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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Ken Hughes, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate

Welcome Ken Hughes (Univ of Virginia, Miller Center) (Twitter) and Host James Robenalt (Watergate CLE) (author, The Harding Affair)

Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate

Ken Hughes has been at this a long time. He started working as a researcher for the Miller Center at the University of Virginia in 1996 and is rightly considered one of the nation’s experts on the Nixon Tapes (and the Johnson tapes). His book, I think his first, is a fascinating look into the Nixon character and a scandal that dwarfs the Watergate break-in.

Hughes is careful in his research and his writing. While there is a need to do some speculation, the dots seem to connect. Richard Nixon or someone in his campaign, probably at his direction, interfered with LBJ’s attempt in October 1968 to bring about a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam War. Johnson called it “treason.” The war lasted for another four years, killing another 20,000 Americans and countless people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. I will not spoil it in this writing, but Ken Hughes has garnered the evidence that makes the case that LBJ uncovered unmistakable proof that the Nixon campaign got word to South Vietnam’s president to “hold on” until Nixon’s election, as he would provide a more honorable peace.

There are lots of questions to ask Ken. Did the interference with the peace negotiations, assuming it happened, make a difference? The irony in this story is that Nixon faced his own difficulty bringing along South Vietnam four years later when he was trying to broker a peace accord. Thieu balked (because Nixon and Kissinger allowed North Vietnamese troops to remain in-place as part of the proposed settlement agreement). Nixon bombed (the Christmas bombing), which I believe was a last straw for Congress, leading directly to the establishment of Ervin Committee (see my book coming out next May, January 1973). So even if Thieu had agreed in 1968 to join the peace conference, as LBJ hoped, would it have been a fruitless exercise in any event?

Nevertheless, the implications of this activity are huge. If true, the actions of the Nixon campaign were treasonous.

Hughes also shows how the mindset that gave rise to Watergate existed from the outset of the Nixon administration and that Nixon’s concerns about his criminal activity before Watergate led in part to the Watergate break-in. Again, no spoiler here, but anyone interested in Watergate or Nixon or the presidency will gain immense insight by reading Ken’s book. This should be a highly enlightening session and I look forward to hosting.

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