Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell on 30 October 1968


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

The President turns to a mentor, Sen. Richard B. Russell Jr. [D-Georgia], to help him solve a problem like none he has ever faced. Having spent half a year convincing North Vietnam to (1) negotiate with the South Vietnamese in Paris, (2) stop shelling civilians in South Vietnamese cities and (3) respect the demilitarized zone dividing Vietnam in return for a halt to U.S. bombing, Johnson has finally succeeded—only to find out the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon is secretly urging Saigon to boycott the Paris talks.

President Johnson

Hello?

White House Operator

Go ahead, please, sir.

Richard B. Russell Jr.

Good morning, Mr. President.

President Johnson

How are you, my friend?

Russell

Pretty good. I'm sorry about the phone being off the hook [chuckling] upstairs. I had everybody running around here trying to fix it, and the upstairs phone, just somebody left it . . .

President Johnson

That indicates you got some children in the house.

Russell

No, [chuckling] no.

President Johnson

Well, that—every phone's off the hook at my place when I got that 16-month grandson.[note 1] Patrick Lyndon Nugent was born 21 June 1967.

Russell

Yeah, he'll [unclear].

President Johnson

He's a mechanic. He works on it all the time.

Russell

He’s an inquirer. He's got an inquiring mind, goes into things, see what it’s all about.

President Johnson

Well, I've got one this morning that's pretty rough for you. We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, our allies and the others.[note 2] Alexander Sachs, the economist famous for warning Franklin D. Roosevelt on Albert Einstein’s behalf that Nazi Germany might build an atom bomb, had given the Johnson administration another warning. “He said he had attended a working lunch that day with colleagues in Wall Street. Two were men closely involved with [Republican presidential nominee Richard M.] Nixon. One of them explained to the group that Nixon was handling the Vietnam peace problem ‘like another Fortas case.’” Earlier in the month, Republicans and conservative Democrats had blocked LBJ’s nomination of Abe Fortas as Chief Justice of the United States. “He was trying to frustrate the President, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he took office ‘he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.’” Hanoi had accepted LBJ’s demands earlier in the week, but now Saigon was stalling. Eugene V. Rostow to Walt W. Rostow, 29 October 1968, Reference File: Anna Chennault, South Vietnam and US Politics, Lyndon B. Johnson Library. He's been doing it through rather subterranean sources here. And he has been saying to the allies that, “You're going to get sold out—watch Yalta, and Potsdam, and two Berlins, and everything. And they're going to recognize the NLF, and I don't have to do that, you better not give away your liberty just a few hours before I can preserve it for you.”[note 3] Republican Cold War rhetoric routinely denounced the performance of Democratic presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences on post-World War II Europe as well as the division of Berlin into free and Communist sectors. The Johnson administration did not extend diplomatic recognition to the National Liberation Front, the political arm of the Vietcong. One or two of his business friends divulged it first a couple of days ago about the time he made the statement that he had rumors that the staff was selling out, but I—he did not include me in it.[note 4] On 25 October 1968, Nixon made the following statement to reporters: "I am told that officials in the administration have been driving very hard for an agreement on a bombing halt, accompanied possibly by a ceasefire, in the immediate future. I have since learned these reports are true. I am also told that this spurt of activity is a cynical, last-minute attempt by President Johnson to salvage the candidacy of Mr. Humphrey. This I do not believe." Robert B. Semple Jr., “Nixon Denounces Welfare Inequity, Calls for National Standards—Repudiates Criticism of Johnson Peace Efforts,” New York Times, 26 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 16 March 2009). You saw that, didn't you?

Russell

Yeah, but he sort of retracted that, didn’t he?

President Johnson

Well, no, no. [Melvin R.] Laird put that out, traveling with him.[note 5] Rep. Melvin R. Laird [R-Wisconsin] sat on the House Appropriations Committee for Defense, Health, Education, Welfare and Labor, and later served as President Nixon’s secretary of defense. They have three planes and he's on a separate plane, and he just—his job is to spread rumors and background the press. They all like him because he's strong for health, and education, and welfare, on that H-E-W committee, and so the press likes him and he puts that out. Nixon comes along and says, “Now, I have heard this, but I do not believe it. In other words, I do not believe Laird. I believe the President is not crooked. They say he is, but I don’t believe he is.” And he becomes a very strong defender of the President. The press resents it. They come back and say, "Well, hell, why do you—if you don't believe it, why did your man put it out?" The man who wrote the story is very reliable, Merriman Smith.[note 6] While Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Merriman Smith wrote about the 1968 presidential campaign, it’s not clear what story the President means. He's covered the White House under four or five presidents. And . . . but that is what happened.

The next thing that we got our teeth in was one of his associates, a fellow named [John D.] Mitchell, who's running his campaign, who’s the real Sherman Adams of the operation, in effect, said to a businessman that "we're going to handle this like we handled the Fortas matter,” unquote.[note 7] Sherman Adams was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s White House chief of staff. Earlier in the month, Republicans and conservative Democrats had blocked the President’s nomination of Abe Fortas as Chief Justice of the United States. “We're going to frustrate the President by saying to the South Vietnamese, and the Koreans, and the Thailanders, ‘Beware of Johnson.’ At the same time, we're going to say to Hanoi, ‘I can make a better deal than he has because I'm fresh and new, and I don't have to demand as much as he does in the light of past positions.’” [Coughs.] Now, when we got that pure by accident, as a result of some of our Wall Street connections, that caused me to look a little deeper.

Russell

I guess so.

President Johnson

And I have means of doing that, as you may well imagine.[note 8] The Central Intelligence Agency had bugged the offices of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, and the National Security Agency intercepted cables from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C., to Saigon. The federal government has declassified some of the reports, but they remain heavily censored. One intercepted cable from South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem to Saigon reads: “I [explained discreetly to our partisan friends our] firm attitude” and “the longer the situation continues, the more [we are] favored, for the elections will take place in a week and President Johnson would probably have difficulties in forcing [our] hand. [I am] still in contact with the Nixon entourage, which continues to be the favorite despite the uncertainty provoked by the news of an imminent bombing halt.” National Security Agency Director to White House, 28 October 1968, “[Excision] Delays Improve South Vietnam’s Position,” Memos to the President, National Security Files, Vol. 101, Lyndon B. Johnson Library. See also William Bundy, A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998), 42, 550, n88, and Bui Diem with David Chanoff, In the Jaws of History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), 244. Ambassador Diem wrote that by “Nixon entourage,” he “meant Anna Chennault, [Campaign Chairman] John Mitchell, and Senator [John G.] Tower [R-Texas].”

Russell

Yes.

President Johnson

And Mrs. [Anna C.] Chennault is contacting their ambassador from time to time. Seems to be kind of the go-between, the Chiang Kai-shek deal.[note 9] Beijing-born Anna C. Chennault was a prominent Republican fundraiser. At a secret meeting in New York, Chennault had introduced South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem to Mitchell and Nixon. According to Chennault, Nixon told Ambassador Diem to “please rely on her [Chennault] from now on as the only contact between myself and your government.” Anna Chennault, The Education of Anna (New York: Times Books, 1980), 175-176. Johnson was making an obscure reference to the China Lobby, the group of American politicians and activists, as well as Chinese Nationalists, who blamed the Truman administration for the Communist takeover of China. President Chiang Kai-shek was overthrown in the Communist revolution and set up a government in Taiwan. In addition, their ambassador is saying to him that Johnson is desperate and is just moving heaven and earth to elect [Hubert H.] Humphrey, so don't you get sucked in on that.[note 10] Hubert H. Humphrey was vice president of the United States from December 1964 to January 1969, a U.S. senator [D-Minnesota] from January 1949 to December 1964 and January 1971 to January 1978. He is kind of these folks’ agents here, this little South Vietnamese ambassador.

Now, this is not guesswork.

Russell

Well, I just—I didn't understand exactly how Taiwan got in it.

President Johnson

Well, Mrs. Chennault, you know, of the—

Russell

I know that, but I didn't understand just what Chiang had to do with it.

President Johnson

Well, I don't know that he has anything except just generally that lobby. It may be Walter Judd. I know it's her.

Russell

Uh-huh, uh-huh.

President Johnson

Mrs. Chennault, you know, of the Flying Tigers.[note 11] Anna Chan Chennault was the widow of General Claire Lee Chennault, commander of the World War II aviators known as “The Flying Tigers,” who flew missions against the Japanese invaders of China.

Russell

I know Mrs. Chennault.

President Johnson

She's young and attractive. I mean, she's a pretty good-looking girl.

Russell

Certainly is.

President Johnson

And she's around town and she is warning them to not get pulled in on this Johnson move. Then he, in turn, is warning his government. Then we, in turn, know pretty well what he’s saying out there.[note 12] The President is referring to NSA interception of cables from the South Vietnamese embassy to Saigon and the CIA bug in South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s office. So he is saying that, well, he’s got to play it for time and get it by the next few days.[note 13] According to one CIA report: “Concerning the enforcement of the bombing halt, this will help candidate Humphrey and this is the purpose of it; but the situation which would occur as the result of a bombing halt, without the agreement of [South] Vietnamese government, rather than being a disadvantage [sic] to candidate Humphrey, would be to the advantage of candidate Nixon. Accordingly, he [South Vietnamese President Thieu] said that the possibility of President Johnson enforcing a bombing halt without Vietnam’s agreement appears to be weak.” Also: “Thieu has said that Johnson and Humphrey will be replaced and then Nixon could change the U.S. position.” CIA to Walt Rostow, 26 October 1968, “President Thieu’s Views Regarding the Issues Involved in Agreeing to a Bombing Halt,” Reference File: Anna Chennault, South Vietnam and US Politics, Lyndon B. Johnson Library.

Now, the Soviets are climbing the wall, and Hanoi is, and of course, our people in Paris are, because they have agreed that they will let the GVN come to the table. That has been the thing we’ve insisted on. They have met our demands.

Russell

Yes, I understood that.

President Johnson

The Soviets have said that they understand that we're going to resume if they violate the DMZ and we can see that immediately after we make the announcement whether they are or not. We have reserved the right for reconnaissance and we’ve made it clear that it's “act of force” and not “act of war” in our announcement.[note 14] In other words, Johnson was halting acts of force against North Vietnam—U.S. aerial and naval bombardment—but not all acts of war, which include reconnaissance. And we got South Vietnam and all the allies aboard on a one-day—we'd announce it one day and meet the next. But Hanoi wanted more time, so they demanded a couple of weeks, and then ten days, and then a week, and we wouldn't do it because we thought that Saigon couldn't stand to wait that long between the time of the announcement and the time of the meeting.

Russell

Uh-huh.

President Johnson

So we insisted on one day because Hanoi had said that productive discussions could begin the next day, so we took them at their word. About that time, [Hubert H.] Humphrey made a fool speech in which he said that he would stop the bombing without a comma or a semicolon. He'd just make it, period.[note 15] Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic nominee for president, had called for a total halt to the bombing of North Vietnam in a nationally televised campaign speech on 30 September 1968 and repeated the call two weeks later at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Missouri, adding, “I said period, not comma or semi-colon.” John W. Finney, “Humphrey Taunts Nixon as ‘Chicken,’” New York Times, 16 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 26 June 2012).

Russell

[Unclear] that is going to kill the whole thing.

President Johnson

Well, it did for ten days, and then [McGeorge] Bundy made a fool speech, and they had to, all of them, dissect that and take it—[note 16] McGeorge Bundy, who’d been national security adviser when Johnson had first deployed U.S. combat troops to Vietnam in 1965, had made a speech at DePauw University on 12 October 1968, calling for the steady and systematic withdrawal of U.S. forces even in the absence of truce. The speech broke Bundy’s long silence on the war dating back to his resignation from the White House. Homar Bigart, “Bundy Proposes Troop Reduction and Bombing Halt; Former White House Aide Alters Stand on Vietnam Policy He Helped Make; Defends ‘65 Decisions; But He says ‘Burden’ Must be Lifted ‘From Our Lives’ Beginning Next Year,” New York Times, 13 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 19 September 2009).

Russell

He made them in reverse order, though, didn’t he?

President Johnson

Yes, yes—

Russell

[Unclear] Bundy?

President Johnson

Yes. But it's the Adlai Stevenson group and they just get their tail over the dashboard right at the right time.[note 17] Johnson is referring to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which managed to nominate Illinois governor Adlai E. Stevenson twice for president in 1952 and 1956. Adlai Stevenson was also U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from January 1961 to July 1965. They do the wrong thing every time, but we wore that out and we got it back on the track, and in getting it back on the track, meantime Nixon gets scared to death, so he gets into the thing and it gets off the track at the other place. Now, everybody had approved the one-day thing. Then they came along and approved the three-day thing and the actual, right down to the wording of the announcement—a joint announcement to be made by the two of us—and it was all agreed upon, all satisfactory. Then Nixon gets on and says there’s no use selling out now, just wait a few days, and you can't trust Johnson—may want to, really—he's going to pat the North Vietnamese—NLF—on the back just like [Franklin D.] Roosevelt did the Russians. And that scares them. So then they come back.

Russell

How does he get that word through to them?

President Johnson

He gets it through their ambassador here.

Russell

Mm-hmm . . . [unclear].

President Johnson

And they're really—they think that—you know, he's just been mad that something's going to happen this election. He’s—

Russell

Yes, I know.

President Johnson

And he's just not erratic at all. Now, I have played no politics with him. I'm not going to, and I’ve given Humphrey more hell in the joint meetings than I have Nixon; Nixon's been pretty responsible. But I don't want to pass up an opportunity and just sit here on my fanny till he comes in and let him just pick up like [Dwight D.] Eisenhower did the Korean thing, and say, “Well, I did so and so.”[note 18] President Dwight D. Eisenhower settled the Korean War with an armistice in 1953, the first year of his presidency. [At the] same time, I don't want another day to go that I don't have to when I get what I've asked for.

Now, the effect—the situation I'm in now has the effect of letting [Nguyen Van] Thieu say, well, we’ve got to have more time.[note 19] Nguyen Van Thieu was president of South Vietnam from June 1965 to April 1975. First, he says we haven't got enough time to get a delegation there. Second, this [Nguyen Cao] Ky gets in it and Ky says that he thinks that we're really winning militarily, and just give a few more days and we'll have everything.[note 20] Nguyen Cao Ky was prime minister of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967. And then Ky demands that rather than have a coup, that he'd be the adviser in Paris. And we've got all those things.

Now, we have put off, and put off, and put off, and we are trying to bring them aboard after we had them aboard on both times.

Russell

I thought they were pretty firm [unclear].

President Johnson

They were. They were all firm. Now, [Creighton W.] Abrams came in [coughs] before I'd finally make up my mind, and he spent several hours with me, and just he and I, and then he met with the group.[note 21] General Creighton W. Abrams was assistant deputy chief of staff and director of operations at the office of the deputy chief of staff for operations from 1962 to 1963; commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, July 1968 to June 1972; and Army chief of staff from October 1972 to September 1974. But he not only recommends, he urges me to take this action with or without them. That we cannot do any good in the North for the next 90 days anyway, that we need this power in South Vietnam and we need this power in Laos, and in any event, the guarantees that we get on the DMZ, if they carry them out, all right; if they don't, we're not bound. But what we would get at the DMZ, which will be reflected in two hours after we make the announcement . . . what we would get there and what we'd get by immunity from the cities would permit him to go through the countryside, and with the psychological advantage of having these fools at the Paris meeting, kind of wrap up the country. And he says, from a strictly military standpoint, that this military power is no good for 90 days on account of your weather—that it is needed and will be used. Now, you either get something for it or you don't, because he's going to use it anyway—90 percent of it, in Laos and South Vietnam, even if I didn't issue an order here. He would do it there because he says it's unlikely that you'll get more than one or two days a month that you can do anything.

Russell

Well, they’ve been giving out a whole lot of reports. I couldn't understand [unclear] I saw they hit a truck and all that [unclear]

President Johnson

Well, they've had ten days and we're coming to the end of that last ten days.

Russell

I see.

President Johnson

And by the time we put the thing into—have the meeting—why, there won't be much chance. In any event, he says this thing has changed so radically since last August that not only do we no longer endanger our men, that this gives them much more protection [than] they’d have if we just followed the existing policy.

Now, I've heard all that and I've seen all that in cables, but I just didn't take it. I made him come in [Russell acknowledges], and he is much stronger than even any of your joint chiefs. His general statement was very much along the line of [John P.] McConnell's, if you remember it.[note 22] General John P. McConnell was chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Russell

Yes, I do, quite well.

President Johnson

So we thought that it was all gone already, then at noon yesterday, Thieu comes in and says, “No.” And now the question is do you leave him and Korea and Thailand? They'll all hang together. They’re scared to [unclear] . . . . so forth. So we've tried to get them back on board. We don't think they're going to come in the light of the Nixon thing. We just—

Russell

I’m surprised at Nixon. I never did have any confidence in him, but damn if I thought he'd stoop to anything like that.

President Johnson

Well, we—it may be his agents. All we know is I saw him on television this morning, in Syracuse last night. And he says that this conference must be broadened to include the Soviet [sic]. Well, we're talking to them every day, two or three times a day. He—

Russell

I doubt that they really want to be in it.

President Johnson

They wouldn't be in it. They wouldn't come to it and he just makes an ass of himself. They have to act—they are scared to death of the Chinese, and everything they do is subterranean, but there's no question what they're in it. I made him Sunday night go back to [Alexei N.] Kosygin and say that he understood that I was doing this on his . . . for his full knowledge, and the problem I would have on DMZ, and the cities, and he’d better understand that and not charge me with deceit, because if they didn't abide by it, I was going to hit them.[note 23] Alexei N. Kosygin was chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union. And he came back and said that my doubts about their abiding by it were not justified.[note 24] Rostow to Johnson, 28 October 1968, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-68: Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969, ed. Kent Sieg (Washington, D.C.: GPO), 7: 393-395 Document 138. So he is in it, but Nixon says that the Soviets ought to be brought in [raising his voice] and he says other Asian countries must come to the conference. Well, a few hours later—this was last night—but this morning at 9:00, we get a wire from Korea saying they ought to be in the conference. [Russell chuckles.] So he's kind of playing with the Asians, you see, to divide us and they're trying to do what Hanoi has been unable to do for five years: divide me from Korea, and Thailand, and so forth, and that’s this damned election.

Therefore, what I think seriously I will do is this: The South Vietnamese have no good reason for not coming. They say they need more time. So I think instead of saying that we—

Russell

[Unclear] been fooling with them for two or three months. I don't know what they'd do with the time.

President Johnson

Well, they say they’ve got to get a delegation and all that. I think I'll say to them, “Well, I'll give you the meeting. The next meeting we'll have, now, normally comes up Wednesday. We had one today. That gives you a full week.” Now, they said three or four days ago that they'd need a week to ten days, or two weeks. Well, we'll give you a full week. Now, we're going to stop in the next few hours and we're going to make an announcement of that, and we’re going to say that we have understood that you could be present at this meeting a week from now, and we hope you're there, but in any event, we're not going to let Thieu force us to keep on bombing when we don't want to, and when we’ve got a chance to get them to lay off the DMZ, and when we’ve got a chance to get them to lay off the cities, and when we've got a guarantee that you can attend the meeting. Now, we just got to be that blunt. If they come aboard, all well and good. If they don't, why, we’re just in shambles, I guess, but I don't think I could defend to the people of this country, that I had everything I’d asked for, and then this son-of-a-bitch vetoed it.

Richard Russell

No, I don't see how he could refuse to come aboard.

President Johnson

Well, he does, though.

Russell

Well, goddamn it, I’d just tell him, well, if he [unclear] won’t play any better than that, we’ll just get out and leave [unclear] there and let him settle it.

President Johnson

Well, then I've carried on five years a pretty big failure, haven't I?

Russell

Well, I don't think that. I think they can . . . it's been accepted everywhere that the reason we're in there is because they wanted us. If they don’t want us, why, by God, our manners are not that bad [unclear] he said get out now. I wish I [unclear] and I thought I was welcome, but if I’m not, of course, I’ll leave.

President Johnson

Well, what I'm thinking seriously of doing. I have not talked to any other legislator or anybody outside of my little group, and you weren't in it and I just thought you could get an independent evaluation of how screwy it sounded to you. What I've thought of doing would be to say to them this morning, both in Paris and in Saigon, that I'm going to say tonight or tomorrow morning that I am stopping this action, that I have agreed with the other side to meet in Paris on the 6th—that’s the day after the election—at our next regular meeting next Wednesday. That they have agreed the GVN can be there; that’s what I’ve insisted on for years. And I have notified them of this effect. Now, I will background—I can’t say it publicly, but I’ll tell two or three reporters confidentially and kind of let them leak it out—that they ought to watch the DMZ the next few days. And I would think in 24 hours, they’ll be writing stories that obviously Johnson got peace on the DMZ, and to watch the cities. Now, if I get peace there, all right. If I don’t, I can still bomb. In any event, I will have stopped it and will announce that we’ll have this meeting. And then if they come aboard, all right, and if they don’t, why, I’d just . . .

Russell

I don't see how they can afford not to.

President Johnson

Well . . .

Russell

They may.

President Johnson

Well, now, suppose they don't; where am I? [Pause.] If they don't come aboard, and Korea doesn't come aboard, I'd think they'd just be so afraid of not having Uncle Sam out there, that they just couldn't do it, but they might think they'd have Nixon.

Russell

I don't see how the hell they can—

President Johnson

Well, they don't understand our constitutional system and they may think they’ve got Nixon. You know in their country, when something changes, the whole outfit changes. They don't realize they'll have you, and [J. William] Fulbright, and all the Congress that I've had, and they think that they get Nixon, they get all of Nixon's policies.[note 25] J. William Fulbright was a U.S. senator [D-Arkansas] from January 1945 to December 1974, and served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from January 1959 to December 1974. Now, they’re not going to—Nixon's not going to be able to be much harder than I've been. [Coughs.]

Russell

Well . . . [Coughs.]

President Johnson

And I don't believe publicly Nixon can take us on anyway. Now, it will—he may have a little—

Russell

His public statements haven't been too bad, the ones I've heard.

President Johnson

No, no, no. That's right.

Russell

At least I heard him pointing out in—well, I think I did in one speech—where he was supporting you much better than Humphrey was. 

President Johnson

Oh, yeah, he says that, but then he says that everybody—

Russell

I understand there’s underhanded stuff. I see that.

President Johnson

It's just like my getting upset. I know Dick Russell. They say that Dick Russell is so and so, and so and so, and so and so, but I really don't believe that.

Russell

Yeah.

President Johnson

If you didn't believe—

Russell

Make the accusation yourself and then deny it.

President Johnson

That's right.

Russell

[Coughs.] Well, that’s a sweatbox for sure. I just don’t see how that South Vietnamese government, though, can stay out of it.

President Johnson

Well, don't you see this, that if—

Russell

If they’re admitted to the table, that’s all they’ve been insisting on.

President Johnson

How can I carry on, though, a bombing, when every one of my joint chiefs, and including Abrams, say that from a military standpoint, it's even better that I go the other route at this time? And the only thing they want assurance of is that I would resume it if I didn't get these actions that we expect to follow—DMZ and the cities.

Russell

Well, it'd be very difficult. It'd be very difficult. [Pause.] [Coughs.] What does your old man out there—

President Johnson

[Ellsworth] Bunker?[note 26] Ellsworth F. Bunker was U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam from April 1967 to May 1973.

Russell

Yeah. What does he think about it?

President Johnson

He wants to give them this week that I'm giving them. He says this morning to give him a week and that calls their bluff, and that gives them plenty of time. It's not important when they show up at this meeting, if we give them a week. We were going to have the meeting November the 2nd. He said move it back to the 6th or 7th, and he and Abrams both have been heartily for this and had them aboard, but this other thing came into it.

Russell

Does Bunker know what disturbed them?

President Johnson

No, I don't think so. I don't think that we have gotten him all the intercepts and things.

Russell

Uh-huh.

President Johnson

We have, though, we have Thieu's talks to his people and so forth, and he knows that. He knows part of it. But I've ordered them all sent out to him this morning. [Pause.] But you see, it's only natural. Now, you look at it from Thieu's standpoint. He was—

Russell

Yeah, it's like getting something for nothing.

President Johnson

He was staying with me, and he was supporting me, and he was going along with me. Then this guy comes in and said, “Now, let me show you here. Humphrey says that he’s going to stop it, period, without any comma or semicolon. Now, I’m not going to do that. Humphrey says that he’s not going to let you veto anything he does. Well, I’m going to work with you.” So there’s that man looking at two horses. 

Russell

Now, I can see—

President Johnson

A bay and a black. And there's no question what Nixon's statements are better for him than the other one. So he thinks all he got to do is just hold out two or three days and he’s in clover.

Russell

Well, he hasn’t got anything to lose because even if Humphrey was elected and Nixon loses, well, he hasn't lost anything.

President Johnson

Mm-hmm.

Russell

He just took a gamble.

President Johnson

That's right. I think I'm going to move ahead unless you see some reason I shouldn't.

Russell

Well, I don’t see any, but it sure is a confused picture, Mr. President.

President Johnson

Yes. It is, it is. But we can't—

Russell

It’s about the most confused one I ever . . .

President Johnson

And it's going to be more—

Russell

[unclear] in my time.

President Johnson

It's going to be more confused when the Koreans, and the Thais, and all your allies say you did it just for election purposes. But the one thing, the meeting doesn't take place until after the election.

Russell

Yeah, that's right.

President Johnson

And I think that helps a little.

Russell

I think that does. That takes some of the curse off, anyhow.

President Johnson

But the announcement comes beforehand, and they say, "Why didn't you do it before?" and I'm going to say, "Well, because it’s Sunday night’s when I got the assurances I wanted," and I had them confirmed by Abrams yesterday, and if they want to come with me, all right; if they don't go with me. OK, I just wanted your feel of it.

Russell

Yes, sir. Well, I’m glad to get it, and I’ll ponder it a little more. It looks to me, like—I just don’t see how they can stay out. [President Johnson acknowledges.] I just don’t see how they can possibly stay out. Because you’re going to be the President till January 20th, anyhow.

President Johnson

You wouldn't let him veto you if you were me, would you?

Russell

No, sir, I wouldn't.

President Johnson

Thank you. Good-bye.

Russell

I would’ve been hard as hell with him [chuckling] [unclear].

President Johnson

I have. Thank you. [Russell acknowledges.]

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell on 30 October 1968,” Conversation WH6810-10-13612-13613, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006111