The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate
outbursts. At such ugly moments, Chennault wrote, Mitchell would gently escort his wife from the room, “much as a long-suffering parent comes to soothe a troublesome child.” Chennault also charged that throughout the ’68 campaign, Mitchell—employing all the paranoia and techniques of the spy trade, including cryptic codes and daily changes of contact information—used her as a back channel to pass secret messages to the South Vietnamese that undercut American diplomats at Paris. 48
    Any concerns Mitchell harbored about being monitored were well founded. Declassified documents later showed U.S. intelligence agencies had begun conducting surveillance of Chennault and Bui Diem as early as April 1968. One account has suggested Mitchell’s own phone was wiretapped. If it is true that, at the height of the campaign, she and Mitchell were talking at least once a day, as Chennault claimed, it is highly likely the Johnson White House learned, by one means or another, of Mitchell’s and Nixon’s shadowy dealings with the Dragon Lady. How else would Johnson have known, in his conference call with the presidential candidates on the night of October 31—minutes before announcing on live television the very bombing halt Mitchell and Nixon had feared all along—to issue an oblique reproach for the sotto voce intimations made “by some of our folks, even
including some of the old China lobbyists
, that a better deal might be made with a different president”? 49
    Nixon said nothing to betray guilt. But the admonition apparently spooked Mitchell. Later that night, according to
The Education of Anna
, a “nervous” Mitchell called Chennault to say: “Anna, I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position, and I hope you have made that clear to them.” “Look, John,” she snapped, “all I’ve done is relay messages. If you’re talking about direct influence, I have to tell you it isn’t wise for us to try to influence the South Vietnamese…. I don’t think either we or the Democrats can force them to act one way or another. They have their own politics, you know.” Mitchell pressed for assurances Saigon had not been swayed by Johnson’s speech, then, after urging Chennault to stay in touch, dejectedly hung up. The next day, President Nguyen Van Thieu announced South Vietnam would boycott the next round of peace talks in Paris. 50

    Election Day finally came on Tuesday, November 5. Nixon and his family, Mitchell, and the campaign’s senior staff ensconced themselves on the thirty-fifth floor of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to await the televised returns.
    By 12:30 a.m., NBC News reported Humphrey ahead by 600,000 votes. If Nixon was to win, a few crucial states—California, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio—had to go his way. “Mitchell was confident Missouri was going to come through and I had learned to trust his confidence,” Nixon later wrote. True to Mitchell’s word, Missouri went for Nixon, by a margin of 20,488 votes. Anxious, fidgety, constantly revising the electoral vote count with his ubiquitous pens and yellow pads, Nixon remained closeted in his suite, separated from his wife and daughters and allowing visits only from select members of his inner circle, like Mitchell, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman. 51
    Although crucial returns in Cook County, Illinois, remained under wraps at the orders of Chicago mayor Richard Daley, one of the last great Democratic machine bosses, Nixon nevertheless concluded, around 3:00 a.m., that he had won. Mitchell, summoned to Nixon’s suite along with Haldeman, concurred. Still, Daley’s shenanigans “irritated” Nixon, and he ordered Mitchell to do something about it. The order betrayed Nixon’s bitter memories from eight years earlier, when his heartbreakingly close loss to John F. Kennedy had turned on a margin possibly as slim as 111,000 votes nationwide, and Illinois emerged as the pivotal

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