Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

LBJ Knew Traitors When He Saw Them

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 6, 2008

Blue Texan passes along this story:

In a segment aired at the news conference, Johnson tells Sen. Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, that it will be Nixon’s responsibility if the South Vietnamese don’t participate in the peace talks.

“This is treason,” LBJ says to Dirksen.

“I know,” Dirksen replies, very softly.

Confronting Nixon by telephone on Nov. 3, Johnson outlines what had been alleged and how important it was to the conduct of the war for Nixon’s people not to meddle.

“My God,” Nixon says to Johnson, “I would never do anything to encourage the South Vietnamese not to come to that conference table.” Instead, Nixon pledged to help in any way Johnson or Rusk suggested, “To hell with the political credit, believe me.”

For Johnson and his top advisers, it wasn’t a matter of whether Nixon was telling the truth but whether accusing Nixon of meddling would give the appearance that Johnson — rather than Nixon — was using the war to influence the election.

Nixon was, of course, lying:

On October 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson announced on live television that the North Vietnamese government had agreed to continued peace talks in Paris, and to a cessation of attacks on South Vietnamese cities. In return, the U.S. would immediately stop bombing North Vietnam, and peace talks, this time including the Vietcong and the South Vietnamese government, would resume on November 6.

Almost overnight, LBJ’s “October Surprise” delivered a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the moribund campaign of his Vice President and would-be successor, Hubert Humphrey, who had been trailing Richard Nixon in the polls throughout October.

[…]

But Nixon had an October surprise of his own. In the days leading up to LBJ’s announcement, the Nixon team met secretly with Anna Chan Chennault, a wealthy supporter of Chiang Kai-shek, co-chair of Republican Women for Nixon, and confidante of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. At Nixon’s behest, Chennault informed Thieu that Nixon would secure a better deal for his country, and that the Democrats were effectively prepared to sell out Saigon in order to secure peace at any price, as the phrase would later go. If Chennault could convince Thieu to stay away from the negotiating table, LBJ would look foolish, and the Democrats’ eleventh-hour gambit would fail.

And that’s exactly what happened.

9 Responses to “LBJ Knew Traitors When He Saw Them”

  1. Charles II said

    It’s a shame that LBJ did not release the story after the election, if not before. If Nixon had gone into office under a cloud, he might not have become so arrogant.

  2. John Emerson said

    I also think that some of the Reagan people arranged for the hostages to be released only after Reagan’s election. Iran-Contra may have been part of that.

    Recently I saw a claim that the weapons Reagan arranged to send to Iran had been disabled and couldn’t be used. Even if true, that still doesn’t get him of the hook for using a hostile foreign power to swing an election, or for illegally funnelling money to the Central American warlords.

    The Republican Party has been a semi-criminal organization for decades, though I think that Dubya’s administration has topped the others. I’m really incapable of being civil even to the relatively nice Republicans, or of respecting “independents” very much. This makes it very hard to do political work with the general public, but I actually think that my reasons for feeling this way are valid.

    I’ll always remember the way that the crook Ollie North got the American people behind him by wearing his uniform on TV and acting like a heroic martyr. The authoritarians worshiped him without even asking what he had been accused of.

  3. Charles II said

    The release of the hostages is called The October Surprise, John. Robert Parry has written a lot about it. I don’t think there’s any evidence that the weapons he did send were disabled.

    And speaking of Robert Parry, he has a much better explanation of the historical context for LBJ’s accusation of treason here:

    In her own autobiography, The Education of Anna, Chennault acknowledged that she was the courier. She quoted Nixon aide John Mitchell as calling her a few days before the 1968 election and telling her: “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.”

    In 1995, reporter Daniel Schorr uncovered more evidence, decoded cables that U.S. intelligence had intercepted from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington. According to that information:

    On Oct. 23, 1968, Ambassador Bui Dhien cabled Saigon with the message that “many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged me to stand firm.” On Oct. 27, he wrote, “The longer the present situation continues, the more favorable for us. … I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage.”

    On Nov. 2, Thieu withdrew from his tentative agreement to sit down with the Vietcong at the Paris peace talks, destroying Johnson’s last hope for a settlement. Though Johnson and his top advisers knew of Nixon’s gambit, they kept it secret from the public.

  4. MEC said

    “If Nixon had gone into office under a cloud, he might not have become so arrogant.”

    He also might not have had a second term.

  5. The Democrats would have cleaned up in the 1970 midterms and may well have pressed for impeachment along with a full withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.

    But the other problem LBJ had is that the reason he knew what Chennault and Nixon were plotting was because the FBI was tapping her phone, and quite illegally. Revealing the Chennault-Nixon treason would have probably forced Johnson to reveal this, along with the other wiretaps the FBI was doing at the time.

  6. Charles II said

    Actually, PW, the wiretapping was pre-FISA. This clearly involved a national security matter in dealing with a foreign government. The Church Committee Report apparently indicatesthat they did not wiretap Chennault directly, but picked her up on a tap of the South Vietnames.

    I don’t think the wiretapping was necessarily illegal.

    MEC: Having one term without disgrace is probably preferable to two terms with being forced to resign under threat of impeachment and conviction.

  7. Thanks, Charles. Robert Parry makes the same point, which I only discovered this morning.

  8. MEC said

    “MEC: Having one term without disgrace is probably preferable to two terms with being forced to resign under threat of impeachment and conviction.”

    That’s a good point, though not exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking that if Nixon had gone into his first term “under a cloud”, and had been less arrogant because of it, there might have been more reluctance to vote for him a second time — and he might not have been cocky enough to do the things he did to get re-elected.

  9. Yup. Furthermore, the 1970 midterms, instead of showing Republican gains, would have been a romp for the Democrats — and they could have started defunding the war and forcing troop withdrawals a lot sooner.

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