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Chasing Shadows

The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate
Ken Hughes

BUY Cloth · 240 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813936635 · $24.95 · Jul 2014
BUY Ebook · 240 pp. · ISBN 9780813936642 · $16.95 · Jul 2014
BUY Paper · 240 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813937830 · $16.95 · Aug 2015

The break-in at Watergate and the cover-up that followed brought about the resignation of Richard Nixon, creating a political shockwave that reverberates to this day. But as Ken Hughes reveals in his powerful new book, in all the thousands of hours of declassified White House tapes, the president orders a single break-in--and it is not at the Watergate complex. Hughes’s examination of this earlier break-in, plans for which the White House ultimately scrapped, provides a shocking new perspective on a long history of illegal activity that prolonged the Vietnam War and was only partly exposed by the Watergate scandal.

As a key player in the University of Virginia’s Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, Hughes has spent more than a decade developing and mining the largest extant collection of transcribed tapes from the Johnson and Nixon White Houses. Hughes’s unparalleled investigation has allowed him to unearth a pattern of actions by Nixon going back long before 1972, to the final months of the Johnson administration. Hughes identified a clear narrative line that begins during the 1968 campaign, when Nixon, concerned about the impact on his presidential bid of the Paris peace talks with the Vietnamese, secretly undermined the negotiations through a Republican fundraiser named Anna Chennault. Three years after the election, in an atmosphere of paranoia brought on by the explosive appearance of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon feared that his treasonous--and politically damaging--manipulation of the Vietnam talks would be exposed. Hughes shows how this fear led to the creation of the Secret Investigations Unit, the "White House Plumbers," and Nixon’s initiation of illegal covert operations guided by the Oval Office. Hughes’s unrivaled command of the White House tapes has allowed him to build an argument about Nixon that goes far beyond what we think we know about Watergate.

Chasing Shadows is also available as a special e-book that links to the massive collection of White House tapes published by the Miller Center through Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press. This unique edition allows the reader to move seamlessly from the book to the recordings’ expertly rendered transcripts and to listen to audio files of the remarkable--and occasionally shocking--conversations on which this dark chapter in American history would ultimately turn.


Ken Hughes is one of America's foremost experts on secret presidential recordings, especially those of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. In this book he has expertly identified and explained one of the many drivers that put Nixon on the road to Watergate.

Bob Woodward

Chasing Shadows tells a fascinating story of intrigue, lies, and deception, almost as if out of a soap opera. It is the most detailed study of the 1968 election as told through the White House tapes that I have seen. This book is now the most complete and comprehensive look at this episode.

Thomas A. Schwartz, Vanderbilt University, author of Lyndon Johnson and Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam

[I]mpeccably sourced, with extensive use of White House tapes and documents, memoirs by the various protagonists and other citations. The Chennault saga has dribbled out in bits and pieces over the years. Here it is told—or at least what we know is told, as Nixon’s personal involvement is still a mystery—in one concise, thorough volume.


Tricky Dick: The nickname that keeps proving itself does so once more here. It's no surprise to have confirmation, in a general way, that Richard Nixon was a master of the abuse of power, for which even Republicans haven't quite forgiven him. It's no surprise that Lyndon Johnson played a particularly vehement kind of hardball politics, as well. Nonetheless, Hughes, a researcher at the University of Virginia's Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, turns up plenty of surprises in this careful analysis of tape recordings from both administrations.... [An] utterly newsworthy book.


Chasing Shadows, the best account yet of Nixon’s devious interference with Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 Vietnam War negotiations, shows just how early Nixon’s dirty tricks began and just how deeply he was involved.

Washington Post

Ken Hughes, the author of a new book about Nixon, Chasing Shadows, joined Kunhardt for an interview with "Top Line" and said that one of the most shocking recent revelations about Nixon is that he intentionally prolonged the war in Vietnam for political gain.... "There is I think an extra degree of openness and candor with the people who don't know they are being taped," Hughes said. "Henry Kissinger clearly did not know he was being taped and was very angry about being taped.

Yahoo News

Hughes shows that we still have much to learn by connecting the dots of Nixon’s angry venting and the shadowy world of national-security spying


In Chasing Shadows, Hughes draws on the private recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon to connect the dots between the crime Nixon committed to help him win the 1968 presidential election (referred to as the Chennault Affair), his myriad abuses of power while in office and, ultimately, his downfall and resignation. Full of fascinating scenes and candid conversations pulled verbatim from Nixon's tapes, Hughes's book is as compelling as a novel.

Shelf Awareness

In Chasing Shadows, Ken Hughes explores Nixon's role in thwarting Vietnam peace talks before the 1968 election.... In Washington... there still seems to be an audience. When Ms. [Elizabeth] Drew and Mr. Hughes joined Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the famed investigative reporters, for a panel discussion of Nixon's resignation at the headquarters of The Washington Post last week, the line stretched out the door and down the block.

New York Times

Hughes' linking of the Huston break-in plan to Chennault's activities provides a credible new rationale to the allegation that Nixon was indeed involved in the caper that could have cost Humphrey the 1968 election--and had it come to light earlier, denied Nixon the White House.

Baltimore Sun

Nixon had a secret, a dirty one, one that you probably don't know, and one that he was determined--at any cost--to hide. Ken Hughes has written a thriller of a book that fleshes out the secret, and reveals how it squirmed inside Nixon's presidency and destroyed it through paranoia, guilt and an obsessive fear that the secret might escape and ruin Nixon's electoral hopes, presidency, and reputation.

History Book Club

Ken Hughes's gripping investigation....contends that the Watergate affair wasn't about the cover-up of the Watergate burglary itself, but about the cover-up of other crimes which led further back.

London Review of Books

With hundreds of books on Watergate, it might seem as though there is nothing left to learn about the scandal. Ken Hughes’s new book proves otherwise.... By focusing on the role that the Chennault Affair played in Watergate, Hughes dispels the myth that Nixon’s role in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary was his undoing. Chasing Shadows reveals the true depth of Nixon’s criminal behavior—it began even before he became president.... In the end, the picture that Hughes paints of the Nixon White House reminds me of a memorable line that Hal Hol­brook’s 'Deep Throat' delivers in the film All the President’s Men: 'The truth is these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.'

Political Science Quarterly

In truth, One Man Against the World adds less to our knowledge than two other recent books: Ken Hughes’s Chasing Shadows, about Nixon’s efforts during the 1968 election to keep the South Vietnamese from agreeing to Lyndon Johnson’s peace proposals, and John W. Dean’s The Nixon Defense.

New York Times Book Review

In his landmark 2014 book, "Chasing Shadows," Ken Hughes reconstructs Nixon’s spectacularly devious role in scuttling the Paris peace talks of 1968, in the closing weeks of the campaign, after President Lyndon Johnson decided to halt the bombing of North Vietnam to help bring about a possible settlement to end the war.

Carl Bernstein · Washington Post

[A] chilling and compelling look at one of the multiple origins of the Watergate scandal, which toppled a president and heightened American's cynicism about their leaders.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Hughes’s goal in Chasing Shadows is to document Nixon’s role in Watergate and in the October 1968 events. Since 2000, he has studied the Nixon and Johnson tapes at the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia, and he is skeptical about the work of historians whom he sees as uncritically accepting received wisdom for this time period. They tend to balance Nixon’s achievements in foreign and domestic policy with his role in Watergate, which they consider politics as usual (169–70). For Hughes, Nixon benefitted from Congressional and media attention on Watergate since the search for the smoking gun covered up his serious attempts to influence the outcome of the 1968 and 1972 elections.

Journal of American Culture

"With hundreds of books on Watergate, it might seem as though there is nothing left to learn about the scandal. Hen Hughes's new book proves otherwise."


On the 40th anniversary of the infamous Watergate break-in, questions remain over former President Nixon’s motives in recent American political history, but Hughes, a researcher at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program, provides essential answers with key hours of declassified White House tapes in this book of startling revelations.... Through its foremost practitioners in Johnson and Nixon, Hughes reveals the realities of American politics as blood sport.

Publishers Weekly

About the Author(s): 

Ken Hughes is a researcher at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program. His work as a journalist has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe Magazine, and Salon.

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