Newly revealed information shows that Richard Nixon’s worst crime was not Watergate or the coverup, it was interfering in peace talks to keep the Vietnam war going so he could get elected. George Will, of all people, has the details on what is at least a felony and might even be called treason.
At about 5:15 p.m. on June 17, 1971, in the Oval Office, the president ordered a crime: “I want it implemented on a thievery basis. Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”
The burglary he demanded was not the one that would occur exactly one year later at the Democratic National Committee’s office in the Watergate complex. Richard Nixon was ordering a break-in at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, to seize material concerning U.S. diplomacy regarding North Vietnam during the closing weeks of the 1968 presidential campaign…
Working at the University of Virginia, in the Miller Center’s Presidential Recording Program, Hughes has studied the Nixon tapes for more than a decade. In his new book, “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate,” Hughes argues that Nixon ordered a crime in 1971 hoping to prevent public knowledge of a crime he committed in 1968.
In October 1968, Nixon’s lead over his Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was dwindling, partly because Humphrey had proposed a halt to U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. Five days before the election, President Lyndon Johnson announced the halt, hoping to convene peace talks. One impediment, however, was South Vietnam’s reluctance to participate. Its recalcitrance reflected its hope that it would be better supported by a Nixon administration…On July 3, 1968, a Nixon campaign aide, Dick Allen, sent a memo proposing a meeting with Nixon and Anna Chennault, a Chinese American active in Republican politics. She would bring to the meeting South Vietnam’s ambassador to Washington. The memo said the meeting must be “top secret.” Nixon wrote on the memo: “Should be but I don’t see how — with the S.S. [Secret Service].” On July 12, however, she and the ambassador did meet secretly in New York with Nixon who, she later said, designated her his “sole representative” to the Saigon government.
The National Security Agency was reading diplomatic cables sent from South Vietnam’s Washington embassy to Saigon, where the CIA had a listening device in the office of South Vietnam’s president. The FBI was wiretapping South Vietnam’s embassy and monitoring Chennault’s movements in Washington, including her visit to that embassy on Oct. 30.
On Nov. 2 at 8:34 p.m., a teleprinter at Johnson’s ranch delivered an FBI report on the embassy wiretap: Chennault had told South Vietnam’s ambassador “she had received a message from her boss (not further identified). . . . She said the message was that the ambassador is to ‘hold on, we are gonna win.’ ” The Logan Act of 1799 makes it a crime for a private U.S. citizen, which Nixon then was, to interfere with U.S. government diplomatic negotiations.
So as a private citizen, he undermined peace talks that might have ended the Vietnam war. Because that war continued, another 21,000 Americans died and something on the order of another million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians were killed. And then he ordered another felony to cover up his interference (that break in at Brookings never happened, actually, but it was the reason the infamous plumbers were put together, which resulted in Watergate).