Haig Smoothed Path For Nixon's Exit

Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who died early Saturday, served under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan. But he may be best remembered for negotiating Richard Nixon's peaceful exit from the White House.

GUY RAZ, host:

A man who is probably closer to the national security wing of the conservative movement was Alexander Haig. The former secretary of State under Ronald Reagan died today at the age 85.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr remembers a moment in Haig's career that may go down in history as the most important one.

DANIEL SCHORR: If he's remembered for nothing else, General Al Haig has carved out his place in history as the one who negotiated President Nixon's peaceful exit from the White House.

In the stormy climax of Watergate with impeachment looming, Haig, who was Nixon's chief of staff, had a closed-door meeting with Vice President Ford. He warned that Nixon might throw the country into turmoil, might even pardon himself along with all the Watergate defendants. Or Nixon could resign and be pardoned by his successor.

Ford asked how far the president's pardon power went, and Haig produced a legal memorandum indicating that the president could issue a pardon at any time, even before any criminal action had been undertaken.

Ford said he needed to talk to his lawyers and to his wife. He seemed to be aware that he faced a momentous decision. If he agreed to the pardon, he might be perceived as making a deal for the presidency. Eventually, he told Haig that he could not give an answer, given the delicacy of the situation; and Haig indicated that he understood.

And that was enough of a commitment to permit Haig to assure Nixon that he could count on an early pardon, which in fact came within weeks of Nixon's resignation.

Was there a deal - the presidency for a pardon?

Before a congressional committee, President Ford said emphatically: There was no deal. But Al Haig had reason to congratulate himself on having saved the country from the tumult of an impeachment struggle.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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