In other words, Nixon's friends on Wall Street were placing their financial bets based on the inside dope that Johnson's peace initiative was doomed to fail. (In another document, Walt Rostow identified his brother's source as Alexander Sachs, who was then on the board of Lehman Brothers, though Nixon's original Wall Street contact is not named and remains unknown to history.)
In a later memo to the file, Walt Rostow recounted that he learned this news shortly before attending a morning meeting at which President Johnson was informed by U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker about "Thieu's sudden intransigence." Walt Rostow said "the diplomatic information previously received plus the information from New York took on new and serious significance."
That same day, Johnson ordered FBI wiretaps of Americans in touch with the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington and quickly learned that Anna Chennault was holding curious meetings with South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem.
Working the Phones
Johnson began working the phones contacting some of his old Senate colleagues, including Republican Senate Leader Everett Dirksen, to urge that they intercede with Nixon to stop his campaign's peace-talk sabotage.
"He better keep Mrs. Chennault and all this crowd tied up for a few days," Johnson told Dirksen on Oct. 31, 1968, according to a tape recording of the call released in 2008.
That night, Johnson announced a bombing halt intended to ensure North Vietnamese participation in the talks. The Democrats were finally taking the action that Brown and other anti-war activists wanted, but it was late in the game and many voters remained dubious over whether Johnson was serious or was engaging in a political stunt.
"The President had no credibility," said Brown. "When he said, 'I'm ending the war,' the assumption was that we'd bomb them back to the Stone Age."
However, the historical evidence now indicates that Johnson was serious about ending the war. Indeed, he apparently felt a powerful responsibility to do so before leaving office, possibly thinking that it was the only way to salvage his legacy. But he discovered that Nixon's operatives continued to obstruct the process.
On Nov. 2, 1968, Johnson learned that his protests had not shut down Nixon's gambit. The FBI intercepted the most incriminating evidence yet of Nixon's interference when Anna Chennault contacted Ambassador Bui Diem to convey "a message from her boss (not further identified)," according to an FBI cable.
According to the intercept, Chennault said "her boss wanted her to give [the message] personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to 'hold on, we are going to win' and that her boss also said, 'hold on, he understands all of it.' She repeated that this is the only message ... 'he said please tell your boss to hold on.' She advised that her boss had just called from New Mexico."
In quickly relaying the message to Johnson at his ranch in Texas, Walt Rostow noted that the reference to New Mexico "may indicate [Republican vice presidential nominee Spiro] Agnew is acting," since he had taken a campaign swing through the state.
That same day, Thieu recanted on his tentative agreement to meet with the Viet Cong in Paris, pushing the incipient peace talks toward failure. That night, at 9:18, an angry Johnson from his ranch in Texas telephoned Dirksen again, to provide more details about Nixon's activities and to urge Dirksen to intervene more forcefully.
"The agent [Chennault] says she's just talked to the boss in New Mexico and that he said that you must hold out, just hold on until after the election," Johnson said. "We know what Thieu is saying to them out there. We're pretty well informed at both ends."
Johnson then renewed his thinly veiled threat to go public. "I don't want to get this in the campaign," Johnson said, adding: "They oughtn't be doing this. This is treason."
Dirksen responded, "I know."