Ford's Legacy Will Be His Pardon of Nixon

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Senior Correspondent Daniel Schorr reflects on the legacy of Gerald Ford, and perhaps Ford's most infamous act, pardoning President Richard Nixon.

DANIEL SCHORR: A little Ford history not so widely known.


NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: In October 1973, as he later told me, the House minority leader was called to the Oval Office. President Nixon told him that Vice President Spiro Agnew was about to resign in disgrace, that Nixon would designate a successor. The president said he was ready to appoint Ford, but then only if Ford understood that at the end of the term, not he, but Treasury Secretary John Connolly, a Nixon favorite, would get Nixon's support for president. The following July, Nixon himself was under the gun because of Watergate. The House Judiciary Committee was moving towards impeachment.

On August 1st, White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig visited Vice President Ford for a confidential chat. Haig said that Nixon was in bad shape. It was difficult to predict what he might do under pressure, perhaps even pardon himself, or he could be pardoned by his successor.

Ford asked about the pardon powers of the president and Haig produced a memorandum outlining the sweeping pardon powers of the president. In October 1974, President Ford appeared before the House Judiciary Committee.

Representative Elizabeth Holtzman asked if there'd been a deal to trade the presidency for a pardon. In loud terms, Ford said there was no deal. No, not in so many words, but Haig was in the position to report to Nixon that the pardon had been discussed, that the vice president had not said no.

The prospect of a pardon may have helped to ease Nixon out of the White House. It may also, as Ford said, help to end the long nightmare. It also undoubtedly contributed to Ford's defeat in the 1976 election.

In the three decades since the president pardoned his successor, some but not all the anger has drained out of this singular controversy in our national history. And yet, President Ford remains remembered more for this one act than for anything else in his tenure.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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