Summary: Nixon sabotaged peace talks conducted by the current president, Lyndon B. Johnson, in order to bolster his election bid.
During his time as president, Lyndon B. Johnson recorded the vast majority of his phone communications from the White House in the interest of transparency and historical archives, even if he wanted the information discussed on the phone call to remain a secret for some time. For example, as President Johnson watched an altercation between anti-Vietnam War protesters and Chicago police outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Johnson made a number of calls to determine if he himself could helicopter into Chicago. At the DNC, the Democratic Party was nominating Hubert Humphrey for their upcoming presidential campaign, and President Johnson considered whether he could swoop in, stop the violence, and set off a last-minute reelection campaign. Phone calls reveal officials advised him against this bold plan in the interest of his personal safety.
The calls from President Johnson also unveil the treasonous subterfuge of 1968 Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon during peace talks with both the North and South Vietnamese forces in Paris, France. After Nixon learned in October 1968 that Johnson (who was still president at the time) was on the verge of officially ceasing bombing operations in Vietnam, he knew this meant an agreement on a peace deal was close. Nixon wanted the war to continue because its continuation was core to his campaign for the presidency.
So, to sabotage negotiations, Nixon tasked his senior campaign adviser, Anna Chennault, with urging the South Vietnamese not to take Johnson’s deal and take a more favorable agreement from Nixon later after his win in the next month’s presidential election. The South Vietnamese representatives agreed to abandon the peace talks, and Nixon effectively pulled the rug out from under Johnson and peace in Vietnam in order to keep the Vietnam War going for his personal gain.
It is revealed, in calls from Lyndon Johnson to senators Richard Russell and Everett Dirksen, that Johnson knew about Nixon’s interference with the push for peace in Vietnam and that it was undoubtedly treason. He also watched as Nixon boosted his public image by expressing disbelief over South Vietnamese representatives bailing on peace talks. Still, President Johnson believed revealing this to the American public would expose sensitive details behind the ways the FBI and NSA had learned this information, so he kept quiet. Although he informed Nixon’s Democratic opponent Hubert Humphrey, Humphrey also said nothing for fear of causing too much of a disruption right before the election.
In the end, Nixon went on to barely win the election and extend the Vietnam War for another 5 years into neighboring countries Laos and Cambodia, leading to the loss of 22,000 more American soldiers and countless more Southeast Asians.
Sources & Further Reading
Taylor, David. BBC News. “The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon’s ‘treason.’” March 22, 2013. www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21768668.
Written and researched by Jack Gassen. Posted April 2022.