Tags: nixon | chennault affair | watergate | chasing Shadows | ken hughes

The Nixon Tapes, Chennault Affair, Origins of Watergate: 'Chasing Shadows' Excerpt

By    |   Monday, 24 Nov 2014 09:47 AM

Excerpt from CHASING SHADOWS: THE NIXON TAPES, THE CHENNAULT AFFAIR, AND THE ORIGINS OF WATERGATE by Ken Hughes

The president was on the brink of another Vietnam-related political disaster in October 1968. For months, Hanoi had demanded an unconditional halt to American bombing of North Vietnam before it would discuss any settlement of the war. Johnson, however, insisted that Hanoi meet certain secret military conditions before he would call off the aerial and naval bombardment of the North. Hanoi had finally accepted his demands, but just as LBJ was getting ready to order the bombing halt and announce the start of peace talks, he received a warning: the Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon, was trying to sabotage the peace talks before they even began. Faced with an unprecedented problem, he turned, as he had so many times before, to Sen. Richard B. Russell of Georgia.

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President Johnson (to Russell): Well, I've got one this morning that's pretty rough for you. We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, our allies and the others. He's been doing it through rather subterranean sources here.

The warning came from a source no president could safely ignore: Alexander Sachs. An economist at Wall Street's Lehman Corporation who had helped write campaign speeches for FDR, Sachs entered history when he warned Roosevelt on behalf of Albert Einstein and other leading physicists that Nazi Germany might build an atom bomb. An October 11, 1939, meeting in the Oval Office between FDR and Sachs led to the Manhattan Project. Sachs had a pretty good track record of forecasting trouble. "Among the developments he was credited with having predicted," The New York Times wrote, "were the 1929 Depression, the 1933 banking crisis and the rise of Hitler." Like these earlier warnings, the one Sachs gave Johnson concerned matters that could affect the future of America and the world.

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At an October 28, 1968, working lunch on Wall Street, Sachs had heard from "a member of the banking community, a colleague, a man he has known for many years, and one in whose honesty he has absolute confidence" that Nixon was approaching the peace talks "like another Fortas case." Conservative senators had successfully filibustered Johnson's nomination of Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to become chief justice earlier that month. Sachs wouldn't reveal the identity of his source, but told Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Eugene V. Rostow what he'd heard:

The speaker said he thought the prospects for a bombing halt or a cease-fire were dim, because Nixon was playing the problem as he did the Fortas affair--to block. He was taking public positions intended to achieve that end. They would incite Saigon to be difficult, and Hanoi to wait.

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Mere hours after LBJ got this warning from Sachs, he learned that the South Vietnamese government was indeed going "to be difficult." South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu had started saying that three days between stopping the bombing and starting the peace talks just wasn't enough time for him to get a delegation to Paris. "Didn't he say one day originally?" Johnson asked his advisers. The president began to suspect Sachs was right.

Excerpt from CHASING SHADOWS: THE NIXON TAPES, THE CHENNAULT AFFAIR, AND THE ORIGINS OF WATERGATE by Ken Hughes. Copyright the University of Virginia Press, 2014.

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The president was on the brink of another Vietnam-related political disaster in October 1968. For months, Hanoi had demanded an unconditional halt to American bombing of North Vietnam before it would discuss any settlement of the war.
nixon, chennault affair, watergate, chasing Shadows, ken hughes
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