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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968
Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968–January 1969, Document 212


212. Editorial Note

In a telephone conversation on November 12, 1968, President Johnson discussed the Anna Chennault affair with FBI Deputy Director Cartha Dekle “Deke” DeLoach. Johnson told DeLoach that he had “some pretty good information” and “hard” evidence that the most significant directive from the Republican campaign to the South Vietnamese Government occurred by way of a November 2 communication between Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew and Anna Chennault. The President therefore requested that DeLoach check all of the telephone calls originating from the telephone connection in Agnew's chartered campaign plane at the Albuquerque airport. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and DeLoach, November 12, 1968, 8:30 p.m., Tape F6811.03, PNO 1)

The next day, DeLoach called the President with a report on these calls. One of the phones on the plane had been used five times. The first call was made at 11:59 a.m., a personal call from Agnew to Rusk that lasted 3 minutes. The next call was made to Texas and another two calls were made by Agnew staffer Kent Crane to New York City. A fifth call was made to the Nixon/Agnew campaign headquarters at the Willard Hotel in Washington at 1:02 p.m.

The President verified that Rusk had talked with Agnew. He added: “We think somebody on the plane talked to the woman. We think pretty well that they talked to her and talked to Rusk, and talked on the same thing. And we think that they told Rusk—that they wanted to know what was happening in these relations. And Rusk made notes of it, he didn't exactly know what time, but he estimated that it was about 2 o'clock. And hers, it was immediately followed by a call to her, we think. And what we want to know is what time that was and when it was.”

Johnson asserted that Agnew had passed to Chennault the word from Nixon “to hold off—do nothing.” He related his assessment of the affair as follows: “I know this, and I don't think there's anything startling about it, because I'll just proceed on the assumption, I believe I'm right, that she—that he called Rusk, and he said what is going on in South Vietnam, the very question that he and she were talking about. Rusk told him—he didn't think anything of it, but he made notes on the conversation, and he made notes of the time, just the approximate time; he reported this to us. Then she comes along and she says to the South Vietnamese Embassy—she was a carrier, that's what she was—she said, ‘I have just heard from my boss in Albuquerque who says his boss says we're going to win. And you tell your boss to hold on a while longer.’ And that's the nut of it.” Johnson concluded: “So I know that she told the Ambassador that. I know that the Ambassador told Saigon that. I know that Agnew—Rusk told Agnew what the facts were. Now I believe that Agnew told her that, because she says ‘I have just talked,’ and there must be an incoming call to her.”

The President further noted that if the United States had not had physical surveillance on Chennault and a wiretap on the South Vietnamese Embassy, it would not have been able to secure a statement from Nixon encouraging the South Vietnamese to attend the Paris peace conference.

DeLoach then requested the following clarification: “Now did you say, and just to confirm what you've just said, we did intercept that phone call that she made to Ambassador Bui Diem, and she said specifically that, that ‘my boss says to hold off, that we're going to win, hold it off.’ The President replied: “Well, Ambassador told his President that. And the President told a bunch of people that. We were watching him pretty close, as you can imagine, in Saigon, and he repeated—this went all the way through the chain of command. The only thing I've got to do is see who her boss is, which we think is Agnew, because Albuquerque's the place. We ought to look at it carefully, because she talked to Agnew.” DeLoach speculated that the 1:02 p.m. call to campaign headquarters actually was to Chennault from Agnew. Johnson agreed. “She got the message from Albuquerque,” he noted. “That's logical that he was the one [who] gave it, because when he called Rusk, that's what we thought, because that's the only way he could get information to give her, was from Rusk.” (Ibid., Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and DeLoach, November 13, 1968, 5:15 p.m., Tape F68.09, PNO 8) These transcripts were prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.

For additional information on the electronic and physical surveillance measures relating to this episode, see U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Intelligence Activities, Final Report, Vol. VI (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1976); ibid., Senate Select Committee on Governmental Operations, Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans: A Final Report, Book 2 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1976); and Cartha D. DeLoach, Hoover's FBI: The Inside Story By Hoover's Trusted Lieutenant (New York: Regnery Publishing, 1995).