The Chennault Affair


Fifty years ago this year, on Oct. 31, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam in hopes of encouraging peace talks to end the Vietnam War. At the time, Johnson knew a secret. Some in the Nixon campaign were secretly communicating with the South Vietnamese Government in an effort to delay the opening of the peace talks. They offered the prospect of a better deal for South Vietnam if Nixon became president.

One the most visible intermediaries between the Nixon campaign and the South Vietnamese was Anna Chennault. Chennault was a Chinese-born Republican fundraiser and widow of U.S. Major General Claire Chennault, who led the World War II Flying Tigers.

When he learned of the back-channel communications, President Johnson called the effort "treason." However, he never made the information public, fearing damaging the presidency as well as having to admit that he used government agencies to spy on Chennault and the South Vietnamese. In addition, Nixon denied involvement in the efforts.

The White House file on the matter was maintained by National Security Advisor Walt Rostow, and he kept it after leaving the White House. In 1973, after Johnson's death, Rostow gave the sealed package to the director of the LBJ Presidential Library. Under the plain outer wrapping a letter size envelope was taped to the large inner envelope. Written on the small envelope was "the 'X' envelope," so it became known as the X-File or X-envelope.

At the time the file was kept secret, to be opened 50 years later. However, the LBJ Library opened it in 1994, and released some related telephone conversations in 2008. Some of the documents remain classified.

We recognize there are multiple viewpoints on the Chennault Affair, and we encourage you to look at all of them closely to reach your own conclusions about the incident. For the historical perspective from that of the Johnson Administration, we have collected related material from our archive including documents, telephone conversations, oral histories, and photos. We hope that you take time to examine all and then compare and contrast them with others to create your own understanding of the event.

From Our Archive


 

"Now, I'm reading their hand Everett. I don't want this to get in the campaign. And they oughtn't to be doing this. This is treason."


- President Lyndon B. Johnson

On a telephone call with Sen. Everett Dirksen, Nov. 2, 1968 [Listen]