I talked with [Richard] Nixon twice yesterday afternoon and last night. [note 1] The President’s Daily Diary notes only one telephone conversation with the President-elect on 8 November 1968 at 9:23 P.M.
No, I didn't, I’m—
I say I did.
I . . . he called me after I talked again to [Everett M.] Dirksen yesterday.[note 2] Johnson spoke with Dirksen at 2:54 P.M. Dirksen was a U.S. senator [R-Illinois] from 1951 to 1969, and served as Senate minority leader from 1959 to 1969.
And he said, what did we think he could do to be helpful? Did I think his traveling out there—he'd be glad to go if he could. I told him no, that it wasn't a question of travel, it was just a question of his getting a message to the president [of South Vietnam] that he supported the conference 100 percent and our policy 100 percent. There's going to be no change of it with the change in administration, that they misunderstood what had happened in this country, and that he should get his most trusted man, whoever's going to be his secretary of state, or his foreign policy advisor, to tell the ambassador that he wanted the president to know that this conversation had gone on back and forth, not with his approval, and that he had assured the President—Johnson—that he supported the President's policies and he thought that if [Nguyen Van] Thieu didn’t go along with them, that no president could get any support for the South Vietnamese in this country.[note 3] Nguyen Van Thieu was president of South Vietnam from June 1965 to April 1975.
And he said all right, that he would work out some way to do that. So an hour he called me back and said he was going to have Dirksen do it, that Dirksen knew the ambassador, that he would have Dirksen go see him if I’d send a plane for Dirksen this morning. I told him I would.
Yeah, that's good.
I called Dirksen. Dirksen, who had been sympathetic with me and told me the night before that for me not to call Nixon and let Nixon call, that this oughtn’t to have gone on and who seemed to be a little bit shocked by it, although he didn't talk too much about it; [Rusk acknowledges] he just seemed surprised.[note 4] The President refers to the Chennault Affair, in which Republicans secretly encouraged South Vietnam to stay away from the Paris Peace Talks prior to the presidential election. See WH6811-04-13723-13724-13725. I told him that I would call him and get a plane out there this morning. I called Dirksen this morning to tell him—see where the plane should go—had Jim Jones do it—and he is here in town at his country farm.[note 5] James R. Jones was a special assistant to President Johnson from 1965 to 1969; he succeeded Marvin Watson as one of the President’s appointments secretaries in 1968. Jones also served as a U.S. representative [D-Oklahoma] from 1973-1987, and as ambassador to Mexico from 1993 to 1997. He's driving in. He said he was going to call the ambassador at 8:30.
I thought you ought to brief him a little bit about what you thought he ought to say to Thieu. He's getting this now about third hand: Johnson to Nixon to Dirksen.
And I thought the way to do it would be to say, "Senator Dirksen, it's Dean Rusk. The President asked me to call you [Rusk acknowledges] so you could be informed of the request that he made of Nixon last night, the suggestion he made of President Nixon—the President-elect—and that the President-elect said he agreed to and that he would ask you to convey. He wants you to say to the South Vietnamese that there’s one policy, that no one can defend the South Vietnamese if they don't go to the conference and get on over there next week.”
And make it just about that blunt, and tell him if he wants him any more details, that you'd be glad to give it, but these people are listening to the wrong folks in this country [Rusk acknowledges] when they don't listen to both presidents.
Does he know about the woman?[note 6] The President refers to Anna C. Chennault, the Republicans’ top woman fundraiser in this campaign. An FBI wiretap on the South Vietnamese embassy overheard Chennault telling Ambassador Bui Diem “that she had received a message from her boss (not further identified) which her boss wanted her to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to ‘hold on, we are gonna win,’ and that her boss also said, ‘Hold on, he understands all of it.’ She repeated that this is the only message. ‘He said please tell your boss to hold on.’ She advised that her boss had just called from New Mexico.” Walt Rostow to Johnson, 2 November 1968, Reference File: Anna Chennault, South Vietnam and US Politics, Lyndon B. Johnson Library. The reference to New Mexico led Johnson and his advisers to wonder whether Nixon’s running mate, Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland, was somehow involved, since his campaign plane stopped in Albuquerque that same day.
I see. All right.
Then he'll know what I mean, then.
Yes. Oh, yeah, yes, yes. I’d give a pretty strong hint of it, kind of in indignation, without being unpleasant, but he knows that there's a good many conversations, and I think Nixon knows it, and I think Nixon has been well aware of it, and my judgment is that Nixon sees the danger of it now. [Rusk acknowledges.] But I don't really know.
If this thing ever got out, this war is over, as far as the American people are concerned.
Yes, yes, I think so.
Yeah. Well, I’ll—
He's going to call him, though, at 8:30, and the reason I called you at 8:15, was he told Jim Jones that he was waiting till 8:30 to call the ambassador and then go see him.
I’ll call him right now.
And I thought you’d better call him and just say that you, at the instructions of the President, wanted to give [him] the exact message. I told Nixon he ought to write out one paragraph, so it would very firm, and very definite, and not very wobbly. Now, Dirksen's liable to wobble all over the lot like some of us senators do at times, so you’d better be very compact in what you want him to say.
All right. Fine.
“Lyndon Johnson and Dean Rusk on 9 November 1968,” Conversation WH6811-04-13726, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006136