The President asked the FBI to report to him on the numbers called from the campaign plane of Republican vice presidential nominee Spiro T. Agnew during a 2 November 1968 campaign stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. An FBI wiretap on the South Vietnamese embassy had overheard Anna C. Chennault, a prominent Republican fundraiser, telling Ambassador Bui Diem that day “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.”[note 1] Walt Rostow to Johnson, 2 November 1968, Reference File: Anna Chennault, South Vietnam and US Politics, Lyndon B. Johnson Library. Earlier that day, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu had announced that he would not send a delegation to the Paris peace talks to take part in negotiations with the North Vietnamese, thereby making a settlement of the war impossible for the time being.
Well, Mr. President, this won’t take but just a second, but I wanted to report to you something which you might find of interest in connection with my checking Albuquerque [President Johnson acknowledges] relative [to] our conversation last night. Governor [Spiro T.] Agnew’s charter plane, American Airlines, arrived in Albuquerque on the 2nd, which is the pertinent date, [on] which that most important phone call was received here in Washington at 11:44 A.M. They departed at 2:10 P.M. that date for Harlingen, Texas. Now, as soon as the—a plane landed at the airport and rolled up to the ramp, three phones were put on there. Two of the phones were not used, but the first phone put on was used five times, or else calls were charged to this particular phone from a pay phone. Now, the first phone call was the most pertinent. That was made at 11:59 A.M. and was made to Washington, D.C.—I have the telephone number—to Dean Rusk from Governor Agnew—
Yeah, we have that.
—on a person-to-person basis for three minutes.[note 2] Dean Rusk was secretary of state from January 1961 to January 1969.
The second call was made by a staff member, Kent Crane, chargeable to it, and was made to a Cal Purdy in Harlingen, Texas.
How do you spell that?
P as in Paul, U-R-D-Y. That lasted for three minutes and ten seconds. [President Johnson acknowledges.] Now, that third call was also made by Crane to a telephone number in New York City, and I've traced that down through our New York office. That phone belongs to a Bruce Friedle. F-R-I-E-D-L-E.
F-R-I-E . . .
D-L-E. Now, this man is a sculptor in New York City, and his address is 304 East 76th Street. [pause] Now, the third—the fourth phone call—incidentally, this one to New York lasted for nine minutes and 40 seconds. Now, the fourth call was made to a Mr. Jim Miller in New York City. I'm checking out his background at the present time. I have his telephone number, of course. And that call lasted for two minutes and 22 seconds. The fifth and last call was made to a Mr. Hitt at Nixon-Agnew campaign headquarters by a staff member—again, Kent Crane—which lasted for a minute and 51 seconds.[note 3] It’s not clear from this conversation whether the President or DeLoach realize it, but Robert J. Hitt was the husband of Patricia Reilly Hitt, the co-chairman of the Nixon-Agnew campaign committee and the first woman to co-chair an American presidential campaign. Mrs. Hitt had appointed Chennault and former First Lady Mamie G. Eisenhower as co-chairs of the Women for Nixon-Agnew Advisory Committee. Howard Seelye, “Times Woman of the Year: Political Worker Who Works for Winners,” Los Angeles Times, 16 December 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 10 October 2012). And this is the phone chargeable to Maurice Stans, there at the Willard Hotel, which they used for Nixon-Agnew campaign headquarters.[note 4] Maurice H. “Maury” Stans became secretary of commerce and served from January 1969 to February 1972. He was also chairman of the finance committee for the Committee to Re-Elect the President in 1972. Now, there were no toll calls to the South Vietnamese embassy on that date. There were none to the Little Flower or the Dragon Lady, as we call her, from Albuquerque.[note 5] DeLoach is referring to Anna Chennault. But I did want to make sure you knew about this one to Mr. Rusk—Secretary Rusk. I’m check [Johnson attempts to interject]—sir?
Well, now, we think that somebody from that plane talked to the woman. We think pretty well that they talked to her and talked to Rusk. And talked on the same thing.
They could have—
And we think that they told Rusk they wanted to know what was happening in these relations.
And Rusk made notes of it. But he doesn’t know exactly what time, but he estimated that it was about 2:00, I believe he said. I’ve forgotten. It could’ve been 1:00, but [unclear]—
It was 11:59 A.M.
Well, that was their time, though.
Yes, sir. That's right.
Two hours difference.
So—and her’s was immediately—it was immediately followed by a call to her, we think. And what we want to know is what time that was or if it was.
Well, there are no toll calls made to her by name. Now, this call to New York, to this sculptor—I'll check our physical surveillance records and see if she was in New York on that date.[note 6] According to the 2 November 1968 FBI surveillance report on Chennault, “At 1:45 P.M., she departed her residence and entered the automobile. It was being driven by her chauffeur and proceeded to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, where it was last observed heading north at 2:15 P.M. Arrangements have been made with the New York office of the FBI for them to observe the car en route and to undertake discreet surveillance with reference to her activities while in New York.” Anna Chennault’s Activities, National Security Adviser Walt W. Rostow to President Johnson, 2 November 1968, Reference File: Anna Chennault, South Vietnam and US Politics, Lyndon B. Johnson Library. The next day’s surveillance report, however, was contradictory, saying, “No indication Mrs. Anna Chennault proceeded to New York evening of November 2, 68, but returned to residence in Washington, D.C., where she remained until the evening of November 3, 68.” Intelligence Item on Anna Chennault, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to Bromley Smith, 3 November 1968, Reference File: Anna Chennault, South Vietnam and US Politics, Lyndon B. Johnson Library. She could have been in this man's apartment, this Bruce Friedle.
No. No, she says that she just finished talking to Albuquerque.
Mm-hmm. That's right, on the teletype. Yes, sir.
And she says she just finished talking to Albuquerque. Your call got that.
And he says to hold on . . . do nothing, and we think that is the story.
We think that's what they did.
Until he unleashed them here the other day.
And so we just have to go back and see what happened there. I don't know that it’s lost there somewhere, unless there's somebody—unless it's hidden under this name of Kent Crane here in Washington.
Well, Kent Crane was a staff member of the Agnew staff who called from the plane.
Well, who was it in Washington they talked to.
They talked to—
They talked to a man by the name of Hitt, H-I-T-T, at campaign headquarters.
Yes, sir, and that was one minute and 51 seconds, and it came in at 1:02 P.M. their time, which would have been 3:02 P.M. our time.
1:02. Now, that is the call that's important.
All right, sir.
Because that was right after the Rusk call.
You see—well, let's see. I don't know how it could be, 11:59 . . . that would be—
An hour's difference. A little over an hour.
Oh, yes, it is. Now, I thought it was just two minutes’ difference, 11—and 1:02 our time, you said?
That's right, 1:02 P.M.
What time would that be Albuquerque time?
That'd be 3:02 P.M.
No. It would? No.
Well, it couldn't have been, because the plane departed at 2:10 for Harlingen, Texas.
So it's, 1:0—well, let's see, 2:10 P.M. that time would have been 4:10 P.M. our time, so it could have been, too, Mr. President. 1:02 P.M. would have been 3:02 our time, and then the plane left 58 minutes later for Texas. Now, what I'll do is check our physical surveillance log, because we had a tail on the Little Flower at that time and then we can find out—[note 7] The FBI lost track of Chennault on 2 November 1968. See note above.
You just get right where she is, and we'll find this. I know this and I don't think that there’s anything startling about it, because I just proceeded on the assumption—I believe I'm right—that she called—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 approximate time. He reported those to us. Then she comes along, and she says to the South Vietnamese embassy—she was a courier, that's what she was.[note 8] Johnson pronounces “courier” like “carrier.”
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."
Now, that's the net of it.
That's right. We had that in a teletype.
Now, she's got to get that. I don't know whether I got that from their outgoing to Saigon. I believe that she said that to her boss—I mean, I believe that Bui Diem said it.[note 9] Bui Diem was South Vietnam’s ambassador to the United States at the time. Anyway, I have that information, 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.
Well, the toll calls don't show that, and we still have them in our possession [unclear].
Well, didn't you have her house—weren't you looking after her, too?
No, we had a physical surveillance on her, and we had a wiretap on the South Vietnamese embassy.
But you didn't have one on her?
No, sir.[note 10] Although the White House had requested that the FBI tap Chennault’s phone, DeLoach wrote in a 30 October 1968 memo to Associate FBI Director Clyde A. Tolson that “it was widely known that she was involved in Republican political circles and, if it became known that the FBI was surveilling her, this would put us in a most untenable and embarrassing position.” DeLoach to Tolson, 30 October 1968, quoted in Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, Book II: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976), p. 228n10. We can still put it on if—
No, no, no, no, no. This is—we’re . . . we want that South Vietnamese embassy awfully careful, because this may determine whether we go back to bombing and whether we have another war or not.
And if we hadn't have had this, we would never [have] had the statements we had the other day.[note 11] Following an 11 November 1968 meeting with Johnson at the White House, Nixon told reporters, “I gave assurance in each instance to the Secretary of State, and of course to the President, that they could speak not just for this administration but for the nation, and that meant for the next administration as well.” Roy Reed, “Nixon Assets U.S. Has Single Voice on Foreign Policy,” New York Times, 12 November 1968, http://www.proquest.com. Three days earlier, the President had subtly threatened the President-elect with exposure of intelligence collected on Republican sabotage of the Johnson administration’s attempts to start peace talks that included the South Vietnamese.
Right. Now, as you say, and just to confirm what you 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 off.
But—well, she—[the] ambassador told his president that. [DeLoach acknowledges.] Then his president told a bunch of people that.[note 12] In addition to the FBI wiretap on the South Vietnamese embassy phone, the National Security Agency intercepted messages from the embassy to Saigon, and the CIA bugged South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s office.
That—we’re watching him pretty close, as you can imagine, in Saigon.
And he repeated—this went all through the chain of command. Now, the only thing I’ve got to do is see who her boss is, which we think is Agnew, because Albuquerque is the place. And we ought to look at that log awfully careful, because if Agnew—she talked to Albuquerque. That is a cinch.
Well, I think the key is, then, that she probably was at the campaign headquarters. This 1:02 P.M. call was to her.
It may very well—
It may have been made to Mr. Hitt by name, but she got on the phone.
It may very well be.
I’ll check the physical surveillance log.[note 13] The FBI lost track of Chennault on 2 November 1968. See note above.
It may very well be. That’s probably what it was. She got the message from Albuquerque. That’s logical that he was the one [who] gave it, because when she called Rusk, that’s what we thought.[note 14] The President misspeaks when he says “she called Rusk.” Rusk had spoken to Agnew, not Chennault.
Because that’s the only way he could get information to give her, was from Rusk.
Right. Right, sir.
I wanted to mention that my immediate boss has been called to go up to New York tomorrow to talk to the new man, and plans to stay up there for the weekend. I don’t know what they’re going discuss.[note 15] FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover would misinform President-elect Nixon about the nature of the surveillance on Chennault during their meeting at transition headquarters in New York’s Hotel Pierre the next day. Nixon’s chief of staff was present at the meeting: “Hoover, florid, rumpled, came into the suite and got quickly down to business. He said that LBJ had ordered the FBI to wiretap Nixon during the campaign. In fact, he told Nixon, Johnson had directed the FBI to ‘bug’ Nixon’s campaign airplane, and this had been done. Johnson had based his request on national security. Hoover also said that, at Johnson’s orders, the FBI had installed wiretaps on the telephone of Madame Anna Chennault. This angered Nixon, but he remained still as Hoover poured out more information.” H.R. Haldeman and Joseph DiMona, The Ends of Power (New York: Dell, 1978), p. 118. Much of what “poured out” of Hoover was misinformation. The FBI had not wiretapped Nixon or Chennault, nor had it bugged the nominee’s campaign plane. Claiming that it had made it seem that Hoover had more information about Nixon’s role in the Chennault Affair than he actually did. Haldeman’s account left out a key detail: Hoover claimed that DeLoach himself had bugged Nixon’s campaign plane, thereby poisoning the President-elect’s mind against Hoover’s chief rival for the FBI directorship.
You mean the top man here.
The one that we had by right yesterday.[note 16] The President hosted Hoover, DeLoach, and Tolson for lunch at the White House on 12 November 1968.
That’s right. [President Johnson acknowledges.] That’s right. Yes, sir.
I think he will explore to see whether he thinks that he is up to it. And I told him that I did not know, that I planned to have him, but the luncheon didn’t go through—that I had planned for some time to name you—
—if the other fellow would get out, that three or four years ago, right after I came in, four or five years ago, I had made the extension, and that these Georgia people were rather dependable, and Rusk was from Georgia.[note 17] DeLoach was from Georgia. He’s very fond of Rusk. He said so several times.
So I thought that would be a good thing, and I said they are loyal, and they stay with you, and they don’t ever let you down, and I think that he will have that in mind. I think he’ll evaluate it and see what he thinks about . . . that situation.
You’ll have to be sure whether it’s the man himself or some subordinate that’s talking to him.
Yes, sir. Right.
He does, I know, want to decide on the CIA and FBI.
He told me that.
Well, I’ll stick it out, Mr. President. It’s just—as you told me once before, just stick around, do the best you can, till—
We’ll watch it, and he’ll be talking to me about it beforehand, I’m sure.
I’ll get this other stuff.
All right. [Unclear.]
“Lyndon Johnson and Cartha ‘Deke’ DeLoach on 13 November 1968,” Conversation WH6811-04-13733, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006140