Richard Nixon’s telephone calls came regularly during the 1968 campaign. And H.R. Haldeman took meticulous notes, jotting down the instructions he received from the candidate.
Sometimes Nixon needed to blow off steam: demanding that a reporter from The Washington Post or The New York Times be banned from his campaign airplane for writing an offending story. (“Times and Post off,” Haldeman recorded. “Times forever.”) One such call came at midnight, from Nixon’s co-op apartment on Fifth Avenue: Haldeman dutifully noted that the stirring score to the World War II documentary Victory at Sea, which Nixon so enjoyed, was playing on a phonograph in the background.
Other calls were steeped in intrigue. In one series of scribbles, Haldeman reported Henry Kissinger’s willingness to inform on his U.S. diplomatic colleagues, and keep Nixon updated on President Lyndon Johnson’s furious, eleventh-hour efforts to end the Vietnam War.
Haldeman, 42, was Nixon’s campaign chief of staff, a devoted political adjutant since the 1950s. In late October 1968, the two men connected on what came to be known as “the Chennault Affair.” Nixon gave Haldeman his orders: Find ways to sabotage Johnson’s plans to stage productive peace talks, so that a frustrated American electorate would turn to the Republicans as their only hope to end the war.
The gambit worked, and the Chennault Affair, named for Anna Chennault, the Republican doyenne and fundraiser who became Nixon’s back channel to the South Vietnamese government, lingered as a diplomatic and political whodunit for decades afterward.
Johnson and his aides suspected this treachery at the time, for the Americans were eavesdropping on their South Vietnamese allies—(“Hold on,” Anna was heard telling the South Vietnamese ambassador to Washington. “We are gonna win”)—but hesitated to expose it because they had no proof Nixon had personally directed, or countenanced, her actions. Historians scoured archives for evidence that Chennault was following the future president’s instructions, without much luck. Nixon steadfastly denied involvement up until his death, while his lawyers fended off efforts to obtain records from the 1968 campaign.
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