Author Ken Hughes persuasively argues that the Watergate burglary was part of an effort ordered by Nixon to locate and destroy evidence that he’d secretly communicated with the South Vietnamese government prior to the 1968 election, prevailing upon it to refuse to participate in the peace negotiations that LBJ’s administration was attempting to broker at that time. Nixon allegedly convinced the South through Anna Chennault that such a refusal would make the Democrats look even worse to the American public than they already did at the time, and that it would be better for the South if he were to prevail over Humphrey in the election.
I think such a maneuver would’ve been consistent with Nixon’s character as subsequently revealed in the White House tapes. I also think it would’ve been illegal under the Logan Act of 1799. However, I further think Hughes exaggerates the possibility of such a prosecution if Nixon’s alleged subterfuge had been discovered, and also engages in a bit of hyperbole about the Logan Act itself.
In the fifth chapter of his book (location 949 in the Kindle edition), Hughes says, “The Logan Act of 1799 prohibits as treasonous activity any interference by American citizens with the negotiations of the US government.” That’s only true in the loosest sense of the term “treason,” which had been specifically and separately defined as a more serious offense in Article III of the US Constitution at the time Logan was enacted.
Furthermore, given Nixon’s legal education and foreign policy experience, he’d certainly have known at the time that in the nearly two centuries since the enactment of Logan, there had only been one indictment and no convictions of anyone under that law. Various other people had sometimes been threatened with it, usually for political reasons, but no more than that. If the Watergate break-in was indeed motivated by Nixon’s desire to conceal what he’d done four years previously, I think that says more about his paranoia and obsession with appearing squeaky clean in all respects than it does about any fear he might’ve had of being legally prosecuted under Logan.
“Hanoi Jane” has never been prosecuted under the Logan Act either, much less for treason.
Just to be clear, although I think Fonda’s posing for that photo was morally reprehensible and clearly illegal, I also think the Vietnam conflict was one of the most misguided military adventures in which this nation has ever involved itself. It’s clear enough to me in historical retrospect that Ho Chi Minh and most of his followers were motivated by nationalism much more than by ideology, that we were intervening in a local civil war much more than in a necessary effort to stop the global advance of Communism, and I think it took our nation’s leaders much too long to figure that out. I suspect Nixon realized it sooner than most of them, possibly even as early as 1968. If so, as I see it, prolonging our involvement in that conflict despite that realization was probably the worst thing that could ever be laid at his door, much worse (at least in a moral sense) than what Fonda or any other anti-war activist did.