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Taylor reports: "After the Watergate scandal taught Richard Nixon the consequences of recording White House conversations none of his successors has dared to do it. But Nixon wasn't the first."

Former U.S. president Lyndon Johnson. (photo: AP)
Former U.S. president Lyndon Johnson. (photo: AP)

The Lyndon Johnson Tapes: Richard Nixon's 'Treason'

By David Taylor, BBC News

18 March 13


Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations - he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks... but said nothing.

fter the Watergate scandal taught Richard Nixon the consequences of recording White House conversations none of his successors has dared to do it. But Nixon wasn't the first.

He got the idea from his predecessor Lyndon Johnson, who felt there was an obligation to allow historians to eventually eavesdrop on his presidency.

"They will provide history with the bark off," Johnson told his wife, Lady Bird.

The final batch of tapes released by the LBJ library covers 1968, and allows us to hear Johnson's private conversations as his Democratic Party tore itself apart over the question of Vietnam.

The 1968 convention, held in Chicago, was a complete shambles.

Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters clashed with Mayor Richard Daley's police, determined to force the party to reject Johnson's Vietnam war strategy.

As they taunted the police with cries of "The whole world is watching!" one man in particular was watching very closely.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was at his ranch in Texas, having announced five months earlier that he wouldn't seek a second term.

The president was appalled at the violence and although many of his staff sided with the students, and told the president the police were responsible for "disgusting abuse of police power," Johnson picked up the phone, ordered the dictabelt machine to start recording and congratulated Mayor Daley for his handling of the protest.

The president feared the convention delegates were about to reject his war policy and his chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey.

So he placed a series of calls to his staff at the convention to outline an astonishing plan. He planned to leave Texas and fly into Chicago.

He would then enter the convention and announce he was putting his name forward as a candidate for a second term.

It would have transformed the 1968 election. His advisers were sworn to secrecy and even Lady Bird did not know what her husband was considering.

On the White House tapes we learn that Johnson wanted to know from Daley how many delegates would support his candidacy. LBJ only wanted to get back into the race if Daley could guarantee the party would fall in line behind him.

They also discussed whether the president's helicopter, Marine One, could land on top of the Hilton Hotel to avoid the anti-war protesters.

Daley assured him enough delegates would support his nomination but the plan was shelved after the Secret Service warned the president they could not guarantee his safety.

The idea that Johnson might have been the candidate, and not Hubert Humphrey, is just one of the many secrets contained on the White House tapes.

They also shed light on a scandal that, if it had been known at the time, would have sunk the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon.

By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks - or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had "blood on his hands".

The BBC's former Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler learned of this in 1994 and conducted a series of interviews with key Johnson staff, such as defence secretary Clark Clifford, and national security adviser Walt Rostow.

But by the time the tapes were declassified in 2008 all the main protagonists had died, including Wheeler.

Now, for the first time, the whole story can be told.

It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.

He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.

At a July meeting in Nixon's New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault.

In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris - concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.

Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.

So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.

He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador's phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault's calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to "just hang on through election".

Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.

In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson's reaction to the news.

In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: "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, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move."

He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved.

When he became convinced it was being orchestrated by the Republican candidate, the president called Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate to get a message to Nixon.

The president knew what was going on, Nixon should back off and the subterfuge amounted to treason.

Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.

Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador's phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.

So they decided to say nothing.

The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.

Nixon ended his campaign by suggesting the administration war policy was in shambles. They couldn't even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table.

He won by less than 1% of the popular vote.

Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.

The White House tapes, combined with Wheeler's interviews with key White House personnel, provide an unprecedented insight into how Johnson handled a series of crises that rocked his presidency. Sadly, we will never have that sort of insight again. your social media marketing partner


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+39 # cordleycoit 2013-03-18 13:22
And the gaming of American lives goes on into this administration.
-16 # edge 2013-03-19 06:39
Quoting cordleycoit:
And the gaming of American lives goes on into this administration.

The next thing we will find out is that Obama told Putin that he could deal better after he was re-elected! Probably just made up stuff for the media...
+4 # David Heizer 2013-03-20 19:47
Quoting edge:
The next thing we will find out is that Obama told Putin that he could deal better after he was re-elected! Probably just made up stuff for the media...

Not even remotely comparable.
+2 # noitall 2013-03-23 16:57
Quoting David Heizer:
Quoting edge:
The next thing we will find out is that Obama told Putin that he could deal better after he was re-elected! Probably just made up stuff for the media...

Not even remotely comparable.

Not quite like Reagan and his treason to win over Jimmy Carter? To these "leader" elite, American lives are just pawns and we see this beyond the battle field. We see it in Monsanto, Haliburton, the private prisons and marijuana prohibition. Its all about money, and still we treat the filthy greedy rich like super stars. Go figure.
+33 # Tje_Chiwara 2013-03-18 13:36
Ah, the patriotism of those that loudly trumpet their patriotism . . . . and the patriotism of those that refuse to accuse traitors in the quest for a calmer more unified country . . . Now I understand the imbalance -- it's in their blood. Their vehement attacks, and the sad calm hopes of their opponents, seeking a more perfect union, rather than their unified, self-righteous, lying perfection.
+37 # Merschrod 2013-03-18 13:40
A pathetic lack of gumption on the part of Johnson and Humphrey - they were willing to overlook criminal behavior to save revealing their own against-the-law behavior in spite of the treason. What good is this intelligence nonsense if it is not used? So Obama chose to "look forward" and the bandits were home free; only to have Obama and company do them one better - neo-cons all.
+16 # MidwestTom 2013-03-18 14:07
So Johnson and Nixon both thought that the actions of the leader of the free world should be eventually available to explain history. What a pity that Presidents since are too secretive to allow this insight for future generations.

There is a great book "Tragedy and Hope" by a Professor Quigley from Georgetown, written on 1976, that is a book about Why history happened the way it did.
+18 # Douglas Jack 2013-03-18 14:19
What a bunch of murderous cowards & world-bullies.T hey all Johnson, Nixon, Humphrey etc are literally afraid of the truth & will do anything to keep their false image alive. When will politicians & the Finance-Media-M ilitary-Industr ial-Complex corporations which control them provide for a 'dialectic' ('from both-sides') process by which they openly debate & publish with perceived opponents their agreements & disagreements? When will society including media, organizations, business, education etc engage differences with respect? We're all delinquent & the world suffers from our lying to ourselves.
+17 # chomper2 2013-03-18 15:57
Doug, you ask "When will politicians & Finance...provi de for a...process...o pen debate, etc..." The answer is NEVER. To do so is not in the interest of these entities. You ask also "When will ngage differences with respect" The answer is again NEVER, and for the same reason. It will only happen when the public throws off their allegiances to the criminal political parties and votes ALL incumbents out at every election, until the lobbyists find no reason to continue their residence in Washington. (Their financial contributions will suddenly have no impact on a congressperson' s re-electability .) Then also, a new class of public servant will run for these one-term offices, people who only want to serve their neighbors in representative government and have no interest in using the office to enrich themselves, as is the case with most in our current Congress. I cannot for the life of me understand why people continue to vote for men (mostly) who promise to represent them, only to stab the voters in the back by switching their allegiances to their financial (corporate) backers once reelected.
+4 # Douglas Jack 2013-03-18 20:39
Chomper, Mohandas Gandhi & India approached independence upon two foundations:
COMMUNICATION: 1) 'Satyagraha' (Hindi 'truth-search') whereby all parties were brought together in dialogues. Gandhi would ask parties, "What are your best intentions & how can we help you fulfill these?" Treating people for their positive intentions changes human attitude & relations.
ACTION: 2) 'Swaraj' (H. 'self-sufficien cy') whereby all Indians were encouraged to grow food locally, house people collectively, spin thread & weave cloth locally, make salt & all essential goods & services. Swaraj brought down the British system economically. Pulling together in mutual aid & relational economy in humanity's 'Indigenous' worldwide (Latin 'self-generatin g') tradition.
+8 # futhark 2013-03-18 21:27
The Democrats have worked hand-in-glove with the Republicans to exclude other parties from gaining any kind of a hearing. Look at the way Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney both made sure the Green Party and the Libertarian Party would never get a seat at the presidential debates. The Republicans started as a small party focused on one ethical issue: stopping the spread of slavery into the western American territories. Now the elephant and the donkey have grown fat on their political monopolies and have no intention of sharing the policy making process with "outsiders".

Above the political duopoly are the military-indust rial complex and the surveillance state apparatus, calling the shots and picking the candidates. This is no way to run a democracy!
+24 # anarchteacher 2013-03-18 14:23

"LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason’," by Robert Parry

Award-winning investigative journalist Robert Parry is the authoritative expert on this specific subject, having written numerous articles and several books on the topic.

His hard-hitting piece, “The October Surprise Mysteries,” is an excellent summary article which I commend to all RSN readers.

It should be followed by his earlier New ‘October Surprise’ Series, and these previous articles at his Consortiumnews. com website.
+62 # Larry 2013-03-18 14:57
Maybe it's time for the Vietnam vets to stop damning the war protesters and Jane Fonda and direct their fury at the real villain, Commander-in-Ch ief, Richard Nixon.
+54 # Mike Duke 2013-03-18 15:14
You write wrongly that at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago we "taunted" the police by chanting "the whole world is watching". We were chanting it to try to get them to come to their senses, take heed, and stop attacking us.
+22 # Deboldt 2013-03-18 16:14
The really sad thing is that this disgraceful revelation -- a revelation upon which the whole history of that infamous period turned-- will never make it into the history books. Why should it? Every president is enshrined in bipartisan honor by those too afraid of truth to teach it. History should be a record of our mistakes as well as our triumphs.
+3 # Nominae 2013-03-19 20:10
Quoting Deboldt:
...... History should be a record of our mistakes as well as our triumphs.

"History" *IS* such a record. What is taught in schools, and increasingly, what is printed in our "news media", is not intended as an "education", but as an "indoctrination ".

We cannot be telling young students the TRUTH about history
and America, and STILL get them to swallow the National SWILL regarding "American Exceptionalism" . *Indeed*, NO, we CAN'T !

I would like to recommend the book called "Lies My Teacher Told ME ......" (that will get a hit on a search engine).

Absolutely GREAT comparison of FACT and the kind of BILGE that ends up in our Texas and Virginia Schoolboard Approved Textbooks in all the schools in the Nation.
+28 # obrien1950 2013-03-18 16:23
This is very sad. The revelation 45 years after the fact shows how sad this is. We lost a lot of brothers and sisters between 1968 and the end of the war in 1975.
These two snakes, I don't consider Humphrey as a willing participant, should have both been hung for treason. Nixon for willfully derailing the peace talks and Johnson for knowing about Nixon's plan and not doing anything about it!!
This country has plenty to be proud of but the last 45 years have been ruinous to our image at home and abroad. Our leadership has been rife with morally corrupt individuals. The incompetence of our leaders and their lack of vision and compassion for their fellow Americans has been extreme.
Nixon deserves most of the blame. His selfishness and greed should be his epitaph.
Reagan should also be knocked down for his interference with the Iran hostage crisis as well as the Iran Contra debacle and his breaking the back of union labor.
I am always proud to be an American (Vietnam Vet USN) but I am not proud of our leadership.
We should never wonder why the world distrusts our motives. We should always wonder why we trust our leaders!
+31 # ganymede 2013-03-18 16:35
Wow, another 23,000 needless American deaths and hundreds of thousands of innocent Vietnamese deaths all for naught and the glory of Johnson and Nixon's reputations, and Americans wonder why we people of the left are so upset and frustrated about American 'exceptionalism '. Yes, we are exceptional when it comes to warmongering and hypocrisy. Nixon and Johnson are no longer here, but we have Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons. Perhaps the only way we can atone for our sins is to prosecute these bastards.
+16 # Paul Scott 2013-03-18 16:43
Johnson, Nixon and Reagan were just Bush/Cheney lites at screwing this nation
+7 # karenvista 2013-03-18 21:19
Sorry, something went wrong- What I was trying to say was that the traitorous conversations were obtained by illegal wiretaps by J. Edgar Hoover and couldn't be submitted as evidence. Of course, Johnson could have outed J.Edgar, but he had something on everybody and would have impeached their evidence.
-24 # George D 2013-03-18 16:44
So; We're to believe that Johnson was about to do a peace deal with N. Vietnam and Nixon sabotaged it to get elected. Then, he escalates the war, only to later pull us out of Vietnam in disgrace, and nobody came forth to accuse him of treason publicly, even though Humphrey had the goods on him?

Sorry; I don't buy any of this.
I suspect that there were accusations thrown around and, since Nixon ran on the platform of ending the war in Vietnam, but tried a last ditch escalation instead, some might want to twist that bit of history a bit, but it sounds more like fiction than truth to me.

Just like hawks that claim "Hanoi was about to surrender but we pulled out instead" it's all speculation and a rewrite of history.

The truth is in what actually happened; Not what "might have" happened. Nixon (like Obama I suspect) fell victim to being the "new arrival" in the "war room" and was convinced by the hawks of his era that "all we need is a surge and we can win this thing". That surge was increased bombing, as started by Johnson. Did it work? For the short term yes. But apparently Nixon calculated that one surge would not produce victory. Especially after the Tet Offensive.
They were about to surrender; Yeah; Right.

How history repeats itself.
+20 # giraffee2012 2013-03-18 17:57
If Nixon really was guilty of treason (although no war had been declared) then "W" and his cohorts are also guilty of treason.

It is said "treason can only be prosecuted if war is declared" - I disagree: If a sworn statesman (elected government person) lies to "we the people" - he/she is committing treason in the most elemental definition of "treason"

And if the word "treason" is inappropriate under some "reason" the act of lying under oath is a felon and enough to send the lying creep to jail (or death) - I'd really like to see Cheney hung publically.

None of the neocons re Iraq can "admit" their lies because they then fall into the realm of criminals.

Maybe enhanced interrogation on Cheney, "W", et. al. would allow them to "admit" they lied?
+6 # flippancy 2013-03-19 05:09
Hanged in reality, not politically would be justice.
+16 # lorenbliss 2013-03-18 18:16
LBJ's refusal to act against Nixon's treason suggests far darker motives than merely the fear of compromising two surveillance operations.

The surveillance could have been plausibly denied by attribution to an anonymous leaker within the Nixon inner circle, which would have had the additional advantage of inducing distrust and thereby wounding Nixonoid solidarity. Moreover, LBJ – note his ability to “arm-twist” (actually blackmail) Congress into obedience – was demonstrably skilled at all such maneuvers.

Thus the real question here is what terrible secrets LBJ feared a cornered Nixon might reveal in retaliation -- including about the coup in Dallas on 22 November 1963, which ended forever both the American Dream and the American experiment in constitutional democracy.

In the One Percent as in Cosa Nostra, omerta -- the code of silence -- trumps all else.
+4 # SMoonz 2013-03-18 21:40
You are 100 percent correct. LBJ did not retaliate because he knew that Nixon would reveal the dirty deeds behind the JFK assassination. Both men were major players in the coup.
+2 # Douglas Jack 2013-03-18 22:02
Loren, If we follow money in the political cycle, there are finance-media-m ilitary-industr ial-complex puppeteers who are able to control large numbers of individual representatives through the election finance cycle.

The tragedy is that the public feeds upon a false image of 'democracy' (Greek 'power of the people') discounting the whole media communication, networking & organizational realities involved. Across candidates these communication / organizational processes cost millions of dollars per district per election cycle in our disassociated societies where everyone is alone & disconnected from family, community & workplace.

'Arm-twisting' & control is found in subservient politicians who invest their lives & families in fickle systems & want security, wealth & privilege. Humanity's 'indigenous' ancestors built sustainable systems of representation through Economic Democracy with Political Democracy as a subset.

We can cease demonizing & understand psychology of power & realities of systems design. Mohandas Gandhi in 'Satyagraha' (Hindi 'truth-search') would ask participants, "What are your best intentions & how can we help you achieve these?" 'Swaraj' (H 'self-sufficien cy') focused on employing all Indians to provide indigenous food, shelter, clothing warmth & health independent of foreign powers.
+6 # jsheats 2013-03-18 19:16
I would never defend the actions of Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, which was without doubt a horrible mistake ("mistake" being admittedly a rather weak word for it). But I will defend his measured determination to do the right thing for the country with respect to revealing the source of knowledge.

The NSA spied on every foreign power (friend and foe), and I don't think that is a bad thing. What can be good or bad is what is done with the data. Revealing that you have access to secret communication channels is likely to cause the other party to change its codes so that you lose that access, and thereby access to information that could be far more important than the situation you are considering.

Johnson was a flawed statesman, for sure, but he was a real statesman. He tried to make the "right" decisions for the country, and failed sometimes, while succeeding on others. This is an attitude that has nearly vanished from American politics, though I think Obama, while far less skilled in it, tries.
+4 # SMoonz 2013-03-18 21:37
"Daley assured him enough delegates would support his nomination but the plan was shelved after the Secret Service warned the president they could not guarantee his safety."

This statement stands out in a big way. Here is a video to show what I mean.

The Sec Service had magically failed when JFK was assassinated and some key members were likely part of the conspiracy. I do say magically because it seems there was a stand down order in Dallas as the video shows.

LBJ knew very well how reliable or unreliable (depending on how we interpret it), these agents could be.

If the agents could not guarantee LBJ's security it is very likely that the powers that be were pushing for Nixon to win, the same way these same powers placed LBJ in the White House a few years prior.
+1 # Douglas Jack 2013-03-20 19:01
SMoonz, Fascinating film coverage of the Secret Service stand-down & SS communications during Kennedy's assassination in your e-link. What this points to is two levels of authority in government systems.
A hidden authority fed by big monetary-capita l interests constantly controls public administration throughout regime changes which are only superficial. The presidents are only superficial titular heads with a much larger monetary-capita l apparatus having the real say. Its frightening to watch Obama who made several bold social-justice statements on a number of issues from which he has backed down (foreign dialogue), reversed (eg Palestinian sovereignty & Israel) or turned silent.
Understanding such duplicit control requires a much greater mobilization than simply winning an election. Humanity & particularly each person is faced with "becoming the change we want to see in the world" in every way.
+8 # neis 2013-03-18 22:28
All this goes on, and Bradley Manning rots in jail fighting for his life.
Until these scum are cleaned out of office and history, it should be:
"Sir, NO goddamn Sir! Not ever again, Sir!"
+13 # tuandon 2013-03-19 05:38
I'd still take LJB over Chimpi and THE DICK, or Ronald the Retard. And, come to think of it, Bush I. The latter-day version of the Rethuglican Party seems to consist largely of shallow, short-sighted morons. At least Dwight David Eisenhower was respectable. This lot are disgusting.
+5 # Don Thomann 2013-03-19 09:07
Corruption incorporated at work!
+2 # Johnny 2013-03-19 13:28
Lyndon Johnson wanted to be president and David Ben Gurion wanted to end JFK's opposition to the Israeli nuclear weapons program. They worked together to get what they both wanted. When Israel attacked the USS Liberty, LBJ called back the planes sent to rescue her, because he knew the Israelis could spill the beans about how he became president.
-2 # SRS40 2013-03-19 13:52
It is really hard to know if the right thing is to keep quiet so as not to tear the country apart or go for justice and hang the consequences. We had a president who illegally sold arms to a country that had committed a recent act of war against us, and he embezzled the funds to pay for an illegal war. Higher ups decided it was so soon after Nixon that trying him would be bad for US status. (That is my assumption.)

We had a president who committed war crimes, but we are not going to turn him over to the Hague. I am not sure these decisions are wrong. (Nor am I convinced they are right.) I think the deciders are doing what they think is in the best interest of the country.
+9 # Vermont Grandma 2013-03-19 16:38
The Republicans learned their lesson well. It also appears that George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush I), Ronald Reagan's vice-presidenti al nominee did the same thing prior to the 1980 elections, prevailing upon the Iranian government to not release dozens of US hostages until after the elections. Neither Nixon nor Bush I have been prosecuted for treason because, similar to the current Obama administration the Democrats are always reluctant to require those who are powerful to comply with US law and the US constitution.
+2 # Bucknackt 2013-03-19 18:36
JUST think of the thousands of American soldiers who would have come home from Vietnam alive, and the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians who would have survived, the families that wouldn't have been destroyed by war if those with the knowledge of the treachery, the treason of richard nixon had spoken out, had told the American people the truth. I really do believe history does repeat itself, and so someday we will hear the recordings of bush and cheney, rice, powell and their cabal of pentagon neocons discussing before the start of the Iraq war 10 years ago today the discovery that saddam hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but big oil and the military-indust rial complex had too much invested in war profiteering to stop the war from happening. People who create war and profit from it should remember Jesus blessed the Peacemakers.

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