WASHINGTON — Even after Richard Nixon's secret war in Cambodia became known, the president persisted in deception. "Publicly, we say one thing," he told aides. "Actually, we do another."
Newly declassified documents from the Nixon years shed light on the Vietnam War, the struggle with the Soviet Union for global influence and a president who tried not to let public and congressional opinion get in his way.
They also show an administration determined to win reelection in 1972, with Nixon aides seeking ways to use Jimmy Hoffa to tap into the labor movement. Nixon pardoned the former Teamsters president in 1971.
The release Wednesday of about 50,000 pages by the National Archives means about half the national security files from the Nixon era now are public.
On May 31, 1970, a month after Nixon went on TV to defend the previously secret U.S. bombings and troop movements in Cambodia, asserting that he would not let his nation become "a pitiful, helpless giant," the president met his top military and national security aides at the Western White House in San Clemente.
Revelation of the operation had sparked protests and congressional action against what many lawmakers from both parties considered an illegal war. Nixon noted that Americans believed the Cambodian operation was "all but over," even as 14,000 troops were engaged across the border in a hunt for North Vietnamese operating there.
In a memo from the meeting, Nixon told his military staff to continue doing what was necessary in Cambodia, but to say for public consumption that the United States was merely providing support to South Vietnamese forces when necessary to protect U.S. troops.
"That is what we will say publicly," he said. "But now, let's talk about what we will actually do."
He instructed: "I want you to put the air in there and not spare the horses. Do not withdraw for domestic reasons but only for military reasons."