Nixon’s Worst Crime

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).

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  • busterggi

    Just when you think someone’s reputation can’t get any worse…

  • dmcclean

    Isn’t this the breakin where they had planned to use a firebomb and then show up in a fake fire truck, but the truck was to expensive so they changed plans?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Time to wonder again at why Iran refused to release its hostages until Jimmy Carter left office.

  • dugglebogey

    One of the greatest revelations in those tapes is that one of the people who was recorded without his knowledge was J. Edgar Hoover.

    Oh the irony!

  • D. C. Sessions

    We’ve suspected this since it happened. There was never any proof, though.

  • dhall

    He was known as Tricky Dick, and this seems to confirm–yet again–that the nickname was well deserved. I for one was a little disgusted with the way he was eulogized when he died as various journalists fell all over themselves trying to reform his character in an effort to “show respect for the dead.” Inevitably, they talked about his foreign policy with regards to China and the USSR. I was never sure if that made up for all the damage he did–seemed like every top member of his cabinet ended up in prison. And we’re still dealing G. Gordon Liddy.

  • beezlebubby

    Reginald, there may or may not have been underhanded dealings between the GOP and the Iranian revolutionary government, but the Iranians already had all of the motivation they needed to embarrass Carter. It was Carter who gave the Shah safe exile, and who refused to extradite him back to Iran for trial.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    I still can’t get over how Democrats are expected to forever apologize for peacenik George McGovern, when this was the guy who beat him.

  • dingojack

    beezlebubby – and that St. Ronnie of Alzheimer’s was offering the Iranians much the same deal as Kissinger and Nixon were offering the North Vietnamese.

    Dingo

    ———–

    For Kissinger’s involvement in the talks with Hanoi see Cristopher Hitchens The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

    It’s hardly new information people!

  • pacal

    As Dingojack says all this is not new. The chapter in The Trial of Henry Kissinger that deals with Nixon and Kissinger’s sabotage of the Indo-China peace talks prior to Nixon’s election in 68 is chapter one. This is however further confirmation.

  • maddog1129

    @ dhall #6

    Inevitably, they talked about his foreign policy with regards to China and the USSR. I was never sure if that made up for all the damage he did ….

    It was part and parcel of the damage he did, and of the same type of torpedoing anyone else’s efforts to aggrandize the achievement to himself. Nixon cut his teeth in the McCarthy witch-hunt era, demonizing anyone by association with Communists, socialists, leftists, or liberals. He was part of what made it impossible for liberal politicians to proceed in China or the USSR, for fear of being tarred with the Communist brush.

  • Michael Heath

    Area Man writes:

    I still can’t get over how Democrats are expected to forever apologize for peacenik George McGovern, when this was the guy who beat him.

    Because Mr. McGovern couldn’t win, for which they should apologize. Same with Walter Mondale in 1984 and Mike DuKakis in 1988.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Because Mr. McGovern couldn’t win, for which they should apologize.

    I’m not sure if you meant this as a joke, but the most bizarre part of our political culture is how the Democrats are considered responsible for whatever the Republicans do wrong, as long as there is some conceivable way in which the Democrats could have stopped the Republicans, however unlikely it might have been. The Republicans meanwhile are considered to lack moral agency, unable to help what they are, like a tornado or a pack of wolves. Everyone seems to agree about this: Lefty circular firing squad types who never pass on a change to attack the Dems, Very Serious centrists who have to pretend that both parties are equally to blame, and best of all, the Republicans themselves, for whom personal responsibility is a concept that only applies to others.

  • sanford

    This is not exactly a new story. Robert Parry as well as Thom Hartman talked about this. Hartmann has talked about this often for the last few years and has also played the tape of Johnson talking to Dirksen about it.

  • moarscienceplz

    but the most bizarre part of our political culture is how the Democrats are considered responsible for whatever the Republicans do wrong, as long as there is some conceivable way in which the Democrats could have stopped the Republicans, however unlikely it might have been.

    Well you gotta admit, Republicans have shown time and time again how they only truly care about rich white guys, and yet many of them keep getting elected. There obviously aren’t enough rich white guys to cast all those votes, so the Dems are seriously failing to communicate the situation to the voters.

  • dhall

    Good point, #11 maddog1129. He was McCarthy’s protege, heavily involved in the whole anti-Communist crap. And then there was the whole pathetic Checkers speech. As for his presidency, he ran the executive branch like a gangster boss, not a statesman in any way, shape or form. Nasty, nasty bastard, right to the end.

  • dingojack

    maddog1129 wrote: “He [Nixon] was part of what made it impossible for liberal politicians to proceed in China or the USSR, for fear of being tarred with the Communist brush.”

    Fortunately some (local) leftists failed to get that memo.

    :) Dingo

    ———

    PS: Note the headline on the article at the bottom centre of the page

  • wscott

    Impeaching Nixon for Watergate was like Al Capone going to jail for tax evasion. Hey, whatever gets rid of the bum.

  • weaver

    I didn’t think this was “new” information – I knew about it at least a decade ago, and thought all along that one of the primary reasons that the US refused to participate in the UN World Court was that Kissinger would likely be brought up on war-crimes charges for his participation in the continuation of the war.

  • dingojack

    ‘They shouldn’t have impeached Nixon — they should’ve got Tad Kennedy to give him a lift home’.

    😛 Dingo