An FBI intercept also picked up the Post-Dispatch questioning Bui Diem about contacts with Chennault. While he denied any improper contacts with the Nixon administration, Bui Diem acknowledged that Chennault "has visited the Vietnamese embassy from time to time, but not frequently."
As published, Ottenad's article began, "A well-known top official of committees working for the election of Richard M. Nixon secretly got in touch with representatives of South Vietnam shortly before the presidential election. It was in connection with an apparent effort to encourage them to delay in joining the Paris peace talks in hopes of getting a better deal if the Republicans won the White House."
But there was little follow-up to Ottenad's scoop. A sketchy account also appeared in author Teddy White's The Making of a President 1968, which was published in summer 1969, drawing a response from Chennault, who called the accusations an "insult."
Even in retirement, Rostow remained mum about the Chennault episode, rebuffing another overture from Ottenad on Feb. 11, 1970. Ottenad also approached ex-President Johnson, but he too chose to hold his tongue, though his legacy had been devastated by his conduct of the Vietnam War -- and by his failure to end it.
After Ottenad's inquiry, Johnson's aide Tom Johnson offered a heads-up to Nixon's chief of staff "Bob" Haldeman about another possible story on this touchy topic. To a somewhat baffled Haldeman, Tom Johnson volunteered that ex-President Johnson had given no authorization to anyone to discuss the matter.
"Haldeman said he was most appreciative that we had advised him of this information and would keep the telephone call completely confidential," Tom Johnson's memo to ex-President Johnson read. "Haldeman seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that we would call on such a matter and expressed his thanks again for the attitude we have been taking toward President Nixon." [Tom Johnson later served as president of CNN.]
From the start of Nixon's presidency in 1969, the U.S. participation in the Vietnam War continued for more than four years at horrendous cost to both the United States and the people of Vietnam. Having allegedly made his secret commitment to the South Vietnamese regime, Nixon kept searching for violent new ways to get Thieu a better deal than Johnson would have offered. Seeking what he called "peace with honor," Nixon invaded Cambodia and stepped up the bombing of North Vietnam.
In those four years, the war bitterly divided the United States, as anti-war protests turned increasingly confrontational; parents turned against their children and children against their parents; "hard-hats" attacked "hippies"; Nixon baited one group of angry protesters with his "V" for victory sign and called other protesters "bums"; four students were gunned down at Kent State.
But it seemed nothing could stop the war, not massive protests, not even disclosures about the deception that had gotten the United States into the conflict. Former Defense Department official Daniel Ellsberg leaked the "Pentagon Papers," a secret history of the war's early years, but the conflict still ground on.
Fatefully, Nixon struck back at Ellsberg by organizing a White House "plumbers unit" that broke into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist. The "plumbers," including ex-CIA operatives, later switched their attention to Nixon's political rivals, burglarizing the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate building in search of intelligence, including what dirt the Democrats might have on Nixon.
Before U.S. participation in the war was finally brought to a close in 1973 -- on terms similar to what had been available to President Johnson in 1968 -- a million more Vietnamese were estimated to have died. Those four years also cost the lives of an additional 20,763 U.S. soldiers, with 111,230 wounded.
Ironically, as the Democrats stayed mum, Nixon apparently judged that they were more concerned about the information regarding his Vietnam War "treason" coming out than he was. So, after some of his "plumbers" got arrested at the Watergate on June 17, 1972, Nixon began to view the 1968 events as a blackmail card to play against Johnson to get his help squelching the expanding probe.
Nixon discussed the 1968 bugging in his Oval Office meetings about Watergate as early as July 1, 1972. According to Nixon's White House tapes, his aide Charles Colson touched off Nixon's musings by noting that a newspaper column claimed that the Democrats had bugged the telephones of Anna Chennault in 1968 when she was serving as Nixon's intermediary to Thieu.
"Oh," Nixon responded, "in '68, they bugged our phones too."
Colson: "And that this was ordered by Johnson."