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tv   The Rachel Maddow Show  MSNBC  December 22, 2018 6:00pm-7:00pm PST

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>> that's all for this edition of dateline extra. i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. this is a jagged little puzzle of a story. here's some of the pieces. a bitter race for the white house, a candidate who would do anything to win. maybe even conspire with a foreign government. a secret campaign meeting in an iconic tower on new york's 5th avenue. and in this case, a woman, a mysterious woman who may have tipped the scales at a time when america seemed to be coming apart at the seams. i'm not talking about 2016. no, this time, the year was 1 8
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1968. >> they got us into this war, and they're afraid to get us out. >> richard nixon is behind sabotaging peace. >> tens of thousands of young americans and vietnamese died. that's what was at stake. >> it was horrendous, it was treason, by any standard. >> this wealthy and connected asian-american woman could change history. >> lbj knew there was collusion. it's definitely a smoking gun as regards richard nixon's direct involvement and actions. >> they're contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war. and they ought to be doing this. this is treason. >> it's november 3rd, just two
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days before the 1968 presidential election. >> mr. president, i'm getting right on. >> mr. president? >> yes. >> dick nixon. >> yes, dick. >> in a call secretly recorded by the white house, president lyndon johnson draws a line in the sand for his old adversary, richard nixon, the republican candidate for president. >> lyndon johnson is desperate to get the north vietnamese and south vietnamese at the peace table. >> we all want them to come, and hope they'll come and really believe they'll come. >> is it a question of when -- >> nixon was trying to sabotage those peace talks if peace talks were announced before election day, that would help his opponent. and it would destroy nixon's very last chance to become president. >> u.s. troops were mired in a brutal conflict between north vietnam and our allies, south
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vietnam. with the death toll soaring, with protests and riots tearing the nation apart. president johnson had staked his legacy on getting america out of vietnam. >> i told all of you the other day -- >> johnson is talking to nixon, basically saying, i know you're interfering with my diplomacy, and i think it's about as low as you can get. and nixon lies and denies that he's doing it. >> you just see that your people don't tell the south vietnamese that they're going to get any better deal out of the united states government. >> your people, that's how he puts it to nixon, your people are messing things up. in other calls, johnson didn't hesitate to give nixon's people a name. >> mrs. chenault -- you ought to keep them from running around. >> mrs. chenault, anna. a woman known to power brokers across asia and in washington, d.c., as the steel butterfly.
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>> the number one flying tiger and his chinese bride. general chenault played second world war history. >> anna chenault has an american story that's truly epically, even cinematically unique. she's a refugee from china. she rises to the highest levels of society in this country opinion what she did with that influence is a question of deadly seriousness. we got america's first taste of a candidate including with a foreign power to try to win a u.s. presidential election. and in this case, it would also change the course of eye war. >> the chenault affair shows us this wealthy and connected asian-american woman could change the course of american
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and vietnamese history. >> she was a businesswoman. she was a journalist, she was a significant fund raiser for the republican party. >> i think she would love to have been an ambassador, loved to have some major job. but i don't think in those days -- men didn't take women seriously that way. >> she was in a way ahead of her time to have these feelings about -- gee, why are all the people making decisions, white men? i've seen hundreds of pictures of her, she's the only woman in the picture. you know, a dozen men and there's anna chenault standing in the middle. >> what is going on in vietnam? >> i just returned from the far east and southeast asia two weeks ago. >> a globetrotting journalist. the widow of a war hero revered from burma to beijing. she's an executive for a global
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freight airline. anna had access. >> she always operated from behind the scenes, because she was a back channel operator. >> who is going to have the power to keep peace. >> and now artillery is being called in as you can hear. >> war and peace in vietnam. in 1968 that was the issue. how to end a war that had turned malignant. >> vietnam was the war that we saw in our living rooms every night. >> keep rolling. >> people would be watching the 6:00 news during dinner and see the carnage of vietnam. >> all hell has broken loose. >> 1968 was lbj's fifth year as commander in chief. it was the single deadliest year of the war. already, 19,000 americans had
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died in vietnam. >> i think there was a momentum behind that war. so many people had died in it, it's hard for anybody to say, let's stop it. johnson said, i don't want to be the president who loses a war. especially when we had this mythology of having never lost a war as a country. we just didn't seem to be wing anything. >> back in the u.s., the war had become personal. vietnam had become johnson's war. >> every time he tries to leave the white house, he's met by protesters, every public speech, he's going to hear those chants. you can see the toll that the war is having on lbj. physically, psychologically. >> the president was under fire from all sides. politicians as well as
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protesters. >> when the strongest nation in the world can be tied down for four years in a war against a fourth rate military power in vietnam. then i say it's time for new leadership in the united states of america. >> and yes, at the apex of the war, the u.s. was holding a presidential election. so now let's back up to march 31st, 1968. the day that vietnam ended the presidency of lyndon b. johnson. >> gosh, this is hard to read, jim, you have no idea. >> on that last evening in march, tv cameras rolled into the president's office. johnson spoke live to an anxious nation. >> tonight i want to speak to you of peace in vietnam and southeast asia. there is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long and bloody war.
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>> johnson was desperately trying to end the war on his watch. he had it in his head the hope that somehow, some way he could get the north vietnamese to the negotiating table and end the war. >> i renew the offer i made last august to stop the bombardment of north vietnam. in the hope that this action will lead to early talks. >> lbj offers to stop the bombing, but only if the north agrees to talk peace with south vietnam. then johnson plays one last card. >> we worked together on the speech. we went over it march 28th, two or three days before the president is going to deliver it. and the president said, maybe i shouldn't run for office. >> i shall not seek and i will not accept the nomination of my
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party for another term as your president. >> johnson's speech shocked the world. the president would not run for re-election. and here was his offer to finally end the war. for presidential candidate richard nixon, lbj's peace proposal was a political nightmare. nixon needed the democratic party to own the horror show of the vietnam war, not to solve it. and the steel butterfly, anna chenault, she saw lbj's proposed bombing halt as a military blunder. >> every time we stop the bombing, only give the other side the opportunity to regrow the military instiation. the sooner we win this war, the better off we will be. >> richard nixon and anna chenault, their views were closely aligned. definitely no crime in that. what if they went beyond words to deeds? what if they were to join hands in an effort to derail the quest
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in 1968 america's war in vietnam drove the news and the presidential election. richard nixon seized every opportunity to fuel voter's against the war. >> vote like your whole world depended on it. >> in 1968, he's not taking any chance chances he sees that the he's not above sabotaging the
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process. >> the plot is born, july 12th. the pierre hotel. nixon campaign headquarters. the candidate and a top foreign diplomat meet in secret in an iconic tower in new york's fifth avenue. >> the only people present at this meeting were nixon himself, his campaign chairman john mitchell, anna chenault, and the south vietnamese ambassador. nixon decided to make it a very shady operation. >> just four people alone in a backroom at nixon's headquarters let's break it down. john mitchell. mitchell sentenced one of the
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co-conspirators. sigh began's man in washington. then there's richard nixon. by 1968 the presidential want to be had lost his last two elections. >> in 1968 he wanted that presidency so bad, he was willing to do whatever was necessary. >> this is twice a big a crowd than we had in 1960, and the result is going to be twice as good. >> back on fifth avenue, we have three men in a hotel room. a veteran politician plotting his comeback. the man running his political operation. and south vietnam's man in washington. plus one lone woman, anna chenault. >> i have the opportunity to not only talk to the leaders, but the people. >> nixon knew that anna chenault
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could establish a relationship between him and the south vietnamese. just in case it became public. nixon could pretend she was not his real envoy. >> after just 10 years in washington, d.c.. anna had fast tracked her way to wealth and influence. and a penthouse on top of the brand new watergate complex which she made into her clubhouse for the global elite. >> she loved to do parties. she's notoriously known as the republican social hostess of the nixon era. >> i just remember that when she would walk into a room. she owned the room. >> she had a lot of sexual power. i'm not saying she had sexual relationships with people, but i think she skeweded an aura of sexual ailty that was irresistible to a lot of men. i mean, you sit next to a man in power at dinner and you whisper
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in his ear. you give him a good idea, and suddenly it's his idea. >> at her parties she would always serve chinese food. she would make a joke, this is called concubine chicken. i knew she was egging them on. she was playing to their expectations. yes, this is a chinese woman. she knew what she was doing. she was setting up an environment for people to conduct business. >> this is how anna operated. and the july 12th, 5th avenue meeting is her masterpiece. we dug up the calendar page from her daily calendar. new york to see dick nixon with ambassador biu. it's schenn at who first
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proposed this meeting to nixon. >> nixon is eager to meet but wants to keep it secret, even from his own secret service detail. which is suspicious all by itself. >> secret meetings, middlemen and women, foreign ambassadors and a tower in new york city. >> exactly what is said is not really recorded anywhere. but the clear message from nixon to the ambassador was, if you want to communicate anything to me. use mrs. chenault as a way to talk to me. >> the intrigue begins. the goal is to undermine the peace talks that president johnson believes will end the war. sabotage any negotiations that might get u.s. troops out of vietnam. pointman for the operation? point woman is mrs. anna chenault. as a fitness junkie, i customize everything -
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august 1968, anna chenault touches down in siaigon. now anna had come to join the struggle as richard nixon's secret agent. >> i went with her on one of her trips to saigon, we stayed at the hotel caravel downtown where most of the reporters are staying. it's a weird atmosphere from the hotel restaurant on top. you could see flairs on the edge of the city, bright lights in the night sky. bombs, and so on. the war was a part of everybody's life. >> chenault arrived in saigon with an ironclad ally, her work
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as an airline executive, and contacts that went right to the top, to south vietnam's new president. >> the information from the campaign to the government was nixon's going to win the war for you, he's going to stand by you better than any democrat. >> for anna, this mission for nixon was driven by bitter personal history. >> she hated the communists because she hated what had happened to china. it was about china, china, china. >> anna believes she was on the right side of history, that the worst thing for asia and the asian people was communism. >> only by showing our strength, that we'll be able to bring the communists to the conference room. until then, we will have to carry on our action. >> i don't believe she acknowledged in anyway to herself the military situation
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that existed. a lot of people didn't recognize it. >> by august of 1968, america's war in vietnam had already killed another 11,700 americans. >> that year alone. for the vietnamese those numbers were even more grim. at least 116,000 dead in just seven months. >> on a standard day, you'd go into a village and you'd start searching it, throwing stuff around inside of somebody's house. and worse. you don't win hearts and minds by burning down houses and shooting chickens and by taking target practice on some farmer. not that these things were typical, but they happened often enough to not win hearts and minds. >> i used to remember thinking, this is so different in how this war is being portrayed back home. it's something valiant and noble and containing communism.
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>> the time has come for honest government in the united states of america. >> in miami, richard m. nixon stood before the republican party. and for the second time in his life, accepted their nomination for president of the united states. >> we shall begin with vietnam. >> nixon was very two-faced about this. >> we hope in this room there's a chance that current negotiations may bring an honorable end to that war. >> in public in his acceptance speech at the republican convention said that he would do nothing to interfere with the chances for negotiating peace. >> and we will say nothing during this campaign that might destroy that chance. >> in secret, however, he did everything he could to make sure that peace talks could not start before election day, because peace talks were the biggest threat to his candidacy.
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>> that threat is fresh in nixon's mind, just hours before nixon accepted the nomination, lbj had called to congratulate him as the president watched the convention on tv from his texas ranch. >> hello, mr. president. how are you? >> well, i'm just fine. haven't had any sleep, but you know how that is. >> i sure do, and i give you my congratulations. >> boy, i tell you, isn't that the truth? >> johnson never liked or trusted nixon. it goes way back to the time he was in the senate and nixon was in the senate. >> i want to keep in close touch with you. we're both great political animals, i think it's awfully important to be completely informed with the same facts. >> to make sure nixon backs the peace talks. the president summons him down to his ranch. lbj's home turf to talk to nixon
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face to face. >> he and johnson in some ways share some character traits. they had been raised in rural areas without prestigious educations. they're both inferior in their own way to the northeastern establishment elites that they felt they were battling in the press and the government. they carry those kind of chip on their shoulders. >> since march, johnson had been struggling to coax north vietnam into talks with south vietnam. negotiations looked promising, but it was far from a done deal. >> nixon fears the vietnamese will accept johnson's agreements. >> nixon heads back to the campaign trail, fearful that lbj is poised to swing the election to the democrats by getting north and south vietnam to talk
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peace. nixon was playing to win. ready to undermine lbj, to steer sigh began away from the negotiating table with a word in the ear from richard nixon's asian connection, mrs. anna chenault.
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there are no end in sight with the partial government shutdown. this impasse stuck on how much to fund president trump's border wall. that figure is somewhere between the 1.6 billion initiated by congress, and the 5 billion trump is asking for. the house and senate will not reconvene until thursday december 27th. trump has cancelled his trip to florida for the christmas holiday. for now, back to the rachel mad doe special report.
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two weeks after the republican congress vengs in miami. all eyes turn to the democrats. >> the tear gas is flowing. >> this is happening on michigan avenue. >> the chicago convention, the convocation to nominate hubert humphrey to succeed president johnson. >> i am ready to lead our country. >> the chaos that led the democrats, richard nixon capitalized on the anger and the unrest, the war at home.
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>> every american is to be freed from domestic violence. we shall have order in the united states. >> nixon leads in the polls, but his white house dreams are haunted by lbg's progress toward ending the war. nixon worries about the prospect of an october surprise, that peace is being negotiated that it's in hand and that it boosts the prospects of hubert hum free. >> mid october, lyndon johnson fuels nixon's worst fear. >> who is that speaking, dick is that you? >> i'm on. >> hubert, are you on? >> in a conference call, lbj updates the presidential candidates confidentially on a big breakthrough in the negotiations. north vietnam at last is willing to talk with south vietnam. >> this is an absolute confidence because any comment referring to the substance of these matters will be injurious
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to your country. >> after all this work all year, johnson finally had a package that the north vietnamese would accept. and he was selling it to the south vietnamese. >> what does nixon do? he betrays the president and the nation. after a rally in ohio, nixon makes a late night call to his top lieutenant h.r. haldeman and he orders him to pull the trigger on their scheme. how do we know this? >> we have the notes taken by h.r. haldeman. it's definitely a smoking gun as regards richard nixon's direct involvement in actions. >> nixon's asking about how to throw a monkey wrench into the
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process and he's ordering haldeman to make sure anna chenault stays active. nixon had always denied any personal knowledge of anna chenault's behavior, and wow! all of a sudden, here he is in haldeman's notes saying, keep chenault working on the south vietnamese. anyway else we can monkey wrench johnson's initiatives. it's a whole battle plan. >> the very next day after nixon orders his chief of staff to monkey wrench it, to keep anna schenn at on the job. telling saigon to not go along with the peace talks. he wires his superiors back home in saigon. he says this, many republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm.
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u.s. intelligence intercepts that cable. once president johnson gets wind of the republican interference. he orders the fbi to wiretap the vietnamese embassy. >> october 30th, the fbi sends president johnson a classified memo. ambassador received a call from an unidentified woman, believed to be anna chenault. >> johnson is flabbergasted. he didn't see this coming. >> she's young and attractive. she's a pretty good looking girl, and she's around town. and she is warning them to not get pulled in on this johnson move.
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>> the issue is whether or not that representative is charged with taking steps to undermine the government's policy. >> while lbj and his national security team strategize about how to close the deal on the peace talks, the fbi begins around the clock surveillance on anna chenault. >> she's followed by the fbi, there's fbi reports of her activities. john mitchell is very concerned about talking to her and making sure that they only talk on an anonymous phone that won't be bugged. >> now that johnson has north vietnam on board. he tries to force all parties to the peace table. he wants to make it impossible for south vietnam to say no to the talks. the next evening, october 31st,
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halloween. while kids across the country are heading out for trick or treating, johnson takes over the airwaves to address the nation. >> i speak to you this evening about very important developments. >> just five days before the election, richard nixon's nightmare, the october surprise lurches to life. >> we have reached the stage where productive talks can begin. i have now ordered that all bombardment of north vietnam cease. a regular session of the parish talks is going to take place next wednesday november 6th, at which the representatives, the government of south vietnam are free to participate. >> moments after the president's speech, nixon's campaign chairman calls his go between
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anna chenault. >> mitchell is on the phone to her that night, calls her out of a party to talk to her, have her call him back on an anonymous phone so that he can check with her and make sure are the south vietnamese going to hold firm. are they going to not come to the peace talks? >> november second the fbi tapped the south vietnamese embassy's telephone and overheard anna chenault telling the ambassador, hold on, we're going to win. >> it's no little thing to deny the president of the united states of america. this gave him the confidence to go forward in front of his national assembly and make that speech. >> the united states have ended the bombing -- >> this is where anna chenault is important because she was saying, if you defy johnson,
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there is another president, if you help him get elected who would stand by you. namely richard nixon. >> president tui drops his own bombshell on lbj. the government of south vietnam regrets not to participate in the present exploratory talks. south vietnam's president sends a signal to washington, loud and clear. three days before the american election. there will be no peace talks while lyndon johnson is in office. with the clock ticking down, richard nixon has sabotaged lbj's quest to end the war. but one last twist remained to play out. and just like you, the further into winter we go, the heavier i get. and while your pants struggle to support the heavier you, your roof struggles to support the heavier me. [laughter]
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everett, how are you? >> all right. >> i want to talk to you as a friend and very confidentially, because i think -- >> three days before the election lyndon johnson strikes back. the president calls the senate's top republican everett dirk son with a message for dick nixon. nixon's people he says, are treading on dangerous ground. and the president has the goods to burn agent anna chenault. >> and here's the latest information we got. the agent says she's just talked to the boss, and he says just hold on until after the election. >> when you hear johnson talking to dirk son. you hear in johnson this master politician who's used threatening tactics throughout the course of his political career to achieve his political
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ends. >> it's classic johnson. it's classic. you know, get to the head of the republican party to try to get nixon to do this. >> i'm reading their hand everett, i don't want to get this in the campaign. and they ought to be doing this, this is treason. >> i know. >> they're contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war. >> that's a mistake. >> it's a bad mistake, you tell them that their people are messing around in this thing. if they don't want it on the front pages, they have to quit it. >> he's olding out the prospect of going public with this explosive story. the same time, you can hear johnson's palpable anger and indignation that somebody would tamper with the peace process that could end a war. >> senator dirksen delivers the message to the nixon camp.
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the very next morning, richard nixon launches his cover-up on live tv. >> i want to make it very clear, any one of my public statements, including on "meet the press." i stand with the president with regard to his efforts to get the paris negotiations off dead center. >> after making that very public lie, nixon doubles down on his cover-up in a very private call. >> mr. president. >> yes. >> dick nixon. >> yes, dick. >> this conversation is a master class in political subtext and subterfuge. >> i wanted you to know that any grumblings around about trying to sabotage the saigon government, there's no credibility. >> i'm very happy to hear that, dick, because that is taking place. here's the history of it, i didn't want to cause -- >> you have two guys sort of bluffing each other, johnson
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wants nixon to think he's got the goods on nixon himself. nixon wants johnson to think he has nothing to do with this. >> my god, i would never do anything to encourage hanoi -- "mean saigon, i mean we want them in paris. you have to get them to paris or you can't have a peace. >> lbj knew there was collusion with the south vietnamese government to keep them from negotiating peace. what lbj couldn't prove definitively is that nixon was involved. >> some of the old china lobby are going around and imply. >> anyone with half a brain knows that richard nixon is behind this efforts to sabotage the peace talks. the south vietnamese would not listen to a fund-raiser, anna chenault unless they knew for sure that she was speaking for nixon. >> you just see that your people
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don't tell the south vietnamese that they're going to get any better deal out of the united states government. >> one fact remained unspoken but well understood. if this story hit the news, richard nixon's white house dreams would explode in scandal. >> in saigon a veteran foreign correspondent was poised to light the fuse. >> as the november election approached, i heard this outlandish rumor that i cabled the monitor overseas editor. >> beverly deep had covered the war in vietnam for six years. this promised to be her biggest scoop yet for the christian science monitor. >> saigon october 28th, there's a report here that vietnamese ambassador to washington has notified the foreign ministry that nixon aids have approached
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him and told him that saigon government should hold to a firm position now regarding negotiations if nixon is chu government and their demands. >> so november 4, the day before the election, johnson's at the l lbj ranch, he gets a call that the bureau chief of the christian science monitor has in his hands a story saying republican interference is responsible for saigon's decision to buy cot the paris peace talks and he's asking johnson for comment. johnson can make what he knows public, and let the voters decide, or he can keep this information classified, as it then is. he is torn. everything is at stake. >> this is it.
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the day before the election. the christian science monitor is on the brink of breaking the news. johnson has a chance to blow nixon's cover. would he do it? >> he asks the wise men of his administration, people he trusts, and he asks them what to do. all of his advisers are unanimous. they say you can't make this public. this is information we have picked up through classified sensitive sources, through the nsa, through the cia, and now through the fbi, and if we start putting this kind of information into elections, that's going to change what kind of country we are. >> johnson concludes that they're right. and he doesn't do anything about it. liberty mutual customizes your car insurance so you only pay for what you need. great news for anyone wh- uh uh - i'm the one who delivers the news around here. ♪
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nbc news predicted richard nixon. >> nixon wins by the second narrowest margin of the 20th century. the single narrowest margin was in 1960, the election that nixon lost to president kennedy. >> winning is a lot more fun. >> so nixon wins, and chenault thinks i will be a big deal in this administration because richard nixon owes me, and basically he wants no part of her. >> the nixon administration, they were afraid of any position for which you would have to have senate confirmation, have to be under oath, and be asked a question about the october events. >> she was taking advantage of, taken advantage of and not being offered a real position. it is possible that she herself
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felt she was most taken advantage of by president nixon. >> i suspect that she didn't like nixon because nobody liked nixon. but she got burned. if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. >> each moment in history is a fleeting time. but some stand out as moments of beginning. in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries. >> nixon wins. in part, thanks to johnson's decision not to make public what he knew about nixon's treachery. richard nixon's plot to undermine the vietnam peace talks. >> i, richard milhouse nixon do solemnly swear. >> president johnson did believe that this was a trees nous act that ultimately led to an
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expanded war. >> to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the united states. >> this is not just tinkering with a few votes. this cost us 20,000 american lives. i don't know how many thousand wounded. the cost of that was horrendous. it was treason. by any standard. >> those who said no to the war, draft dodgers, resistors, they were described as treasonists. well, if i had known, as a soldier, in vietnam, that nixon had scuttled, or certainly delayed, for sure, a peace process, it seems treasonist and more treasonist than the guys who said no, i'm not going to go kill people. >> so, was it treason? nixon worked surreptitiously with a foreign power to sabotage the united states and tilt a presidential election. would that be treason?
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50 years later, that question of course has new and dismal relevance. but 50 years now after nixon did it, we have the benefit of explicit evidence. >> i have that documented. >> locked in the vaults of the johnson presidential library, there is a secret folder. it is marked do not open for 50 years. it is called, i kid you not, the "x" file. when johnson left the presidency, he buried all of his evidence on the chenault affair. >> johnson wanted all of this evidence of the horrible things that nixon was doing, in this mysterious envelope, to have the evidence, to blackmail him, if that was ever necessary. >> tracking down lbj's x file became an obsession for president nixon. rumors swirled that the nixon white house, that lbj's
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blackmail folder was locked up in a safe at a washington think tank. >> get in and get those files. >> nixon's gang of thieves never did manage to steal the "x" file, but one year later, the same bunch of crook, the white house plumbers, tried to pull off a somewhat similar caper, to wire tap the democratic headquarters at the iconic complex known as watergate. >> i shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. >> for decades, the american people have hoped that with the demise of president richard nixon, we had seen the end of that level of criminal scandal at the highest levels of our politics. now we know that nixon's criminal scheming included what the sitting president at the time believed to be treason by nixon, to get himself into the white house. almost unimaginable.
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at least it used to be. >> now, that's the story, dick, and it's a sordid story. it's a very complicated story, and why am i in the middle of it? >> the infamous trump tower meeting, it's consumed washington for more than a year. now, the man who holds the key to how it all happened shares new details. >> it was a dirty offer that they accepted. >> yes, that is true. >> is the meeting the special counsel's best evidence of possible collusion between the campaign and russia? we go inside the room with the firsthand account. >> suddenly, what should have been two people and don jr. was