LBJ accused Nixon of “treason” (audio)

SCHEDULING NOTE: I’ll be traveling for a while, so little or no writing for about a week. Then a resumption of work followed by more travel. The good news is that I’m working on a major climate series featuring James Hansen’s recent papers explaining why 2°C global warming (+3½°F) is, in all probability, way too much. He shows why, and also how, to keep the planet to +1°C or so at most, and then bring it cooler, back to near the Holocene norm.

Stay tuned. I’m really excited about this new addition to the climate series.

More about Republican treason, and a follow-up to my recent piece: No Republican president since Eisenhower has been legitimately elected, says Thom Hartmann.

I want to offer one addition from the last set of LBJ tapes. In it, Democratic President Johnson talks with Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, leader of the Senate Republicans, about Nixon’s attempts to get the South Vietnamese to reject peace negotiations with the U.S. and the North Vietnamese until after the presidential election.

The snippet is from a Dictaphone recording, so you’ll hear clicks at the beginning, but the voices are clear. LBJ talks about someone named Thieu (it sounds like “chew” on the tape). Nguyễn Văn Thiệu was president of “South Vietnam” (a “state” the Americans created in violation of the treaty between the Vietnamese Army, the army of a united country, and the defeated French). Thieu ruled “South Vietnam” from 1965 to 1975, when his government fell and the country was reunited.

LBJ was trying to bring the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table, and he needed Thieu, whose own future was at stake, to go along as well. According to the recording, Nixon’s people were encouraging Thieu’s people to boycott the administration-led talks. (Note the concern expressed to the administration by Thieu that a bombing halt, which the North Vietnam needed, be brief. That bombing was propping up his regime.)

Treason on Nixon’s part? Johnson thinks so and says so. Listen; it’s only 9 minutes long, and it’s a blockbuster, with some of the best stuff near the end. The recording is dated November 4, 1968, just before the election, which was held that year on November 5. Talk about timing. (You’re going to want to turn down the volume to about 50% almost immediately.)

At 2:15, Johnson reports to Dirksen that Nixon’s people are urging the Vietnamese to “hold on until after the [1968] election” — an obvious attempt to prevent peace from breaking out (!) and spoiling Nixon’s chances of becoming president. At about 4:00, Johnson reports Nixon’s people telling the Vietnamese that they’ll “get a better deal” after the election.

At 4:19, Johnson says explicitly “I’m reading their hand, Everett. … This is treason.” At about 5:50, he says, “I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter of this importance.”

Not a crook. Something far worse. Johnson failed to recognize the face of our future.

Not a crook. Something far worse. Johnson failed to recognize the face of our future.

Near the end, Johnson expresses his reluctance to go public with the information, and he tries to use Dirksen as a back-channel to Nixon to get him to stop. He says about Nixon “I’m looking at his hole card,” but he (Johnson) doesn’t want to “get into a fight.”

Bad move, Mr. President. Bad move. After all, he says explicitly “they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war” (about 9:00). What else do you think they’re capable of?

I would argue that this moment, Johnson’s silence, was the turning point in 20th century American political history. Ground Zero. Johnson not going forth with this information enabled every Republican political crime since — and every Democratic one as well, in the case of Obama’s continuation of Bush-era torture, to take just one example.

Now you know.

(All of the late LBJ tapes can be found here. For the tape I embedded above, go here and search for citation “13706”. For more Republican crimes of this nature and magnitude, go here.)


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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22 Responses to “LBJ accused Nixon of “treason” (audio)”

  1. Bruce says:

    Ah … but what gave LBJ pause? Could IT BE … “that (Bush) Bay of Pigs thing”?

  2. Badgerite says:

    This post points up my problem with the ‘left’ politically speaking. They have always maintained that they “stopped the war”. But in actual fact, by pooping all over the Democratic convention of 1968 in the smug belief that their opinion was shared by all of the country, they managed to help elect someone who was responsible for the Vietnam War not ending at the peace negotiations in Paris in 1968 and who continued the war for at least another four years. They were so focused in on LBJ as the ‘evil man’ that they didn’t notice that a) he was not even in the election and b) he had clearly changed his mind ( or perhaps decided to go with his own instincts as opposed to those of his generals ) and was earnestly attempting to negotiate an end to the war.
    They could have stopped the war. They made bad political choices that were not grounded in reality and ended up prolonging the war for another 4-5 years. And when South Vietnam fell, the human cost was devastating. And there were long term costs to the country in the election of Richard Nixon. Costs to the Supreme Court. Costs to the Vietnamese.

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  4. Bill_Perdue says:

    LBJ’s treason was in escalating the war and lying about the Gulf of Tonkin. Nixon was just as bad. The treason of both revealed them to be monsters.

    The only just peace would have involved the total and immediate withdrawal of all US forces. That peace was won by the civilian and military antiwar movements and by the Vietnamese in 1975.

  5. AndyinChicago says:

    But isn’t so much of that ill-will because he led the US during a horrible war that served little purpose? And if that is the case, then him actively trying to secure peace talks which Nixon undermined something that could have really altered his legacy from war monger to peace maker? Doesn’t that make Nixon’s treason all the more sad?

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    Millions disagree and think LBJ was a monster.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    There’s a reason why LBJ didn’t spill the beans on Nixon. LBJ, like Nixon, was a monster. They were both mass murderers who plotted and lied to involve the US in a war of aggression, and to murder Vietnamese who wouldn’t pursue the war. Both were responsible – solely and directly – for the murder of well over a millions civilians and 58,000 (*) plus GI’s, most of drafted and most of them working class.

    Those are the same reasons that Bush didn’t talk much about Bill Clinton’s mass murder of half a million children in Iraq, why Obama didn’t expose Bush’s crimes and instead persecuted Chelsea Manning. And they’re the reasons that Obama’s successor in 2017 will ignore Obama’s war crimes.

    The roles of Eisenhower and Kennedy shouldn’t be forgotten but their crimes, however horrible, never approached the scale of the crimes of LBJ and Nixon.

    (*) The Vietnam Conflict Extract Data File of the Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) Extract Files contains records of 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War. These records were transferred into the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration in 2008. The earliest casualty record contains a date of death of June 8, 1956, and the most recent casualty record contains a date of death of May 28, 2006. The Defense Casualty Analysis System Extract Files were created by the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The records correspond to the Vietnam Conflict statistics on the DMDC web site, which is accessible online at

    For a history of the war check out his site

    For a tape of LBJ ordering the murder of south Vietnamese quisling Diem. The video is an indicator of just how disgusting LBJ was and why he was so universally hated by youth in the 1960’s.

  8. Swami_Binkinanda says:

    They were the same people

  9. ComradeRutherford says:

    “Nixon’s people are urging the Vietnamese to “hold on until after the [1968] election” — an obvious attempt to prevent peace from breaking out (!) and spoiling Nixon’s chances of becoming president.”

    Which is how Reagan got ‘elected’ as Acting President in 1980: By making a deal with the radical Islamists in Iran to hold the US Embassy hostages until after the election to help ‘win’ over Carter.

  10. colnaude says:

    This would have changed my life. I received an A.B, on Sat. June 7, 1969 and left for basic training on June 9th. My draft board had told me that I would have been drafted on that day. I spent four years, three moths and 11 days in the AF. Didn’t avoid Viet Nam, but a six month tour there in ’71 was a lot different from could have been an Army tour. When Nixon was impeached the folks in Minneapolis, where I was visiting, were dancing on Hennepin Ave. Still smile at the thought..

  11. Cletus says:

    Well, at least we know where Reagan’s people learned it from.

  12. cole3244 says:

    too me the most evil and dangerous republican was reagan and his agenda of racism and hate lives on with impunity.

  13. Elijah Shalis says:

    Wow, Nixon is beyond evil. What a crook. So he committed Treason then, created HMOs, then broke into the campaign offices. At least he signed the Clean Water and Air legislation, the one good thing he did Republicans now hate.

  14. The_Fixer says:

    At that time. and years previous, there was some sort of a “code” that said something like “Do what you will, but do not put your ambitions in front of the good of the country”. Of course, that code was broken occasionally by members of both parties. However, the Republicans got bolder and bolder, this is probably the beginning of the worst of it. This is what emboldened future Republicans like Reagan and the Bushes.

    LBJ was a complex man, but I honestly think that he tried to do the right thing. I wish he would have blown the whistle on Nixon. I might have saved the country a lot of grief down the road.

    All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

  15. jomicur says:

    The ongoing conviction among our rulers that actually telling the American people what our government and our political leaders get up to would be “bad for the country” is one of the things that’s destroying us. And of course all they’re really doing is covering their own asses. Ford pardoned Nixon for all his crimes, even the ones the public didn’t know about. Obama refuses to prosecute the Bush-era torturers. Etc., etc. It’s the same mindset the keeps corporations from exposing each other’s villainies, or the purportedly liberal, enlightened churches from calling out the Christian right: They’re all in the same business, and it would be bad for profits to upset the applecart.

    Excuse me if the theater queen in me emerges for a moment. One of my favorite musicals is Li’l Abner. Nominally a light, fluffy entertainment, it has a core of sharp political satire. One of Johnny Mercer’s lyrics states the problem quite clearly: “Them GOPs and Democrats each hates the other one/They’s always criticizing how the country should be run/But neither tells the public what the other’s gone and done.”

  16. gratuitous says:

    I don’t know that it’s ground zero. There was a lot of
    groundwork laid all through the 20th Century to make way for the
    Nixon and his election in 1968. The copious poisonous fruit from that tree
    continues has infected our nation ever since, to the shame and degradation of
    the United States.

    Should LBJ have spoken up in real time? Yeah, and that’s on
    him. But could he have done so? That’s a far more complex question, with roots
    and antecedents deep in the United States. Obviously, J. Edgar Hoover and his
    tangled web of deceit and intrigue mired much of the government in a muck that
    prevented a lot of things from going forward. If LBJ had come out and exposed
    Nixon on the eve of the 1968 election, I would not have ruled out an
    insurrection in our country. LBJ may have privately weighed the options and
    concluded that the country should take its chances. History has, I think,
    demonstrated that it was a poor risk, and millions have died around the world
    as a result.

    Hoover would never have been in his position, of course, without
    a long history of creeping police state tactics reaching all the way back to 19th
    Century labor strife in the post-Civil War era, and the shattering
    psychological impact of the Haymarket massacre, followed on by police actions
    that murdered hundreds and thousands of working men, women, and their families
    in the decades that followed. Police state tactics successfully blunted the
    most progressive aspect of the labor movement, leaving the field to the
    tameness of Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor, so insecure in
    their position that they practically never demanded rights, and sought to cause
    their corporate overlords the least inconvenience in exchange for the most
    meager crumbs.

    All of these influences created the political atmosphere in the
    late 1960s in which Ronald Reagan could actually temporarily create a police
    state in Berkeley, forbidding the free and peaceable assembly of citizens,
    denying even the meekest petition for redress of grievances, and falsely
    arresting, imprisoning, and torturing citizens. Nixon was the beneficiary of
    all this repressive action in 1968, but Reagan would get his turn just 12 years
    later, gleefully smashing unions, stealing Wealth from Labor, and instituting a
    new era of robber barony that the likes of Stephen Jay Gould and Cyrus
    McCormick could not even imagine.

    LBJ failed the country, but I can understand why it
    happened. I don’t excuse his inaction, but he was just one of many good persons
    who failed to oppose evil for any number of reasons. It takes an extraordinary
    individual who will sacrifice position, career and even life for the iffy
    proposition of stopping or slowing oppression.

  17. keirmeister says:

    Thus we see, yet again, that when you let powerful people get away with their crimes “for the greater good”, you set free a monster that will be more difficult to cage later.

    Thom Hartmann has been playing this clip on his show for some time. It’s definitely the sort of thing more Americans need to hear.

  18. FLL says:

    Stunning piece of journalism/blogging. Who was able to get access to these tapes? Was Hartmann the first? Are they public domain now? This amounts to a smoking gun regarding the Nixon campaign. Secretly contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war does amount to treason. I’m curious if there is similar evidence out there regarding the Reagan campaigns contacts with the Iranian ayatollahs in 1980 to the effect that the Iranians should just hold out until after the American election in order to get a better deal.

  19. LBJ had just stopped the bombing the Friday before the election, and HHH had just soared in the polls Had Saigon agreed to the peace talks, it’s quite likely that Wallace would have deadlocked the electoral college system. Nixon would have lost Illinois, Delaware, and possibly Wisconsin, denying him a majority in the college. As it stood, the following Tuesday, the polls went back a bit and HHH lost by a half million votes, or 0.7%. Of course, we should include the many Democratic constituents who simply did not vote in disgust.
    Another aspect, as John must know, is that the Supreme Court would be quite different. Nixon’s Gang of Four would have never appeared, and Regan’s Gang of Four would have missed Rehnquist. Therefore, the excuses for crooked cops to get around the exclusionary rule and Miranda would have also disappeared.

  20. Houndentenor says:

    I think LBJ was a very flawed person who did very great things. He’s almost Shakesperian in that regard. Nixon was also flawed and did some great things but his demons were far more destructive, imho. I think Carter gets a bad rap. The economy was rebounding by the end of his presidency (for which he get no credit), he reduced the budget deficit (imagine the state of our economy today if he had been re-elected and now we didn’t have so much debt) among other achievements.

  21. BeccaM says:

    Interesting — and I guess if true, modus operandi for GOP presidential candidates for decades to come. There are, after all, ample reports Reagan did the same with Iran and the diplomat hostages in 1980, which eventually became the Iran-Contra scandal.

  22. AndyinChicago says:

    This makes me so sad. Everything I’ve read about LBJ, even with his temper and paranoia, makes me think that he was a genuinely good person, and I think he expected other people to be so as well. The fact that he gave someone a chance to do the right thing and then allowed them to get away with it for what I assume is some misplaced sense of honor is just disheartening. You read about the failures of LBJ and Carter, and you can’t help feeling that the basic decency and unreasonable faith in humanity of the last two real Democratic presidents is what’s allowed their opposition to really drag this country to where it is.

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