from the we-don’t-have-Nixon-to-kick-around-anymore dept.
After the Watergate scandal taught Richard Nixon the consequences of recording White House conversations, none of his successors has dared to do it. But Nixon wasn’t the first. He got the idea from his predecessor Lyndon Johnson, who felt there was an obligation to allow historians to eventually eavesdrop on his presidency. Now David Taylor reports on BBC that the latest set of declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson’s telephone calls show that by the time of the Presidential election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence that Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks — or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had ‘blood on his hands’. It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war that he knew would derail his campaign. Nixon therefore set up a clandestine back-channel to the South Vietnamese involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser. In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris. This was exactly what Nixon feared. Chennault was dispatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal. Meanwhile the FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and transcripts of Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. Johnson was told by Defense Secretary Clark Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace. The president gave Humphrey enough information to sink his opponent but by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency so Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway. In the end Nixon won by less than 1% of the popular vote, escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, and finally settled for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.