Monday, June 25, 2007

Flashback: Why Did Anna Chennault Toast Gordon Liddy? A Slight Argument, an Introduction and Promise of a Future Meeting with the Famous “Tommy the Cork.”


[Fifty plus years of politics as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

The Anna Chennault party at her Watergate condo was invigorating—not the least because it stimulated a bit of a good-natured tiff between Dr. Walter Judd, former ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, 1960 Republican convention keynoter, 1960 consider-ee for running-mate with Richard Nixon and contributing editor to the “Reader’s Digest.”

Why, I asked him (as we conversed at the reception before the dinner party)…a venerable China hand, surgeon, missionary and spiritual leader of the China Lobby and future recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the hands of President Ronald Reagan, who kept the flame from flickering out in the hope that the “Captive Nations” of eastern Europe and Asia could ultimately gain freedom…why did Anna Chennault just have us raise our glasses in toast to Gordon Liddy of all people?

“Anna is a little more dramatic than many of us,” he confided. “She and Tommy [attorney Thomas Corcoran] played a role in Richard Nixon’s election. She views Liddy as a political prisoner. Not I. I think he was a burglar. But when you spend your life on the line as a war correspondent and enemy of Mao as Anna has, it’s understandable. Tommy, you know, is a widower and is close to her; they office together, he with his law firm and she with the Flying Tigers and other interests. Anna was vice chairman of the Nixon finance committee and was close to John Mitchell [Nixon’s campaign manager]. She’s Republican National Committeewoman for D. C. Through Mitchell she served as a kind of intermediary to Vietnam for Nixon during the 1968 campaign.”

Were you aware of this?



“Mitchell asked her to get in touch with President Nguyen van Thieu of South Vietnam.. She called the Vietnamese ambassador here. In any event, she is a patriot of Free China and became such a Nixon partisan that she is wholeheartedly in favor of what these nuts tried to do in Watergate. You have to understand—she’s a fascinating woman, close to Mme. Chiang kai Shek [widow of Chiang who died in 2003 at the spectacular age of 106] who has as a single goal to help people who were her allies for a free China—and she identifies Nixon and Liddy among them.”

What role did Anna play in Nixon’s election?

“Some say a minor one; I say a decisive one. On October 31, 1968, just a few days before election Johnson ordered a total halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, as a condition for the North and the Vietcong to join peace talks with the South which would be held in Paris. They knew that it was a ruse and saw it as a device to fool the American voters to elect Humphrey on the pretext that he would continue the peace process and end the war. I saw it that way and Anna and Tom did too, as a ruse. I told that to Nixon and Mitchell myself.”

So how did she do it?

“Anna urged President Thieu not to play ball with LBJ. She passed the word via the Vietnamese ambassador here at the behest of John Mitchell [Nixon’s campaign manager]. Her words were, `hold on, we’re going to win.’ She said it was a message from her `boss.’ The `boss’ was not identified. On Nov. 2, three days before election, Nguyen rejected the peace talks knowing that he and the South would be sold out by LBJ for a fast and easy peace.”

How do you know what she said and that she used the word “boss”?

“Just accept that I know it. Accept I know it because J. Edgar Hoover’s people taped her. By then, Hoover was disillusioned with LBJ and a Nixon ally. He didn’t pass it further to LBJ.”

How do you know he didn’t?

“Just accept from me that he didn’t. But Johnson suspected something—one dirty trickster knows another. So he called Nixon on the phone and accused him—the weekend before the election—accused him of using Anna as a go-between. Nixon hotly denied it. Then when the conversation was concluded, Nixon and Mitchell collapsed with laughter.”

How do you know this?


--accept that I know it.

(Then came a bit of a verbal scuffle, a mild disagreement with my old boss).

Okay, Doctor, but you’ve taught me short-cuts are the bane of politics.. But wasn’t that a breach of the Logan Act? [The Act passed under John Adams forbids Americans “without authority of the United States” to “directly or indirectly commence or carry on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States or to defeat the measures of the United States” prescribing a fine or imprisonment of not more than three years or both.”].

He chafed at the question.

“The Act is plainly unconstitutional. It has never gone up to the Supreme Court but I would imagine it would never stand. What exactly does the word `defeat’ mean or the phrase `defeat the measures of the United States’ mean? It would never pass muster before the Supreme Court; the act is a relic of John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts. I spoke with Thieu myself a year before when I was over there on a contract to write an article for `Reader’s Digest.’ You mean I couldn’t express my opinion when he asked me for it? Nonsense. I gave him the same advice Anna did later: if there is ever a change in administration, the Republicans will stand more firmly with you than the Democrats. I would have been right, too, if Watergate hadn’t happened, Nixon toppled and the Democrats tossed in the towel. But the Logan Act? How can any Act like that be enforced? It can’t without interfering with freedom of speech.”

Don’t you think it’s possible that she and Nixon sabotaged the peace process and kept the war going to weaken Humphrey’s hand and grease the skids for Nixon’s election?

“See, you’re regurgitating the liberal line! Nixon and Anna sabotaged nothing but the `phony peace process’ and the war could have been won had Nixon not been constrained by Watergate and had to resign. The ruse Anna foiled was the Democrats’ design to elect Humphrey president after which peace would vanish and the war would continue. Humphrey was either behind it or the knowing beneficiary. Just like a Humphrey issue you were involved with, Highway 35.”

He was referring to a sensitive nerve with me: the ruse that Humphrey pulled when Republican Elmer Andersen (for whom I was press secretary) was running for reelection as governor of Minnesota whereby for the sake of an 18-foot patch of substandard concrete on an off-ramp near Hinckley, Minnesota the U. S. Bureau of Public Roads allowed Humphrey to announce that the federal portion of the 90/10 split would be abrogated with the state’s taxpayers picking up the entire cost “due to Elmer Andersen’s grievous mistake”—which was overruled after the Democrats defeated Andersen.

Said Judd: “The idea that Humphrey was not above concocting a phony “peace process” to get elected and then have the whole thing crash and burn is not foreign to anyone who understood Sir Hubert,” said Judd as he sipped an iced tea, “but I spotted it along with others and Anna initiated a conversation via the Vietnamese ambassador to Thieu. Don’t give me that `extend the war’ business! You know better than that.”

No I don’t because if the Dems had done this to a Republican president wouldn’t you be outraged?

“Yes but there’s every difference in the world in the two parties’ approach to Communism as I tried to teach you—and I guess I didn’t do it very well. You draw conclusions from what you know of the past, just like a physician does with a patient. We know from the past that the Democrats have been soft—yes, I will put it that way—soft on standing up to aggression as soon as the going gets tough such as Vietnam. We know they were looking for any reason to get out. The Humphrey-LBJ strategy was to sedate the voter with the thought that peace would come to Vietnam without any intention of preparing for a definitive session. The end result after election would be Humphrey’s plan to withdraw and let Vietnam go to tyranny without looking like it had been pushed.”

Your conclusion, not certainty, of course.

“Yes but a conclusion based on evidence of the past.”

What did Humphrey do when he found out about the Chennault conversation to Thieu?

“Your buddy Humphrey…”


“No, it’s a fair statement based on the direct line of your questions tonight. I understand you had some of your St. John’s buddies on his staff and you were pretty friendly with him yourself. Well, your buddy Humphrey learned about Anna’s communication with Thieu on his campaign plane and he said `By God, when we land I’m going to denounce Thieu. I’ll denounce Nixon. I’ll talk about the whole thing!’ He never did.”

I said nothing but here was my conclusion:

Anna sure as hell did involve herself in foreign policy improperly, I think, and unethically-- whether the Logan Act is constitutional or not. But then in 1975, as my conversation with Judd took place, two senators—McGovern and Sparkman, went to Cuba and talked to Castro. Just as Jesse Jackson, Sr. did in negotiating the freedom of an American hostage or, for that matter, Gov. George Ryan did by going to Cuba and advocating a repeal of the embargo. Another example of both sides playing hardball—no, dirty ball—with foreign policy.

Judd may have been right—I think he was—to infer the LBJ peace overture was designed to elect Humphrey with the certainty that after election it would collapse…but the fact remains that Johnson was, after all, the president and I wouldn’t want to go to my Maker confident I had foiled a bogus peace when, in the years to come, under Nixon, 20,763 more U. S. soldiers would die; I didn’t like the Chennault interference or any other interference—Ms. Pelosi’s in the Middle East either--and don’t now. But in big league politics I always was a wuss. I was never as confident as Judd was of the absoluteness of an issue such as going to Thieu. Oh well.

“Now, that we’ve differed because of your softness on Humphrey and that I’ve straightened you out on the Logan Act, do you want to meet Anna?”

Very much. Can I meet Tommy the Cork at this party, too?

“Not at the same time. They’re both showmen. I’ll see to that next time you come to town. There she is over there by the grand piano. Let’s go.”

In introducing me, Dr. Judd spoke in fluent Mandarin to Chennault, so I am in the dark about what he said but I did hear my name flutter by expressed in Chinese—something like “dom reeiser”.”

He turned to me, “I said you are a good friend and good conservative Republican who worked for me for a time in the Congress and who can be trusted although he has had a soft spot in his heart about Hubert Humphrey and who at one time had some trouble with Mr. Nixon in the field of minority enterprise, did I not, Anna?”

Not exactly a thrilling introduction, Doctor.

“Yes!” she said with a twinkling laugh and stood on her tip-toes to reach my ear. “Oh,” she confided with a tiny dramatic hand cupped over her lips, “he said far more complimentary things about you also but I won’t reveal!”

She was—and is--a charmer, three years older than I, born in 1925 in Peking now Bejing as Chen Xiangmei, received a BA in journalism from Lingnan University in Hong Kong began as a war correspondent for the Central News Agency in 1944, met and beguiled out of his socks gallant Major General Claire Chennault (who was divorced and twenty years older than she), married him in 1947, had two daughters but continued to serve as correspondent for the Hsin Shen Daily News and broadcaster for Voice of America, then vice-president of Flying Tiger Line, member of the President’s Advisory Committee for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, president of Chinese Refugee Relief and president of the General Claire Chennault foundation.

Well, the disagreement didn’t last long. Mrs. Judd who joined us later

joshed: “You must excuse Walter; he’s in one of his infallible moods again where he’s always right and to question him is to doubt the Deity. I’ve done it often and I’m here to tell the tale!”

He blushed and we shook hands.

I said to her, Would you convince your husband to let me use his good name to call Tommy the Cork Corcoran so that I might grab lunch with him sometime?

She looked at him over her reading glasses: “Well, Walter?”

He growled with a half smile. “Against my better judgment to let a liberal consort with our people, but if you wish, my dear, I’ll do it.”

Next time—the lunch with Tommy the Cork; and guess who picked up the tab?

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