Over the years, conspiracy theorists have speculated about the existence — and possible contents — of an X-File, also referred to as an X-Envelope. The name even became attached to a popular TV franchise which spawned numerous spin-offs into other media over the years. There has always been a curiosity about what the X-envelope actually was.
It has been revealed, thanks to Robert Parry of Consortium News, that the file was actually President Johnson’s dossier on Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks and subterfuge operations during the 1968 campaign. Consolidated by former national security adviser Walt W. Rostow, it detailed Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnamese peace talks in order to undermine the campaign of Hubert Humphrey, his Democratic opponent.
In October of 1968, Johnson had secured favorable standing from the North Vietnamese, but the South Vietnamese suddenly became unreasonable. The X-File reveals that the President of South Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, placed into power by a military coup in 1964, was in talks with Alexander Sachs. Sachs was a Lehman Brothers board member and very close to the Nixon campaign.
[T]hese investment bankers were colluding over how to make money with their inside knowledge of Nixon’s scheme to extend the Vietnam War. Such an image of these “masters of the universe” sitting around a table plotting financial strategies while a half million American soldiers were sitting in a war zone was a picture that even the harshest critics of Wall Street might find hard to envision.
Yet, that tip – about Nixon’s Wall Street friends discussing his apparent tip on the likely course of the Vietnam War – was the first clear indication that Johnson’s White House had that the sudden resistance from South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu to Paris peace talks may have involved a collaboration with Nixon, the Republican candidate for president who feared progress toward peace could cost him the election. [...]
In other words, Nixon’s friends on Wall Street were placing their financial bets based on the inside dope that Johnson’s peace initiative was doomed to fail. (In another document, Walt Rostow identified his brother’s source, who disclosed this strategy session, as Alexander Sachs, who was then on the board of Lehman Brothers.)
According to the X-file, Johnson’s interpretation of these events was that Nixon “was trying to frustrate [President Johnson] by inciting Saigon to step up its demands, and by letting Hanoi know that when he [Nixon] took office ‘he could accept anything and blame it on his predecessor.’”
“We have a transcript where one of his partners says [...] he’s going to frustrate the President by telling the South Vietnamese that, ‘just wait a few more days,’ […] he can make a better peace for them, and by telling Hanoi that he didn’t run this war and didn’t get them into it, that he can be a lot more considerate of them than I can because I’m pretty inflexible. I’ve called them sons of bitches. (AUDIO 3)
“Folks messing around with both sides. […] Hanoi thought they could benefit by waiting and South Vietnam’s now beginning to think they could benefit by waiting, by what people are doing. So he [Nixon] knows that I know what he’s doing. And this morning they’re kind of closing up some of their agents, not so active. I noticed that one of the embassies refused to answer their call.”
Those close to the Nixon campaign continued to make contact with the South Vietnamese government after Johnson’s thinly veiled warning, which resulted in this exchange between the two men:
Johnson: The agent [Chennault] says she’s just talked to the boss in New Mexico and that he said that you must hold out, just hold on until after the election. We know what Thiệu is saying to them out there. We’re pretty well informed at both ends. [...] I don’t want to get this in the campaign. They oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.
Dirksen: I know.
Johnson: I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter of this importance. I don’t want to do that [go public]. They ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to. I know what they’re saying.
And later on in the same conversation:
Johnson: We’ve had 24 hours of relative peace. If Nixon keeps the South Vietnamese away from the [peace] conference, well, that’s going to be his responsibility. Up to this point, that’s why they’re not there. I had them signed onboard until this happened.
Dirksen: I better get in touch with him, I think.
Johnson: They’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war. It’s a damn bad mistake. And I don’t want to say so. […] You just tell them that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.
Nixon directly responded to Johnson, categorically denying the allegations as false. It was reported after the phone call (AUDIO) that Richard Nixon was gleeful at having fooled the President. However Johnson was not fooled, and still suspected the truth of the matter.
The day before the election, the Christian Science Monitor approached the administration, as they were doing their own investigation into the Nixon-Vietnamese ties. Johnson consulted with Walt Rostow, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford on whether or not to reveal what information they had. They unanimously agreed to keep it secret, fearing that it would reflect badly on the United States to be spying on our allies as well as potentially undermining a Nixon administration. The men were also worried about the future of security, with Rostow saying, “The information sources [an apparent reference to the FBI wiretaps] must be protected and not introduced into domestic politics; even with these sources, the case is not open and shut.”
The day after Nixon won the election, however, Johnson was handed another piece of information which changed the three advisors’ minds. Rostow wrote in a memo the day after the election, “First reactions may well be wrong. But with this information I think it’s time to blow the whistle on these folks.”
By then it was too late. Nixon was now President-Elect Nixon, and was in the driver’s seat. Any information released then would undermine the Presidency itself. President Thiệu of South Vietnam also confirmed officially that he was meeting with Nixon advisers at a dinner party on November 11th, flaunting that he had been in contact with the Nixon campaign. Johnson tried to put pressure on Nixon to follow through with his campaign promises to end the war, a plea which appears to have fallen on deaf ears as Nixon instead expanded the war into neighboring Cambodia and Laos.
Roscow mused years later on what the results might have been, had he agreed to release the information. It also has been noted how a later campaign by Ronald Reagan performed a similar maneuver against incumbent President Jimmy Carter, sabotaging the Iran hostage crisis negotiations. Political gamesmanship was also blamed for the sabotaging of the response for the USS Cole attack in 2000:
Both the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration have been criticized for failing to respond militarily to the attack on the USS Cole before September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Commission Report cites one source who said in February 2001, “[Osama bin Laden] complained frequently that the United States had not yet attacked [in response to the Cole]… Bin Laden wanted the United States to attack, and if it did not, he would launch something bigger.” (Wikipedia)
The revolt by South Vietnam encouraged by the Nixon campaign all but doomed the peace accords. With the margin of victory by Nixon of less than half a million votes, the tactics appear to have worked, putting Nixon into the White House. His men who helped orchestrate the South Vietnamese affair remained in power, and as Walt pointed out later in his memo dated May 14, 1973, were the same people involved in the Watergate cover-up.
As for Johnson himself, during Nixon’s re-election campaign some of Nixon’s men had approached him, threatening the former President if he would turn over the documentation, which had been removed before Nixon took office. Johnson had nothing for them, he had given the documentation to Roscow, who had kept it safe. But only a short while later, on January 22nd, 1973, Johnson suffered his last, fatal heart attack. The relief from the Nixon administration was short-lived as it attempted to fight off the Watergate scandal which would eventually topple him.
Johnson to Dirksen: ”It’s my feeling that I ought to, the first minute I can, stop the killin’ [...] if I can. I, uh, can’t justify saying I quit the race for the Presidency to get peace and put peace before politics and then let some son of a bitch like Rafferty out here in Los Angeles say, “Well, Johnson’s playing politics,” or…I thought Vick’s statement was ugly the other day, that he had been told that I was a thief and a son of a bitch and so forth, but he knew my mother and she really wasn’t a bitch. I mean, you set up a statement like that and then deny it, it’s not very good because he knows better…and it hurt my feelings. You damn Republicans get mean when you get in politics, and I think it’s costing a lot of votes.” (AUDIO 3)