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Interview with George Christian, 1981

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Summary
George Christian was the White House Press Secretary under President Johnson. Here he discusses the 1968 presidential election, specifically: Johnson’s decision not to run, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the transition to the Nixon administration. He also discusses Johnson’s plans for peace in Vietnam, his administration’s internal struggles around ending the war, and the Nixon campaign’s interference with the peace negotiations.
Topics
Escalation (Military science), Political consultants, Primaries, Political conventions, Political campaigns, Cabinet officers, First ladies, Presidents--United States--Election, Tet Offensive, 1968, Mass media and war, Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Presidents--Messages, United States--History––1945-, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, Politics and war, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973, Clifford, Clark M., 1906-1998, United States--Politics and government, Vietnam--Politics and government
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Transcript

L.B.J.'s decision not to run for re-election

SR2617. Interview with George Christian.
That was a minus 8, peak meter. The preceding were sync tests. Coming up will be Scent 9, Take 1, George Christian. You’ve got speed, slate the camera. Clapstick. Anytime, gentlemen.
Christian:
Any time, gentlemen.
Go ahead.
Christian:
Lyndon Johnson first told me that he was considering not running again in August of 1967. He and I had a discussion in his bedroom uh, at the uh, White House and he detailed various reasons as to why he really was, was uh, pretty well convinced that he should not run in 1968. He talked about his health—the fact that he had had a very serious heart attack—about twelve years previous to to, that, that he had almost died. Ahum, excuse me. I got hung up there, Stan, I guess I’d better...Ahum, ahum.
Interviewer:
Can we get you some water?
Christian:
No. Just a second. Let me get it. Ahum (cough), ahum. I’ll just start over. Undo my coat just a little.
Interviewer:
Start with he almost died.
Christian:
He almost died in 1955. He always was mindful that there could be another serious heart attack. I think he particularly worried about having a stroke and being incapacitated like Woodrow Wilson, left to vegetate in the White House, possibly paralyzed and certainly his health had a lot to do with his general attitude toward another hard campaign for election as president. At that point in the summer of 1967, he asked me to prepare uh some rationale for him as to why he was not going to run again. Certainly health was part of it. He wanted peace. He didn’t want to spend all of 1968 campaigning in a political context when he should be working for a settlement to the Vietnam War and the other problems of the country.
He uh, talked to Mrs. Johnson about it at that time. Mrs. Johnson felt that it was a good idea for him to to step aside. She wanted to participate in whatever we prepared uh, in the way of a withdrawal statement from the presidency. I don’t have any idea who else he talked to that early. He did ask me to go visit Governor John Connally of Texas, one of his longest, most devoted friends, and get Connolly’s views uh,—not necessarily on whether or not he should withdraw from consideration in 1968—but how to do it gracefully, how to do it with credibility, uh, how to say it.
In I believe in September of 1967, I went to Austin, Texas, visited alone with John Connolly at the governor’s mansion we sat at the dining room table, me with a tablet, him giving full thought to the project. He, in effect, dictated page after page of rhetoric as to, pertaining to the president’s withdrawal, and we talked about it at some length as to whether or not it was a wise thing to do. He always felt then and he always repeated it later that it was Johnson’s decision and that he ought to make it based on how he felt about it, and that uh, he was sure that he would. I always had the impression Connolly really didn’t believe that he should step aside, but uh, he wanted to be helpful to the president.
Interviewer:
What was your own advice to Lyndon Johnson? (cough) Why did you think he should step down?
Christian:
My believe at, ah, at the time, and remember this was again in the summer and early fall of 1967, my belief was that the country was headed toward worse problems, that President Johnson had served effectively and well, that his policies had pretty well been carried out, he had accomplished a great deal that he started out to accomplish. And as someone who had worked in politics on and off for a number of years, I believed that there is al...I believe that there is always a proper time for a public figure to check it to him and ah, do his thing and move on and let someone else take over.
I was concerned that the country was getting close to being uh hostile to the established government in Washington, that the president’s popularity had slipped considerably, he had uh used up his point—so to speak in carrying out his legislative program—and in furthering the uh war in Asia, and that it was timely for him to consider letting someone else take over.
Interviewer:
What about the impact of the war on your thinking?
Christian:
It seemed to...
Interviewer:
Start it one more time.
I want to get away from August 1967. This program is going to begin in 1968. So, if you want to pretend you’re in 1968 and go on to say, you know I counseled him last summer.
I just cut. Cut.
Scene 9, Take 2. Clapstick. Marker.
Christian:
In early 1968, Lyndon Johnson...
Interviewer:
I’m sorry. It wasn’t quite it.
Christian:
In early 1968, Lyndon Johnson began to focus rather sharply on a decision not to run for re-election. Actually, he had begun to think about it and had actually had actually prepared for it as far back as August of 1967, when he first asked me to prepare a statement uh announcing his withdrawal, which he had hoped to make by December of 1967. And, of course, later uh he made a conscious effort to uh get his ducks in a row in order to withdraw from the 1968 campaign when he made his state of the union address to Congress in January of 1968.
All of this preceded the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and other developments such as the New Hampshire Primary which ah history tends to say was the reason that Johnson finally made his decision to get out in March of 1968. There was a long history, though, to Johnson’s attitude toward running for re-election.
Ah, I think he didn’t want to run, from the very outset, he had to be convinced in his own mind that it was the right thing to do to run. He was looking for a way out rather than a way to stay in. And I think this is critical to how we view Lyndon Johnson in those last days of his administration when certainly, there were a lot of troubles in addition to Vietnam.
And, uh it also is important to uh know that uh Johnson was always rather ambivalent about it. I’ve always thought that he was 75 percent sure that he wanted not to run, but there was that 25 percent that kept telling him if things go right, if things go right I’ll stay in office. My own view uh in 1967, and certainly even stronger in early 1968, was that the president should not run for re election, that he should encourage Hubert Humphrey to succeed him, and uh it would be better for the country and certainly better for President Johnson.

Conflicts over Vietnam policy in the Johnson Administration

Interviewer:
Let’s skip right now into Tet and [incomprehensible]
Christian:
The Tet Offensive came as a brutal surprise to President Johnson and all of his advisors. We had been led to believe that uh the Viet Cong were pretty well uh defanged by that period, that uh the pacification program had worked very well, that, uh most of the villages in South Vietnam were secure, and that it was virtually impossible for the Viet Cong to rise to the heights that they did in 1968.
So the surprise factor was certainly there—the fact that they could get inside the Embassy grounds—the fact that the city of Hue could be actually captured by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Uh, the reaction of the American and South Vietnamese troops, though uh, was certainly no surprise. Our military people felt that that uh, we would be able to cope with virtually any eventuality and this proved true in Tet. The Viet Cong casualties were immense. The territory lost to the uh, North Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong during Tet was rather speedily re-taken.
Interviewer:
Do you remember anything that Lyndon Johnson said to you when...when the news of Tet came through?
Christian:
The uh, I believe that, no, the truth is Stanley, I don’t. I can’t pull something out other than just...
Interviewer:
What about the impact of the media, and particularly Walter Cronkite, who was there in Vietnam at the time you told him. Can you describe what happened?
Christian:
President Johnson always was concerned about media coverage of Vietnam. Uh, certain people in the administration occasionally came up with ideas that we should impose censorship on coverage of the war as we had had in previous wars. He was opposed to that and never even considered it. And certainly, those of us who were involved with his press relations always spoke against it. Nevertheless, it was a factor that he had to cope with. President Johnson was a voracious reader of the news, and watcher and listener of the news. He uh stayed on top of news broadcasts almost to the point of of an obsession, and the television coverage in particular of events in Vietnam.
Interviewer:
Sorry, we’re just, uh...
Begin camera roll 634. Scene 9, Take 3. Clapstick.
Interviewer:
Just pick it up with Walter Cronkite, please.
Christian:
Generally speaking, Walter Cronkite was considered by the White House as being more or less a supporter of the war effort in Vietnam. When Cronkite went to Vietnam for a series of documentaries, and the documentaries turned out not to be as supportive of the war as many of us in the White House thought they would be, it did come as something of a of a, uh, a joke to Johnson. While I’m not sure Johnson ever saw all of the programs, he did see enough of the news reports relating to them and the general commentaries on the air, to reach the conclusion that Walter Cronkite who was the most influential newsman in the country at the time, was now very strong in his belief that we should be moving out of Vietnam. And uh, I think it had as much impact on him as the advice of some of his closest advisors in government.
Interviewer:
Could you go into the...Clark Clifford went out to Vietnam and came back and uh got was turned off. Did Lyndon Johnson feel that Clifford had betrayed him?
Christian:
Clark Clifford’s general attitude uh had a lot to do with uh, ...Let me start over on that one.
Interviewer:
This was in '67. He made his trip and he came back.
Christian:
Clark Clifford, having been a very strong advocate of the war effort, made a trip to Vietnam, came back with reports indicating that the South Vietnamese leadership did not ever want the United States to really leave South Vietnam. They had become, in his eyes, clients to the United States. They depended so heavily on the United States for everything they were doing that he felt uh we had to somehow wean them away from us and uh begin moving out, even to the extent of troop withdrawals.
President Johnson did not welcome this advice from Mr. Clifford, who was one of his closest friends and advisors. He felt that, uh the policies that we had established should be stayed with until such time as the North Vietnamese themselves de-escalated the war. And he didn’t want to be accused of selling out the South Vietnamese.
Interviewer:
Could you just at this point just comment on his own ambivalent feeling about wanting to get out, but not wanting to bug out.
Christian:
Okay. President Johnson’s long held feeling, particularly during the time I was there from 1966 on, was to get out of Vietnam if he could. He wanted out, but he didn’t want to bug out. He didn’t want to be accused of being the first president to lose a war. He didn’t want the pro-war element in the country, which after all was always stronger than the anti-war demonstrators, to believe that Johnson somehow had failed to do as much as he as he should have to bring about a satisfactory conclusion to the war. He was ambivalent about his entire approach to the war because while he believed that we had to have a certain troop level there to a, and a certain level of bombing in order to carry out the military objectives in Vietnam, at the same time he worked toward some solution to the settlement talk issue because we had, he had extreme difficulty getting the North Vietnamese to respond to any overture that he made for peace talks.
Interviewer:
Can you describe the influence of the wise men who met in March of 1968? Could you mention that they met? And was he surprised by the advice that they gave him? Could you go into that?
Christian:
President Johnson wanted as much outside influence on the policies of his administration as he could get from people that that he trusted. A man, men like Dean Acheson, and Bob Murphy, and several retired generals, others who had been in former administrations and all of whom in some way had been connected with our policies in Southeast Asia.
When a group of these people were called together and uh, were briefed thoroughly by the Pentagon and the CIA and the State Department and then reported to President Johnson uh, it was one of the more unsettling uh things that happened, I think, during that period because the consensus—not the unanimous view—but the consensus was that the United States had to begin moving away from Vietnam even though the North Vietnamese, at that time, were not responding to peace overtures.
Interviewer:
How did he, how did Lyndon Johnson react to this advice? Did he say anything to you?
Christian:
President Johnson told me that that he understood what they were saying, but that he he really believed that they had been mislead somewhat by their own briefings. He was unhappy that possibly our own government people uh had led them down a course that they had not objectively reached uh because of the nature of the briefings.
Interviewer:
What influence did Dean Rusk play at the time of Johnson’s [unintelligible]?
Christian:
Dean Rusk was, in 1968 and all the time before that, President Johnson’s closest confidante on foreign relations; he had the utmost confidence in him. President Johnson resisted any efforts to uh, overrun Rusk’s authority in foreign affairs, from anyone, and I think he trusted him all the way.
Interviewer:
What was Rusk ’s position at that time?
Christian:
Secretary Rusk and President Johnson shared the same view—that until there was evidence of de-escalation on the part of the North Vietnamese, that we could not lessen our military presence in South Vietnam.
Interviewer:
Do you remember what Walt Rostow’s position was on the war at that point?
Christian:
Walt Rostow’s position was uh, the same as President Johnson’s; they talked about it, obviously, every day. Walt Rostow believed that we should continue to press for peace talks, but until those began to bear fruit we had to keep up the military pressure, and certainly had to go forward with the pacification program.

The 1968 presidential race

Interviewer:
How was the final paragraph of that speech written? You’ve been mentioning how you originally planned to put in a statement beginning with the message [unclear here].
Christian:
President Johnson’s withdrawal statement at the end of his March 31 uh, speech, which announced that he was stopping the bombing over part of North Vietnam, was actually begun as early as August or September of 1967 in early drafts, which I prepared and which Mrs. Johnson helped prepare, uh, without uh knowing when or where or how President Johnson would ultimately use those statements. It was also the outgrowth of a statement prepared for the President’s State of the Union Address to the Congress in January of 1968, which he, at the last minute, decided not to use, uh and which, up until that moment, Mrs. Johnson and I thought with certainty that he would uh, that he would tell the Congress that he was not going to run for re election. By March, it became evident that...
[end of side 1]
April 30th...coming up
will be Scene Nine, take 4; camera roll is 634. George Christian is the subject. Here comes minus 8.
Did you hear...Tone ...Nine, take 4 [clapsticks].
Interviewer:
Let’s just go on to this, you know, the final point of that speech, his decision not to run again.
Christian:
By March, President Johnson was really close up to a deadline on whether to get in or get out of the Presidential race. The primary in New Hampshire, when he refused to allow his name to go on the ballot uh had occurred; there was a Wisconsin primary in which his name was on the ballot uh in very early April.
The question became uh, when am I, when am I going to do it, and how can I get maximum effect in so doing it? How can I help the country, help the cause of peace, and at the same time uh, withdraw from this race the way I want to do it? In many ways, it was a happy circumstance that that conditions in Vietnam had become such, that he could announce a partial bombing halt, he could reinforce that by stating that “I’m going to spend the rest of this year, rather than out on the campaign trail engaging in partisan politics, working toward peace uh, undisturbed by what’s going on around me in this political world.” And uh that was his intent; I think he sensed the drama of uh going on the air and with with the total element of surprise, shocking Congress and his friends and foes with this statement that uh, that “I’m not going to run for re election”, and then making it stick. Uh, then casting no doubt that he was going to carry out his wishes to stay out of the presidential race and uh thereby the credibility of the whole situation would enhance our—our chances of getting the North Vietnamese to the peace table.
Interviewer:
What about your own reaction to that decision? Were you surprised?
Christian:
I was not surprised because uh I had worked on the earlier drafts of the speech when he thought he might do it earlier that year, and uh I worked with Horace Busby during the last uh few days of that period to be sure that the President carried out his wishes, because both Busby and I felt very strongly that President Johnson should not run for re-election.
Interviewer:
What was the mood when the Paris talks began? Was there a kind of euphoria, optimism that “now we’re in the home stretch, getting out of Vietnam”?
Christian:
We felt that, for the first time, we were [break in tape here]
Interviewer:
That covers it.
Begin camera roll 635. Nine, take 5.
Speak you got, and mark it, please [clapsticks].
Christian:
President Johnson’s mood, and those around him, after March 31st, was euphoric; it appeared that the North Vietnamese were serious. It had come as a surprise, frankly, to a lot of critics of the President that uh, that they would, that they would agree to the talks. I remember Senator Fulbright, in particular, thought it was a useless gesture, that they they wouldn’t do it.
The uh, mood changed somewhat as time wore on, obviously, because it became apparent that uh having talks agreed to and really getting them started were two different things, and it dragged on and on, and the presidential race began to get involved; uh, Bobby Kennedy was running; Hubert Humphrey, of course, decided to get on in the race; Senator McCarthy was already running, uh, President Johnson’s general attitude was to stay as far away from the presidential race as he could up until the time of the, up until the time of the convention, in order to carry out his determination to get the talks started and not let politics get involved in in the peace effort.
Certainly after the conventions, things got a little stickier, because uh the political race between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey had an impact on both the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese, and President Johnson and everybody else involved in this exercise, because you just can’t keep presidential politics out of uh, out of wartime policy, and Senator Humphrey began to stray somewhat from President Johnson’s position on the war. This created some frictions within the Democratic camp, certainly, although President Johnson wanted to help Senator Humphrey, and certainly wanted him to succeed him as President.
But uh, we all went through some very dark periods of wondering what was going to happen to the country, and and frankly wondering what might be best for the country, whether Humphrey should be elected or, or Nixon should be elected, and I think these thoughts went through President Johnson’s mind from time to time, depending on what the Democratic campaign was doing.
Interviewer:
Would you describe the Humphrey commercial, the Muskie commercial, and how Lyndon Johnson was conspicuously absent from that?
Christian:
The absolute low point in (cough)...let me start that one over... The absolute low point...
Interviewer:
Let’s take that one more time; just wait a couple of seconds and then go ahead.
Christian:
Okay. The absolute low point in President Johnson’s involvement in the 1968 presidential race was when he viewed a fifteen minute uh commercial broadcast involving the vice presidential nominee, Ed Muskie , in which every Democrat from Roosevelt on was depicted with Senator Muskie in some way, even including Adlai Stevenson, and not one mention of Lyndon Johnson; it was as if he had never existed.
And uh, and yet Lyndon Johnson, in his own mind and in the mind of a lot of other people, had passed every Democratic program that had been in every uh cubby hole in the country for all those years, and yet here the Democratic candidate for Vice President was running as if uh, President Johnson didn’t exist. Now, this was a fleeting moment, because uh the word, I think, got to the Humphrey/Muskie campaign that they ought to at least acknowledge that President Johnson was in office and was alive.
Interviewer:
What was...do you recall Johnson’s reaction to being omitted?
Christian:
His reaction was was a, one of astonishment, I believe, more than anything, sort of a burning irritation that...and it confirmed some of his feelings that the Humphrey/Muskie campaign. Uh, the, some of the campaign operatives wanted President Johnson to help in certain critical states, particularly the border sates and Texas, but did not seem to be eager to get him involved in the national campaign. Now, I understood that, as a member of the White House staff; a lot of the other White House staffers and Cabinet members did understand that uh, that uh, it had to be handled delicately, because Hubert Humphrey after he got the nomination, was doing everything he could to get the McCarthy voters to support him, and it uh, he didn’t want to offend them in any way, and he didn’t want to tie himself too closely to the war if he could avoid it.
And so it was a tightrope walk for Senator Humphrey and Senator Muskie, and I’m sure they were in a most uncomfortable position, having to mollify the Johnson faction of the Democratic Party, and at the same time go after the peace vote.

L.B.J.'s relations with his cabinet

Interviewer:
Why did Lyndon Johnson make Clifford Secretary of Defense if he had felt disappointed by Clifford’s attitude towards the war?
Christian:
Clark Clifford was one of President Johnson’s closest friends, he trusted him; they had differences of opinion, particularly after Clark Clifford’s visit to Vietnam, but uh that had really nothing to do with Johnson’s decision to bring him into the cabinet—he had been practically a member of the administration, anyway. Johnson was comfortable with him, he knew that Clifford uh was a team player, and despite any differences he might have with President Johnson or with others in the administration, that he would contribute a great deal as Secretary of Defense, and I don’t think it, I don’t think the fact that Clifford was getting the reputation of being much less hawkish than others in the administration, I don’t believe that uh, really had much effect on President Johnson and deciding to bring him in as Secretary of Defense.
Interviewer:
But did Johnson like to like to go into this bear pit, like to put people in a bear pit to create these tensions and to fight things out?
Christian:
President Johnson’s always been accused of being a a bear pit politician, in the sense that he brings in diver, brought in divergent people uh into his administration, put them in and let them fight it out sometimes, hoping they would come forth with some consensus, and thereby have a consensus that uh might represent the, better represent the mood of the country, and uh it didn’t bother him to have people disagree around him, and in fact, he he sometimes uh, deliberately sought that disagreement.
Interviewer:
What about Rusk’s position on the fourth partial bombing call—was he an advocate of it, did he persuade the President to agree to it?
Christian:
Secretary Rusk...
Interviewer:
Start one more time.
Christian:
Secretary Rusk advocated the partial bombing halt, (voices speaking-inaudible), Secretary Rusk advocated the partial bombing halt in March; had he not advocated it, I doubt very seriously that President Johnson would have would have considered it. He looked to Secretary Rusk as his primary advisor on foreign policy, and uh, he generally followed Secretary Rusk’s advice.
Interviewer:
Just to turn that question around a bit, (cough) would Rusk have given him the advice if he didn’t think that Lyndon Johnson wanted to hear that advice?
Christian:
There was a general feeling in the administration that it was time to move. President Johnson certainly felt that it was time to move, something do something dramatic, try uh a peace gesture...what I want to say? (laugh) Let me start that one over. There was a general feeling in President Johnson’s war council that it was time to move; uh it was quite obvious that uh the mood of the country had changed substantially, that the public expected President Johnson to take a decisive action in some direction. The Tet Offensive had left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouth, uh it was uh just one of these situations where it was almost a spontaneous agreement that uh we had to start moving toward a uh, definite offer to the North Vietnamese, even knowing in advance that they might reject it out of hand, and uh Secretary Rusk felt this way, certainly Clark Clifford did, and the others around President Johnson and President Johnson himself, believed very firmly that he had to take the initiative or we never would get any peace talks started.
Interviewer:
Was Johnson annoyed at Clifford ever?
Christian:
It’s fair to say that sometimes Clark Clifford annoyed President Johnson. It didn’t bother Clark Clifford, by the way; Clark Clifford knew that uh he sometimes annoyed President Johnson by saying things in in these council meetings that Johnson didn’t agree with, and by by exerting as much pressure as he could toward moving things in the direction that he, Clifford, wanted them to move in, and Clifford talked to a lot of people around the President about his feelings on these subjects. The President was well aware that Clark was was lobbying in a certain direction. The only thing that really bothered President Johnson about it as, was at one point, he thought that Clark might be moving in too closely on on Dean Rusk and that there might be a split within his Cabinet that would be, that would be very harmful.
I personally believe that Clifford was careful not to step on Rusk’s toes; they would have to speak for themselves on that, but uh but, there’s no question that Clifford was playing a dangerous game in the sense that that he could have caused a disruption around the President that would have embarrassed the President, but he was...
Interviewer:
OK, let’s go on to the next one.
Begin camera roll 636. Tone. Nine, take 6. Mark it [clapsticks].
Christian:
In a sense, Clark Clifford was playing a dangerous game, because he had to keep the confidence of the President, and at the same time wanted very much for the administration to take stronger actions to uh get the peace talks started, and there was an operation within the administration which a lot of us referred to as “The Secret Doves”, and certainly Clark Clifford was was the leader of the Secret Doves. They were numerous, there were some members of the White House staff, some members of the Pentagon staff, and some in the State Department, and uh and they did, in both, in a concerted effort, try to devise ways that they could encourage President Johnson to to move forward with a complete bombing halt, which they felt was essential to—to really bringing the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese together in legitimate peace talks, and at the same time, there was a fear on the part of a lot of people that uh, Senator Humphrey was going, or Vice President Humphrey was going to be defeated in November unless the administration uh did more to get peace.
[voices speaking-inaudible]

The 1968 Democratic National Convention

Interviewer:
What was, what was Lyndon Johnson’s (cough) reaction during the Chicago convention and all that turmoil?
Christian:
During the Chicago convention President Johnson was in Texas; he was in close contact with some of his people in Chicago, he watched the demonstrations on television, he watched Mayor Daley’s reactions to the demonstrations. I think he mostly wondered what had happened to the Democratic Party. This was not his way of having a convention. There was an effort made at Chicago on the part of some of his friends to bring him to Chicago, have a big birthday celebration or something of that kind in Chicago and uh, and the die hard Johnson people were hoping that President Johnson might uh be drafted to run again, that it was the only way the Democrats could come together with a victory, that uh the demonstrations, the anti-Humphrey sentiment, and everything else had pretty well destroyed his chances of uh, of winning; and whether or not President Johnson ever really flirted with the idea, I don’t know to this day. He told me that he didn’t that he, that he was tempted on a time or two to maybe go to Chicago, he wanted to try to unify the party, but I think he decided in the final analysis that anything he did during the Chicago convention would probably add to the dis unification of the party rather than help Humphrey.
Interviewer:
Why was Lyndon Johnson so tepid towards towards Humphrey during the campaign, why didn’t he give him fuller support? Did he really almost, at moments, think that he’d rather see Nixon win?
Christian:
After Vice-President Humphrey made a speech in Salt Lake City in which he said that he would begin withdrawing troops and de-escalating uh, the war considerably, as soon as he got in office, President Johnson had serious doubts that Vice President Humphrey would carry on policies that he, President Johnson, thought would uh, would be successful in winding up the war in an honorable way. In effect, sort of bugging out, which was always President Johnson’s great concern. I think he, he was dismayed enough to feel if Humphrey’s going to do that, he probably shouldn’t be elected President.
Now, this was a fleeting thing, he uh came back, uh, obviously, stronger than ever for Vice President Humphrey, he campaigned for him in October and early November, and uh he wanted him elected president, and uh and he certainly, after particularly after the Republican presidential candidate began uh his flirtation with the South Vietnamese to try to uh keep them from doing anything that might jeopardize the Republican party’s chances in November, that, that I think, irritated President Johnson a lot more than anything Vice President Humphrey ever did.

L.B.J. and the Secret Doves

Interviewer:
I want a couple of things...tell us who was a member of the Secret...I want you to use Harry McPherson’s...he’s already told us about his role as a Secret Dove. Give us the names of some Secret Doves.
Christian:
Okay.
Interviewer:
Who were the Secret Doves?
Christian:
On the White House staff, Harry McPherson took the lead in in pushing the President toward faster action. Harry was our Secret Dove, Harry was very close to the President, Harry was and I were close, Harry was close to other members of the White House staff. We had uh great confidence in his intellect and uh and in his ability to write and to uh, and to portray the the thinking of the President in the written word, and after all, Harry wrote most of the speeches that that President Johnson gave that...let me start over, I know I’m running the tape, but...
Interviewer:
No, I think that’s fine. We’re fine.
Well, I just want to have...was there...Lyndon Johnson resent these guys, these Secret Doves?
Christian:
Lyndon Johnson never resented Harry McPherson. He might have resented some of those he didn’t know as well uh in the Pentagon and the State Department, but his, again, his relationship with Harry was such that uh he wasn’t going to fall out with McPherson. McPherson got away with a whole lot more than a lot of others in the administration could, and Harry knew that he could get away with it, because he knew he had the President’s confidence. Cliff, Clark Clifford felt the same way. It was easier for someone close to the President to attempt to influence him, uh even when the President didn’t agree with it, than it was a complete stranger.
Interviewer:
Austin? Was he...
Let’s cut for a minute just to save us some time.
Okay. Roll the film. Camera is rolling. Quiet. Thank you. Anymore film? Mark it. Nine, take 7. [clapsticks]. Do it again. Second sticks [clapsticks].
Christian:
President Johnson had clear evidence from the FBI that...

Nixon's interference with the negotiations with South Vietnam

Interviewer:
Start one more time, what you just did. Okay, go ahead, “President...”
Christian:
President Johnson had clear evidence from the FBI that certain members of the Nixon campaign were having secret conversations and negotiations with the leaders of South Vietnam to attempt to influence them against moving too fast on peace talks. It’s apparent that—that the Nixon people thought that any precipitous development toward peace in in Vietnam would jeopardize their chances of election, and they were in deadly fear that President Johnson was going to do something that would throw the election to Vice President Humphrey at the last minute. I think they were obsessed with the idea that Johnson would somehow pull Humphrey’s chestnuts out of the fire uh at the last minute, and the only way they could combat that, apparently, was to was to try to deal with the South Vietnamese and try to and try to prove to the South Vietnamese that they were better friends than Humphrey would be.
Interviewer:
That’s good.
Tone. End sound roll 2618. End shoot uh with George Christian. Tone.
Enter the timecode: