies. During his first term, Nixon grappled with the CIA but did nothing serious to reign in its excesses.

As the Cabal behind the Coup of ’63 positioned itself for the 1972 election, Nixon still seemed to be the best option for them. Nixon had a reputation for using dirty tricks, and Nixon was certainly no angel, but much of the dirty, criminal political tricks done on Nixon’s behalf were the work of a network of people loyal not to Nixon but the Cabal.

Once Nixon was elected to his second term as president, he achieved a degree of independence that made him a danger to the Cabal. Deep down, Nixon was never as corrupt as core Cabal members, and toward the end of his first term, he began making plans to purge the entire senior leadership of the CIA. Unfortunately, Nixon did not realize that the CIA had the White House bugged and his senior staff filled with spies, so the Cabal leadership was well aware of Nixon’s plans. Nixon had a reputation for being paranoid. Yet he was not paranoid enough. His enemies had him surrounded to a degree which he did not understand.

Although Cabal members put Nixon on his path to power, they never trusted Nixon, and as early as 1966 (before Nixon is even an official candidate for President), the Cabal worked to booby trap Nixon’s administration, and in 1973, after Nixon had stopped being a compliant servant of the Cabal, they set off the booby trap in the form of the Watergate Coup, and they pulled Nixon down from power just as they put him up.

The traditional story of Watergate is one where Nixon does a bunch of bad things, gets caught, tries to cover it up, and is forced to resign; however, in reality Watergate was a plot by the Cabal behind the Coup of ’63 and corrupt elements within the CIA and military intelligence to depose Nixon.

This is a movie with a president without the freedom of movement to engage in cruel, callous tactics for the pursuit of his own ends, his entire self tied down by the complex he inhabits. He meets with the student protesters at the Lincoln Memorial, and he is startled at how adeptly they diagnose the essential truth. He is powerless, with the choice to start or end a war lying elsewhere.

STUDENT 2
Come on, man — Vietnam ain’t Germany. It doesn’t threaten us. It’s a civil war between the Vietnamese.

NIXON
But change always comes slowly. I’ve withdrawn more than half the troops. I’m trying to cut the military budget for the first time in thirty years. I want an all-volunteer army. But it’s also a question of American credibility, our position in the world…

YOUNG WOMAN
You don’t want the war. We don’t want the war. The Vietnamese don’t want the war. So why does it go on?

YOUNG WOMAN (CONT’D)
Someone wants it …(a realization) You can’t stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it’s not you. It’s the system. And the system won’t let you stop it …

NIXON
There’s a lot more at stake here than what you want. Or even what I want…

YOUNG WOMAN
Then what’s the point? What’s the point of being president? You’re powerless.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

The movie’s Nixon does what he can, given his limited freedom of movement. He reduces military spending, he opens relations with Russia and China, he eventually brings the troops home from Vietnam. He stands up to the cabal which appointed him.

JACK JONES
Mr. President–aren`t you forgetting who put you where you are?

NIXON
The American people put me where I am, Jack.

JONES
Really. Well, that can be changed.

NIXON
Jack, l`ve learned politics is the art of compromise. I learned it the hard way. I don`t know if you have. Well, let me tell you this, Jack. lf you don`t like it, there`s an election in November… and you can take your money out in the open and give it to Wallace. How about it, Jack? You willing to do that? Hand this country over to some pansy poet socialist like George McGovern? `Cause if you`re not happy with the E.P.A. up your ass…try the I.R.S.

JONES
Goddamn, Dick. You`re not threatenin` me, are ya?

NIXON
Presidents don`t threaten, Jack. They don`t have to. Good day to you, gentlemen. Thank you.

It is after this that Watergate, led by former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt, takes place. Hunt was at the Bay of Pigs, and he’s often named in conspiracy theories as one of the actual assassins in the killing of JFK. The movie tells us what it thinks was lost on the infamous eighteen and a half minute gap on the tapes handed over the White House: that those brought in to kill Castro would go on to kill Kennedy. They are agents of the Beast, the same Beast that is now ousting Nixon after he rebelled against it.

NIXON (on tape)
…these guys went after Castro. Seven times, ten times … What do you think — people like that, they just give up? They just walk away? Whoever killed Kennedy came from this…this thing we created. This Beast…That’s why we can’t let this thing go any farther.

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

We see Nixon erase this section when the ghost of his mother, Hannah Nixon, appears in the room, and his relationship to the Beast is analogous to his feelings towards his mother, a severe merciless woman. He wishes to please her, he wants her to accept him, yet he also despises and resists her. Two Kennedy brothers die, and the path is cleared for him to become president. Two of his brothers die, and his family now has the money for him to go to college. Richard Nixon pleases the Beast by sword rattling, hippie punching, bombing Laos and Vietnam. He fights against it through detente and defense cuts. “Richard Nixon is a giant of a tragic figure in the classical Greek or Shakespearean tradition,” Stone says in an interview from Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film “Humble origins, rising to the top, then crashing down in a heap of hubris. Nixon himself said that he had been to the highest peaks and the lowest valleys.” There is, however a key difference between the tragic figures of Shakespeare and this Nixon, one that is tied to the movie’s conception and fatal to its effectiveness. Shakespeare may have been worked in a society that resembled a modern police state, but his characters are ultimately free in their choices, and their tragic errors. The choices of Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Richard III, and others, are their own, not a result of entrapment with any larger system. It is this freedom which creates the tension within their characters, that the very thing they want will destroy them, yet they continue to pursue it anyway – and it is this which makes them fascinating. The contrasting lack of freedom of this movie’s Nixon is what makes him so dull.

THE TREASON OF RICHARD NIXON: FROM POSSIBILITY TO CERTAINTY

PART ONE PART TWO

(All images from Nixon copyright Cinergi Pictures; header image from Point Break copyright Twentieth Century Fox.)

(Clark Clifford’s perspective on the November 11 White House meeting excerpted from his Counsel to the President was added on April 9th, 2014. Many spelling mistakes, mostly in the transcripts, were corrected on that day as well. On April 10th, the quote from Oliver Stone about Nixon resembling a Shakespearean figure was added, as was the document dating the George Smathers conversation, as well the section of the conversation between Nixon and Johnson dealing with John Tower, and Don Fulsom’s observations on Tower and Chennault. The photo of Anna Chennault was added on the same day. The section on the conspiracy theories of Mark Gorton was added on April 11th, 2014. On April 21, 2014, the embedded youtube clip of Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen’s phone call on November 2nd was added. On April 22nd, 2014, a slightly different version of this video was embedded, with two minor errors in the transcript fixed. On that same day, the youtube video of the conversation between Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon was embedded. The youtube clip of the phone call between George Smathers and Lyndon Johnson was embedded on that day as well. On April 25th, 2014, the youtube clip of the phone call between Richard Russell and Lyndon Johnson was embedded. On April 27th, the youtube clip of Everett Dirksen speaking to Lyndon Johnson on October 31st was embedded. On that same date, it was discovered that some of the footnotes had been cut off in one of the last edits. They were put back into place on this date. On April 28, 2014, the youtube clip of the conference call of Rostow, Rusk, and Clifford was embedded. On April 30th, 2014, the video of the October 16 conference call was embedded. On May 1, 2014, the youtube of the November 3 conversation between Johnson and Rusk was embedded. On May 5th, 2014, the section dealing with Cartha DeLoach’s testimony before the Church Committee was added. On this same day, what information Cartha DeLoach passed on to Lyndon Johnson about the calls from Spiro Agnew’s plane was made more specific. On May 6th, 2014, the sentence “Here, DeLoach is asked about the bugging of Agnew by Senator Phil Hart of Michigan. Unfortunately, no context is given for the wiretapping request” was corrected to “Here, DeLoach is asked about the retrieval of Agnew’s phone records by Senator Phil Hart of Michigan. Unfortunately, no context is given for this records request”, as DeLoach only retrieved the records and the discussion in the Church Committee dealt with this, rather than wiretapping of Agnew. On May 7th, 2014, the section from Jules Witcover’s memoir and the accompanying footnote #2 were added. On July 2nd, 2014, the material connected with the book The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy was added. On August 22, 2014, direct links were put in to the phone calls on youtube, to make it easier to go to conversational fragments; while doing so, I discovered that a phone call between Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson that had taken place on November 8 had been placed as part of a conversation on November 3; I corrected the error on that day. Neither the mistake nor the correction affects anything in the larger thesis, the analysis presented, or how Nixon might perceived – the fake unctuousness that appeared to be part of the fake unctuousness of November 3 actually took place five days later. During the week of September 22nd, 2014, numerous youtube clips were added and uploaded which supplemented the transcripts of Richard Nixon discussing the break-in at Brookings and the 1968 campaign surveillance. On October 14 and October 15, videos were embedded of the November 8 conversations between Johnson and Dirksen, and between Johnson and Nixon.)

FOOTNOTES FOR COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT BY CLARK CLIFFORD

10 Most of those involved in this extraordinary episode have told their version of it, none strike me as completely candid, but they are all useful. See Anna Chennault, The Education of Anna (New York Times Books, 1980), p. 174, Diem and Chanoff, In the Jaws of History, pp. 235-46, Nguyen Tien Hung and Jerold L. Schecter, The Palace File (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), pp. 23-30.

11 The Education of Anna, p. 174.

12 In the Jaws of History, pp. 244-45

13 The Education of Anna, p. 176.

14 Ibid p. 190; and The Palace File, p. 29.

15 Carl Solberg, Hubert Humphrey: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), pp. 391 and 394.

16 Hubert H. Humphrey, The Education of a Public Man: My Life and Politics (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976)

FOOTNOTES FOR THE ARROGANCE OF POWER BY ANTHONY SUMMERS

23 It was previously thought that Chennault merely sent a letter to Nixon in Kansas City. Yet her calendar bears the entry “10/16 to meet R. Nixon in Kansas City, MO.” (Re: letter: Safire, op. cit., p. 90, and detail at Forslund, op. cit., p. 29-.)

24 In her 1980 book Chennault said she responded by telling Mitchell she thought it unwise to “try to influence the Vietnamese.” This seems at odds with her interviews with the author, cited earlier, in which she said she was told to promise the South Vietnamese they would get a better deal with Nixon in the White House. (not “try to influence”: Chennault, op. cit., p. 190.)

25 A report from Rostow to President Johnson, ten days after the event, said that the “phone call to the Lady was at 1:41 P.M. EST. . . .” Agnew had arrived in Albuquerque at 1:15 P.M. EST. Another Rostow report, drawing on FBI surveillance, states that Chennault left her Washington apartment at 1:45 P.M. EST. In his reconstruction of the sequence of events for the president, Rostow referred to having received “new times” on Agnew’s movements. The initial FBI report contained contradictory times. It also offered an earlier time-1:30 P.M.-for Chennault’s departure from home. (Rostow ten days after: Rostow to president, Nov. 12, 1968; re: Rostow and Chennault 1:45 P.M.: Rostow to president, Nov. 2, 1968, both in “X” Envelope; initial FBI report: Cartha DeLoach to Clyde Tolson, Nov. 19, 1968, FBI 65-62098-266.)

26 Chennault told both this author and another researcher that she did not remember having received a call from New Mexico. She speculated that if she had been overheard referring to New Mexico, she was probably meaning to refer to New Hampshire, home state of Robert Hill, one of those she had nominated to Nixon as go-betweens. The documentary record, however, seems to be more reliable on this matter than Chennault’s memory. (Other researcher: conv. Catherine Forslund.)

27 It was Nixon who called Johnson, not vice versa, as is often reported. Having spoken with the president, the Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen had passed word that “something had to be done in a hurry to cool him off.” According to William Safire, Dirksen thought Johnson was “ready to blow his stack-and blow the whistle on the Nixon campaign’s attempt to defeat his peace efforts by getting President Thieu to hold back. Anna Chennault’s name was mentioned.” The message was so troubling that Nixon was roused from his bed and agreed to phone Johnson. (RN made call: Forslund, op. cit., citing LBJ sources, including Defense Communications Operations Unit; Safire, op. cit., p. 93, and MEM, p. 320, contradicting, for example, Witcover, op. cit., p. 442; “something had to be done”: Safire, op. cit., p. 93.)

29 Chennault said she was pressured not to talk by Herb Klein, Nixon law firm colleague Tom Evans, Senators Everett Dirksen and John Tower, and Robert Hill. (Chennault, op. cit., p. 193-; int. Herb Klein.)

30 Chennault did not reveal what she knew for a long time, but it is not surprising that Nixon’s people were nervous. Interviewed before the 1969 inauguration by Tom Ottenad, a reporter on the trail of the story, she said: “You’re going to get me in a lot of trouble. . . . I can’t say anything . . . come back and ask me that after the inauguration. We’re at a very sensitive time. . . . I know so much and can say so little.” In September 1969 she asserted: “Whatever I did during the campaign the Republicans, including Mr. Nixon, knew about.” In 1974 she further amplified that statement: “From the first conversation [with the South Vietnamese] I made it clear I was speaking for Mr. Nixon. . . .” By 1979, with Nixon long disgraced, she was starting to offer more detail. The blanket denials of the Nixon side had upset her, but, she said resignedly, “It was a very vicious campaign. Politics is a very cruel game.” Tom Corcoran said in 1981: “People have used Chennault scandalously, Nixon in particular, I know exactly what Nixon said to her, and then he repudiated her.” (Jan. 1969 int.: Boston Globe, Jan. 6, 1969; Sept. 1969 int.: Washingtonian, Sept. 1969; 1974 int.: Howe and Trott, op. cit., p. 48; 1979 int.: Washington Star, Aug. 20, 1979; Corcoran: WP, Feb. 18, 1981, cited at Forslund, op. cit., p. 52, fn.)

FOOTNOTES FOR THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 1968 BY THEODORE H. WHITE

* For Nixon, under the menace of the Anna Chennault episode, possibly about to be cast by Democrats as the great saboteur of peace, the question was the most pointed. He solved it by questioning not the President’s politics, but his judgement. In elaboration of this theme, Finch was authorized to brief the press and charge that the President had been either irresponsible or premature in announcing a deal before “he had gotten all his ducks in a row.” The President, hearing this had, on Nixon’s instructions, fluttered the ducks in Saigon, brought the matter up in his telephone call to Nixon on Sunday in Los Angeles. After Nixon had mollified the President on major matters, Johnson inquired, “Who’s this guy Fink you got?” “It’s Finch, not Fink,” replied Nixon. “What’s he doing making statements like that without your knowledge?” “Well,” said Nixon, as reported by those who overheard the conversation, “you know how it is, you had George Ball making statements in your administration.” “George Ball isn’t any longer with this administration.”

FOOTNOTES

1 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

FBI cable on Chennault mention of the big boss

Received Washington CommCen
9:08 P.M. EDT Monday 4 Nov 68

Received LBJ Ranch CommCen
8:34 P.M. CDT Monday 4 Nov 68

EEA659
00 WTE10
DE WTE 4183

FROM WALT ROSTOW
TO THE PRESIDENT
CITE CAP82650

S E C R E T

THE NEW MEXICO REFERENCE MAY INDICATE AGNEW IS ACTING.

TWO REPORTS FOLLOW.

REPORT ONE:

On November Two Instant, a confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, reported that Mrs. Anna Chennault contacted Vietnamese Ambassador, Bui Diem, and advised him that she had received a message from her boss (not further identified), which her boss wanted her to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to “hold on, we are gonna win” and that her boss also said “hold on, he understands all of it”. She repeated that this is the only message “he said please tell your boss to hold on.” She advised that her boss had just called from New Mexico.

REPORT TWO:

The November One, last, edition of the “Washington Post,” a daily newspaper in the Washington, D.C. area, carried an article concerning Mrs. Anna Chennault. The article indicated that Mrs. Chennault intended to proceed to New York City where she would await the election results on November Five, next, with presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon.

On November Two, Instant, at Seven Ten A.M., Mrs. Chennault’s car was observed in the parking garage at Two Five One Zero [2510] Virginia Avenue, N. W.

At One Forty Five P.M., she departed her residence and entered the automobile. It was being driven by her chauffeur and proceeded to the Baltimore-Washington parkway where it was last observed heading north at Two Fifteen P.M.

Arrangements have been made with the New York office of the FBI for them to observe the car en route and to undertake discreet surveillance with reference to her activities while in New York.

DTG: 030208Z NOV 1968

DECLASSIFIED
E.O. 12958, Sec. 3.6
NLJ 00-231
By com, NARA Date 12-19-00

2 A fascinating section of Witcover’s memoir is devoted to this episode, of which I have included only one paragraph for the main text. The section is on the Google Books excerpt of this memoir, beginning on page 130. It touches on many of the moments, detailed in this post such as the investigation of reporter Tom Ottenad and the secret envelope of Walt Rostow. All of it is worthwhile reading, but I bold one especially striking moment, not of revelation, but assessment by an experienced veteran journalist:

Once Humphrey made his break with Johnson on Vietnam policy, however, he rapidly began to close the gap with Nixon in all the polls. The election came down to the final weekend, with much riding on whether LBJ could bring the South Vietnamese regime to the peace table with the North Vietnamese in Paris. Johnson, through FBI and CIA surveillance and wiretaps of the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, received strong indications that Nixon and/or his campaign at the last hour had derailed the talks by promising the Saigon regime a better deal under a Nixon presidency.

My friend and colleague, the intrepid Tom Ottenad of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Washington bureau, at this time scared hell out of the White House. “Eyes Only” memos to LBJ from National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, when later unsealed, revealed Tom’s urgent inquiries about the behavior of Nixon supporter Anna Chennault, the Chinese-born wife of the American commander of the famous Flying Tigers of World War II. She was in close touch with the Saigon embassy and Ottenad pressed Rostow on whether she was conveying a deal from Nixon to South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. Rostow wrote Johnson, “The lady is about to surface.”

Astonishingly, I learned later, when writing a book about the incredible year of 1968 [this is The Year the Dream Died: Revisiting 1968 in America, reviewed in the Times by Sidney Blumenthal, “Annus Horribilis”, a review which mentions the Chennault episode], that Johnson had turned over incriminating evidence about Chennault’s activities to Humphrey for use in the final days of the campaign. The idea was that such as act of treason would sink Nixon and elect Humphrey. But Humphrey declined to use it, partly because he felt he could not reveal the sources of the classified material, and – remarkably – he doubted that voters would believe Tricky Dick capable of such an act! Later, in his memoir, Humphrey recounted a memo of his own at the time: “I wonder if I should have blown the whistle on Anna Chennault and Nixon. I wish [his italics] I could have been sure. Damn Thieu. Dragging his feet this past weekend hurt us. I wonder if that call did it. If Nixon knew. Maybe I should have blasted them anyway.”

One of Johnson’s chief aides then, Joe Califano, told me later that Humphrey’s refusal to use the information against Nixon, which would have charged him with a major criminal offense, “became an occasion for a lasting rift” between LBJ and Humphrey. “Johnson thought Hubert had no balls, no spine, no toughness,” Califano reported.

Much later also, I tracked down Anna Chennault at a small office she kept in Georgetown, and while saying she could not talk because she was writing a book of her own (yet to appear), she insisted she had acted under instructions from the Nixon campaign in contacting the Saigon regime. “The only people who knew about the whole operation,” she told me, “were Nixon, John Mitchell [Nixon’s campaign manager] and John Tower [senator from Texas and Nixon campaign figure], and they’re all dead. But they knew what I was doing. Anyone who knows about these things knows I was getting orders to do these things. I couldn’t do anything without instructions.”

In 1973, Rostow sent a sealed envelope to the LBJ Library in Austin containing “a file President Johnson asked me to hold personally because of its sensitive nature” that “contains the activities of Mrs. Chennault and others before and immediately after the election of 1968.” Rostow recommended that the file be kept secret for fifty years. The embargo later was lifted and the file sent to appropriate federal agencies for clearance. But my repeated efforts to gain access have been turned down, with unofficial assurance that no “smoking gun” confirming intervention by the Nixon campaign is included. There the matter rests in what could be a story every bit as significant historically as the Watergate cover-up. The opening of the file apparently will have to await another Democratic administration [this memoir was published in 2005], and might not happen even then. My efforts to get it continued through the Clinton years, to no avail, and again after Rostow’s death in 2002.

3 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

top secret memo from Bromley Smith still classif

4 From “In Your Heart You Know He’s Nixon” by Gloria Steinem:

My seat mate, Ed McDaniels, a quiet forceful man who heads the Capitol Recording Company in Washington, a firm specializing in the radio and television electronic needs of political campaigns, had been with Nixon in 1960, and assured me that the candidate hadn’t changed at all. “Cuba was an issue then,” he explained, “but of course Mr. Nixon couldn’t say anything, because he might have given away the invasion we were planning. That’s the big difference: Kennedy had Nixon in a tough spot because he was Vice President, and now Nixon has Humphrey over the same barrel.”

Had Nixon’s attitude toward Communism changed over the years? “Oh no, absolutely not,” he said, obviously glad to praise his candidate. “He understands those people. He knows you have to be tough or they’ll take us over. You see, I have some special knowledge-though, of course, Mr. Nixon has more. I happen to know he’s had top secret briefings – but I have some knowledge from old friends in the military. They come back and tell me the way it really is. If we don’t stop the Chinese here, they’ll keep right on going. Of course, he can’t say anything about Vietnam because it might interfere with the talks in Paris. Mr. Nixon’s a man of real integrity-he won’t take advantage of his special knowledge if it would help Ho Chi Minh, But he knows the enemy, and he knows they hope to win because of all these misguided sympathizers pressuring us here. I’m for him because he won’t let that happen. I’m the head of this company, and I wouldn’t go out in the field for anyone else.”

We can determine when these remarks were made because the article is divided up into sequential days, and this episode takes place on a Friday, and the subsequent Sunday section tells us “Today’s New York Times carried a front page story, “Nixon Visits Negro Slum And Warns White Suburbs,””, and that piece, “Nixon Visits Negro Slum And Warns White Suburbs; SUBURBIA HEARS A NIXON WARNING”, is listed with a date of September 22, 1968.

5 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Direct link to the original file (mp3 audio): 13548. Transcript is taken from the Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, “WH6810-04-13547-13548”.

6 From the Nixon Library’s “White House Special Files Box 35 Folder 15 – WHSF35-15” (specific page, page 4):

Richard Nixon Treason Possibility to Certainty

7 From the Nixon Library’s “White House Special Files Box 35 Folder 15 – WHSF35-15” (specific page, page 6).

8 From the Nixon Library’s “White House Special Files Box 35 Folder 15 – WHSF35-15” (specific page, page 5).

9 That “DC” was Nixon’s code name in any campaign intercommunication is mentioned in The Arrogance of Power by Anthony Summers:

In July the following year, as the election drew nearer, Chennault went to the Nixon apartment with South Vietnam’s ambassador Bui Diem-a visit documented by both their diaries. A surviving internal staff memo addressed to “DC,” Nixon’s campaign pseudonym, pointed out that it “would have to be absolute [sic] top secret.” “Should be,” Nixon replied in a scrawled notation, “but I don’t see how-with the S.S. [Secret Service] If it can be [secret] RN would like to see. . . .”

10 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. The transcript is my own:

NSA report Oct 28 1968

T O P S E C R E T TRINE

XXMMENP01FTB31108
3/0[REDACTED]T44-68
[REDACTED]

THIEU’S VIEWS ON PEACE TALKS AND BOMBING HALT

XXCC
[REDACTED] 28 OCT 68 [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]
[REDACTED]

SECRET.
((THIS IS)) A SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT ON MR. THIEU’S SPEECH [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]
1. Since the Vietnamese government is ardently laboring [REDACTED] together with the U.S. side to put into practice the items that were naturally agreed upon at the U.S.-Vietnamese Honolulu Summit Conference (19 July), President Thieu emphasized the point that President Johnson must also keep his promises.

((Thieu)) said that it appears that Mr. Nixon will be elected as the next president, and he thinks it would be good to try to solve the important question of the political talks with the next president (no matter who is elected. ((Thieu)) believes that our standpoint should be prepared and strengthened now rather than in the future.

3. As for the Vietnamese reaction to Mr. Humphrey’s statement that “Vietnam does not have the right to reject a decision to halt the bombing”, etc. etc. there was a temporary aggravation, and there was an anti-american demonstration with adherents to the Catholic and Hoa Hao religions taking the initiative.

4. The general sentiment ((both)) domestic and foreign, towards Thieu’s 22 October special proclamation was that it was good and a number of Paris newspapers supported his views (the [REDACTED] was not mentioned, and next, ((it)) will depend upon Hanoi’s attitude.

5. On the U.S. side, rumors are spreading that one cannot predict what President Thieu is going to do and is adopting a much too stubborn attitude.

Reference: at the time of the Vietnamese-U.S. talks, the Vietnamese side consisted for the most part of the president, vice president and foreign minister, the U.S. side attended with their ambassador, deputy ambassador, and Mr. Hertz, minister for political affairs.

[REDACTED]

XXHH
350

SANITIZED
Authority NLJ 10-97
By com, NARA, Date 12-17-10

11 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

Eugene Rostow memo Eugene Rostow second memo

Eugene Rostow source identified as Alexander Sac

12 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

Rostow memo (1)

May 14, 1973

MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD

The attached file contains the information available to me and (I believe) the bulk of the information available to President Johnson on the activities of Mrs. Chennault and other Republicans just before the presidential election of 1968.

As the raw data themselves indicate (and the chronologies I prepared for the President on November 7 and November 11, 1968), the story falls into three parts:

— the period from October 17 to October 29;

— the period from October 29 to the election, November 5;

— the post-election period.

From October 17 to October 29 we received diplomatic intelligence of Saigon’s uneasiness with the apparent break in Hanoi’s position on a total bombing cessation and with the Johnson Administration’s apparent willingness to go forward. This was an interval, however, when Hanoi backed away from the diplomatic breakthrough of the second week of October. Only towards the end of the month was the agreement with Hanoi re-established. As late as October 28, Thieu, despite the uneasiness of which we were aware, told Amb. Bunker he would proceed, as he had agreed about two weeks earlier. [REDACTED]

In the early morning hours of October 29 the President and his advisers met with Abrams. Before going to that meeting, I was telephoned at home by my brother, Eugene Rostow. He reported the first of his messages from New York on Republican strategy — from Alexander Sachs.

During the meeting with Abrams word came from Bunker of Thieu’s sudden intransigence. The diplomatic information previously received plus the information from New York took on new and serious significance.

President Johnson, in the course of October 29, instructed Bromley Smith, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, to get in touch with the Deputy Director of the FBI, Deke DeLoach and arrange that contacts by Americans with the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington be monitored.

SANITIZED
E.O. 13526, Sec. 3.5
NLJ 10-96
By isl NARA, Date 1-10-11

Rostow memo (2)

This was done, yielding the FBI evidence the folder contains.

Before the election, President Johnson asked Rusk, Clifford, and me to consider the question of whether the story should be made public. On November 4 we recommended unanimously against that course on the grounds indicated in paragraph 3 of my teletype report to President Johnson, then at his Ranch.

President Johnson agreed.

Therefore, he continued, as he had since October 29, to confine his actions to the implications of Mrs. Chennault’s effort for foreign policy. He indicated to Nixon and (probably) Dirksen that he was aware of “China Lobby” activity interfering with peace negotiations and wished it to stop. (I can only vouch personally for his reference during the conference call with the three candidates on October 31; but on the basis of President Johnson’s later recollections, it is likely that he took the matter up more bluntly with Dirksen on November 2 and when Nixon called on him at the Ranch on November 3.

After the election, he actively sought and obtained Nixon’s cooperation (via Dirksen) in delivering the word that the President-elect wished the South Vietnamese to proceed to cooperate in moving towards a negotiation with Hanoi.

Press clippings reflecting the incident we collected; and, as the file indicates, the matter arose subsequently from time to time.

So much by way of a brief guide to the file.

* * *

I would only add these personal reflections as of mid-May 1973.

I am inclined to believe the Republican operation in 1968 relates in two ways to the Watergate affair of 1972.

First, the election of 1968 proved to be close and there was some reason for those involved on the Republican side to believe their enterprise with the South Vietnamese and Thieu’s recalcitrance may have sufficiently blunted the impact on U.S. politics of the total bombing halt and agreement to negotiate to constitute the margin of victory.

Second, they got away with it. Despite considerable press commentary after the election, the matter was never investigated fully.

Rostow memo (3)

Thus, as the same men faced the election of 1972, there was nothing in their previous experience with an operation of doubtful propriety (or, even, legality) to warn them off; and there were memories of how close an election could get and the possible utility of pressing to the limit — or beyond.

W. W. Rostow

13 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

FBI intercept on Chennault

14 Transcript is partly my own and taken partly from “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal.” The original files can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Conversation is made up of two files. Direct links to audio files (mp3 format): 13612, 13613.

Transcript is on Pastebin: “October 30 1968: Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell”.

15 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Conversation is made up of three files. Direct links to audio files (mp3 format): 13614, 13616, 13617.

Transcript is my own, and on Pastebin: “October 31 1968: Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen”.

16 Transcript taken from “Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969: Documents 142-169”, Document 166: “Transcript of Telephone Conversation Among President Johnson, Vice President Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and George Wallace”.

17 Video of the speech can be found on youtube: “The President: October 1968. MP901.” A transcript of the speech can be found at the Miller Center: “Remarks on the Cessation of Bombing of North Vietnam (October 31, 1968)”.

18 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Direct links to audio files (mp3 format): 13701. Transcript is taken from “Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969 Documents 170-192: November 1-12, 1968: South Vietnamese Abstention From the Expanded Peace Conference; the Anna Chennault Affair”, “171. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Robert McNamara”.

19 Transcript taken from “Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969 Documents 170-192: November 1-12, 1968: South Vietnamese Abstention From the Expanded Peace Conference; the Anna Chennault Affair”: “172. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator Richard Russell”.

20 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. The transcript is my own:

NSA Thieu report (1)

ZCZCKAB647
PP [REDACTED]
DE [REDACTED] 2972250
P 232045Z
FM DIRNSA
TO WHITE HOUSE (ATTN: MR ARTHUR MCCAFFERTY)
ZEM
T O P S E C R E T TRINE

TRANSMITTED HEREWITH IS A [REDACTED] MESSAGE.
PLEASE ADVISE IF ANY LIMITATIONS ON DISTRIBUTION ARE REQUIRED.
THIS MESSAGE WAS TRANSMITTED TO THE WHITE HOUSE ONLY.
[REDACTED]
XXMMENP01FTB23108
3/0/[REDACTED] -68
[REDACTED]

THIEU’S VIEWS ON NLF PARTICIPATION IN VIETNAMESE GOVERNMENT

XXCC
[REDACTED] 19 OCT 68 [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]

[REDACTED] OF WHAT PRESIDENT THIEU SAID
[REDACTED] ON 18 OCTOBER.

1. President Thieu pointed out the facts that had been discussed [REDACTED] along with what was reported [REDACTED] concerning the NLF delegation’s eligibility to participate in political talks, the thing they cannot come to an agreement on, President Thieu said he concurs on the items that were agreed upon at the unofficial talks between the U.S. and North Vietnamese delegations, and, as for what U.S. ambassador to Korea Porter said, the problem lies in the understanding.

He said that the reason for the Vietnamese government opposing the NLF’s participation in the political talks in an independent capacity is that the Vietnamese constitution holds the communist party to be illegal, and the point is that the NLF shifts its position at Hanoi’s beck and call; accordingly, ((Thieu)) is adopting the viewpoint that it is all right for the ((NLF)) to participate as a member of Hanoi’s delegation. He said that in the event that the NLF delegation participates in an independent capacity it would not merely mean that we are legalizing the communist party, but the communist side would maintain their coalition, and since we do not know what demands thy would make on the U.S. and Vietnamese governments, we must prevent this.

NSA Thieu report (2)

4. In this matter of the NLF delegation’s eligibility, he is conscious of the necessity of [REDACTED] clearly to the U.S. side the Vietnamese government’s viewpoint before the opening of the political talks. The reason for this is that, for the sake of protecting ourselves against the great possibility, after the political talks are held, of U.S. and world opinion criticizing just the Vietnamese government one-sidedly when the Vietnamese government’s delegation thinks the circumstances ((dictated)) withdrawing from the site of the talks on the NLF matter.

5. [REDACTED] as to whether or not the Vietnamese are opposing the U.S. in this and concerning the possibility ((of the U.S.)) making a decisive move to halt the bombing alone; the following [REDACTED]

He said the U.S. can, of course, cease bombing, but is unable to block Vietnam ((from bombing)). Concerning the enforcement of the bombing halt, this will help candidate Humphrey and this is the purpose of it; but the situation which would occur as the result of a bombing halt, without the agreement of Vietnamese government, rather than being a disadvantage to candidate Humphrey, would be to the advantage of candidate Nixon. Accordingly, he said that the possibility of President Johnson enforcing a bombing halt without Vietnam’s agreement appears to be weak; [REDACTED] just how effective can it be within the short time before the election, even though it is effectively enforced?

6. He said that since the military and political situations within Vietnam are developing to our advantage, the longer we can delay the time ((of the bombing halt)) the greater will be the advantage to the Vietnamese side.

7. He said that in the even the present government recognize the NLF, they will lose the confidence of the people and would not be able to ([REDACTED] control) them. Military authorities or a group of powerful anti-communist people might undertake a revolution.

8. At this time, [REDACTED] to President Thieu the new stand that [REDACTED] the President is adopting, as in item two of [REDACTED] that there is no difference between Korea’s stand in the matter and that of the Vietnamese government, shed light on the point that ((Korea)) is strongly backing ((the Vietnamese government)) and [REDACTED] the opinion that it is best that [REDACTED] two countries work closely together and take as much time as possible ((on these matters).

[REDACTED]
((A)) Not available.
((B)) In series check.
[REDACTED]
XXHH
800

21 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Direct link to audio file (mp3 format) is: 13706. Transcript is partly my own and partly from “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal.”. Transcript is on Pastebin: “November 2, 1968: Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen”.

22 See footnote #1.

23 See footnote #1.

24 See footnote #19.

25 See footnote #19.

26 See footnote #19.

27 See footnote #19.

28 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Direct link to audio file (mp3 format) is: 13710. Transcript from “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968 Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, Document 187”.

29 Transcript excerpt is taken from “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968 Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, Document 188”. Audio can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”, direct link to file (mp3 format) is: 13711.

30 Audio is taken from file on youtube “Smathers LBJ VN68”, via “Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal.”. The following transcript is partly my own, and partly taken from “Did Nixon Commit Treason”.

I was unable to obtain the time and date of this conversation from “Highlights from LBJ’s Telephone Conversations: May 1968 – January 1969”. However, one can determine that it took place late in the day of November 3, 1968 from this phone call summary. Document taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'”:

Smathers to Johnson White House summary

THE WHITE HOUSE

WASHINGTON

Senator Smathers called to report on a call he got from Nixon. Nixon said he understands the President is ready to blast him for allegedly collaborating with Tower and Chennault to slow the peace talks. Nixon says there is not any truth at all in this allegation. Nixon says there has been no contact at all.

Tonight on “Meet the Press” Nixon will again back up the President and say he (Nixon) would rather get peace now than be President. Also tomorrow night, Nixon will say he will undertake any assignment the President has for him whether that be to go to Hanoi or Paris or whatever in order to get peace.

Nixon told Smathers he hoped the President would not make such a charge.

JimJ
11:25 am
11-3-68

JOHNSON
Then our friend-not the Vice President, but the former Vice President-

SMATHERS
Yeah.

JOHNSON
His folks get into it. And they say that they know how to deal with these communists, and they’re not going to be soft on ’em. And if they’re elected, they’ll see it right on through with ’em, and that they’ll get a whole lot better deal with Nixon than they will with Johnson.

Now, first, that comes out of one of his associates, one of his top businesspersons. That was communicated to us by means that we have of knowing it. And it was rather shocking, in the light of what he said. So I started personally watching the traffic myself, and the next day, the traffic shows that that is going in and out of Saigon.

Do you follow me?

SMATHERS
Yeah.

JOHNSON
I’m not guessing, George. I know what I’m doing, you see. [They said] that Nixon is going to win; therefore, they ought to wait on Nixon.

So what he’s doing-my judgment is, on the surface, he was playing that he didn’t want to undercut me.

SMATHERS
Yeah.

JOHNSON
Under the table, his people-and this, I think, you can tell him for sure; there’s no doubt about it-his people (a) business-wise, and (b) political-wise were saying that you ought to wait on Dick.

Now, that’s got it pretty well screwed up.

SMATHERS
Yeah, it does.

JOHNSON
That’s a hell of a note, and it’s a sad thing for people that got boys out here [in Vietnam], to have folks leaving these impressions.

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
They’re going around and implying to some of the embassies that they might get a better deal out of somebody that was not involved in this-the “somebody not involved” is what they refer to as “their boss.”

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
“Their boss” is the code word for Mr. Nixon.

SMATHERS
Right. Right.

JOHNSON
It’s just this simple: as soon as they say that to ’em, they go out to Saigon with it. And we know pretty well what goes to Saigon.

SMATHERS
Yeah.

JOHNSON
Then when it goes to Saigon, he [Thieu] calls his people in, and he gives them instructions. And we know pretty well what happens in that room.

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
I don’t want you to go into that with Nixon, but . . .

SMATHERS
I won’t.

JOHNSON
That’s what’s hurting the country.

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
And obviously, it’s so sensitive, I can’t do anything about it, except just say, “Quit it.”

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
Now, I don’t say that he is doing it-I don’t know that he is. But I know what [Mel] Laird did on the plane a week ago.

SMATHERS
Yeah.

JOHNSON
And then he [Nixon] comes out and always defends me.

SMATHERS
Right.

JOHNSON
Then [California Lt. Gov. Robert] Finch comes out and defends me. It’s just like Lady Bird saying “Smathers is a crook,” and I say, “I don’t believe what Lady Bird said.”

31 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

eyes only cable Saville Davis Bui Diem

32 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

Saville Davis goes to White House for comment

33 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Direct link to audio file (mp3 format) is: 13711. Transcript taken from “Transcript from “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968 Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, Document 188”.

34 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. The transcript is my own:

Walt Rostow Memo November 4 1968

EEA692
Q0 WTE10
DE WTE 4228

FROM WALT W ROSTOW
TO THE PRESIDENT
CITE CAP82683

S E C R E T SENSITIVE EYES ONLY

DELIVER DIRECT TO THE PRESIDENT

FROM WALT ROSTOW

NOVEMBER 4, 1968

I have just returned from a meeting of over an hour with Sec. Rusk and Sec. Clifford on the China matter.

1. With respect to the passage of the transcript which I had them read, they agreed that Nixon appeared clear in mind that the talks might not begin and you had made clear that they might not begin. We noted, however, that the immediately [sic] following statement could have induced some further ambiguity which Nixon did not follow up at the time: quote Dick, the talks will be held. We have a firm agreement that the North Vietnamese will bring the NLF in and the South Vietnamese will be permitted to attend. End quote.

2. With respect to McCloskey, pursuant to your instructions Sec. Rusk and Sec. Clifford agreed to instruct him to say to Saville Davis: quote obviously I’m not going to get into this kind of thing in any way, shape or form, end quote. He was so instructed in the presence of the two secretaries and myself. Having returned to my office, I have just received a report from McCloskey on his interview with Saville Davis. Saville Davis began by saying: quote I assume you will not be able to comment on this. End quote. He then showed McCloskey the story which was along the lines familiar to you. The story was headed by Beverly Deepe: quote this must be checked with the Nixon people before publication. End quote.

Saville Davis volunteered that his newspaper would certainly not print the story in the form in which it was filed; but they might print a story which said Thieu, on his own, decided to hold out until after the election.

Incidentally, the story as filed is stated to be based on Vietnamese sources, and not U.S., in Saigon

With respect to the body of information that we now have available, all three of us agreed to the following propositions:

–the information sources must be protected and not introduced into domestic politics.

–even with these sources, the case is not open and shut. On the question of the “public’s right to know,” Sec. Rusk was very strong on the following position: we get information like this every day, some of it very damaging to american political figures. We have always taken the view that with respect to such sources there is no public “right to know.” Such information is collected simply for the purposes of national security.

–so far as the information based on such sources is concerned, all three of us agreed: (A) even if the story breaks, it was judged too late to have a significant impact on the election. (B) the viability of the man elected as president was involved as well as subsequent relations between him and President Johnson. (C) therefore, the common recommendation was that we should not encourage such stories and hold tight the data we have.

Immediately following is a further item which just came in. (I assume that Bui Diem brought her in to tell her about Saville Davis’ visit.)

QUOTE
On the morning of November Four, Nineteen SixtyEight, Mrs. Anna Chennault traveled in her Lincoln Continental from her residence to the Vietnamese embassy where she remained for approximately thirty minutes and thereafter went to room

35 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

Nov 7 Cover Letter Nov 7 Report

36 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Direct link to audio file (mp3 format) is: 13722.

Transcript is on Pastebin: “November 8, 1968 Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen”.

37 The original file can be found at “Highlights from LBJ’S Telephone Conversations May 1968-January 1969”. Direct link to audio file (mp3 format) is: 13723. Transcript is from the Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, “WH6811-04-13723-13724-13725”.

38 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

Nov 7 Cover Letter

Cable on Chennault and Bui Diem

39 From “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968 Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, Document 212”:

212. Editorial Note

In a telephone conversation on November 12, 1968, President Johnson discussed the Anna Chennault affair with FBI Deputy Director Cartha Dekle “Deke” DeLoach. Johnson told DeLoach that he had “some pretty good information” and “hard” evidence that the most significant directive from the Republican campaign to the South Vietnamese Government occurred by way of a November 2 communication between Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew and Anna Chennault. The President therefore requested that DeLoach check all of the telephone calls originating from the telephone connection in Agnew’s chartered campaign plane at the Albuquerque airport. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and DeLoach, November 12, 1968, 8:30 p.m., Tape F6811.03, PNO 1)

40 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

Thieu account two emmissaries (1) Thieu account two emmissaries (2)

Thieu account two emmissaries (3) Thieu account two emmissaries (4)

Thieu account two emmissaries (5) Thieu account two emmissaries (6)

41 See footnote #19.

42 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. A full transcript of the article:

Columnist Georgie Ann Geyer Sabotage of Peace Ta

CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, Friday, November 15, 1968

Saigon boast: “We helped elect Nixon”

By Georgie Anne Geyer
Daily News Foreign Service

SAIGON – Top Saigon officials are boasting privately they helped assure the election of Richard M. Nixon.

They are pleased about it. “We did it,” one of them said. “We helped elect an American President.”

Their reasoning is that by sabotaging President Johnson’s attempt to call a bombing halt two weeks before the elections they eliminated the support this would have brought for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

“FIFTEEN DAYS would have done it,” one cabinet minister said, obviously pleased, “but four days wasn’t enough, and we saw to that.”

The same minister charged, privately, that since last spring, when the United States began meetings with Hanoi in Paris, Washington has been “working for Hanoi.” The Saigon government characterizes any negotiation with its enemy as tantamount to treason.

But with Nixon as President, they believe they will have not only a more understanding fellow hard-liner but also will have time. “Johnson was under pressures to get this thing over,” the minister said, “but Nixon will have at least six months or a year.”

THE GOVERNMENT has long said it does not want peace now, that it wants it only when it controls more of the country and can make better use of it. The reasoning is: “We are winning now. Why should we give up anything?”

To many American officials here it is offensive that the government for which Mr. Johnson literally gave up the Presidency and sacrificed his political career should treat him in this way.

These officials predict, with grim satisfaction, that the Saigon government will be unpleasantly surprised with the man they think the helped put in the White House.

NIXON HAS already voiced his solidarity with President Johnson’s policies. He appointed Robert Murphy, a diplomat of long experience [to] be his liaison man with [missing] White House on foreign p[olicy] during the two-months [in]terlude before Nixon take[s of]fice.

Murphy is not consider[ed to] be the kind of man to c[omfort] dependent if obstrepe[rous] allies.

43 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. A full transcript of the article:

Columnist Drew Pearson Jack Anderson Sabotage of

Washington-Saigon Feud

Details Leak Out of Backstage Fight Between U.S. and South Vietnam

By Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson

THE EXPLOSIVE details have now leaked out about the backstage blowup between the United States and South Vietnam, which threatened to wreck the Paris peace negotiations before they start.

All along the South Vietnamese had agreed, in principle, to a bombing halt, provided they were given a place at the truce table. As the delicate negotiations were about to bear fruit, however, they suddenly began throwing up procedural objections. In both Paris and Saigon, the Americans and South Vietnamese wound up shouting angry insults at each other.

The South Vietnamese leaders become convinced that President Johnson was trying to rush through an agreement on a bombing halt just before the election in order to win votes for Hubert Humphrey. They felt strongly that LBJ was selling them out, that he was more concerned about winning the election than winning the war.

The President, meanwhile, learned that Saigon’s Ambassador Bui Diem had been in touch secretly with Richard Nixon’s people. There were unconfirmed reports that South Vietnamese leaders had even slipped campaign cash to Nixon representatives. These reports made Mr. Johnson suspicious that the South Vietnamese were trying to sabotage the peace negotiations in the hope that Nixon would win the election and take a harder line.

THE FINAL BLOWUP really was sparked in Paris, where Ambassador Averell Harriman had carefully kept Saigon’s chief observer. Pham Dang Lam, informed on the progress of the bombing halt negotiations.

Lam understood of course that the National Liberation Front would accompany the North Vietnamese delegation to the conference. But he began bickering over whether they would sit apart from the Hanoi delegation and whether they would be allowed to display the Vietcong flag.

When he demanded that the NLF be regarded as part of the Hanoi delegation and that the negotiations be billed as a three-power conference, Harriman exploded.

“All your pretensions are out of this world!” he is reported to have scolded.

After an angry exchange, Harriman told Lam bluntly: “Your government does not represent all of South Vietnam, Mr. Ambassador, and you would do well to remember that.”

The infuriated Lam fired off a scathing cable to Saigon, accusing the Americans of tricking the South Vietnamese. The cable quoted Harriman as stating that Hanoi had agreed to nothing except that a South Vietnamese delegation could be seated.

AS IT HAPPENED, the cable arrived while President Nguyen Van Thieu and Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky were conferring in Saigon’s Independence Palace with U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and Deputy Ambassador Samuel Berger.

They had already agreed upon a joint statement which would have announced the bombing halt and the expanded peace conference. At South Vietnamese insistence, they had also agreed to add: “The two Presidents wish to make it clear that neither the Republic of Vietnam nor the United States will recognize the National Liberation Front as an entity separate from North Vietnam.”

The approval of the joint communique seemed to clear the way for a bombing halt. When Bunker informed Thieu that the peace talks would begin on Nov. 2, however, the South Vietnamese President balked. He secretly believed, it later came out, that the date had been set to help Humphrey on the eve of the Nov. 5 election.

Thieu objected that the South Vietnamese delegation couldn’t possibly be ready in time for a Nov. 2 meeting. It would take time, he said, to arrange the accreditation and transportation.

At this point, Lam’s explosive cable was delivered to President Thieu. His face clouded as he read it and he asked the Americans to step into the next room so he could consult with his advisers. After the consultation, an angry Thieu handed Bunker the cable and demanded an explanation. Bunker suggested that Lam must have misunderstood Harriman and promised to return with a clarification.

It was 1 a.m. Saigon time when Bunker and Berger hurried back to the American Embassy. They put through an urgent phone call to President Johnson, who dictated a letter to Thieu over the phone. In the letter, the President stated that he had no idea what Lam was talking about and that the United States would be bound by Bunker’s word.

Bunker hand-delivered the letter to President Thieu at 2:30 a.m. and the bombing halt was postponed 24 hours while the South Vietnamese stewed over it.

THE NEXT meeting was heated. Thieu said he had never understood that the NLF would be accepted in Paris as an independent delegation. He demanded “firm and unequivocal assurances” from Hanoi that the Paris negotiations would be between Saigon and Hanoi, not Saigon and the NLF.

Ambassador Berger replied that President Johnson had made a commitment to end the bombing and indicated that he would go ahead without Saigon’s approval. Thieu asked Berger acidly whether he was a “representative from Hanoi” and said South Vietnam couldn’t stop President Johnson from doing whatever he wanted.

Ironically, both Bunker and Berger have glowingly praised Thieu in their secret dispatches to Washington and have quietly supported him in his political struggles with his flamboyant Vice President Ky. As evidence that Thieu and Ky now stood together against Washington, however, Ky stood dramatically behind Thieu’s chair.

“You have been asking me for a year to stand behind this man,” Ky told Berger. “Well, I am standing behind him now.”

© 1968. Bell-McClure Syndicate Inc.

44 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. The transcript is my own:

FBI Intercept Bui Diem Chennault visited embassy

4:45PM 1-3-69 JDR
PRIORITY
TO WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM, ATT.: MR. BROMLEY SMITH 004

WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM
’69 JAN 3 PM 5:11

S E C R E T – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION

EMBASSY OF VIETNAM; INTERNAL SECURITY – VIETNAM.

On January Three, instant, a confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, furnished the following information:

On the same date, Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem, Washington, D.C. (WDC), was in contact with Richard Dudman of the WDC bureau of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, this bureau having previously attempted to contact Ambassador Diem on instant date. Dudman made reference to an article which has been written for the St. Louis Dispatch, about Anna Chennault, concerning reports that Chennault had frequently been in touch with Vietnamese officials in WDC, encouraging Vietnamese officials to go slow with respect to expanded peace talks in Paris. Ambassador Diem denied these reports, stating that Vietnamese decisions are based

END PAGE ONE

PAGE TWO (S E C R E T – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION)

on a lot of factors, mainly the problems at home (Vietnam), and not on internal politics in the United States.

Dudman questioned as to whether there had not been some concern by the White House, or by Vice President Humphrey about Chennault’s activities, further that the St. Louis Post Dispatch had information to this effect and that there had been some kind of inquiry or complaint to the Vietnamese embassy, WDC, in this regard. Ambassador Diem denied this information, commenting that he (Diem) had been in touch with many friends in WDC, both Democrats and Republicans, and again denied knowledge of an inquiry or complaint in such a matter.

According to the source, Ambassador Diem, in response to a direct question by Dudman, denied that he (Diem) had been in contact with, or had attempted to contact, President-Elect Nixon during the weeks prior to the election on November Five, last. Dudman then questioned the relationship of Mrs. Chennault to the

END PAGE TWO

PAGE THREE (S E C R E T – NO FOREIGN DISSEMINATION)

Vietnamese embassy, to which Ambassador Diem commented that Chennault had been in Vietnam for many years and had many Vietnamese friends. Dudman questioned as to whether Chennault had not been a frequent visitor to the Vietnamese embassy, WDC, and Ambassador Diem commented that Chennault has visited the Vietnamese embassy from time to time, but not frequently.

Dudman questioned as to when Chennault was last at the Vietnamese embassy, WDC, and when ambassador Diem could not recall exact dates, Dudman questioned as to whether Chennault had not been to the Vietnamese embassy during the weeks prior to the presidential election, but again Diem stated he could not recall exact dates.

Diem commented that he hoped they were speaking as friends and that his (Diem’s) name would not be mentioned. Dudman agreed and tentative arrangements were made to lunch together on January Eight, next.

According to the source, later on the same day another representative of the St. Louis Post Dispatch attempted to contact Ambassador Diem, but was unsuccessful.
GP-1

END AND PLS ACK

WH QSL K
DE WH AND ACK 004

45 Taken from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry. The transcript is my own:

Tom Johnson letter to LBJ about Ottendad and Hal

February 11, 1970

MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD:

Tom Ottenad, St. Louis Post Despatch, came to my academic office, BEB 716, at 3:50 p.m. yesterday afternoon.

He said he had two objectives: first, to explore the role of Mrs. Chennault in October-November 1968; second, to get historical background perspective on the war in Vietnam.

With respect to the first, I told him that I would say “not one word.” He went on to say that that was the position I took when he approached me in Washington; but certain other people who had taken that position, whom he had now seen, have given him further information. I said: “I am not in that category. I will say not one word.”

He said, “Is there any way I could change your view by giving you absolute assurances that what you told me would never be attributed?”

I said: “No. I will say not one word.”

He then went on to ask about where the war in Vietnam now stands against the background of events since 1958. I told him I did not mind talking about the broad history of the war if it were understood that it would be on deep background, with no attribution whatsoever unless I were to give explicit permission for what he would use. I then gave him an absolutely harmless account of events in certain time phases as follows:

— 1958-61: the improvement form the end of 1961 to May 1963;

— The accelerating disintegration from May 1963 until early 1964; the improvement down to Tet;

— The very radical improvement in latter 1968 and early 1969 after recovery from Tet.

He volunteered that the Nixon people have now made an assessment that Tet was the favorable turning point in the war and now have a view of the significance of Tet identical with that of the Johnson Administration.

I then left to play tennis.

Walt Rostow

Tom Ottendad attempts to interview Johnson about

return to Tom.

yb
2/27/70

ADMINISTRATION ADMINISTRATIVE MEMO

1:00 p. m.

MR. PRESIDENT:

I talked with Bob Haldeman on February 25. I told him we appreciated the contributions of Colonel Borman and Dr. Robert Gilruth from NASA.

I asked Bob had he heard anything about the Ottenad-St. Louis Post-Dispatch questions. Bob said he had not, although Ottenad had written about the Madame Chennault episode last year. I told Bob the type of questions which were being asked and that nobody had been authorized by President Johnson to say one word on the matter. I told him that President Johnson had been requested to see Ottenad but had refused,” so had I.

I also told Bob that all of our people in Austin had been directed not to say anything on the matter and had followed that guidance.

Haldeman said he was most appreciative that we had advised him of this information and would keep the telephone call completely confidential. He said that it looked as if the Post-Dispatch was trying to stir up more trouble on this matter and they sure did not need that.

Haldeman seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that we would call on such a matter and expressed his thanks again for the attitude we have been taking toward President Nixon.

Tom Johnson

46 A transcript of the document, retrieved from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry.

phone conversation tom ottenad st louis dispatch

47 A transcript of the full article, retrieved from “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry:

Was Saigon’s peace talk delay due to Republican promises?

TOM OTTENAD

January 6, 1969

WASHINGTON – A well-known top official of committees working for the election of Richard M. Nixon secretly got in touch with representatives of South Vietnam shortly before the presidential election.

It was in connection with an apparent effort to encourage them to delay in joining the Paris peace talks in hopes of getting a better deal if the Republicans won the White House.

The government of South Vietnam had been expected to join the Paris discussions soon after President Lyndon B. Johnson announced plans on Oct. 31 to bring both it and the Communist National Liberation Front into the peace talks and to halt all American bombing of North Vietnam. However, it delayed doing so for four weeks.

Its action is credited by some political experts, including some of Nixon’s staff, with cutting the loss of votes that his aides believe he suffered in the election from the last-minute peace move. In this view, the Vietnamese delay lent credence to Republican charges that Mr. Johnson’s action was a political maneuver to help the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

Informed diplomats as well as administration sources and a number of Republicans, including some within Nixon’s own organization, have said that Republican contact with South Vietnamese representatives was made by Mrs. Anna Chennault. The initial contact was reported to have been made a few days before Mr. Johnson’s Oct. 31 announcement.

A high ranking official at the South Vietnamese Embassy here said it was “entirely untrue” that Mrs. Chennault had urged officials of his government to go slow in joining the Paris peace talks. He said:

“There has been a lot of speculation about our attitude in the talks. We base our decision on a lot of factors and not on internal politics here.”

He conceded that he and his colleagues had been “in touch with a lot of our friends, both Democrats and Republicans.” He did not identify them.

The official said Mrs. Chennault had had a long relationship with South Vietnam. She is a visitor at the embassy here “from time to time – not really frequently,” he added.

Mrs. Chennault, widow of Gen Claire L Chennault, commander of the World War II Flying Tigers, was co-chairman with Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower of the Women for Nixon-Agnew National Advisory Committee and a vice chairman of the Republican National Finance Committee.

She was a hard-working fund-raiser and said she collected more than $250,000 for Nixon’s campaign. Campaign records on file in the House of Representatives show that she contributed at least $1000 herself to the G.O.P. presidential campaign.

About the same time, in a separate move, representatives of South Vietnam reportedly made contact with the Nixon camp two or three times, unsuccessfully seeking a meeting with the Republican presidential candidate and hinting that their government would put off until after the Nov. 5 election any move toward joining the Paris negotiations.

Herbert G. Klein, director of communications for the President-elect, and other Nixon aides have said that Nixon had no personal connection with either action. Both moves were said to be contrary to his expressed wish and his avowed policy of avoiding any action that might jeopardize chances for peace.

The aides say further that the reported Republican contact with South Vietnamese sources was an individual action that had not been authorized by Nixon. As for the overtures from the South Vietnamese to the Republican organization, they say that, on Nixon’s instructions, these were ignored.

Mrs. Chennault, who was born in Peking is of Chinese descent, but became an American citizen in 1950. She is a vice chairman of one of the committees planning Nixon’s inauguration Jan. 20. The attractive 45-year-old woman, who claims many friends in high government and Republican circles, is to be escorted to the inaugural ball by Gov. Warren P. Knowles of Wisconsin, it was announced recently. Her name figures in speculation for possible appointment to a key position in the Nixon administration.

In a recent interview, she declined to confirm or deny reports that she had been in frequent touch with representatives of the South Vietnamese Embassy shortly before the Nov. 5 election. “Who told you that?” she asked with a half smile.

In response to further questions the petite, vivacious woman, who rates Bui Diem, South Vietnam’s ambassador to the U.S., and other diplomats and world leaders among her friends, refused to give much information.

“You’re going to get me in a lot of trouble,” she remarked. Toying with the high collar of her Chinese-style dress, a personal fashion trademark, she continued with a laugh:

“I can’t say anything…come back and ask me that after the inauguration. We’re at a very sensitive time…I know so much and can say so little.”

Asked whether others had made contact with the South Vietnamese she replied enigmatically, “I certainly was not alone at that time.”

Friends of Mrs. Chennault have said that she was in sympathy with high South Vietnamese officials, including some of the country’s embassy here, who favored awaiting the outcome of the American presidential election before making any move toward joining the Paris peace negotiations.

High administration sources here say that key South Vietnamese officials generally favored the election of Nixon over Humphrey. They say also that they received information from Saigon indicating that many believe South Vietnamese officials there believed Mrs. Chennault was acting on Nixon’s behalf in contacts with representatives of that country. They termed this belief understandable in view of South Vietnam’s reputation for political intrigue.

When told that the Nixon forces disclaimed any connection with her reported actions, Mrs. Chennault remarked with a laugh: “You’ve covered politics. What would you expect? In politics nothing is fair.”

Asked whether she had feared that Mr. Johnson’s peace initiative might cost Nixon the presidential election, she said, “I think many people had that concern.” Asked whether she regarded the President’s move as politically motivated, she replied indirectly:

“We have been very much concerned. Every time we have a bombing halt the enemy takes advantage to supply their troops and move the men south. Our casualties in the last few weeks have not decreased noticeably.”

Mrs. Chennault said that since Nixon’s election she had received “personal invitation” from both President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam and President Chung Hee Park of South Korea “to come and talk to them as a friend.” She has made frequent trips to South Vietnam.

She said that since Nixon’s election she has encouraged “my friends” to join in the Paris peace talks. “I told them it is important for South Vietnam to send a delegation to Paris,” she remarked. On Nov. 28 South Vietnam finally announced that it would take part in the Paris discussion. However, because of a procedural dispute, the broadened talks have not yet started.

Mrs. Chennault, who is rated by many observers as a hawk on Vietnam and a hard-liner on Asian Policy has said that she regarded herself as “a bridge to build better relations between the East and the West. I understand American politics and also the feelings of our friends in Asia. But I am first an American and second a Republican.”

Although Nixon advisers say they learned of Mrs. Chennault’s activities several days before the Nov. 5 election, they apparently took no steps to halt her or remove her from her connection with the campaign. Explaining why, one G.O.P. official said, “She wasn’t our baby. She wasn’t really part of the campaign.”

Another Nixon adviser also emphasized this thought, stressing that Mrs. Chennault was not part of Nixon’s personal campaign staff.

“She was co-chairman of a volunteer organization,” he said. “She wasn’t a foreign policy adviser. We were faced with all kinds of people who claimed to speak for Nixon on various issues but really didn’t.”

Another Republican aide said, “The difficulty is she is pretty free-wheeling. She took a number of independent actions in the campaign. We had to pull her back several times.”

Some sources who are friendly to Mrs. Chennault have said privately that the Nixon camp was aware of her actions. They did not make clear, however, at what point this reported awareness developed.

Sources in the Nixon camp insisted strongly that Nixon was adamant in his refusal to make political capital out of the Vietnamese conflict or of the peace negotiations. “I saw him explode one time and say he was not going to make the war a political issue even if it cost him the election,” said one aide.

The reported overtures by South Vietnamese representatives to the Nixon campaign organization came in the last week or the presidential campaign. “On two and maybe three occasions we received messages indirectly from high South Vietnamese representatives,” a Nixon adviser has said.

The message, he said, requested a meeting with Nixon or one of his top aides. The communications suggested also that South Vietnam might delay until after the American election its final decision on whether or not to join the Paris peace talks, it said.

The Republican sources said that the Nixon camp “did nothing” about the South Vietnamese overtures. “Our instructions from Nixon were to give no response,” he explained.

48 From “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'” by Robert Parry, Walt Rostow’s cover letter:

top secret note regarding sealed documents Cover letter to LBJ Library director to be opene

LITERALLY EYES ONLY

June 26, 1973

TO: Mr. Harry Middleton, Director, LBJ Library

Sealed in the attached envelope is a file President Johnson asked me to hold personally because of its sensitive nature. In case of his death, the material was to be consigned to the LBJ Library under conditions I judged to be appropriate.

The file concerns the activities of Mrs. Chennault and others before and immediately after the election of 1968. At the time President Johnson decided to handle the matter strictly as a question of national security; and, in retrospect, he felt that decision was correct.

It is, therefore, my recommendation to you that this file should remain sealed for fifty years from the date of this memorandum.

After fifty years, the Director of the LBJ Library (or whomever may inherit his responsibilities, should the administrative structure of the National Archives change) may, alone, open this file. If he believes the material it contains might be opened for research, he should then consult the then responsible security officials of the Executive Branch to arrange formal clearance. If he believes the material it contains should not be opened for research, I would wish him empowered to re-close the file for another fifty years when the procedure outlined above should be repeated.

W. W. Rostow

The three page overview memo by Rostow is at footnote #11.

49 The document from which this quote is taken is listed in footnote #11.

50 The full transcript from Stanley Kutler’s The Abuse of Power, transcript is on Pastebin: “October 17, 1972: Nixon, Connally, Haldeman”.

51 We can see this story quoted at the time via Google News, “Watergate Men Linked To Burglary” and “Break-In Figures Said Linked to Burglary”. Schram himself would revisit the story at thecabin.net, “Martin Schram: Watergate exclusive at last confirmed”:

It took a quarter of a century, but we finally have confirmation for the last Unresolved Scoop of the Watergate Era.

“Watergate Burglars Broke Into Chilean Embassy as Cover, Tapes Show,” said the headline that stretched across page A9 of The Washington Post last week.

“In Tapes, Nixon Talks of Plans for Foreign Embassy Break-Ins,” said the headline that stretched across page A13 of The New York Times that same day.

The news came as a bit of a shock, a very welcome shock, to a journalist who, as Newsday’s Washington bureau chief, had reported back in 1973 the front-page news that the burglars who broke into the Watergate building had also broken into the embassy of Chile, which was then headed by a Marxist, President Salvador Allende.

To be perfectly candid, the journalist had been proud that he had scooped the competitive Watergate media-world. But then he waited with dismay as no other journalist (not Woodward nor Bernstein) and no federal investigator (not the FBI nor the Senate Watergate Committee nor the Watergate special prosecutor) had been able to confirm his report. Not for weeks, nor months, nor years.

That 1973 embassy break-in scoop went unconfirmed for 26 years, until Richard Nixon was finally heard to fess up. In newly released White House tapes, Nixon talked twice about embassy break-ins. In May 1973, he told Gen. Alexander Haig: “There are times, you know, when, good God, I’d authorize any means to achieve a goal abroad (including) the breaking-in of embassies and so forth.”

That month, he told his counsel, J. Fred Buzhardt: “When we get down, for example, to the break-in, the Chilean Embassy — that thing was part of the burglars’ plan, as a cover … a CIA cover.”

52 From Stanley Kutler’s The Abuse of Power; numbers in parentheses indicate a start and end time in the audio file lacking a transcript, transcript is on Pastebin: “March 7, 1973: The President and Dean”.

53 From Stanley Kutler’s The Abuse of Power:

JANUARY 11, 1973: THE PRESIDENT AND HALDEMAN, 10:20-11:03 A.M., OVAL OFFICE

Haldeman informs Nixon that former FBI executive Cartha DeLoach will share his knowledge of LBJ’s bugging orders. The President decides to ratchet up the pressure on Johnson. But Nixon miscalculates. According to Haldeman’s diary, LBJ said he would counter by revealing Nixon’s back-channel dealings with the South Vietnamese government to delay the peace talks. Furthermore, by January 1973, Johnson’s influence is negligible in national affairs and particularly in his party; finally, Johnson dies on January 22.

SEGMENT 1

NIXON
Have you had any further development, Bob, with regard to the bugging at – I mean in regard to Mitchell and his talks with DeLoach? If he had?

HALDEMAN
Yes.

NIXON
Did he see DeLoach?

HALDEMAN
Yes. He talked to DeLoach.

NIXON
DeLoach denies?

HALDEMAN
No. DeLoach says it’s true and that he has hard – he thinks – he has some hard evidence or some specifics that will lock the thing up.

NIXON
Will he say so?

HALDEMAN
I don’t know whether he’ll say so, but he’ll give us the information so that we can say so, and that’s all we need.

NIXON
Well, what I want is this from DeLoach. We know he knows who is in charge of that, probably is still in the Bureau, a bugger. Do you know what I mean? The point on that is that Gray gives him a lie detector test, calls him in, or asks him – do you see what I mean…? That’s what I’d like him to do. I’d like to get it so it’s nailed down in terms of evidence, rather than that DeLoach told Mitchell or that Hoover, a dead man, told Mitchell, because Johnson will lie about this, if necessary, if we have to use it. My only view is that I would not want to use this story at all. This is something that I would use only for purposes of-

HALDEMAN
Dean’s idea also goes the other way, which we may want to figure out a way to play around with, which is to use it on Johnson, because a lot of the problem we’re dealing with on the Hill stuff, and all you get [Joseph] Califano and some of those people into, and if Johnson turns them off, it could turn them the other way. In other words-

NIXON
Why doesn’t somebody go down and tell Johnson?

HALDEMAN
Well, here’s the other side of it. The Star is back on the story again.

NIXON
Yeah.

HALDEMAN
See, the Star had it during the campaign. They’re back on it also.

NIXON
On the Johnson bugging?

HALDEMAN
Mm-hmm. And that’ll stir Johnson up, and that gives us a way to get back to Johnson on the basis that, you know, we’ve got to get this turned off, because it’s going to bounce back to the other story and we can’t hold them – and scare him. And at his stage and with his attitude right now, he’s strutting around like crazy.

NIXON
I know.

HALDEMAN
He may decide to get word out to his troops and, if he did, that could be very helpful.

NIXON
Could Connally go to him? Who’s the best? Who could talk to Johnson about this? Mitchell?

HALDEMAN
George Christian. [Then working on behalf of Democrats for Nixon, while maintaining ties to LBJ.]. He’s known to be loyal to both of us.

NIXON
Call George in and say-

HALDEMAN
George knows the whole story, so you’re not letting any new-

NIXON
Well, at least it can be done…and done now…[Have] Johnson start to use some of it. He could use it not only to Califano, but possibly even to Humphrey. How do we know the Star is back on the story?

HALDEMAN
They contacted DeLoach…What I’ve got is from John Dean.

NIXON
And DeLoach says it was true and he has hard evidence; is that correct?

HALDEMAN
Yeah. I’ve got a call in to Mitchell now. I think he’s meeting with DeLoach now, as a matter of fact. He said he’d have to call me back. I called him a half an hour ago.

NIXON
The story has been a great problem. Don’t you think so?

SEGMENT 2

NIXON
…Well, get Christian in, would you, today, like today, or whenever you can, or tomorrow and say that they’re on this damn story again and are on DeLoach and he’s to go tell Johnson that we’re trying to keep an eye on it. We’ll do our best, but he’d better get ahold of Califano and Humphrey and anybody else he knows and tell them to pipe down on this thing…[W]e will use it without question, Bob, if it comes out to nut time. Do you agree?

HALDEMAN
Sure.

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