Tricky Dick: The nickname that keeps proving itself does so once more here.
It’s no surprise to have confirmation, in a general way, that Richard Nixon was a master of the abuse of power, for which even Republicans haven’t quite forgiven him. It’s no surprise that Lyndon Johnson played a particularly vehement kind of hardball politics, as well. Nonetheless, Hughes, a researcher at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, turns up plenty of surprises in this careful analysis of tape recordings from both administrations. The kicker comes at the very beginning, as Nixon orders his lieutenants to break into the Brookings Institution in 1971: “I want it implemented on a thievery basis. Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” The “it” was twofold: evidence of who leaked the Pentagon Papers and proof that Johnson was playing party politics with an effort, in 1968, to bring North Vietnam to the table by halting American bombings. The sneak who told Nixon about all that? Henry Kissinger, of course, who consulted with Johnson and staff about those very negotiations and who “gained Nixon’s trust by betraying theirs.” It does Johnson no credit to learn that he also was negotiating with Nixon, who supported LBJ’s war effort more than most Democrats did. The already thick plot soon turned into a morass, as Claire Chennault’s widow, known as “the Dragon Lady,” played both sides against the middle to do favors for the definitively corrupt South Vietnamese regime, earning the attentions of Nixon and company, to say nothing of assorted spooks and spies.
This was all preamble for the career-ending move that would be Watergate, but not before Nixon had spilled the blood of thousands of Americans for his own political calculations. And therein lies the biggest news delivered in this utterly newsworthy book: Nixon “played politics with peace to win the 1968 election,” and he got away with it.