What do Donald Trump and Richard Nixon have in common? Both became President because sitting Presidents, Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and Barack Obama in 2016, decided the people couldn’t handle the truth. It took nearly half a century for the Nixon truth to surface; hopefully the Trump truth will come sooner.
Researching a biography on Wyoming U.S. Senator Gale McGee, I encountered three historians who confirm that LBJ allowed Nixon to get away with one of the most heinous crimes in American political history. (Tim Wiener’s “One Man Against the World-The Tragedy of Richard Nixon (2015); Evan Thomas’ “Being Nixon-A Man Divided,” (2015); and Ken Hughes 2014 book “Chasing Shadows-The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate.””
In 1968 the Vietnam War was the issue pitting Johnson’s Vice-president Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon. New scholarship and more than 2,600 hours of taped conversations from Nixon’s Oval Office lead these historians to believe, “Nixon was trying to sabotage the (Vietnam) peace process before it even began.” As the general election neared Nixon’s poll-lead narrowed. The Republican nominee learned Johnson’s negotiations with North Vietnam were succeeding. Nixon feared that just before election day, the U.S. and its enemy might sit down to talk peace. That would aid Humphrey. Nixon sought to thwart the peace process.
After months of delicate discussions with South Vietnamese allies, President Johnson had achieved agreements that would meet North Vietnamese demands for peace talks. However, South Vietnam’s President Nguyen Van Thieu preferred anti-communist hardliner Nixon over Humphrey. Nixon sent a secret intermediary to Saigon to tell the South Vietnamese to “hold out.” Thieu opted for boycotting the Paris Peace Conference.
With phone taps and undercover work, Johnson knew why. The Republican nominee had committed an act of treason. But Johnson decided not to go public, worrying that Nixon’s conduct would be so shocking that it would do serious harm to the national psyche. LBJ thought its disclosure might bring about Humphrey’s election, while irreparably damaging the country.
So, voters never knew.
Nixon won by a scant seven-tenths of one percent of the popular vote. What followed was a scandal-ridden administration that included an illegal war in Cambodia, more than 20,000 additional U.S. war dead, revelations of political break-ins, dirty tricks, abuse of the IRS and the CIA, and the only Presidential resignation in U.S. history.
Half a century later, history repeats itself. It remains to be seen whether Vladimir Putin acted on his own or in concert with the Trump campaign. CIA conclusions that Russia interfered out of a motive to elect Trump must be fully investigated if we are to know the truth.
It will be hard to dissuade reasonable skeptics that Donald Trump was not directly involved. The circumstantial evidence certainly points in that direction. Senator John McCain represents mainline Republican thinking when he says, “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”
Well, Trump does describe Putin as “anything else.” That’s evidence.
Trump said Putin is a better leader than our own president and took his party on a 180 degree turn on Russia, employing pro-Russian lobbyists like Paul Manafort. Trump’s Secretary of State will be Rex Tillerson whose personal and business ties with the Russian dictator concern McCain. His National Security Adviser is General Michael Flynn, a man with closed Putin ties.
Most suspicious is the extent to which Trump defends Putin against his own country’s claims that Russians tampered with the election.
The investigation must be bipartisan. For Democrats that means demanding answers to the “Watergate question.” What did the President know and when did he know it? President Obama knew of Putin’s crimes and must be held accountable for his failure to make the evidence public.
It’s troubling to read of Johnson’s long-ago decision to cover-up Nixon’s treason to the extent it provides a hint of what’s ahead in a Trump Administration. As Mark Twain said, “History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.