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tv   The Beat With Ari Melber  MSNBC  December 22, 2018 9:00pm-10:00pm PST

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you're my last hope. >> like it or not, i know this is what i'm meant to do. m meant. this is an msnbc special presentation. >> 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 fifth 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
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1968. >> got us in this war and afraid to get us out. >> richard nixon is behind the effort to sabotage peace. >> what we do or fail to do can determine the future of peace and freedom for the balance of this century. >> 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. >> definitely a smoking gun, as regard to richard nixon's direct involvement in actions. >> conducting a foreign power in the middle of a war and they oughtn't 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 him right on. >> mr. president? >> yes? >> this is dick nixon. >> yes, dick? >> in a call secretly recorded by the white house, president lyndon johnson draws a line in the sand for richard nixon, the republican candidate for president. >> lyndon johnson is desperate before his term runs out to get the north vietnamese and the south vietnamese at the peace table. >> we all hope they'll come and really believe they'll come. >> 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 the forces of communist north vietnam and our allies, south
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vietnam. johnson had escalated the war but now with the death toll soaring, 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 that 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 say it's your people, tell the south vietnamese 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. >> all the rest of them from running around here. >> mrs. chenault, anna. a woman known to power brokers across asia and in washington, dc as the steel butterfly.
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>> the number one flying tiger and his chinese bride, clair chenault, of shanghai. made second world war history and legend as commander of sky battles in china. >> anna chenault has an american story that is truly epically even cinematically unique. refugee from the communist takeover of china. rises to the highest levels of society and political influence in this country, but then what she did with that influence is a question of deadly seriousness. because with anna chenault and richard nixon, we got america's first taste of a candidate colluding with a foreign power to try to win a u.s. presidential election. in this case, it would also change the course of a war. >> the chenault affair shows us this wealthy and connected asian american woman could change the
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course of american and vietnamese history. >> she was a businesswoman. she was a journalist. she was a significant fundraiser for the republican party. >> i think she would have loved to have been an ambassador and had some major job but i don't think that 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. the only woman in the picture. a dozen men and there's anna chenault standing in the middle. >> what's going on in vietnam? >> i just returned from the far east and southeast asia two weeks ago. >> a globe trotting journalist, the widow of a war hero revered from burma to beijing and by 1968, she's an executive for a global freight airline. anna had access.
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but she always operated from behind the scenes because she was a back channel operator. >> going to have the power to keep peace. >> and now artillery is being called in, as you can hear very close. >> war and peace in vietnam. in 1968, that was the issue. how end a war that turned m maligna malignant. >> it was the war we saw in our living rooms every night. people watched 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 more than 19,000 americans had died in vietnam. more than 170,000 vietnamese had
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died from the north and the south. >> i think there was a momentum behind that war. so many people that died in it, it's hard for anybody to say, ah, let's stop it. >> johnson said, you know, i don't want to be the president who loses a war, especially when we had this sort of mythology of never having lost a war as a country. we just didn't seem to be winning 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 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 with vietnam with no end in sight, 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 the presidency of lyndon b. johnson. >> gosh, this is hard to read, you have no idea. >> on that last evening in march, tv cameras rolled into the eau value office. even president's staff had no idea how their world was about to change as 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
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this long and this bloody war. >> 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 negotiate and end the war. >> i renew the offer i made last august to stop bombarding north vietnam in the hope that this action will lead to early talks. >> l brbj offers to stop the bombing, only if the north agrees to talk peace with south vietnam and then johnson plays one last card. >> we work together on this speech. we went over march 28th two or three days before the president was going to deliver it and then the president said, maybe i shouldn't run for office. >> i will not seek or accept the
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nomination of my party for another term as your president. >> johnson's speech shocked the world. the president would not run for reelection and here was his offer to finally end the war. for presidential candidate nixon, the peace proposal was a political nightmare. nixon needed the democratic party to own the horror show of the vietnam show, not to solve it. the steel butterfly, anna chenault, she saw it as a military blunder. >> every time we stop the bombing, it only gives the other side the opportunity to rebuild their military installation. the sooner we win this war, the better off we'll be. >> richard nixon and anna chenault. their views closely aligned. no crime in that. but 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. republican front-runner richard nixon seized every opportunity to fuel voters' anxieties over the course of the war. >> never has so much military, economic and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively as in vietnam. >> this time, vote like your whole world depended on it. >> 1968, he's not taking any chances and he sees that the democrats can politicize a peace process in vietnam. and he's not above the sabotage.
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>> the plot is born. july 12th. the tpierre hotel. nixon campaign headquarters. the candidate and a top foreign diplomat meet in secret in an iconic tower on new york's fifth avenue. >> the only people present at this meeting were nixon himself, his campaign chairman, john mitchell, and chenault and the vietnamese ambassador. nixon decided to make it a very shady operation indeed. >> just four people, alone in a back room at nixon's headquarters. let's break it down. john mitchell. nixon's 1968 campaign manager. that name may ring a bell. mitchell will go on to become's nixon's attorney general and one of the co-conspirators sent for the crimes of watergate. also, bui dem.
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saigon's man in washington. and then there's richard nixon. by 1968, the perennial republican presidential wanna wannabe had lost. this was his shot. >> he was willing to do whatever was necessary. >> this was twice a big a crowd of 1960 and the result is twice as good. >> so back on fifth avenue, july 12th. 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. >> because i had 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 and that just in case it became public, nixon could pretend she was not his real envoy. >> after just ten years in washington, dc, 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 private 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 that she had sexual relationships with people but i just think that she exuded an aura of sexuality and
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exoticcism. you whisper in his ear and give him a good idea and suddenly, it's his idea and acting on it. i've seen it happen a million times. >> she always would serve chinese food and mabke jokes lie this is concubine chicken. in her mind, she was playing to their expectation. 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, fifth avenue meeting is her masterpiece. dug up the calendar page from her daily calendar. ny to see dick nixon with ambassador biu. first with nixon but it's dick
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nixon who turns the private meeting into a cloak and dagger campaign operation. >> 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 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. point man for the operation, point woman, mrs. anna chenault. . great news, liberty mutual customizes-
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>> august 1968. anna chennault touches down in saigon, south vietnam's wartime capital. it would be the next domino to fall to the communists unless america held the line against communist north vietnam. 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 where most of the reporters were staying. we were in the atmosphere from the hotel restaurant on top. you could see flares 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. >> chennault arrived in saigon with an ironclad alibi. her work as an airline executive
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and with 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 chennault believed she was the right side of history, 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 any way to herself the military situation that existed.
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a lot of people didn't recognize it. >> by august of 1968, america's war in vietnam had already killed yet 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. >> a standard day, you'd go into a village and 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. target practice with some farmer. not that these things were typical, but they happened often enough to not win hearts and minds. i used to remember thinking, god, this is so different than how this war is being portrayed back home as something valiant and noble and containing
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communism. >> the time has come for honest government in the united states of america. >> 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. >> we all hope in this room there's a chance for current negotiations to bring an honorable end to that war. >> in his public acceptance speech at the republican convention said that he would do nothing to interfere with the chances for negotiating peace. >> 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. >> dick? >> hello, mr. president. how are you? >> well, i'm just fine. haven't had any sleep, but you know. >> i sure do and i give you my congratulations and my sympathy. >> 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. >> dick, i want to keep in close touch with you. we're both supposed to be great political animals and i think it's awfully important dealing with these commies for the next four months. >> to make sure nixon backs the peace talks, the president summons him down to his ranch,
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lbj's home turf to talk to nixon face-to-face. >> he and johnson in some ways shared character traits. raised in rural areas without prestigious educations. they both felt inferior in their own way to the northeastern establishment elites that they felt like they're battling both in the press and in government. so they carry those kind of sort 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 that north vietnamese will accept johnson's conditions, while johnson's fear is if nixon will halt the bombing for fewer conditions than i will, the north vietnamese will just wait until my presidency is over and won't be able to make any progress towards peace. >> nixon heads back to the campaign trail, fearful that lbj is poised to swing the election to the democrats by getting
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north and south vietnam to talk peace. but nixon was playing to win, ready to undermine lbj, to steer saigon away from the negotiating table with a word in the ear of the south vietnamese president. from richard nixon's asian connection, miss anna chennault. connection, miss anna chennault. ♪ whoa!
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i'm dara brown. it's 24 hours after the tpartia government shutdown and yet to find a solution to end it. agreements with funding a border wall. congress adjourned to thursday, december 27th. in iran, a major military exercise is under way as the u.s. navy strike group arrives in the persian gulf. while the display of force is defensive, it could turn hostile if they're attacked. now back to "the rachel maddow special report." report."
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>> two weeks after the republican convention in miami, all eyes turn to the democrats in chicago. >> tear gas. >> all happening on michigan avenue. democratic national convention in the process of the candidate. >> the chicago convention. to nominate vice president hubert humphrey to succeed lyndon b. johnson. >> i'm ready to lead our country! >> the chaos was practically an advertisement for the republican party. candidate richard nixon capitalized on the anger and the unrest. the war at home. >> let us recognize the first
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civil right of every american is to be free from domestic violence. we shall have order in the united states. >> nick sxon leads in the polls haunted by the progress towards 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 oosts the prospect of hubert humphrey. >> fuels nixon's worst fear. >> is that you? >> i'm on. >> hubert, you on? >> in a conference call, lbj updates the presidential candidates, confidentially. north vietnam at last is willing to talk with south vietnam. >> this is an absolute because any speech or any comment referring to the substance of these matters will be injurious to your country. >> after all this work all year,
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johnson finally had a package that the north vietnamese would accept and he was selling it to the south vietnamese. >> nixon gets a top secret briefing from the commander in chief on his progress towards peace. and what does nixon do? he betrays the president and the nation. after a rally in ohio, he makes a call and orders him to pull the trigger on their scheme. how do we know this? >> we have notes taken by nixon's campaign chief of staff.
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>> about how to throw a monkey wrench in the process and he's ordering haldman to make sure anna chennault stays active. >> nixon always denied any personal knowledge of anna chennault's behavior and wow, all of the sudden, here he is in haldman's notes working on the south vietnamese and any way we can monkey wrench johnson's initiatives. it was not just one casual remark. it's a whole battle plan. >> the very next day after nixon orders his chief of staff to monkey wrench it, to keep anna chennault on the job telling saigon to not go along with the peace talks. the very next day, south vietnam's man in dc, he wires his superiors back home in saigon. he says this, quote, many republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. u.s. intelligence intercepts
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that cable. once president johnson gets wind of republican interference. he orders the fbi to wiretap the vietnamese embassy. october 230 30th, the fbi sends president johnson a classified memo. received a call from unidentified woman believed to be anna chennault. >> johnson is flabbergasted. he did not see this coming. >> chennault, kind of the go-between. she's young and attractive. a pretty good looking girl and she's around town and she is warning them to not get pulled in on this johnson move. >> it's not totally unusual that
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an american presidential candidate would have the go-between with a wartime ally. 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 strategized about how to close the deal on the peace talks, the fbi begins around the clock surveillance on anna chennault. >> 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 air waves 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. going to take place next wednesday. november the 6th. at which the representative, the governor of south vietnam are free to participate. >> moments after the speech,
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anna chennault. >> calls her out of a party. calls back on an anonymous phone to 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 2nd, tapped the south embassy telephone and overheard anna chennault telling the the south vietnamese, hold on, we're going to win. >> from president's perspective, it's no little thing to defy the president of the united states of america but this gave him the confidence to go forward in front of his national assembly and make that speech. >> the united states ended the bombing. >> this is where anna chennault is importantly because she was saying, you know, if you defy
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johnson, there's another president, if you help him get elected, who would stand by you. namely richard nixon. >> america's ally drops his own bombshell on lbj. quote, the government of shoutd vietnam regrets not to be able 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 ultimate. let me customize my insurance, and as a fitness junkie, i customize everything. like my bike and my calves.o.. liberty mutual customizes your car insurance so you only pay for what you need. ♪ liberty. liberty. liberty. liberty. ♪
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three days before the election, lin syndon johnson sts back. the senate call it is top republican, everett dirksen, with a message. nixon's people treading on dangerous ground and has the goods to burn agent anna chennault. chennault. >> when you hear johnson talking, you hear in johnson this master politician who's used threatening tactics throughout the course of his political career to achieve his
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political ends. >> it's classic johnson. it's classic. get to the head of the republican party to try to get nixon to do this. n to do this >> he's holding 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. the very next morning, sunday, two days before the election.
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>> "meet the press". >> richard nixon launches his cover-up on live tv. >> i want to make it clear to every one of my public statements including "meet the press," i stand with the president in regard to get the paris negotiations. >> after making that public lie, nixon doubles down on his cover-up in a very private call. >> mr. president? >> yes? >> this is dick nixon. >> yes, dick. >> this conversation is a master class. in political subtext and subterfuge. >> i just wanted you to know any rumblings around about somebody trying to sabotage the saigon government's attitude, certainly have no credibility as far as i'm concerned. >> i'm very happy to hear that, dick, because that is taking place and now here's the history of it. i didn't want to call it. >> you've got two guys sort of bluffing each other.
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johnson 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. saigon, i've been talking at the table. >> got to get them to paris or you can't have peace. >> johnson knew there was collusion with the south vietnamese government to keep them from negotiating peace. what lbj couldn't prove definitively was that nixon was involved. >> somebody in china, they're going an aon and implying. >> anyone with half a brain knows that nixon is behind the efforts to sabotage peace talk because south vietnamese would not listen to a fundraiser and chennault unless they knew for sure speaking for nixon. >> you just say it's your people
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don't tell the south vietnamese 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 psaigon, a veteran correspondent was poised to light the news. >> as a november election approached, i heard this outlandish rumor that i cabled the overseas monitor. >> beverly deepe covered. this is the biggest scoop yet for the christian science monitor. >> the ambassador, bui, notified
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the foreign aides and nixon approached him and said saigon should hold to a firm position now regarding negotiations. if nixon se lekked, he'll back in their bands. >> so november 4th, the day before the election, johnson's at the 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 boycott the paris peace talks and he's asking johnson for comment. johnson can make what he knows public, let the voters decide, or he can keep this information classified as then is. everything is at stake.
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>> this is it. the day before the election. the christian science monitor on the brick 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 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, cia and now the fbi. if we start putting this kind of information into elections, that's going to change what kind of country we are. >> johnson concludes they're right and doesn't do anything about it. right and doesn't do anything about it
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protected richard nixon, the 37th president of the united states. >> 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. >> nixon wins and anna chennault 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 she would have to have senate confirmation and be asked about the october events. >> she was 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. 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 sets 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 bill house nixon do solemnly swear. >> president johnson did believe this was a treasonous act, that ultimately led to an expanded war. >> and will to the best of my
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ability preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the united states. >> this was 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, resisters, they were described as treasonous. if i would have known as a soldier in vietnam that nixon scuttled or certainly delayed for sure a peace process, that seems treasonous and more than the guys who said, no, i'm not going to go kill people. >> so was it treason? nixon worked surreptitiously 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 marked "do not open for 50 years." it's called, i did you not, the x file. when johnson left the preside y presidency, he buried all of his evidence on the chennault affair. >> johnson wanted all this evidence of the horrible things that nixon was doing in this mysterious envelope to add the evidence to blackmail him with, 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 blackmail folder locked nup a safe on a
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washington think tank. >> get that. >> nixon's gang of thieves never did manage to steal the x file. but one year later, that same bunch of crooks, the white house plumbers, they did try to pull off a somewhat similar caper. a bungled attempt to wiretap democratic party headquarters at the iconic washington 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'd 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.


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