The report upset Johnson, but he chose to continue trying to persuade Nixon to live up to his pre-election commitment to do whatever he could to push the peace process toward success. At 2:54 p.m. on Nov. 8, Johnson spoke again with Sen. Dirksen to stress the urgency of Nixon getting Thieu to reverse his position on the peace talks. Johnson declared...
"Hell, no, this ought to go right now. If they [the South Vietnamese] don't go in there this week, we're just going to have all kinds of problems. ... We want Thieu to get a message so he can get a delegation from Saigon to Paris next week. We think we've held up each day, we're killing men. We're killing men. ...
"Saigon now thinks that they will play this out and keep this thing going on until January the 20th [Inauguration Day] and we think that's a mistake."
That evening at 9:23, Nixon called Johnson from Key Biscayne, Florida, where Nixon was taking a vacation after the grueling election. Nixon sounded confident and relaxed, even as Johnson continued to push regarding the peace talks. Johnson recounted the evidence of the continued interference by Nixon's emissaries and even described the Republican motivation for disrupting the talks, speaking of himself in the third person...
"Johnson was going to have a bombing pause to try to elect Humphrey; they [the South Vietnamese] ought to hold out because Nixon will not sell you out like the Democrats sold out China.
"I think they've been talking to [Vice President-elect Spiro] Agnew. They've been quoting you [Nixon] indirectly, that the thing they ought to do is to just not show up at any [peace] conference and wait until you come into office.- Advertisement -
"Now they've started that [boycott] and that's bad. They're killing Americans every day. I have that [story of the peace-talk sabotage] documented. There's not any question but that's happening. ... That's the story, Dick, and it's a sordid story. ... I don't want to say that to the country, because that's not good."
Faced with Johnson's threat, Nixon promised to tell the South Vietnamese officials to reverse themselves and join the peace talks. However, nothing changed.
At a Nov. 11 dinner party, President Thieu discussed what he termed a U.S. "betrayal" of him when he was getting pressured regarding the Paris peace talks, according to a "secret" U.S. government report on Thieu's comments. The report added, "Thieu told his guests that during the U.S. election campaign he had sent two secret emissaries to the U.S. to contact Richard Nixon." [Click here, here, here, here, here and here.]
On Nov. 13, South Vietnam's Minister of Information Ton That Thein held a press conference criticizing Johnson and his diplomats for rushing matters on the peace talks. Thein also acknowledged possible pre-election contacts with elements of Nixon's campaign.
A U.S. Embassy cable reported that "Asked whether Nixon had encouraged the GVN [the government of South Vietnam] to delay agreement with the US, Thein replied that, while there may have been contacts between Nixon staffers and personnel of the [South Vietnamese] Embassy in Washington, a person of the caliber of Nixon would not do such a thing." [Click here, here and here.]
On Nov. 15, 10 days after the election, suspicions of the peace-talk sabotage began seeping into the U.S. news media. Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer reported, "Top Saigon officials are boasting privately they helped assure the election of Richard M. Nixon. They are pleased about it. 'We did it,' one of them said. "We helped elect an American President.'"
Columnists Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson noted in a Nov. 17 column that Johnson "learned that Saigon's Ambassador Bui Diem had been in touch secretly with Richard Nixon's people. There were unconfirmed reports that South Vietnamese leaders had even slipped campaign cash to Nixon representatives."
"Lady Still Operational"
As the weeks passed and the peace talks remained stalled, Anna Chennault kept up her contacts with South Vietnam's Embassy, briefing a senior diplomat there on Dec. 9, 1968, about Nixon's selection of "her very good friend" Melvin Laird to be Secretary of Defense.
According to the FBI cable, "She went on to say that 'we' should be very happy about this [and] not to be too concerned about the press's references about a coalition government. Chennault indicated that Laird is a very strong man." Rostow forwarded the cable to Johnson on Dec. 10, with the notation, "The Lady is still operational."
But Johnson's White House remained tight-lipped about its knowledge of Nixon's treachery. According to the documents in "The 'X' Envelope," the first detailed press inquiry about the peace-talk sabotage came from St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Tom Ottenad who contacted Rostow on Jan. 3, 1969, just 17 days before Johnson would leave office.
Ottenad outlined the activities of Anna Chennault on behalf of the campaign and pressed Rostow to confirm that the administration was aware of the subterfuge. Rostow responded, "I have not one word to say about that matter."