It was 1968. Richard Nixon was squaring off against the Democrat chosen to succeed Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey.
Johnson, meanwhile, had brought the leadership of South and North Vietnam to the negotiating table for peace talks that seemed to promise hope for an end to the Vietnam war.
Nixon knew that a peace accord would scuttle his chances of taking the White House and he set about convincing Saigon and Hanoi to walk away from the talks, ensuring the continuation of slaughter and suffering for many more years.
Johnson knew what Nixon was up to. That much is clear from recordings Johnson made while president. Some of them can be heard on the BBC News site. Treachery? Sure. Treason? Ask the thousands whose lives might have been needlessly lost to secure Richard Nixon the presidency.
New evidence has emerged that paints a much clearer picture of what
was behind the Watergate burglary that brought down Richard Nixon.
Shortly after Nixon took office in 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
informed him of the existence of the file containing national security
wiretaps documenting how Nixon’s emissaries had gone behind President
Lyndon Johnson’s back to convince the South Vietnamese government to
boycott the Paris Peace Talks, which were close to ending the Vietnam
War in fall 1968.In the case of Watergate – the foiled Republican
break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 and Richard
Nixon’s botched cover-up leading to his resignation in August 1974 – the
evidence is now clear that Nixon created the Watergate burglars out of
his panic that the Democrats might possess a file on his sabotage of
Vietnam peace talks in 1968.
The disruption of Johnson’s peace
talks then enabled Nixon to hang on for a narrow victory over Democrat
Hubert Humphrey. However, as the new President was taking steps in 1969
to extend the war another four-plus years, he sensed the threat from the
wiretap file and ordered two of his top aides, chief of staff H.R.
“Bob” Haldeman and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to locate
it. But they couldn’t find the file.
We now know that was because
President Johnson, who privately had called Nixon’s Vietnam actions
“treason,” had ordered the file removed from the White House by his
national security aide Walt Rostow.
So the missing file remained a
troubling mystery inside Nixon’s White House, but Nixon still lived up
to his pre-election agreement with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van
Thieu to extend U.S. military participation in the war with the goal of
getting the South Vietnamese a better outcome than they would have
received from Johnson in 1968.
Nixon, however, had no idea that Johnson and Rostow had taken the
missing file or, indeed, who might possess it. Normally, national
security documents are passed from the outgoing President to the
incoming President to maintain continuity in government.
Haldeman and Kissinger had come up empty in their search. They were only
able to recreate the file’s contents, which included incriminating
conversations between Nixon’s emissaries and South Vietnamese officials
regarding Nixon’s promise to get them a better deal if they helped him
torpedo Johnson’s peace talks.