Our Opinion: Nixon's pre-election treasonous act of '68

As the world waits to take the measure of a new American president, evidence has emerged that an earlier one put national interests behind his own while still a candidate, violating federal law years before the malfeasance that would force his resignation.

Yes, we can only be talking about Richard M. Nixon, the disgraced 37th president.

In the final days of the 1968 presidential campaign, Nixon instructed his campaign staff and advisors to do all they could to scuttle peace talks in Paris that might have helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam and save countless lives on all sides.

On Oct. 22, 1968, Nixon told aide H.R. Haldeman to "monkey wrench" talks that President Lyndon B. Johnson was working to orchestrate with the warring parties. That language appears in newly discovered notes Haldemann took while speaking with his boss.

Johnson had determined that if the U.S. halted its bombing of North Vietnam, the Soviet Union would persuade Hanoi to come to the bargaining table. The war had already claimed the lives of 30,000 Americans.

Henry A. Kissinger, an adviser to Nixon, called to warn Nixon that a peace deal was in the making. According to biographer John A. Farrell, Nixon used his connections to South Vietnam, including Anna Chennault, a Republican socialite and Nixon fund-raiser, to try to keep leaders from South Vietnam from participating in the talks.

Farrell's research turned up Haldemann's notes. "! Keep Anna Chennault working on" South Vietnam, the aide scribbled down. "Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do."

"Potentially, this is worse than anything he did in Watergate," Farrell said of Nixon in an interview with a reporter for The New York Times, for a story that followed up on a Dec. 31 commentary by Farrell in the paper.

Scholars who reviewed Farrell's work say his finding confirms that Nixon lied when repeatedly denying he intervened to keep South Vietnam from joining the talks. Researchers have long believed that Nixon, despairing over a tightening race against rival Hubert J. Humphrey, acted to sabotage negotiations.

But until now, they lacked conclusive evidence.

When Johnson learned of Nixon's maneuvering, he was furious, telling Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, "This is treason."

It is against the law for a private citizen to attempt to defeat foreign policy objectives of the United States.

Nixon's hidden actions show his venality. He appeared to know how badly he'd compromised the national interest, because his denials were vehement. "My God. I would never do anything to encourage [South Vietnam] not to come to the table," Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured by the White House recording system.

We will never know whether 1968 peace talks would have shortened the war, which continued until 1975. But it is clear Nixon was willing to let the fighting continue to advance his candidacy.

The Nixon presidential library just got a $15 million facelift. There is no way to paper over this former leader's treachery.


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