LBJ tapes show Nixon’s treason?

LBJ tapes show Nixon’s treason? March 21, 2013

You know about how Nixon taped everything that went on in the White House, a bit of historical preservation that blew up in his face with the Watergate scandal.  Well, it was his predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who first wired the Oval Office.  Now the LBJ tapes are coming out, and they have some explosive revelations.

The biggest one is that Richard Nixon, while he was running against Vice President Hubert Humphrey, feared that the Paris Peace talks, which were making progress, would end the Vietnam War, thereby hurting his election chances.  So he secretly intervened, getting the South Vietnamese to pull out of the talks because they would get a better deal if he were elected.  The talks collapsed, thousands more died, and because LBJ did not reveal what he knew, Nixon was elected president.  See the details (so far being ignored by American media for some reason) from the BBC after the jump.

From BBC News – The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon’s ‘treason’:

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, and he knew this would derail his campaign.

He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.

At a July meeting in Nixon’s New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault.

In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.

The US delegation, left, and North Vietnamese delegation at Paris peace talks The Paris peace talks may have ended years earlier, if it had not been for Nixon’s subterfuge

Chennault was despatched 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.

So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.

He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”.

Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.

President Nixon in 1970 with a map of Vietnam Nixon went on to become president and eventually signed a Vietnam peace deal in 1973

In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson’s reaction to the news.

In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.”

He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved.

When he became convinced it was being orchestrated by the Republican candidate, the president called Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate to get a message to Nixon.

The president knew what was going on, Nixon should back off and the subterfuge amounted to treason.

Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.

Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador’s phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.

So they decided to say nothing.

The president did let Humphrey know and gave him 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.

Nixon ended his campaign by suggesting the administration war policy was in shambles. They couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table.

He won by less than 1% of the popular vote.

Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.

A big tip of the hat to tODD, who asks why this story is getting hardly any coverage in the U.S.   The media is accused of having a liberal bias.  “Surely,” tODD comments, “they aren’t ignoring the story in order to protect Nixon’s reputation.”


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  • I wonder if liberals aren’t paying attention to this story because somehow they fear that focusing on a president’s selling out the US for political interests would remind the country a little too much of the current WH occupant.

  • Dave

    Must not be the whole media ignoring this because I watched a long story on this a couple nights ago. I don’t remember the network but it wasn’t on BBC America.

  • Dave

    Oh, I just remembered. It was MSNBC. And of course they went on to try to make a parallel to George W Bush and Iraq. That is why conservatives don’t take the liberal media serious. The story isn’t enough in itself? Somehow Bush is another Nixon?

  • Kirk


    See @1 for lulz

  • Tom Hering

    I wonder if liberals aren’t paying attention to this story … (@ 1)

    I just did a Google search for “Nixon treason” and the first page of results gave me coverage of the story by the NY Times, Daily Kos, and the Progressive Populist. Yup, we liberals must be scared of something, or we’re conspiring again, or … 😀

  • T

    Nixon a conservative? I think not. He favored abortion of biracial couples and created the EPA! This would be liberal on liberal crime that’s why no big t.v. media coverage.

  • Hanni

    The interference in the Paris peace talks has been well known, but the tapes will be interesting to read (transcript). Henry Kissinger was accused of being a war criminal and responsible for the deaths of all the US soldiers after the election. A documentary was filmed about his “calumny”, agreeing to help Nixon in this way. I didn’t know about the Chennault connection. As for the media, if it could possibly affect advertising sales, (money), forget it, left or right. Look how little questioning they gave to the runup to the Iraq war. The media (print) is terrified to publish anything controversial, for ex., the Downing Street memo. It took weeks for that to hit the papers, then buried. Readers are polarized with set in stone attitudes and threaten to cancel subscriptions, boycott, etc. Investigative journalism is pretty much down the tubes; only money counts.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    #6: “….and created the EPA!” Because conserving something is something conservatives don’t do?

    Anyway, it has pretty much been established that Nixon was a power-hungry, neurotic individual. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

  • Joe

    That is an interesting story. Nixon was scarred terribly by his loss to Kennedy in 1960. He went to great lengths to prevent it from happening again, ultimately leading to his self destruction. These revelations are pretty terrible. But I think Tom has done a good job of pointing out that it is being covered my the media. So, not sure if tODD’s ultimate point that this somehow disproves a liberal bias holds water.

  • Tom Hering

    What if this story were to get all the attention that conservatives say it isn’t getting? Conservatives would, then, I’m certain, be quick to complain that it’s another example of the liberal media out to destroy the reputation of a conservative Republican icon (even if liberals are the only ones who still see him as such).

  • Steve Billingsley

    I don’t think this proves or disproves a liberal media bias. For one thing, the media isn’t the monolith that conservatives like to claim. (BTW, I am a conservative if one is keeping score)
    Some of the media is quite liberal – and some aren’t. I do think that in general, liberals outnumber conservatives (and moderates) in media by a fairly wide margin – but that doesn’t constitute bias in and of itself. I think there is a bias – and I do think there are plenty of unethical actors in the media – but to the extent that it exists I think it is more groupthink than conspiracy.
    Two things that I do think this proves are –
    1. Nixon was a neurotic, power-hungry Machiavellian extraordinaire. Wow – what a piece of work that guy was.
    2. Humphrey made a tactical mistake – but in a way that is in keeping with his reputation (I think well-deserved) as one of the more decent men to have been a major player in national politics in the last 60 years.
    Not that either one of those things really need more proof than we already have.

  • Joe

    I should add the the most likely reason that the American media was not first out of the shoot with this has nothing to be with bias, it has to do with the fact that our news agencies are short staff, lazy and filled with grandiose ideas of shaping history for the better on “investigative report” at a time.

  • Hanni

    BTW, I forgot to mention that the skinny was that Nixon had promised Kissinger the position of Secy of State if he went to Paris to talk with the Vietnamese and he won the election. Nixon was a brilliant man it is said…Alan Greenspan was asked on TV who the smartest presidents were and he said Nixon and Clinton. It is my humble opinion that most presidents are megalomaniacs and those two outstanding ones. I can only think of 2 who might not have been…Ike and Bush I, both of whom seemed sensible and willing to buck the tide of popularity somewhat. Ike’s final speech on the military industrial complex was definitive, tho should have been given earlier; Bush’s raise of taxes; sensible and had to be done; no BS about it.

  • Kirk

    Tom @10

    That’s the beauty of conspiracy theories: regardless of the evidence, it always points to them being true.

    The media fails to report on Nixon? Bias! They’re worried about the parallels that might be drawn to the current administration. Oh wait, they are reporting on it? Bias! They’re trying to slander Republicans by tying Nixon’s legacy to the modern day party. Your failure to knowledge the bias? Proof that they’re brainwashing Americans!

  • Jon H.

    The American people are past caring about anything except keeping their assault weapons and watching football. Take two aspirin, and chant “USA! USA!” until you fall asleep.

  • tODD

    Huh. I have to admit, this was the first I’d heard of this whole Nixon story. And, it would appear, it was the first that several other people I talked to had heard of it, as well. Though, as Tom notes (@5), some of the details I found so surprising were reported several years ago, as in this AP article that ran in the New York Times (though even there, you’ll note that it ran in the back of the front page, on page A23).

    Still, the accusation is constantly being made by right-wingers of how the media will do anything to tarnish Republicans, disproportionately playing up their missteps. That simply isn’t the case here, obviously. Nor, as Hanni alluded (@7), was it the case in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Heck, the supposedly liberal media even failed to trumpet the admission, finally, in 2011 that the biological weapons justification for the Iraq War was a lie (which appeared on page A7). These are big stories, and yet they do not show a media hellbent on tarnishing Republicans.

    What’s especially funny about this is how people like “Carl Vehse” will go on and on (and on) about Obama’s (or, really, any Democrat’s, er, sorry, DEMONi666rat’s) would-be treason, yet when evidence of actual treason from a Republican surfaces … [crickets].

    Whatever. Steve Billingsley (@11) +1.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Todd @ 16: Well, they (the uberconservatives, or whatever they want to call themselves) do have to stick to the party line. Otherwise they will be bad comrades.

    Something happens: Repeat slogan.
    Something doesn’t happen: Repeat slogan.
    Don’t have anything intelligent to say: Repeat slogan.

  • OK, if I take the Beeb at their word, we have a very odd situation; LBJ, no stranger to political jujitsu, refusing to use a huge gift from Richard Nixon on behalf of his Democratic Party.

    Either the Beeb is incorrect on this one, or there’s another factor out there that kept LBJ from using the nuclear option on Nixon. Whatever that is ought to concern both sides of the political aisle.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I do want to expand a bit on where I think bias really does enter into our media journalism culture. It isn’t necessarily pointed toward political parties per se (i.e. Democrats good, Republicans bad). But it does manifest itself more on particular issues. If you look at coverage regarding gun issues or same-sex marriage, for example, a slant tends to be very apparent. It ends up working for or against political parties insofar as views on these issues split neatly along party lines. I think that liberal bias (such as it is) in media outlets is a groupthink kind of reinforcement that “only right-thinking people see this issue the way I do..” kind of subtext.

    But in today’s media culture just as many eyes and ears are on self-consciously conservative outlets like Fox News or the Wall St. Journal editorial page as are on the New York Times or MSNBC etc….I think claims of bias were much more convincing in the age fewer media options.

    Related to that, where I think “liberal” (and oftentimes it’s hard to pigeonhole views – maybe a better term is “politically correct” or “conventional wisdom” or whatever) worldview has a more pervasive effect on the way people think and see things is not news media – but pop culture. Lots of people don’t watch the news or read newspapers or look at politically oriented websites. But they watch movies and TV and listen to music and for many those media have much more influence on the way they think than any news media. And even that isn’t particularly monolithic (on any given night an episode of “Duck Dynasty” or a sporting event will draw more viewers than any drama or comedy on one of the big networks).

  • Steve Billingsley

    wow – I need to edit before I post. That last one was a jumbled mess – but I think my thoughts come through…

  • tODD

    Bubba (@18), it’s fascinating to watch you grapple with facts. Or, rather, not.

  • SKPeterson

    bike @ 18 – the article mentions why LBJ did not use the information on Nixon. In order to lambaste Nixon for engaging in backhanded interference in US foreign policy, he would have to admit to domestic spying and (possibly) illegal wiretapping. A case a criminal being aware of another opposing criminal’s crimes but unable to yell for the police in order to not be caught for his own crimes. Now that’s what I call good government.

  • DonS

    There’s not much to this story, and what there is reflects worse on Johnson than on Nixon. Perhaps that’s why the liberal media isn’t covering it as much as tODD would like.

    So, what do we know? Apparently, somehow, Johnson found out that Nixon, in his own apartment, had told South Vietnamese leaders in July that Chennault was his designated representative. First, big deal. Second, how did Johnson know this? Wiretaps? Bugs?

    Then, someone in the White House claims, on tape, that Chennault visited the South Vietnamese Embassy in late October and told them that they should “hang on” (whatever that means) until Nixon was elected in a couple of weeks. Hearsay, anyone? First, again, they found out whatever information they had because of entirely illegal bugs and wiretaps. Things liberals claim to hate (though apparently not in this case). I hate them as well. Second, is “hang on” really treasonous? Did she actually explicitly suggest that they pull out of talks that were only just then beginning? Nothing in the article suggests that she did. It appears that the South Vietnamese made that decision on their own. The article makes aspersions that Nixon communicated with America’s enemies, but I don’t see any evidence at all, or even a specific allegation, that he did. Let’s remember the later history of the Paris Peace Accords ( They started in 1968 and didn’t result in any resolution until 1973. They spent the better part of a year arguing about the shape of the table. Basically, these were conversations in the heat of a political campaign, where Johnson wanted to make an election eve political announcement that he was ceasing the bombing of North Vietnam, and Nixon, for the same kinds of political reasons, wanted to defer that announcement. Politics. As. Usual. Not treason. Not significant. Political business as usual.

    Bottom line — the article is just another hyperventilating effort to smear Nixon on the thin reed of hearsay. The actual evidence is much more damaging to Johnson than to Nixon, which is probably why U.S. media isn’t going gaga over the story. And there most certainly was no treason involved.


  • Tom Hering

    So, Don, your argument is basically that the media isn’t doing much reporting on the story because there really is no story – nothing that’s news to anyone. Now, what possible interest does today’s media have in maintaining a good reputation for LBJ? Heck, even in the ’60s, the (liberal) media gave the guy all kinds of hell.

  • DonS

    Tom @ 24: It’s been established above that the story has been run in the major U.S. media. It’s not a mind-blowing story, so it’s not “top of the news”. It’s human interest, like the other White House tapes have been, for the most part. It certainly doesn’t prove Nixon was a traitor, as this absurd BBC reporter seems to be suggesting.

  • SK; got it, and thank you. We’ll call it LBJ’s “Watergate.” I would agree that the wiretapping almost certainly had to be illegal.

    That said, Nixon does appear to have gotten Saigon a better deal, and in doing so, postponed (to a degree) the subjugation of South Vietnam by seven years. Let’s not forget the boat people (200-400,000 of whom died) and those killed in the Hanoi-led subjugations of Laos and Cambodia–not to mention the further atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. It cost us a lot, yes, but getting out cost this region far more.

    tODD: Ephesians 4:31-2.

  • Tom Hering

    … Nixon does appear to have gotten Saigon a better deal … (@ 26)

    I thought a President’s first priority is the best deal for his own country. You know, like getting us out of a war we can’t win (except at a cost that far exceeds the value – again, to us – of any possible victory).

  • Tom Hering

    But Don (@ 25), your theory was that today’s media doesn’t want to make LBJ look bad. Why wouldn’t they?

  • DonS

    Tom @ 28: I’m beyond theorizing on the actions of our esteemed media. However, if the point is to smear Nixon, the story loses a lot of its luster if it smears Johnson worse. And, other than for the purpose of a smear, there’s nothing much to the story.

  • Tom Hering

    Don, I’m not sure how the story smears Johnson worse. The only wiretapping it mentions is the FBI bugging the South Vietnamese ambassador’s phone. Yes, Johnson had the FBI do surveillance on Nixon, but we don’t know what that surveillance consisted of – whether it was illegal or not. In any case, we know Nixon had the FBI conduct surveillance of his own political enemies when he was President, so again, I’m not sure how Johnson comes out looking worse than Tricky Dick, who did indeed do a number of illegal things, politically.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Tom @ 30 and Don @ 29
    Not to intrude on your argument, except to make this observation.

    It seems pretty self-evident to me (and from more than the BBC report FWIW) that both LBJ and Tricky Dick were fairly thoroughgoing scumbags. Theorizing on who was worse seems to be a bit of a waste of time (I know, I know, as opposed to commenting on blogs in general) – the article by itself puts Nixon in a worse light IMO. But LBJ doesn’t exactly come of as a saint.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    # 26: So if I’m being stupid don’t point it out, because pointing it out is bitterness, slander…..
    Lesson: Pointing out mistakes or stupidity or incoherence is a bad, bad thing.

    Bike: You’re being incoherent…..

  • Klasie; contrast #21 with #22, and ask yourself who corrected me, and who sniped at me. This kind of sniping is the habit of the author of comment #21, and therefore I refer him to an applicable passage.

    Tom; agreed that the job of the President is to get a good deal for our country. I believe you’d also agree that this job is a lot easier if there’s something in the deal for other countries, no?

    Not that much of that mattered in SE Asia after 1975, of course, but I’m willing to remember that hindsight is 20/20.

  • tODD

    SK (@22), it’s not clear what you’re basing your allegations of “domestic spying and (possibly) illegal wiretapping” on here. Are you decrying everything the FBI does as “domestic spying”?
    Because the initial wiretapping, according to the BBC, was of the ambassador’s phone. Admittedly, I’m unclear on the legal ramifications of tapping a non-citizen’s phone, but my understanding was, at least back in the day, it was common practice with regards to embassies.

    Anyhow, based on the evidence the FBI gathered from the ambassador’s phone, they took information to LBJ, at which point he had Nixon’s campaign put under FBI surveillance. While certainly a politically touchy move, it also seems justified in light of what they found.

  • tODD

    Bubba (@33), please.

    In your original comment (@18), you showed no compunction in suggesting that either the BBC was lying/incompetent or LBJ had ulterior motives. There was little basis for either conclusion. The BBC, as had already been noted several times, was hardly alone in airing these facts (the facts being the content of the tapes that actually exist). And your speculation as to LBJ’s motives was self-evidently baseless.

    But when I pointed that out (@21), suddenly you were all about avoiding slander. When it came to you personally, obviously — speaking ill of the BBC or LBJ is still apparently okay.

    Honestly, whenever anyone quotes Scripture at you to suggest that you speak well of them, odds are very good that they have recently spoken ill of someone else in that same thread. (Cf. “Carl Vehse’s” scoundrelly last-resorting to the Eighth Commandment.)

  • tODD

    DonS (@23), your allegation of this being nothing more than “hearsay” makes no sense. If you’re going to admit that there were “bugs and wiretaps”, then you also have to admit that they produced information, including what Channault told the embassy.

    Of course, I like how you went from ignorance (“Second, how did Johnson know this? Wiretaps? Bugs?”) to knowledgeable assertion (“they found out whatever information they had because of entirely illegal bugs and wiretaps.”) in the course of your comment. If you’d read the BBC article closely, you would have already known the answer to your first question. How you determined, in the course of a few sentences, that the wiretaps were “entirely illegal” remains a secret of your own sleuthing, I suppose.

    Also, you have an odd habit of saying that “article” or “this absurd BBC reporter” “suggests” things that are clearly said by the people in the story. Is it telling that you want to blame the media for things said by those it is reporting on?

    Also, as to “I’m beyond theorizing on the actions of our esteemed media” (@29), what a relief! Because you were doing that only an hour earlier, and it is your usual M.O. here. Such a quick turnaround!

  • DonS

    Tom @ 30: First of all, bugging the ambassador’s phone is clearly illegal. There is not even a way to get a federal warrant to tap a diplomat’s phone. Secondly, to the extent they were eavesdropping on the conversations of U.S. citizens, that also is clearly illegal. If Bush had done something like this, you would be apoplectic. Bringing up other things Nixon might have done during his presidency to justify making this story into a smear of Nixon is ridiculous. Both Johnson and Nixon did a lot of terrible things during their presidencies — it is well established history, as Steve says @ 31, that both men were terrible presidents and terrible men. That’s not the point. The point is that there is nothing in this story which should cause one to think that it is scandalous with respect to Nixon, and also ignore what Johnson did. There is no evidence that Nixon did anything illegal. There is hearsay, based on WH conversations by partisans opposed to him. And even that merely concerns Nixon’s representative telling the SV ambassador that they should “hold on”, whatever that means. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that Johnson was engaged in illegal surveillance of a foreign diplomat and, by extension, U.S. citizens conversing with him. If anything, that’s the scandal, mild though it is.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 36: It is clearly hearsay. The only evidence is the tape, and what people said on the tape. End of story.

    Please provide for me any legal justification for bugging the home and phone of a foreign diplomat.

    Thank you.

  • tODD

    DonS (@38), where are you getting the idea that the FBI had bugged “the home and phone of a foreign diplomat”? All I see in that article is a repeated reference to bugging “the ambassador’s phone”, the clear understanding of which is that it was the phone at the embassy, not at the diplomat’s home.

    Anyhow, as to your request for “legal justification”, you’re the lawyer, so it should be easier for you to simply point me to the relevant code that makes it illegal. I’m having trouble finding an exact quote from the law relevant in 1968, after the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 was passed, but before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 went into effect, because all copies of Title 18 I can find online have been amended in light of the latter.

    But according to Wikipedia:

    Section 2511(3) specifies that nothing in this act [the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968] or the Federal Communications Act of 1934 shall limit the constitutional power of the President “to take such measures as he deems necessary”:

    “to protect the nation against actual or potential attack or other hostile acts of a foreign power, to obtain foreign intelligence information deemed essential to the security of the United States or to protect national security information against foreign intelligence activities”

  • tODD

    This would appear to be a copy of the aforementioned Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. It’s searchable, so you can pretty easily find Title III in it.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 38: I got that the FBI did it from the article: “The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone”. I don’t know where I got “home” from, not that it matters to the point. Also, this Smithsonian blog article:
    says that they bugged Chennault’s phone, according to the tapes:

    President Johnson had at the time a habit of recording all of his phone conversations, and newly released tapes from 1968 detailed that the FBI had “bugged” the telephones of the South Vietnamese ambassador and of Anna Chennault, one of Nixon’s aides.

    As for the legality of bugging the phone of a foreign diplomat, you won’t find a statute. It’s treaty law. See: The only legal remedy under international law for suspected spying by a diplomatic corps is to expel them. Their embassy was, under international law, the national territory of South Vietnam.

    IF they were also bugging a U.S. citizen’s phone, as the Smithsonian blog says, then that is another legal violation, obviously. Moreover, using the information obtained from an illegal wiretap of the telephone conversations of a U.S. citizen is also illegal. Another no-brainer. Your broad Wikipedia reference to the President being able to do whatever he wants to in the name of national security — I hope you don’t really think that would have applied to this particular situation, or we may as well check our civil liberties at the door. And any notion of protected diplomatic relations.

  • reg

    Could the lack of interest be that most people in the media were born less than 45-50 years ago and to them this is ancient history? They would rather report on some 20 something minor celebrity’s latest faux pas.

  • tODD

    DonS (@41), first of all, I think it’s funny that you’re pointing me to an article that clearly backs up the BBC article you were earlier decrying. It does that because it almost entirely relies on said BBC article.

    And while you seem insistent on shrugging your shoulders and blithely uttering “‘hold on’, whatever that means”, yet I am reminded that both the BBC article (and the Smithsonian one you pointed me to, which quotes it), elucidates on that:

    Chennault was despatched 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.

    That is what “hold on” meant.

    As for the legality of bugging an embassy on US soil, your link to diplomatic immunity doesn’t really make sense. Fine, a foreign ambassador in the US can’t be criminally prosecuted for violating our law. But what does that have to do with our wiretapping the embassy phone?

    Please tell me why Section 2511(3) of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 does not make such a wiretap legal in certain circumstances — including “to obtain foreign intelligence information deemed essential to the security of the United States”, which would seem to apply to a situation like this in which US soldiers would clearly be affected.

    Their embassy was, under international law, the national territory of South Vietnam.

    Good grief. I shouldn’t have to explain this to a lawyer, but you’re wrong. Here’s the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the relevant document. Show me in there where diplomatic missions are deemed extraterritorial or sovereign territory of the nation represented. Article 22 deems that they shall be “inviolable”, but that’s all you’ll find.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 43: “That is what “hold on” meant.” How do you know? Because that is what the article speculates? Remember, the only stated basis for this article are the tapes, between White House operatives intent on getting Humphrey elected and defeating Nixon. I didn’t listen to the whole tape (did you?), but the article certainly doesn’t state any evidentiary basis for its conclusion that she said anything like “withdraw from the talks”. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, but that’s why I call it hearsay. Maybe she was just saying don’t rush to a settlement on bad terms, because Nixon will support you getting better terms. Who knows? We don’t convict on hearsay. Or, at least, we didn’t do so in the past. Moreover, the whole thing is so tainted by the obvious lawlessness of what Johnson was doing, that it’s moot anyway. To me, it’s just a story of two campaigns jockeying for political position in the closing days of a campaign. Johnson wanted a photo-op stopping the bombing, and Nixon didn’t. And, of course, you glossed over and ignored the issue of whether the wiretaps went beyond the South Vietnamese ambassador to include a U.S. citizen and campaign opponent. Convenient.

    So, pray tell, if an embassy is “inviolable”, is it lawful under the treaty to wiretap its phones??? Really, are you questioning my point on this? Are we going to argue semantics or substance here? Good grief. Moreover, you still ignore my question about whether there was any justification to use the wiretap to listen in on a U.S. citizen’s phone calls. Hint — there is not, absent probably cause and a warrant.

    U.S. statutory law does not apply to diplomatic installations or personnel. As I said, they are covered by treaty, which supersedes statute.

    This story is a … nothing. A matter of mild historical interest, and, if anything, a confirmation that both Johnson and Nixon were political animals and not the greatest guys in the world. Which everyone already knew.

  • Tom Hering

    This story is a … nothing. A matter of mild historical interest … (@ 44)

    That’s a pretty good reason for the story not getting more play in the media than it has. As opposed to your theory that the media – today’s media, 45 years later – has some sort of reason to protect LBJ’s reputation.

  • tODD

    DonS (@44), you’re asking me to take your word over the journalist’s, as to the meaning of “hold on”. Unless you’d like to suggest to me that you’ve listened to more of the tapes than the reporter has, I’m going to be inclined to trust his assessment over yours. Something means more to me than nothing.

    Anyhow, the question of whether any or all of this wiretapping was illegal is not “semantics”, it is rather central to your complaint here that Johnson’s activity was illegal (and thus this story “reflects worse on Johnson than on Nixon” @23, “it smears Johnson worse” @29, “bugging the ambassador’s phone is clearly illegal” @37, and so on).

    Now if you seriously believe that embassies are foreign territory, you’re not really in a position to convince me that you know what you’re talking about here. Because, come on, that notion is quickly dismissed with a bare amount of research.

    So, pray tell, if an embassy is “inviolable”, is it lawful under the treaty to wiretap its phones???

    A reasonable question. At the time the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was signed (1961) or made effective (1964), warrantless wiretapping was not considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment (until Katz in 1967). So, at least according to US law, bugging an embassy would not have been considered contrary to its “inviolable” nature.

    I am not a lawyer, so I’m not sure what effect subsequent US laws have on the understanding of an international treaty.

    As to the wiretapping of Chennault’s phone, your entire contention that it was illegal requires that there was no warrant. Do you know that? If not, then your argument is baseless.

  • DonS

    Tom @ 45: My theory was always that the story is nothing. This particular BBC writer has a vivid imagination, an agenda, and an ability to overlook the fact that it speaks to Johnson’s ethics as much as it speaks to Nixon’s.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 46:

    you’re asking me to take your word over the journalist’s, as to the meaning of “hold on”. Unless you’d like to suggest to me that you’ve listened to more of the tapes than the reporter has, I’m going to be inclined to trust his assessment over yours. Something means more to me than nothing.

    The something IS nothing. My word isn’t important here, because I’m not asking you to believe me. I’m not reporting any facts. It is the reporter who is making an attempt to convince you that these tapes “prove” that Nixon convinced South Vietnam to quit the talks two weeks before the 1968 election, and that singular act extended the war by five years, costing thousands of additional lives. Unfortunately for him he offers almost no evidence for this fanciful conclusion, and the evidence he offers is entirely hearsay.


    Chennault was despatched 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.

    — Source cited for this? None. The article indicates that interviews were conducted in 1994 with certain Johnson staff. None with Nixon staff. Did this statement come from those interviews? Who knows, the article doesn’t say. Did it come directly from the tapes? If so, then it’s weird that the only quote from the tapes is the much more cryptic and ambiguous “In one conversation she tells the ambassador to ‘just hang on through election'”. Based on what the article presents, it seems like pretty close to pure speculation on the part of Johnson’s staff, and the reporter. It seems just as likely that the South Vietnamese leadership was spooked by Johnson’s election eve announcement of a cessation of the bombing and wanted assurances from Nixon that he wasn’t going to abandon South Vietnam in the pursuit of what they probably viewed as sham peace talks. But who knows, given the minuscule factual support in the story, and the lack of any research into Nixon’s side of the story.
    But this is the most egregious statement in the story:

    Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.

    Where in the heck did that conclusion come from? What evidence is there that a peace agreement was “within grasp in 1968”? This is the part that utterly blows apart the whole article and its neutrality. No third party history of the Paris Peace Accords I’ve ever read makes anything of this incident as an impediment to the talks (apparently, South Vietnam was only away from the talks for a few weeks), and certainly do not intimate that peace was at hand in 1968. Like I said, subsequent to 1968, it took the parties a year to negotiate the shape of the table.

    I did not say that the issue of whether the wiretapping was illegal is “semantics”. I said the issue of whether we are talking about sovereign or inviolable territory is semantics. There is no question whatsoever that wiretapping the ambassador’s phone violated international law, because it violated the principle of inviolability of embassy grounds. That’s no doubt, one huge reason why Johnson didn’t raise this issue at the time of the 1968 election — his hands were dirty.

    You misunderstand the Katz case. Wiretapping a home phone was already understood clearly to be unconstitutional. The question in Katz was whether he had an expectation of privacy while using a public phone. I don’t believe there is any reasonable way to interpret Johnson’s actions in wiretapping the South Vietnamese ambassador’s phone, in spite of clear international law holding embassies to be inviolate, to be legal. And I don’t think you would have ever argued the point in connection with anything George W. Bush did in connection with the Patriot Act, which was far milder than the brazen things Johnson was apparently doing.

    But, look, you can believe whatever the heck you want to. The article’s a joke, but feel free to believe away. It’s a free country.

  • tODD, my comment is not equivalent to yours because despite an error in reading the article, I did provide evidence for what I said. LBJ was known for bare knuckle politics and a degree of skullduggery, and the media do make mistakes (just like me). Never mind that it turns out that LBJ did, as I suggested, hold back because he had something to hide. Hardly any slander there!

    You, on the other hand, simply made the accusation without evidence, and yes, that is reprehensible.

    Now regarding this:

    “Honestly, whenever anyone quotes Scripture at you to suggest that you speak well of them, odds are very good that they have recently spoken ill of someone else in that same thread. (Cf. “Carl Vehse’s” scoundrelly last-resorting to the Eighth Commandment.):”

    Not quite following you here, tODD. Certainly whoever rebukes me will himself be a sinner. Am I then allowed to ignore Carl’s rebuke–or yours on that basis? I’m thinking not; I disagree with your comment/rebuke #35 because I believe you to be factually in error, not because of Romans 3:23.

  • tODD

    Bubba (@49), yeah, I know. It’s always okay when I do it, too. But you know how other people can be.

  • joey

    THE SLIDE- Nixon extends Vietnam war while Johnson is president. Reagan deals with Iran while Carter is president . Bush takes election from Gore. Now every time we have a election the GOP goes
    to its golf bag and takes out the treason club and no one even notices.

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