One might compare the 1968 election with 2016 and say "well, at least there were no scandals involving the Republican candidate and a foreign power."
Wrong. The information of the scandal took years to leak out. Even in 2017 new bits and pieces are being unveiled to the public. Yet, in 1968, Richard Nixon was very much involved in back door dealing with the government of South Vietnam. Even then, LBJ was aware of that involvement.
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.”
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.
As organized labor mobilized to stem the flow of working-class defections to Wallace, and as peace Democrats moved into Humphrey’s column, Nixon’s lead shrunk to five percentage points by October 20. Then, on October 30, Nixon’s advantage all but vanished as Johnson sprung an “October surprise,” announcing to a prime-time television audience that North Vietnam and its ally, the National Liberation Front, had agreed to a new round of four-way peace talks with the United States and its ally, the Saigon-based Government of Vietnam (GVN). Johnson also told the nation that Hanoi had agreed to stop bombing South Vietnamese cities in return for a halt in America’s bombing campaign north of the demilitarized zone. With hopes for peace running high, Humphrey surged in the polls, leading Nixon by three points on November 2.
… At Nixon’s behest, Chennault informed Thieu that Nixon would secure a better deal for his country than either Humphrey or Johnson, and that the Democrats were effectively prepared to sell out Saigon in order to secure peace at any price. If Chennault could convince Thieu to stay away from the negotiating table, the talks would collapse, LBJ would look foolish and the Democrats’ 11th-hour gambit would fail.
Incredibly, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey knew of Nixon’s maneuvers. The National Security Agency intercepted cables between Thieu and his ambassador in Washington, D.C. (“[I am] still in contact with the Nixon entourage, which continues to be the favorite despite the uncertainty provoked by the news of an imminent bombing halt,” one communiqué began.) On the basis of these cables, LBJ ordered the FBI to tap Chennault’s phone; the bureau, in turn, concluded that she “contacted Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem and advised him that she had received a message from her boss (not further identified) which her boss wanted her to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to ‘hold on, we are gonna win’ and that her boss also said, ‘Hold on, he understands all of it.’”
Johnson was furious…. Yet he and Humphrey agreed not to go public. They lacked a definitive “smoking gun” that tied Nixon to the arrangement, and they were loath to compromise American intelligence services by acknowledging the taps and intercepts.
Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.
Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative.
“! Keep Anna Chennault working on” South Vietnam, Haldeman scrawled, recording Nixon’s orders. “Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do.”
…Nixon told Haldeman to have Rose Mary Woods, the candidate’s personal secretary, contact another nationalist Chinese figure — the businessman Louis Kung — and have him press Thieu as well. “Tell him hold firm,” Nixon said.
…Haldeman’s notes were opened quietly at the presidential library in 2007