At 1:54 p.m., trying to head off that possibility, Nixon spoke directly to Johnson, according to an audiotape released by the LBJ Library...
"Mr. President, this is Dick Nixon."
Johnson: "Yes, Dick."
Nixon: "I just wanted you to know that I got a report from Everett Dirksen with regard to your call. ... I just went on 'Meet the Press' and I said ... that I had given you my personal assurance that I would do everything possible to cooperate both before the election and, if elected, after the election and if you felt ... that anything would be useful that I could do, that I would do it, that I felt Saigon should come to the conference table. ...
"I feel very, very strongly about this. Any rumblings around about somebody trying to sabotage the Saigon government's attitude, there's absolutely no credibility as far as I'm concerned."
Armed with the FBI reports and other intelligence, Johnson responded, "I'm very happy to hear that, Dick, because that is taking place. Here's the history of it. I didn't want to call you but I wanted you to know what happened."
Johnson recounted some of the chronology leading up to Oct. 28 when it appeared that South Vietnam was onboard for the peace talks. He added: "Then the traffic goes out that Nixon will do better by you. Now that goes to Thieu. I didn't say with your knowledge. I hope it wasn't."
"Huh, no," Nixon responded. "My God, I would never do anything to encourage ... Saigon not to come to the table. ... Good God, we want them over to Paris, we got to get them to Paris or you can't have a peace."
Nixon also insisted that he would do whatever President Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk wanted, including going to Paris himself if that would help. "I'm not trying to interfere with your conduct of it; I'll only do what you and Rusk want me to do," Nixon said, recognizing how tantalizingly close Johnson was to a peace deal.- Advertisement -
"We've got to get this goddamn war off the plate," Nixon continued. "The war apparently now is about where it could be brought to an end. The quicker the better. To hell with the political credit, believe me."
Johnson, however, sounded less than convinced. "You just see that your people don't tell the South Vietnamese that they're going to get a better deal out of the United States government than a conference," the President said.
Still professing his innocence, Nixon told Johnson, "The main thing that we want to have is a good, strong personal understanding. After all, I trust you on this and I've told everybody that."
"You just see that your people that are talking to these folks make clear your position," Johnson said.
Nixon protested that some of his Democratic rivals were citing the bombing halt as good news for Humphrey's campaign. "Some of Humphrey's people have been gleeful," Nixon said. "They said the bombing pause is going to help them and our people say it hurts."- Advertisement -
"I'll tell you what I say," Johnson cut in. "I say it doesn't affect the election one way or the other. ... I don't think it will change one vote."
Trying to end the conversation on a pleasant note, Nixon inserted, "Anyway, we'll have fun."
According to some reports, Nixon himself was gleeful after the conversation ended, believing he had tamped down Johnson's suspicions. However, privately, Johnson didn't believe Nixon's protestations of innocence.