"So far as the information based on such sources is concerned, all three of us agreed: (A) Even if the story breaks, it was judged too late to have a significant impact on the election. (B) The viability of the man elected as president was involved as well as subsequent relations between him and President Johnson. (C) Therefore, the common recommendation was that we should not encourage such stories and hold tight the data we have."
According to a "memorandum for the record," presumably written by Walt Rostow...
"our contact with the man in New York" reported on Election Day, Nov. 5, that Nixon remained nervous about the election's outcome and thus reneged on his commitment to Johnson not to exploit the peace-talk stalemate for political gain.
"On the question of the problem with Saigon, he [Nixon] did not stay with the statesman-like role but pressed publicly the failure of Saigon to come along as an anti-Democrat political issue."
So, even as Johnson refused to exploit evidence of Nixon's "treason," Nixon played hardball until the last vote was cast.
Nixon narrowly prevailed over Humphrey by about 500,000 votes, or less than one percent of the ballots cast.
On the day after the election, Rostow relayed to Johnson another FBI intercept which had recorded South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem saying, prior to the American balloting, that he was "keeping his fingers crossed" in hopes of a Nixon victory.
On Nov. 7, Rostow passed along another report to Johnson about the thinking of South Vietnam's leaders, with a cover letter that read: "If you wish to get the story raw, read the last paragraph, marked."
That marked paragraph quoted Major Bui Cong Minh, assistant armed forces attache at the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, saying about the peace talks: "Major Minh expressed the opinion that the move by Saigon was to help presidential candidate Nixon, and that had Saigon gone to the conference table, presidential candidate Humphrey would probably have won."
The White House also learned that Anna Chennault remained in contact with Ambassador Bui Diem, including a cryptic conversation on Nov. 7, in which she told him she had conveyed a message from President Thieu to "them," presumably a reference to the Nixon team.
The cable read:
"She advised she had given 'them' everything when she finally got back to her office to call, that 'they' got the whole message. ... Chennault continued that 'they' are still planning things but are not letting people know too much because they want to be careful to avoid embarrassing 'you,' themselves, or the present U.S. government. Therefore, whatever we do must be carefully planned. ... Chennault added that Senator John Goodwin Tower had talked to her today. ... and Chennault and Tower plan to meet [Ambassador] Diem "either Monday.'"
After reading the cable on the morning of Nov. 8, Rostow wrote to Johnson, "First reactions may well be wrong. But with this information I think it's time to blow the whistle on these folks." Of course, as the president-elect, Nixon was now in the driver's seat and there wasn't anything Johnson could do to change that.
Another report on Nov. 8 described a breakfast meeting between
Ambassador Bui Diem and "a reliable and trustworthy American," who
discussed President Thieu's revised approach to the Paris talks which
"gave the GVN [South Vietnam] a more prominent status than the NLF [Viet
Cong] ... and put negotiations on a Vietnamese-to-Vietnamese basis rather
than a U.S.-to-Vietnamese basis. ...
"Asked if he [Bui Diem] thought there was much chance of Hanoi's acceptance, he replied 'no,' but he added that it put the GVN on the offensive rather than in the position of appearing to scuttle negotiations."
In other words, the South Vietnamese government was making a public relations move to ensure the talks would fail but without Thieu getting the blame. Bui Diem also expressed satisfaction that the U.S. elections had ousted key anti-war senators, Wayne Morse, Ernest Gruening and Joseph Clark. [Click here, here and here.]