Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on this subject.
John A. Farrell, a former newsman, recently completed his biography of Richard Nixon, which will be published by Random House in March, 2017. On December 31, 2016, Farrell shared some of his findings in a New York Times op-ed titled “Nixon’s Vietnam Treachery”—revealing Nixon’s win-at-all-costs mentality. Farrell’s findings establish beyond question that Nixon was not merely a serial liar, but evil. His ploy to win cost literally thousands upon thousands of American and Vietnamese lives.
Digging in the Nixon Library’s archive, more specifically in the notes of H. R. “Bob” Haldeman from the 1968 presidential campaign, (when Haldeman was chief of staff of the campaign and in a role not unlike his later position in the Nixon White House), Farrell found confirmation of Nixon’s direct involvement in sabotaging the efforts by President Lyndon Johnson to end the war in Vietnam. It will be recalled that in 1968 Nixon was running against Johnson’s vice president Hubert Humphrey, and the race was so close Nixon worried the Humphrey would have benefited politically if Johnson had successfully ended the war.
Nixon’s involvement in this traitorous skullduggery has been speculated about for decades, but until Farrell found Haldeman’s contemporaneous notes of an October 22, 1968, conversation with Nixon, there was no direct proof of Nixon’s involvement. In fact, Nixon repeatedly denied playing any part in these activities. The notes put the lie to all his denials and reveal instead his orchestration of the scheme to prevent the war’s ending.
Johnson Learned Nixon Was Sabotaging His Peace Efforts
By October 1968, Vice President Humphrey had largely distanced himself from Johnson’s Vietnam policies, and the president’s refusal to halt all bombing to get North Vietnam to seriously negotiate an end to a war that had become a killing-machine for young American men. It was a war nobody believed could be won, particularly since Johnson was unwilling to commit the troops needed to do the job. The war had already forced Johnson to withdraw as a candidate for reelection, with Humphrey running as his chosen successor. But it was Humphrey’s increasing opposition to Johnson’s war policies that was closing the gap in the race—with Nixon claiming he had a secret plan to end the war. That was another lie.
By late October, President Johnson realized that to elect his successor he had to end the war, so he stopped all bombing of North Vietnam in a sincere effort to obtain a negotiated ending. When Johnson got wind of the fact that the leaders of South Vietnam were holding out in hopes of getting a better deal with Johnson successor, and refusing to take part in peace talks, he smelled a rat. Johnson ordered the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) to investigate, and soon learned that the Nixon campaign was, in fact, telling the South Vietnam leaders to not negotiate because Johnson would sell them out and they would get a better deal if Nixon were president—and he, Nixon, was leading in the race.
An annoyed Johnson telephoned his long-time friend and former colleague, Senate Republican Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen, and after swearing him to secrecy, gave him an update on the situation, explaining that they have a deal with the North Vietnamese to allow the South Vietnamese (GVN) to attend the peace settlement talks, but Nixon’s people were telling both North Vietnam (Hanoi) and South Vietnam (GVN) that Nixon would give everyone a better deal when he was elected president. This October 31, 1968, call with Senator Dirksen was recorded by Johnson. Without telling Dirksen the FBI was wiretapping the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, or how they picked up a conversation by Nixon campaign operative Madame Anna Chennault, or even that the NSA had uncovered Nixon campaign efforts in both Saigon and Hanoi, Johnson intimated these facts to Dirksen while still giving Nixon the benefit of the doubt, telling Dirksen he did not think Nixon himself was involved in actions that were causing 400 to 500 deaths a day. But he had solid information that people from Nixon’s campaign were doing so.
By November 3, 1968 (two days before the election), Dirksen had spoken with Nixon, so Nixon called President Johnson to absolutely assure him he had nothing to do with any effort to sabotage the peace talks with North Vietnam by getting South Vietnam to refuse to meet. To the contrary, he wanted a settlement. Based on Haldeman notes of their October 22, 1968 (the notes discovered by Farrell), Nixon flat-out lied to Johnson. Even after he was forced from office by Watergate, Nixon lied when asked by David Frost about this matter.
(A broad overview of Johnson and his men learning of the Nixon campaign activities was assembled in 1994, by Charles Wheeler, while many of the key Johnson administration players were still alive.)
Haldeman’s Campaign 1968 Notes—October 22, 1968
Jack Farrell also shared a copy of the Haldeman notes he found at the Nixon Library and posted them with his New York Times op-ed. When reading the notes, I immediately noticed that Haldeman employed the same coding and abbreviation system during the 1968 campaign that he later used as White House chief of staff, and with which I was very familiar. Because the reporting on these notes has been less than accurate, I am going to flush them out a bit more since I can decipher material others appear to have missed.
Haldeman did not attempt to make notes of his entire conversations with Nixon, rather he made notes of matters that Nixon wanted him to follow-up on. Accordingly, he would often indicate the other staff person Nixon wanted to take an action. For example, his notes for the October 22, 1968, conversation have the following coded names: Z = Ron Ziegler, the press spokesperson for the campaign; Harlow = Bryce Harlow, a well-connected Washington lobbyist, who had served in the Eisenhower White House doing congressional relations; Fl = Peter Flannigan, a New York based investment banker; RW = Rose Mary Woods, Candidate Nixon’s long-time personal secretary (Haldeman also refers to her in his notes as Rose); F = Bob Finch, a long-time Nixon friend and well-connected California Republican politician; M = John Mitchell, Nixon’s law partner in New York City and campaign manager in 1968; Moore = Richard Moore, a California based television broadcasting executive whose public relations advice Nixon frequently sought; and Rebozo = Bebe Rebozo, a Florida banker and long-time friend of Nixon, who undertook behind the scenes assignments—also referred to in Haldeman’s notes as Bebe.
Haldeman notes are highly reliable, remarkably accurate. (Later, I often tested them against Nixon’s secret White House taping system, and found they could make clear matters that were inaudible on the tape recordings.) It appears the entire conversation on October 22, 1968 related to Vietnam, and Nixon’s secret efforts to sabotage President Johnson’s efforts to end the war. At the time, Vice President Humphrey’s campaign was quickly gaining ground against Nixon’s lead. This was cause for Nixon’s concern, and his scheme to block the peace talks from occurring.
Per the notes, which I have translated and summarized, Nixon instructed Haldeman that Bryce “Harlow [should be] monitoring [the situation in] V[iet] Nam.” Nixon wanted Peter Flannigan to inform them is any polls taken on this issue; he reported he had received information from Arizona Congressman John Rhodes that they were dropping in the polls with older Americans because of Johnson’s effort to end the war and wanted Haldeman’s thoughts on how to deal with this problem; he also wanted Haldeman to “sit down with Rose Woods and [Dick] Moore,” and others, to get their thoughts on how they thought Nixon should “hit H[ubert] H[umphery]” on a speech he had given about ending the Vietnam war by just pulling out, “how hard” Nixon wanted to know should he hit Humphrey.
As the conversation continued, Haldeman’s code makings— an arrow 󠄼(— with an exclamation mark (!) plus a double underlying of the symbol for John Mitchell (M)—indicating that this was a matter of great importance to Nixon and it had emphasized that Mitchell was to “keep Anna Chennault working on SVN,” or South Vietnam, and “insist [unclear] on the 3 Johnson conditions,” referring to the information Nixon had learned in his conversation with President Johnson, who wanted North Vietnam to stop shelling the demilitarized zone, to agree to meeting in Paris, and to permit the South Vietnamese government to participate in the peace talks.
In addition, he wanted Bryce Harlow to contact Senators Dirksen and John Tower to “blast” President Johnson’s plan, and come up with “any other way to monkey wrench” Johnson’s plans to end the war. Nixon wanted suggestions of what else he might do. Nixon instructed Haldeman to have Rose Woods contact her friend Louis Kung, a businessman with relationships with South Vietnam, to make sure that South Vietnam would “hold firm” and not meet unless they got all they wanted. Nixon wanted Bebe Rebozo to contact Florida Senator George Smathers, who was close to President Johnson but friendly to Nixon, to “threaten” Johnson and advise him that Nixon had learned that Johnson—contrary to his promise to Nixon—was helping Humphrey and that Nixon was going “to blast” Johnson with a major speech on Vietnam.
Nixon, who had the habit of repeating himself in conversations, and going over the same points many times, did so in this conversation, occasionally adding new points, like having his vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew “go see” CIA Director Richard Helms and tell him that if he did not give Nixon’s campaign “the truth” he would be out of a job when Nixon was elected.
It is clear from Haldeman’s coding that all the points in the four pages of notes were carried out. Haldeman would place a bold check mark on an item when he had taken care of it, and other than a few items where Nixon was repeating himself, Haldeman checked of every point in Nixon’s scheme. The significance of Nixon’s nefarious actions should not be lost, for this is as despicable as a candidate for president of the United States can act.
To be continued…