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30 juli 2003   |     mail dit artikel   |     print   |   
The wiretapping madness in the White House during Johnson and Nixon
By Daan de Wit
The article has been translated into English by Marienella Meulensteen
In 1973 it was known through Watergate that Richard Nixon had wiretapped the Democrats. Nixon had to resign, but in the meantime it became known that in 1968 President Johnson bugged the Nixon campaign and heard how Kissinger and Nixon sabotaged the Democratic re-elections.

President Johnson and consorts 'were appalled at the evidence of Nixon's treachery'. They nonetheless decided not to go public with what they knew. [Then Secretary of Defense Clark] Clifford says that this was because the disclosure would have ruined the Paris talks altogether. He could have added that it would have created a crisis of confidence in American institutions. There are some things that the voters can't be trusted to know', writes Christopher Hitchens in Harper's Magazine. Hitchens is the man behind the book and the documentary The Trial of Henry Kissinger, see the previous article by DeepJournal.

Nixon: 'Johnson had it bugged'
In 1973 the Watergate-affair became bigger and bigger, and it became clear that the Nixon team had bugged its Democratic opponents in the Watergate Building. Nixon was totally convinced that his Nixon-for-President campaign was being bugged by Democratic President Johnson: '"The [air]plane was bugged John, in that whole two-week period by [then FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover, and Johnson knew every conversation that took place," Nixon told former Texas Governor John B. Connally, then head of Democrats for Nixon, in the fall of 1972. "Johnson had it bugged"', the Washington Post cites Nixon. In his memoirs, Nixon writes: Edgar Hoover told me that in 1968 Johnson had ordered my campaign plane bugged'.

Nixon's plan to blackmail Johnson

To mitigate the effects of the Watergate scandal, Nixon toyed with the idea in the middle of January 1973 of announcing that Johnson allegedly wiretapped him: 'Under intense pressure about the bugging of the Watergate building, Nixon instructed his chief of staff, Haldeman, and his FBI contact, Deke DeLoach, to unmask the bugging to which his own campaign had been subjected in 1968. [...] The aim was to show that "everybody does it." (By another bipartisan paradox, in Washington the slogan "they all do it" is used as a slogan for the defense rather than, as one might hope, for the prosecution'), writes Hitchens. '[...] it is particularly common for candidates of the same party to bug one another', Nixon cites a few bugging experts in his memoirs.

Nixon exceeds boundaries of 'justifiable political combat'
'However, a problem presents itself at once: how to reveal the 1968 bugging without at the same time revealing what that bugging had been about'. And Johnson had taken care of the disclosure of the topic of bugging, as can be determined by the notes by H. R. Haldeman. Then Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford writes in his book Counsel to the President: 'The activities of the Nixon team went far beyond the bounds of justifiable political combat. It constituted direct interference in the activities of the executive branch and the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, the only people with authority to negotiate on behalf of the nation. The activities of the Nixon campaign constituted a gross, even potentially illegal, interference in the security affairs of the nation by private individuals.'
Christopher Hitchens looks for the nuance: 'Perhaps aware of the slight feebleness of his lawyerly prose, and perhaps a little ashamed of keeping the secret for his memoirs rather than sharing it with the electorate, Clifford adds in a footnote: 'It should be remembered that the public was considerably more innocent in such matters in the days before the Watergate hearings and the 1975 Senate investigation of the CIA. Perhaps the public was indeed more innocent, if only because of the insider reticence of white-shoe lawyers like Clifford, who thought there were some things too profane to be made known'.

Neither party dares to throw the first stone
In the end, neither party did anything with their information, so as to be able to survive: 'There is a well-understood principle known as "Mutual Assured Destruction," whereby both sides possess more than enough material with which to annihilate the other', writes Hitchens in his article. Nixon revealed nothing about Johnson's bugging practices because then the subject of the bugging would be known, and Johnson/Humphrey did not reveal anything because they were afraid of a 'constitutional crisis' and 'they didn't want to reveal the wiretaps and bugs that had brought them the information about Nixon's undermining of the peace talks', writes Robert Dallek, 'Professor of History at Boston University'.

Johnson kept the compromising facts in hand
The audio tapes with the bugged sabotage attempts of Kissinger and Nixon were not the only ammunition that Johnson possessed, as appears from the book Flawed Giant: Lyndon B. Johnson, by autor Robert Dallek. Johnson knew, thanks to the Greek journalist Elias P. Demetracopoulos 'that Greece's military dictators had funneled more than half a million dollars into the Nixon-Agnew campaign.' Johnson did not use this immediately: 'Johnson wanted something to use against Nixon if the Nixon Justice Department started to comb the Johnson Administration for scandal, and Nixon's Greek connection would serve that purpose handsomely.'

Nixon wants to use disclosure of own wiretapping campaign against his enemies
Now that Nixon could not soften the accusations against him in Watergate with 'yes, but he did it too -  argument', he brought up Plan B. The plan resulted from his hope and expectation to be accused of the implementation of an illegal wiretapping campaign. He wanted to accuse the commission that investigated Watergate with facts that proved that that particular campaign had not taken place. A bugging campaign that he himself had ordered, mind you, but which was not carried out by J. Edgar Hoover, the homosexual homo-chasing Head of the FBI. 'The day the Senate hearings began, on May 17, 1973, Nixon was preoccupied with word that the Watergate committee had been provided with a copy of a domestic spying plan Nixon had approved in 1970. Drawn up by Nixon aide Tom Charles Huston, it called for the use of burglaries, illegal wiretaps and illegal mail covers against political dissidents', writes the Washington Post. '[...] Nixon was delighted to hear that the spy work had never been carried out because of objections from Hoover. He expected critics to conclude that the scheme had been carried out, and then he could pounce with a blizzard of affidavits saying that it had not been.'

Nixon had his own brother bugged
The Nixon administration was crazy about bugging. As already known, he taped his own conversations in the White House, but he also listened as he wished to all kinds of opponents. This started after detailed publications in the New York Times about the secret bombing of Cambodia. The bugging practices are extensively described in an article by Seymour M. Hersh, which later became part of his book Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House. Nixon also had the phone of his own brother Donald Nixon tapped, so it appears from this article of the Washington Post. 'Even William Safire, Times columnist and Nixon speechwriter, had his phone tapped. A pariah at the Times for taking the Nixon job, being a wiretap target made Safire an instant hero', writes Norman Douglas in a review of the The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

Johnson also wiretapped as much as he could
Nixon's wiretapping mania was not totally foreign to the White House. 'Though Johnson in principle disliked tapping and wiretaps, he secretly taped more than 7,500 of his own telephone conversations as President. Moreover, during the 1964 campaign, after a visit to the White House, Richard Russell wrote, "[J. Edgar] Hoover has apparently been turned loose and is tapping everything.... [Johnson] stated it took him hours each night to read them all (but he loves this)"', writes Robert Dallek.

Johnson had his own Vice-President tapped
Johnson suffered from the war with Vietnam. He saw the war as 'a road from which there was no turning back'. Dallek describes a President who had had it with his job. Johnson announced on March  31, 1968 that he would not take part in the coming elections. His Vice President Hubert Humphrey took on Richard Nixon, because the other apparent Democratic candidate, Robert Kennedy, had been shot. When Humphrey did annouce to quickly put an end to the Vietnam War, Johnson was shocked and even wanted to replace Humphrey as a candidate. This shows how ambiguously Johnson thought about the war with Vietnam. When Johnson's candidacy did not continue after negative advice, Johnson began wiretapping his own Vice President. Dallek: 'After Humphrey had become Vice President and expressed doubts about the war, the White House, according to a Humphrey aide, Ted Van Dyk, had arranged for wiretaps on Humphrey's office phones. Van Dyk learned this from two Secret Service agents on the Vice Presidential detail.'


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