A newly discovered collection of notes written by Nixon aide HR Haldeman reveals that during Nixon's 68 presidential campaign, he illegally conspired to convince the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, to scuttle the peace talks run by Nixon's political rival, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
Nixon was advised on the maneuver by Henry Kissinger, and also threatened CIA director Richard Helms with termination and political ruin if the CIA didn't cooperate with Nixon's plans. It is a federal crime to take steps to "defeat the measures of the United States." It is considered a form of treason.
Nixon later repeatedly denied having taken any measures to undermine the peace talks, and directed his lawyers to spend their careers suppressing the release of documents related to the 1968 election and the talks.
Approximately 35,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam after the failure of the peace-talks; the war also killed over 1,100,000 North Vietnamese soldiers; civilian casualty estimates range from 195,000 to 430,000.
As Hunter S Thompson wrote in his obituary for Nixon: "If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin."
Time has yielded Nixon's secrets. Haldeman's notes were opened quietly at the presidential library in 2007, where I came upon them in my research for a biography of the former president. They contain other gems, like Haldeman's notations of a promise, made by Nixon to Southern Republicans, that he would retreat on civil rights and "lay off pro-Negro crap" if elected president. There are notes from Nixon's 1962 California gubernatorial campaign, in which he and his aides discuss the need to wiretap political foes.
Of course, there's no guarantee that, absent Nixon, talks would have proceeded, let alone ended the war. But Johnson and his advisers, at least, believed in their mission and its prospects for success.
When Johnson got word of Nixon's meddling, he ordered the F.B.I. to track Chennault's movements. She "contacted Vietnam Ambassador Bui Diem," one report from the surveillance noted, "and advised him that she had received a message from her boss … to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was … 'Hold on. We are gonna win. … Please tell your boss to hold on.' "
Nixon's Vietnam Treachery
[John A Farrell/NY Times]