Profile: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr
Positions that Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr has held:
- US Vice President (1973-1974)
- US President (1974-1977)
Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr was a participant or observer in the following events:
Official portrait of Justice William O. Douglas. [Source: Oyez.org]After the second of President Richard Nixon’s conservative Supreme Court nominees is rejected by Congress (see May 14, 1969), House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) leads an unsuccessful fight to impeach Justice William O. Douglas. Nixon, through White House aide John Ehrlichman, mobilizes Ford to go after Douglas, presumably in retaliation for the rejection of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell. When legal scholars say that Douglas’s unconventional views and behavior come nowhere near constituting grounds for impeachment, Ford says that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be in a given moment in history.” Ford uses unusually strong language (for him) in denouncing Douglas; he questions Douglas’s association with a charitable foundation, his association with the “leftish” Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and blasts Douglas’s most recent book, Points of Rebellion, saying that it gives “legitimacy to the militant hippie-yippie movement” and is little more than an incitement to rebellion. (Ford is particularly outraged by the recent publication of an excerpt of Douglas’s book in Evergreen magazine, an excerpt preceded by photographs of nudes that Ford calls “hardcore pornography.” Ford expresses his moral outrage by ensuring that his colleagues have the chance to view every photograph.) Although Ford does enough in-chamber logrolling to get the matter working in the House Rules Committee, two weeks later Nixon abruptly backs off, leaving Ford, in the words of author Barry Werth, “to look foolishly partisan.” [Time, 4/27/1970; Werth, 2006, pp. 233-234]
Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Richard M. Nixon, William O. Douglas, John Ehrlichman, House Rules Committee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Barry Werth, Evergreen Magazine, G. Harrold Carswell, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Clement Haynsworth
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Nixon urges House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) to ensure that the House Banking and Currency Committee fails to investigate the source of the freshly minted, sequential stack of $100 bills found on the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ford, who has proven his loyalty to Nixon by mounting an unsuccessful bid to impeach Supreme Court Justice William Douglas at Nixon’s behest (see Mid-April 1970), complies without question. Ford will later lie about his actions during his confirmation hearings to become vice president (see October 12, 1973). Ford, according to reporter Seymour Hersh, “understood that personal and political loyalty would get him further in Washington than complete testimony.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 234]
President Nixon formally asks for and receives the resignations of two of his most senior advisers, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 16-17, 1973 and April 24, 1973), along with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In addition, he fires White House counsel John Dean, who has begun cooperating with Watergate investigators (see April 6-20, 1973).
Replacements - Kleindienst is replaced by Defense Secretary Elliot Richardson, whom Nixon tasks with the responsibility for “uncovering the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal. Richardson will be given “absolute authority” in handling the Watergate investigation, including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government’s case (see April 30, 1973). Dean is replaced temporarily by Nixon’s personal lawyer Leonard Garment.
Additional Resignation - Also, Gordon Strachan, the general counsel to the United States Information Agency (USIA), resigns. Strachan is a former aide to Haldeman, and, according to a USIA statement, resigned “after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations.”
Lawmakers' Comments - Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) says of the resignations: “[A] lack of grace in power has led to a fall from grace. This rotten vine of Watergate has produced poisonous fruit, and all nourished by it should be cast out of the Garden of Eden.” House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) says the resignations are “a necessary first step by the White House in clearing the air on the Watergate affair.… I have the greatest confidence in the president and I am absolutely positive he had nothing to with this mess.” Representative John Moss (D-CA) says the House must prepare itself to deal with the possibility of impeachment, but “before we even suggest impeachment, we must have the most uncontroverted evidence.” In their letters of resignation, Haldeman and Ehrlichman promise to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of Watergate. [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]
Reaction at the Washington Post - Knight Newspapers reporter James McCartney later writes an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on the Post’s Watergate coverage, which describes the reaction in the Post offices to the news: “For a split second [executive editor] Ben Bradlee’s mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight.… ‘How do you like them apples?’ he said to the grinning Simons [managing editor Howard Simons]. ‘Not a bad start.’” As reporters and employees begin gathering around, Simons murmurs: “Don’t gloat. We can’t afford to gloat.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 310]
Entity Tags: United States Information Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Washington Post, Richard Kleindienst, Leonard Garment, Ben Bradlee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Gordon Strachan, John Moss, Elliot Richardson, Howard Simons, Hugh Scott, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, James McCartney, H.R. Haldeman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Spiro T. Agnew. [Source: University of Maryland]Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigns. He will be replaced by an appointee, House Republican Gerald Ford (see October 12, 1973). Agnew, a conservative Maryland Republican with a long history of racial repression, ethnic jokes, and racial slurs in his record, appealed to conservative Southern voters as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972 (see 1969-1971). Agnew was the first vice president to be given his own office in the West Wing. [Time, 9/30/1996; US Senate, 2007] But by mid- and late 1971, Agnew is battling attempts from within the White House to force him to resign (see Mid-1971 and Beyond).
Nolo Contendre - Agnew’s lawyers reach a deal with the Justice Department, agreeing to a plea of nolo contendre (no contest) to the tax charge, a $160,000 levy of tax repayments, and a $10,000 fine. In return, Agnew agrees to leave office. One of his last actions as vice president is to visit Nixon, who assures him that he is doing the right thing. Agnew later recalls bitterly: “It was hard to believe he was not genuinely sorry about the course of events. Within two days, this consummate actor would be celebrating his appointment of a new vice president with never a thought of me.” For his part, Nixon will recall, “The Agnew resignation was necessary although a very serious blow.” Nixon apparently is not as concerned about punishing a White House official for misconduct as much as he hopes Agnew’s resignation will redirect the public anger away from himself. That ploy, too, will backfire: Nixon later writes that “all [Agnew’s resignation] did was to open the way to put pressure on the president to resign as well.” [US Senate, 2007] Agnew later says that Nixon “naively believed that by throwing me to the wolves, he had appeased his enemies.” [New York Times, 9/19/1996] The State of Maryland will later lift Agnew’s license to practice law. [University of Maryland Newsdesk, 10/6/2003]
'Affluent Obscurity' - Agnew will return to private life (in what one reporter will call “an affluent obscurity”) [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/21/1996] as an international business consultant (see 1980s). He will publish a 1980 memoir entitled Go Quietly… Or Else, in which he says he was forced to resign by scheming Nixon aides, and a novel about a corrupt American vice president “destroyed by his own ambition.” Continuing to maintain his innocence of any wrongdoing (see 1981), he refuses any contact from Nixon until he chooses to attend Nixon’s funeral in 1994. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; US Senate, 2007]
Gerald R. Ford, Jr. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library]President Nixon names Congressman Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) as his nominee for vice president. Two days before, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned his office after being convicted of tax evasion charges unrelated to Watergate (see October 10, 1973). [Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, 5/3/1999] Nixon’s original choice for Agnew’s replacement is former Texas governor John Connally, in hopes that Connally can secure the 1976 GOP presidential nomination, win the election, and continue Nixon’s legacy. But Connally, Nixon’s Treasury Election, is himself under investigation for his handling of a secret Nixon campaign fund. Nixon’s close political ally and strategist Melvin Laird, Nixon’s first secretary of defense, and veteran political adviser Bryce Harlow advised Nixon to select Ford as his new vice president. Other Republicans are recommending better-known party stalwarts—former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, California governor Ronald Reagan, Senate Watergate Committee co-chair Howard Baker, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican Party chairman George H.W. Bush, Connally, Laird, and others—Ford is a complete party loyalist, popular among Congressional Republicans, and an influential member of the House Judiciary Committee. By naming Ford as vice president, Laird and Barlow hope to head off any impeachment vote by that committee. On October 10, Laird phoned Ford and, according to Laird’s later recollection, said: “Jerry, you’re going to get a call from Al Haig [Nixon’s chief of staff]. I don’t want any bullsh_t from you. Don’t hesitate. Don’t talk to Betty [Ford, his wife]. Say yes.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31]
Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Nelson Rockefeller, Spiro T. Agnew, Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon, John Connally, Howard Baker, Bryce Harlow, Hugh Scott, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Ford, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Judiciary Committee, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Representatives William Moorhead (D-PA) and Frank Horton (R-NY) cosponsor a series of amendments designed to improve the effectiveness of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The law is designed to make it easier for journalists, researchers, and citizens to see government records, but in practice the law is cumbersome: agencies have little impetus to produce documents in a timely manner, charge exorbitant fees for searching and copying documents, and too often battle FOIA requests in court. With Watergate fresh in legislators’ minds, the amendments to FOIA are welcome changes. The amendments expand the federal agencies covered, and mandate expediting of document and record requests. But as the bill nears final passage, senior officials of the Ford White House are mobilizing to challenge it. The CIA, Defense and Treasury Departments, Civil Service, and many on President Ford’s staff, including Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, all urge a veto. Most bothersome is the provision that a court can review a federal decision not to release a document requested under FOIA. Ford will veto the bill, but Congress will override the vetoes (see November 20, 1974). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 29-30]
Entity Tags: William Moorhead, US Department of the Treasury, US Civil Service, Frank Horton, Ford administration, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense, Freedom of Information Act, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson, later described by reporter David Plotz as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration,” is sentenced to jail after pleading guilty (see March 7, 1974) to taking part in the plan to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971) and interfering with Ellsberg’s trial (see June 28, 1971). Colson also, according to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, tried to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators, and plotted to either raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution (see June 8-9, 1973). Colson will serve seven months in jail (see September 3, 1974). [Slate, 3/10/2000] Colson tells the court: “I shall be cooperating with the prosecutor, but that is not to say that the prosecutor has bargained for my testimony, that there is any quid pro quo: there was not. I reached my own conclusion that I have a duty to tell everything I know about these important issues, and a major reason for my plea was to free me to do so.” Colson’s testimony against Richard Nixon is damning, as he tells the court Nixon had “on numerous occasions urged me to disseminate damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.” Vice President Ford defends Nixon, saying, “There’s a big difference between telling Chuck Colson to smear Ellsberg and ordering—or allegedly ordering—a break-in.” Colson will later become a born-again Christian evangelist, and found an influential prison ministry. [Slate, 3/10/2000; Werth, 2006, pp. 273-274]
James Schlesinger. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, an opponent of arms limitations agreements with the Soviet Union, attempts to scuttle the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiations between the two countries by telling the National Security Council that the Pentagon will not support any SALT agreement that does not guarantee US superiority in nuclear weapons. In a follow-up to his declaration, he writes a letter to neoconservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) essentially advocating Jackson’s hardline approach to dealing with the USSR, a position that undermines that of President Ford. During the Vladivostok negotiations between Ford and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev (see November 23, 1974), he encourages Ford to hold out for an agreement that mandates numerical equality between the two sides for the simple reason that he does not believe the Soviets will agree. Author J. Peter Scoblic calls this the “foreshadowing of a tactic that would be used by arms control opponents in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 80]
The Glomar Explorer. [Source: Federation of American Scientists]The CIA attempts to carry out a secretive recovery, code-named Project Jennifer, of a Soviet Golf-II ballistic submarine that sunk in April 1968 in the Pacific Ocean. The submarine, carrying nuclear missiles, had sunk in over three miles of water. Analysts believe the submarine may have been a rogue on its way to attack Hawaii. The Pentagon is capable of carrying out the necessary deep-sea recovery effort itself, but President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger decide instead to outsource the recovery to a private firm, Summa Corporation, headed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. The cover story, which has Summa attempting to mine manganese from the ocean floor, is only preserved by CIA Director William Colby feeding Watergate leads to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh to keep Hersh from finding out more about the recovery mission (see February 1975). Summa has built an enormous recovery ship, the Glomar Explorer, for the mission, and the ship goes to the site. Kissinger badly wants the submarine for verification of arms control analyses of Soviet military and nuclear capabilities, as well as for his dealings with defense hawks such as Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. The Glomar has been on site since June, but for the last two weeks an armed Soviet trawler has been near the recovery vessel, taking photographs and making the civilian crew nervous. Many in Washington worry that the Soviets may try to board the Glomar. Kissinger feels that the “intelligence coup” of the recovered sub makes the possibility of a confrontation with the Soviets worthwhile. Ford, like Kissinger and the other senior officials informed of the operation, knows that the Glomar is completely vulnerable, but if President Ford sends US naval vessels to the site, the Soviets will do the same, thus escalating the situation. Worse, the closest Navy vessels are days away. This is Ford’s first test against the Soviets. Ford orders the Glomar to continue operations, but holds off sending naval vessels to the site just yet. [Werth, 2006, pp. 28-30; Federation of American Scientists, 9/14/2006] The rescue attempt is unsuccessful; as the sub is being pulled to the surface, it breaks apart, irretrievably scattering missiles, computer components, secret codes, and everything else of real value. [Werth, 2006, pp. 56] However, unconfirmed accounts say the CIA manages to retrieve a number of items, including three nuclear missiles, two nuclear torpedoes, the ship’s code machine, and various code books. [Federation of American Scientists, 9/14/2006]
Entity Tags: William Colby, Summa Corporation, Richard M. Nixon, Central Intelligence Agency, Seymour Hersh, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Howard Hughes, Henry A. Kissinger, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Nixon and Watergate
Alexander Haig. [Source: Brooks Institute]President Richard Nixon`s chief of staff Alexander Haig pays an urgent call on Vice President Gerald Ford to discuss the terms under which Nixon will resign (see August 8, 1974). Haig gives Ford a handwritten list of what White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, the author of the list, calls “permutations for the option of resignation.” The idea is for Nixon to agree to resign in return for Ford’s agreement to pardon Nixon for any crimes Nixon may have committed while president. Ford listens to Haig but does not agree to any terms. The next day, after learning of the meeting, Ford’s own counsel, Robert Hartmann, is outraged that Ford did not just throw Haig out of his office. With fellow counsel John Marsh, Hartmann demands that Ford call Haig and state unequivocally, for the record, and in front of witnesses that Ford has made no such agreements. Haig considers Hartmann essentially incompetent, and Hartmann views Haig as a power-hungry “assh_le.” The subsequent tensions between Haig, one of the Nixon holdovers in Ford’s presidency, and Ford’s staff will shape future events in the Ford administration. In part to counteract Haig’s influence, Ford will name former NATO ambassador and Nixon aide Donald Rumsfeld as the head of his transition team. Rumsfeld will in turn name former Wyoming congressman and current investment executive Dick Cheney as his deputy; Cheney has lectured his clients that Watergate was never a criminal conspiracy, but merely a power struggle between the White House and Congress. [Werth, 2006, pp. 20]
Betty Ford. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]Despite President Ford’s insistence that he is not considering a pardon for former President Richard Nixon (see September 5-6, 1974), and Ford’s own denials in his 1976 memoir A Time to Heal, Ford tells his lawyer, Robert Hartmann, that he and his wife Betty have decided that if Nixon resigns, Ford will likely pardon him for any Watergate crimes. “We felt we were ready,” Ford tells Hartmann. “This just has to stop; it’s tearing the country to pieces. I decided to go ahead and get it over with, so I called [Nixon’s chief of staff] Al Haig and told them they should do whatever they decided to do; it was all right with me” (see August 1-2, 1974). This is not the last time stories will conflict over Ford’s decision on whether to pardon Nixon (see August 30, 1974 and September 5-6, 1974). [Werth, 2006, pp. 204]
While President Nixon is bidding his White House staffers farewell (see August 8, 1974), White House military office chief William Gulley collects a dozen boxes with personal papers from the residency wing of the White House. Nixon wants the papers delivered to his private home in California, where they cannot be viewed by others. In consultation with Nixon’s military aide, Jack Brennan, Gulley determines to get the papers to California before incoming President Ford can consolidate control of the White House and stop any shipments of presidential documents out of Washington and public view. Gulley will be successful. [Werth, 2006, pp. 44-45] At about this same time, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has 30 crates of his own files, including phone transcripts, secretly shipped to the bomb shelter of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in New York, consigning those files to public oblivion. [Werth, 2006, pp. 241]
Jerald terHorst. [Source: Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]A host of tips, leaks, rumors, and wild speculations swirl around President Nixon’s resignation from the presidency and upcoming departure from the White House (see August 8, 1974). Nixon has pardoned himself and all of his aides before resigning, one rumor goes. Nixon has already sneaked out all of his secret tapes of White House conversations to his private residence in San Clemente, California, claims another rumor. Another one, more worrying, has Defense Secretary James Schlesinger informing military commanders not to take orders from the West Wing in case a drunken, suicidally paranoid Nixon refused to leave or ordered a nuclear strike. Vice President Ford’s press secretary, Jerald terHorst, assures reporters that none of the rumors are true. The press listens to terHorst because he is one of them, having resigned a senior position with the Detroit News to take the position in the White House. [Werth, 2006, pp. 17]
Newly installed President Gerald Ford (see August 9, 1974) has no intention of pardoning former President Richard Nixon. Press secretary Jerald terHorst tells reporters, “I don’t think the American people would stand for it.” TerHorst adds that Ford even opposes granting Nixon immunity from prosecution. “I can assure you of that,” he says. [Werth, 2006, pp. 17-18] Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski is “stunned and upset” by terHorst’s statement that Ford is not considering executive clemency for Nixon. Jaworski wants to avoid any court and constitutional battles over Nixon’s legal liabilities, but he suspects Ford is attempting to pressure him into making the first move. Jaworski has tried to work with both Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig and with his own staff, who to a man suspect him of having more loyalty to Nixon than an interest in pursuing the truth. But whatever loyalties Jaworski has towards Nixon have eroded over the months of investigations. Jaworski will later recall a “galling frustration” with Nixon, who “continually twisted the facts while I, who knew the truth, had to remain silent.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31]
Gerald Ford takes the oath of office. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library]Vice President Gerald Ford prepares to take over the presidency from the resigning Richard Nixon (see August 8, 1974). Ford’s transition team suggests that, in line with Ford’s own views, Ford not appoint a chief of staff at this time. “However,” says the team’s memo, “there should be someone who could rapidly and efficiently organize the new staff organization, but who will not be perceived or eager to be chief of staff.” Ford writes “Rumsfeld” in the margin of the memo. Donald Rumsfeld is a former Navy pilot and Nixon aide. Rumsfeld has been the US ambassador to NATO and, thusly, was out of Washington and untainted by Watergate. Rumsfeld harbors presidential ambitions of his own and has little use for a staff position, even such a powerful position as a president’s chief of staff. [Werth, 2006, pp. 7-8] Rumsfeld believes that Ford’s first task is to establish a “legitimate government” as far from the taint of Watergate as possible—a difficult task considering Ford is retaining Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the rest of the Nixon cabinet, Haig, and virtually the entire White House staff, although plans are for Haig and most of the White House staff to gracefully exit in a month. [Werth, 2006, pp. 21] Shortly after noon, Ford takes the oath of office for the presidency, becoming the first president in US history to enter the White House as an appointed, rather than an elected, official. Ford tells the nation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.… I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances.… This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.” [Politico, 8/9/2007]
Richard Nixon’s presidential documents—46 million pieces of paper and 950 reels of recording tape—are being packed up in boxes and stored throughout the White House, the Executive Office Building (EOB), and other locations. The question is, should all the materials be turned over to Nixon, as he insists, or retained for evidence in upcoming Watergate trials? President Ford wants to stay out of the dispute. Ford’s staff learns that White House aides still loyal to Nixon are stuffing documents into “burn bags” at an extraordinary rate, and the White House “burn room,” where documents are chemically destroyed, is overflowing, with cartons of documents stacking up in the halls. Ford orders his staff to guard the materials and prevent them from being destroyed or removed. Unfortunately, the problem is not so easily resolved. Ford’s staffers are working out of the EOB, and Nixon’s people command the West Wing, where they show little inclination to obey any directives from Ford’s people. One of Ford’s attorneys, Benton Becker, tries to prevent Army soldiers from loading a truck with boxes full of Nixon materials; the truck will convey the materials to Andrews Air Force Base, where they will be flown to California. When Becker tells the colonel in charge that Ford has ordered the documents to remain, the colonel retorts, “I take my orders from General Haig” [Alexander Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff]. Becker tells White House security not to let the truck leave the grounds, and informs Ford, who angrily confronts Haig. Haig denies any knowledge of the situation and says the colonel must be acting on his own, an explanation Becker finds hard to believe. Like it or not, Ford is now involved in the custody battle over Nixon’s documents. [Werth, 2006, pp. 33-35]
White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, a Nixon loyalist who is retiring into private practice, orders Staff Secretary Jerry Jones to box up all the Watergate tapes and place the boxes on an Air Force truck outside the White House, joining boxes and crates of White House documents being shipped to Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California (see August 8, 1974). Ever since the now-infamous 18-and-one-half minute gap had been discovered on one of the tapes, Jones has been the only person authorized to enter the guarded vault in the EOB where the tapes are stored. Jones complies, believing that Buzhardt has authorization from President Ford’s personal lawyer, Philip Buchen. But two hours into the packing process, Buzhardt stops Jones from continuing. “I think what happened is Buchen changed his mind,” Jones later recalls, “and then Fred had a problem. I think we probably could have shipped them after Buchen told him not to. But Fred felt that being the case, we simply couldn’t do it.… It was a trust thing. We were all in the position that if we did the wrong thing, or if I relied on Fred and he did the wrong thing, or he relied on me and I did the wrong thing, or we both relied on [chief of staff Alexander] Haig and he did the wrong thing, we could go to jail.” By August 12, Jones recalls, “nobody knew what in the hell to do with these things.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 72-73]
August 19, 1974 cover of Time magazine, inspired by Ford’s speech. [Source: Time]Gerald Ford gives his first speech as president to the House of Representatives. When he enters the chamber, he receives a thunderous ovation in the House of Representatives. Columnist and author Jimmy Breslin will later write: “When the doors swung open and everybody in the chamber saw that it was not Richard Nixon walking in, the cheers that went up around me were merely perfunctory when matched with the feeling of relief, a feeling so intense that it could be felt, almost heard, as it rose from their chests and shoulders to leave them free of Nixon and all the name meant to their careers and their country. Oh, they liked Jerry Ford very much.… But for anybody who was standing up with the crowd, watching, listening, feeling, it was obvious that these men, who are in politics for a living, would have cheered for anybody.” Ford promises listeners: “There will be no illegal tappings, eavesdroppings, buggings, or break-ins by my administration. There will be hot pursuit of tough laws to prevent illegal invasions of privacy in both government and private activities.” ABC reporter and pundit Harry Reasoner says after the speech that it is surprising “how easy it is to give this man the benefit of the doubt,” adding, “The old saying may be demonstrated again—that God takes care of fools, drunkards, and the United States.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 52-54]
Alexander Haig, President Nixon’s chief of staff, is briefly staying on at the White House to ease the transition into the new, hastily assembled Ford staff. Haig, knowing that President Ford will not consider retaining him in the position, believes that Donald Rumsfeld, the US ambassador to NATO, might be the person Ford needs to head his staff (see August 9, 1974). (Nixon held Rumsfeld in grudging admiration, referring to him as a “ruthless little b_stard,” but had sent him to Europe and NATO headquarters because he did not like Rumsfeld’s obvious ambition.) Although Ford is not sold on having a chief of staff at all, Haig believes Ford needs someone with Rumsfeld’s “strong personality and fine administrat[ive skills]” to help him establish himself. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom Ford is retaining, sees Rumsfeld as, in Kissinger’s words, an exemplar of a “special Washington phenomenon: the skilled full-time politician bureaucrat in whom ambition, ability, and substance fuse seamlessly.” Ford has a good relationship with Rumsfeld, who in the 1960s led an insurgency among House Republicans to replace Minority Leader Charles Halleck with Ford. He views Rumsfeld as something of a maverick, and wants someone not beholden to the entrenched Nixon loyalists remaining in the White House as well as someone with a good relationship with Congressional Republicans. Rumsfeld fits the bill. Rumsfeld, a former Navy pilot, will later write that Ford “had to provide sufficient change to make the transition from what many perceived to be an illegitimate White House and administration to a legitimate administration. It was a bit like climbing into an airplane, at 30,000 feet, going 500 miles an hour, and having to change part of the crew.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 60-61; Unger, 2007, pp. 49-52] (Rumsfeld will, in turn, ask his own former assistant, Dick Cheney, to once again join him as his assistant in the Ford White House—see 1969). Ford’s longtime aide and speech writer Robert Hartmann will be equally blunt in his own recollections: “The Nixon-to-Ford transition was superbly planned. It was not a failure. It just never happened.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 26]
Nelson Rockefeller. [Source: National Archives]The choice of a vice president for Gerald Ford quickly narrows to two: former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and Republican National Committee chairman George H.W. Bush. Ford’s political adviser Melvin Laird believes Rockefeller is the only Republican who can deliver enough political punch to help Ford win the 1976 presidential election. Others tried to tout outgoing California governor Ronald Reagan as a viable vice presidential choice, but few of Ford’s staff and advisers believe that Reagan is a good choice for the slot. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) refuses consideration, saying that he is too old, but when asked who he would recommend, names Bush. Bush and his supporters mount a strong internal campaign for the job. One such supporter, Nebraska Republican operative Richard Herman, says that Bush’s best qualification is that he is “the only one with no opposition. He may not be the first choice in all cases, but he’s no lower than second with anyone.” Rockefeller is much more ambivalent about his possible selection; he has presidential ambitions of his own, but at age 66 knows that if he ever intends to run for the White House, his time is at hand. Spending four years as Ford’s vice president does not appeal to Rockefeller. And GOP conservatives, spearheaded by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) loathe and vilify Rockefeller at every opportunity. [Werth, 2006, pp. 61-63] However, Ford’s chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, is working behind the scenes to promote Rockefeller’s nomination over Bush’s with the RNC. Rumsfeld has no more use for Rockefeller than do the Helms supporters, but he feels he will have a better shot at the 1980 presidential nomination with Rockefeller as vice president than he will with Bush. [Unger, 2007, pp. 52]
Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a phone call from Senator James Eastland (D-MS), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime friend of Richard Nixon. Eastland tells Jaworski that Nixon had called him from the Nixon compound in San Clemente, California. Nixon had cried during the conversation, says Eastland: “He said, ‘Jim, don’t let Jaworski put me in that trial with [former aides H. R.] Haldeman and [John] Ehrlichman. I can’t take any more.…’ He’s in bad shape, Leon.” Jaworski asks if Eastland has any plans for a Senate resolution opposing prosecution for Nixon; such a resolution would not be legally binding, but would provide cover for both Jaworski and President Ford if either decided to do something to keep Nixon out of court. “We’ll think on it,” Eastland says. Despite his mandate to pursue Nixon and bring him before a jury, Jaworski does not want Nixon in court. But he cannot find a legal justification for such an action. Prosecution counsel Philip Lacovara will recall: “The whole premise of this exercise called Watergate was to follow the facts wherever they lead, and if they led into the Oval Office, to apply the law to those facts in the same way that the law would apply to any other person. It would be fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of equal application of the law to prosecute people who had acted on President Nixon’s behalf, and indeed under President Nixon’s direction, and to give him a pass.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 74-75]
Because reporters do not realize that President Ford has ordered his staff to prevent the Watergate tapes from being spirited out of the White House, they begin speculating that Ford may be part of the conspiracy to get the tapes out of Washington (see August 8, 1974). Ford realizes that he cannot take advice from Richard Nixon’s lawyers any longer. He immediately replaces Fred Buzhardt with his own lawyer, Philip Buchen. Buzhardt had been an invaluable “mole” for Nixon, and is a valuable, if unofficial, legal adviser to Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig as well. His loss is damaging to both the former president and his former chief of staff. Ford also removes Haig from any responsibilities for dealing with Nixon, and gives over custody of the tapes and documents to Buchen. Haig knows his days are numbered, but he is determined to accomplish one more task. “I’ve lost the battle,” he tells an aide, “but I’ll stay long enough to get Nixon the pardon.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 79-83]
Conservative Democratic senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) meets with President Ford as part of a discussion about the standoff with the Soviet Union over trade and emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. Jackson—hawkish, defense-minded, and solidly pro-Israel—sees the standoff as an opportunity to undercut Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Jackson is a forerunner of what in later years will be called “neoconservatism” (see 1965), an ideology mostly espoused by a group of Democratic lawmakers and intellectuals who have abandoned their support for Rooseveltian New Deal economics and multilateralist foreign policies (see Early 1970s). Jackson and his outspoken pro-Israel aide, Richard Perle, view Kissinger as far too conciliatory and willing to negotiate with the Communist bloc. Jackson and Perle see the Soviet Union, not the Israeli-Palestine conflict, as the chief threat to US interests in the Middle East and the control of that region’s oil fields. They see a strong, powerful Israel as essential to their plans for US domination of the region. Jackson resists a proposed compromise on the number of Soviet Jews the USSR will allow to emigrate to Israel—the Soviets offer 55,000 and Jackson insists on 75,000—and many in the meeting feel that Jackson is being deliberately recalcitrant. “It made mo sense to me because it was sure to be counterproductive,” Ford later writes, “but he would not bend, and the only reason is politics.” For his part, Kissinger respects Jackson’s political abilities, but to his mind, Perle is a “ruthless… little b_stard.” Kissinger knows that Republican hawks as well as the burgeoning neoconservative movement will pressure Ford to abandon Richard Nixon’s policies of moderating relations with the Soviet Union and Communist China. But, author Barry Werth writes in 2006: “what Kissinger and now Ford would chronically underestimate was the neoconservatives’ argument that the United States should not so much seek to coexist with the Soviet system as to overthrow it through direct confrontation. Or the extent to which the neoconservatives would go to exaggerate a foreign threat and stir up fear.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 77-79]
The White House announces that none of former President Richard Nixon’s documents and tapes will be released to him, but will instead remain in White House custody pending a resolution of the legal issues surrounding the materials. Nixon has correctly argued that all other presidents routinely receive their files and documents upon leaving office, but these are extraordinary circumstances and Nixon has no constitutional or legal right to those materials. President Ford’s counsel, Philip Buchen, speaking for Ford, notes that the decision to keep the files “in no way constitutes a denial” that they legally belong to Nixon. Another of Ford’s counselors, Robert Hartmann, later writes that the key to this question is not Nixon’s desire for the files or the Watergate prosecutors’ equal desire for them, but that “Ford wanted to get rid of them. He had no desire to be the daily arbiter of this no-win contest. Nixon’s files were a millstone hung around his fledgling presidency. He desperately wanted to cut himself free.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 83-84]
Republican political adviser and corporate lobbyist Bryce Harlow recommends former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller over former ambassador and current Republican National Committee chairman George H.W. Bush to serve as vice president (see August 20, 1974). Bush may be a better choice for party harmony, Harlow says, but that choice would be considered indecisive and overly partisan. On the other hand, Rockefeller, a liberal Republican, would be considered a “bold” choice and “would be hailed by the media normally most hostile to Republicans.” Rockefeller’s selection would also “encourage estranged groups to return to the Party and would signal that the new president will not be captive of any political faction.”
Watergate Allegations against Rockefeller - Rockefeller’s naming as vice president, strongly supported by President Ford, is briefly held up by unfounded allegations that Rockefeller hired thugs to disrupt the 1972 Democratic National Convention, and that the papers to prove the allegations were stolen from the offices of convicted Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. The charges are leveled by an elderly anti-Communist activist named Hamilton Long. The story leaks to the press, and Ford, taking no chances, orders the FBI to investigate Rockefeller, Bush, and senior staff aide Donald Rumsfeld for possible selection as the vice president. Long’s allegations prove baseless when Watergate investigators locate the safety deposit boxes in which Long says the documents are stored, and find the boxes empty.
Ford Offers VP - After learning that Rockefeller is free of any Watergate taint, Ford privately asks him to accept the vice presidency. Rockefeller will have strong influence on the Ford administration’s domestic and economic policies, Ford promises, and, additionally, Rockefeller will be Ford’s vice presidential choice in the 1976 presidential elections. The last obstacle is the press, which is all but convinced that the White House is involved in another Watergate cover-up, this time with Ford at the helm. A White House source tells reporters that the so-called “Rockefeller Papers” are nothing more than a hoax concocted by “right-wing extremists who decided it would be useful to blacken the name of Governor Rockefeller.” The explanations by press secretary Jerald terHorst, himself a former reporter, and terHorst’s acceptance of the blame for giving confusing and somewhat misleading information about the Rockefeller allegations, somewhat mollifies the press. White House counsel Robert Hartmann recalls the Long incident and its handling as an example of the inexperience of the Ford staff and of Ford himself. “[W]e were all babes in the White House,” he later writes. “We had done the right thing and truthfully told what we had done, but it was unfair to Rockefeller to give presidential credence to Long’s hearsay. And of course, the press castigated us for that the next day.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 93-105]
Entity Tags: Robert Hartmann, Nelson Rockefeller, Hamilton Long, Jerald terHorst, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bryce Harlow, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, E. Howard Hunt, Ford administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Unaware that President Ford has already asked Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president (see August 16-17, 1974), the media continues to speculate on who Ford will choose for the position. Newsweek reports that George H.W. Bush “has slipped badly because of alleged irregularities in the financing of his 1970 Senate race.” White House sources tell the magazine, “there was potential embarrassment in reports that the Nixon White House had funneled about $100,000 from a secret fund known as the ‘Townhouse Operation’” into Bush’s losing Texas Senate campaign, which itself failed to report about $40,000 of the money. The news rocks Bush, who is waiting for Ford’s phone call while vacationing at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. (It is unclear who leaked the Bush information or why. Bush always believes it was Ford’s political adviser Melvin Laird; future Ford biographer James Cannon is equally sure it was Ford’s senior aide Donald Rumsfeld, a dark horse candidate for the position.) The “Townhouse Operation” is an early Nixon administration campaign machination (see Early 1970). Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski is investigating the fund; the nomination of Bush over Rockefeller would almost certainly lead Jaworski to discover that up to 18 other GOP Senate candidates received money from the same slush fund. Jaworski will manage to keep Bush’s name out of his final report, but even had Ford not already chosen Rockefeller as his vice president, the Watergate taint is lethal to Bush’s chance at the position. [Werth, 2006, pp. 114-116]
President Ford announces the selection of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, a moderately liberal Republican, as his vice president. Ford gives Richard Nixon a courtesy call to inform him of the selection before making the public announcement. Nixon seems “very pleased,” Ford will later write. “He said Nelson’s name and experience in foreign policy would help me internationally, and that he was fully qualified to be president should something happen to me. The extreme right wing, he continued, would be very upset, but I shouldn’t worry because I couldn’t please them anyway.” Ford then telephones George H.W. Bush, who is bitterly disappointed at being passed over. To make the public announcement, Ford enters the Oval Office with Rockefeller at his side. Ford characterizes the decision to select Rockefeller as “a tough call for a tough job.” Rockefeller must be confirmed by the Senate, but no one expects any difficulties on that score. Rockefeller does cause a stir by confirming that Ford has “every intention” of running for president in 1976, though Rockefeller will not confirm that he will also be on the ticket. Most Republicans outside of the hard-core right applaud Rockefeller’s selection. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ), a longtime Ford ally, chides the extremists: “I can’t believe conservative Republicans feel broadening the base of the party is a bad thing—unless they want to keep on losing and keep being a minority—and I just can’t subscribe to that way of thinking.” The mainstream media approves of Rockefeller as well, with CBS’s Eric Sevareid calling the new Ford-Rockefeller administration a triumph of “common sense.” He goes on to say the two are so popular that Democrats, “more deeply divided than the Republicans,” may find themselves in for a “long stretch in the political wilderness.… They thought they could run against Nixon for the next twenty [years]. But as things stand now they can’t run against Nixon even this year.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 138-143]
President Ford, with Attorney General William Saxbe and Ford’s counsel Philip Buchen, discuss what to do with the ever-accumulating boxes and crates of Richard Nixon’s presidential documents. Mostly stored on the third floor of the Executive Office Building, their weight is so heavy that the Secret Service worries the floor might cave in underneath them. No one is sure how many documents William Gulley, the director of the White House military office, managed to spirit out to the Nixon residence in California (see August 8, 1974), but the White House tape recordings and most of the important documents remain in White House custody. Ford wants to be rid of the documents once and for all, but he has so far yielded to the advice of his lawyers to keep them. Ford’s attorney Benton Becker will later write, “I suggested to President Ford, not too diplomatically… that American history would record his transmittal of the records and tapes to California as the final act of the Watergate cover-up—an act initiated and carried out by Gerald Ford.” Ford asks Saxbe to get a firm legal opinion on exactly who owns the Nixon files, Nixon or the government. [Werth, 2006, pp. 157-158]
Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford at a Los Angeles hotel, October 1974. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Vanity Fair]The Republican governor of California, Ronald Reagan, has until now been undecided whether to run for president in 1976 against Ford. But Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination as vice president (see August 20, 1974) galvanizes Reagan and his team. Conservative Republicans begin gathering under Reagan’s banner to oppose what they see as an unacceptably left-leaning 1976 ticket of Ford and Rockefeller. Reagan is not universally popular in the GOP: Richard Nixon thought him “strange” and not “pleasant to be around.” For his part, Reagan has until now staunchly supported Nixon throughout the Watergate debacle, but has begun exhorting young conservatives to forget Nixon and embrace conservative ideology. At a Maryland fund-raising party, Reagan tells the crowd that the Ford administration must reassert what he calls the “mandate of 1972,” when Nixon trounced Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the most lopsided victory in modern US history. By re-electing Nixon so overwhelmingly, Reagan says, “voters rejected an invitation to Utopia and reaffirmed the basic values from which our system was built. They voted for fiscal responsibility and individual determination of their own destinies.… They repudiated the idea that government should grow bigger and bigger, that we should embrace more costly programs to alleviate human misery—programs that somehow never succeed no matter how much money is spent on them. The mandate of 1972 was a matter of the people vs. big government. The people, I believe, have given the government a mandate which they expect to be enforced.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 180-181]
A small August 24, 1974, story in the Washington Post about the Pentagon ensuring that former President Nixon could not unilaterally use military forces to retain power in the case of an impeachment (see August 22, 1974) becomes blazing page one headlines around the country. The stories center around quotes from Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who says that he worried about two unlikely possibilities. First, Nixon might order military units to block Congress from the “constitutional process” of removing him from office, or some other official might try to oust Nixon in something of a coup d’etat. Second, the nation might suddenly face a crisis calling for immediate military action, and Schlesinger and General George Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would have to justify their decision to take such action. “Pentagon Kept Tight Rein in Last Days of Nixon Rule,” the New York Times reports. President Ford is outraged at the story, and sees the leaker of the story—Schlesinger or someone else—as having committed a profoundly disloyal act, not just against Nixon, but against the nation and the military. Ford meets with Brown, who tells him that the story is bogus. “There was no alert,” Brown says. “I’ve checked at headquarters. There are no recorded messages coming out of [Schlesinger]‘s office. Furthermore, if there had been a call, it would have been referred back to the National Military Command Center here at the Pentagon. We have no record of that. I’ve checked every record and it’s all pure fabrication.” Ford learns that the story indeed originated with Schlesinger, who held a lunch meeting with reporters on August 23. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements asks Schlesinger, “Why did you say all this?” Schlesinger’s response, according to Ford’s memoirs: “I don’t know.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 182-185]
President Ford discusses media reports of a feared coup attempt or unauthorized nuclear strike in the final days of the Nixon presidency (see August 22, 1974) with his ad hoc chief of staff, Alexander Haig, and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger (see August 25, 1974). Ford believes the leak that formed the basis of the story came from the “highest level of the Pentagon,” but he is unaware that Schlesinger is most likely the leaker. He is also unaware of the hornet’s nest of bureaucratic rivalries involved in the situation. Ford knows nothing of the strained relations between the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff going back to the Moorer-Radford spy affair (see December 1971), nor of Haig’s blurred loyalties and his network of connections between the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the White House. Ford is distressed by the stories, and furious when Haig assures him that the story is false—no such measures had been taken.
Implications of a Secret Deal - Ford worries most that the story will escalate into a whirlwind of media speculation about the nation being “at the brink” during Nixon’s final days, and more to the point, the media and the citizenry may begin speculating about the possibility that he took over the White House as part of some sort of secret deal. Ford also knows that such an extraordinary leak three weeks into his presidency is a direct insult to his own position. Ford orders Schlesinger to straighten out the entire mess right away.
Haig Also Involved? - Although Schlesinger denies his involvement in the stories, his credibility in this matter is wanting. And, if the stories are indeed true, then Haig must have been involved as well. Indeed, former Nixon aide Charles Colson will later write that Haig himself initiated the reported military watch, asking the Pentagon to disregard any order from Nixon. Like Schlesinger, Haig denies any part in the Pentagon watch, and calls the idea of a military coup of any stripe “an insult to the armed forces.” Haig will later accuse the so-called “countergovernment”—Congress, the courts, and the press—of successfully engaging in their own coup of sorts, in combining to drive both Nixon and former Vice President Spiro Agnew (see October 10, 1973) from office. But Haig has also dropped dark hints of his own to reporters about “dangers to the country deeper than Watergate,” and has spoken about the threat of “extra-constitutional” steps during Nixon’s last days.
Presidential Denial - Publicly, Ford, through press secretary Jerald terHorst, tells the press that “no measures of this nature were actually undertaken.” Questions about whether any requests for a military watch, or other such preparations, were ever made to forestall a military coup are referred to the Pentagon. [Werth, 2006, pp. 191-193]
Former Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment, now working for President Ford, meets with former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to further his case for pardoning Richard Nixon. Garment has already spoken to a number of journalists who believe the time has come for a pardon. Garment asks Fortas if Nixon should be pardoned; Fortas says he should. This, Fortas says, is “Ecclesiastes time,” a time to cast away stones and to heal. A public prosecution of Nixon would be a “horror,” Fortas muses. Garment phones Ford’s chief of staff Alexander Haig, who is pushing the case for a pardon from within the White House, and Haig gives Garment permission to meet with Ford and make his case. [Werth, 2006, pp. 206-207]
Leonard Garment. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Former President Nixon’s White House counsel, Leonard Garment, delivers a three-page handwritten memo to the White House outlining his arguments in favor of a pardon (see August 27, 1974). Garment writes that the time for a pardon is now, otherwise President Ford risks “losing control of the situation.” Calls for indictment will increase, Garment says, and “the whole miserable tragedy will be played out to God knows what ugly and wounding conclusion.” Once the initial negative reaction to a pardon blows over, Garment argues, Ford will be viewed as “strong and admirable.… There will be a national sigh of relief.” Garment also argues that Nixon well may not survive a prosecution because of his physical debilities and near-suicidal depression. Ford does not immediately see the memo, but his ad hoc chief of staff Alexander Haig does. Ford and Haig discuss the pardon in private, and though Ford will later write that Haig did not try to argue for a pardon, after the meeting Haig calls Garment to tell him, “It’s a done deal.” For his part, Ford doesn’t think the country wants to, in his words, “see an ex-president behind bars.” Nixon’s suffering is enormous, Ford believes: “His resignation was an implicit admission of guilt, and he could have to carry forever his burden of guilt.” Moreover, Ford worries that the nation is essentially overdosing on the political drama. Everyone has become “Watergate junkies,” as one of Ford’s military aides, Robert Barrett, tells him. “Some of us are mainlining, some of us are sniffing, some are lacing it with something else, but all of us are addicted,” Barrett says. “This will go on and on unless someone steps in and says that we, as a nation, must go cold turkey. Otherwise, we’ll die of an overdose.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 212-214]
Philip Lacovara. [Source: Oyez.org]One of Leon Jaworski’s senior Watergate prosecutors, Philip Lacovara, is incensed at what he and many others perceive as waffling by President Ford on the decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Ford has repeatedly acknowledged that he has the right to pardon Nixon if he so chooses, but he has also said that he is leaving the decision to indict to Jaworski. In Lacovara’s opinion, Ford is shifting the burden of responsibility and the possibility of any future blame directly onto Jaworski. Lacovara says that Jaworski should confront Ford, and “put [the matter] squarely to [Ford] over whether he wishes to have a criminal prosecution of the former president or not.… I believe he should be asked to face this issue now and make the operative judgment concerning the former president, rather than leaving this matter in the limbo of uncertainty that has been created.” Lacovara also knows that the question of a pardon hangs over the trial of the Watergate “Big Three”—H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. If Nixon is to be indicted along with these three, and then pardoned during the trial, it would wreak havoc on any chance of winning a guilty verdict for any of the three. If Ford is going to pardon Nixon, Lacovara says, he should do it now, before the Watergate trials can commence. Jaworski has an additional worry, fueled by Nixon’s lawyers: that Nixon might die during the proceedings, and Jaworski will be held to blame. Nixon’s lawyers are calling their client “mortally ill with phlebitis,” Lacovara will recall, and are arguing: “Why should the special prosecutor put this man into his grave? He’d suffered horribly enough and been forced to resign in disgrace. Just as a matter of human decency, this fatally ill man should not be called before the bar.” According to Lacovara, Jaworski does not want to make the decision to indict Nixon. Later, Jaworski tells former Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, with whom Jaworski stays in close contact, that his staff is pressuring hm to push Ford to either “fish or cut bait… and not dangle the possibility of a pardon out there. The president needs to know that this is a call that he’s ultimately going to have to make.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 229-232]
President Ford tells chief of staff Alexander Haig and a small assemblage of his closest legal advisers that he is “very much inclined to grant [Richard] Nixon immunity from further prosecution.” He tells White House counsel Phil Buchen to begin researching how he can do it, but to “be discreet. I want no leaks.” Buchen will later recall that Ford has made up his mind, but wants to be exactly sure of the legal procedures and ramifications of a presidential pardon for Nixon. Buchen suggests a trade: Nixon receives the pardon, and in return, he grants full custody of his presidential documents and files to the federal government. Buchen is struggling with a subpoena of his own that requires him to turn over a selection of Nixon’s Oval Office tape recordings to an attorney for a former Democratic Party official whose phone was bugged during the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Werth, 2006, pp. 243] The assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Antonin Scalia [US Supreme Court, 2008 ] , has written that Buchen has no authority to turn over the tapes because they belong to Nixon and not the government. Scalia’s opinion has not yet been released, but Buchen fears it will weaken the argument for retaining custody of the tapes and documents. Buchen wants the issue settled before it can explode into a huge, embarrassingly public legal debacle. In addition, Buchen wants a “statement of contrition” from Nixon in return for the pardon. Ford tells Buchen to work on both, but “for God’s sake don’t let either one stand in the way of my granting the pardon.” Buchen and other advisers, particularly another Ford lawyer, Robert Hartmann, argue against issuing a pardon at the particular moment; when Buchen finally says, “I can’t argue with what you feel is right, but is this the right time?” Ford replies, “Will there ever be a right time?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 243-246]
President Ford assigns attorney Benton Becker to find out what the technicalities of a presidential pardon are. Among Ford’s questions: Can a president pardon someone before that person is indicted? Would it stop a conviction if issued after an indictment but before jury deliberations? Does a pardon need to cite specific crimes, or can it be for across-the-board violations of the entire US criminal code? Would it affect charges brought by individual states or communities? In light of some senators’ push for Richard Nixon’s impeachment even though he has already resigned, would it stop an impeachment proceeding? “What does a pardon really mean?” Ford asks Becker. “Am I erasing everything he did, as if it never occurred? Does a pardon erase a criminal act or does it only erase criminal punishment?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 248-249]
Researching the legal and technical aspects of presidential pardons (see August 30, 1974), Benton Becker, President Ford’s lawyer, finds that they only apply to federal crimes, meaning, for example, that Richard Nixon can still be prosecuted for crimes in California arising from his connections to the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). It would not affect a Senate impeachment trial, even though the possibility of that happening is increasingly remote. Becker finds two legal references of particular use in his research: the 1915 Supreme Court case of United States v. Burdick, which attempted to answer the fundamental question of the meaning of a presidential pardon; and an 1833 quote from the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, who wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace… which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.” Becker determines that such an “act of grace” is an implicit admission of guilt. Unlike the proposed conditional amnesty for draft evaders (see August 31, 1974), a pardon will strike convictions from the books and exempt those pardoned from any responsibility for answering for their crimes, but it does not forget (in a legal sense) that those crimes took place. “The pardon is an act of forgiveness,” Becker explains. “We are forgiving you—the president, the executive, the king—is forgiving you for what you’ve done, your illegal act that you’ve either been convicted of, or that you’ve been accused of, or that you’re being investigated for, or that you’re on trial for. And you don’t have to accept this—you can refuse this.” The Burdick decision convinces Becker that by pardoning Nixon, Ford can stop his imminent prosecution, and undoubted conviction, without having to condone Nixon’s crimes. For Nixon to accept a pardon would be, in a legal sense, an admission of criminal wrongdoing. [Werth, 2006, pp. 263-265]
One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]
President Ford mulls over how to finalize the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. Congress is threatening to withdraw funding for the continuation of a US troop presence in that country, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, privately moving away from his previous insistence on staying in Vietnam indefinitely, urges Ford to evacuate the last of the troops and attempt to blame Congress for the final withdrawal. Politically, the situation with Vietnam is fraught with danger—the American people are largely against any more involvement in Southeast Asia, and if Ford does not come out in support of further troop funding, Kissinger thinks it would help his 1976 presidential bid. On the other hand, Kissinger says, “the liberals who would applaud it would fail you when the going was tough.” Ford resists any such advice to “cut and run.” Neither Kissinger nor Ford want Saigon to fall to Vietnamese forces before the November 1976 elections. [Werth, 2006, pp. 289-290]
President Ford and his lawyer, Benton Becker, discuss pardoning Nixon. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images]President Ford authorizes his attorney, Benton Becker, to tell Richard Nixon, “It’s not final, but in all probability a pardon will be forthcoming.” Ford agrees not to seek a decision on Nixon’s presidential files (see September 4, 1974) as a condition for a pardon; however, a statement of contrition (if not an outright admission of guilt) is something Ford and his advisers want from Nixon in return for a pardon. As Becker prepares to leave for California to meet with Nixon and his lawyer, Ford tells Becker to carefully judge Nixon’s physical and mental health. As for the records, Becker will later recall: “We walked out of the office; [Ford] had his hand over my shoulder, he said, ‘I will never, ever give up those records. They belong to the American people. You let President Nixon know that I feel very strongly about this.’” [Werth, 2006, pp. 293] When Becker arrives in San Clemente, he meets with Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s former press secretary, who now serves as Nixon’s personal aide. Ziegler tells Becker, “I can tell you right now that President Nixon will make no statement of admission or complicity in return for a pardon from Jerry Ford.” Becker believes Ziegler was forewarned by Ford’s ad hoc chief of staff, Alexander Haig, who has maintained close contact with the Nixon staff since Nixon’s resignation. Ziegler apparently knows that Ford will not insist on either a document turnover or a statement of contrition in return for a pardon, and is toeing a hard line. Angered by what he considers Haig’s intolerable betrayal of Ford, Becker bluffs Ziegler, turning around and preparing to leave without further discussion. The bluff works; Ziegler and Becker discuss the problem until early in the morning hours. [Werth, 2006, pp. 294-295] By the next morning, Becker has overseen a tentative agreement with Nixon’s lawyer Jack Miller and General Services Administration (GSA) head Arthur Sampson. The agreement will “temporarily” store the documents in a facility near San Clemente, under restricted access requiring both Nixon and a GSA official to access the documents, and Nixon retaining control of who accesses the materials. On September 1, 1979, the agreement reads, Nixon will donate the materials entirely to the federal government. As for the tapes, Nixon retains the right to destroy the tapes after five years, which will be destroyed anyway on September 1, 1989, or on the occasion of Nixon’s death, “whichever event shall first occur.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 297-298]
During the careful negotiations over the conditions of Richard Nixon’s possible pardon (see September 5-6, 1974), Nixon aide Ron Ziegler brings up the issue of the “statement of contrition,” and shows Benton Becker, the lawyer negotiating for President Ford, a draft statement. The statement, crafted by a speechwriter, blames the pressures of the office, Nixon’s preoccupation with foreign crises, and his decision to rely on the judgment of his staff, for his alleged involvement. The statement makes no admission of guilt or acceptance of responsibility whatsoever. Such a statement would invite state prosecution of Nixon even if Ford grants him a pardon for federal crimes, Becker notes. Nixon would be better off saying nothing at all than making this statement. A revised statement merely admits that Nixon was guilty of poor judgment. Becker presses for more. A third revision has Nixon admitting that he “can see clearly now that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy.” Becker seizes on the word “forthrightly” as an implied admission of contrition and a subtle acceptance of guilt. “The word is a synonym for ‘honestly,’” he will later recall. “That had meaning for me as a former prosecutor, because that meant obstruction of justice.” Ford, contacted by phone about the statement, is not happy with the legal parsing that Becker is trying to stretch into an implied admission of responsibility. Ford will later write, “I was taking one hell of a risk [in pardoning Nixon] and [Nixon] didn’t seem to be responsive at all.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 299-301] Becker finally meets face-to-face with Nixon, who seems to Becker unhealthily aged and almost “freakishly grotesque,” with long, thin arms dangling from the sleeves of his suit. Nixon doesn’t want to discuss Watergate at all, attempting repeatedly to steer the discussion towards football and responding in monosyllables to Becker’s attempts to discuss the details of the forthcoming pardon. After Becker manages to get a grudging, distracted acquiescence from Nixon to the deal, Nixon suddenly turns maudlin. He says Becker has been “a gentleman” towards him, and wants to give him a present. “But look around the office,” he says. “I don’t have anything anymore. They took it all away from me. Everything I had is gone.” Nixon gives Becker the last two bits of presidential memorabilia he owns, taken, he says, “from my personal jewelry box.” They are a presidential tiepin and a pair of presidential seal cufflinks. Nixon is almost in tears, and a distinctly uncomfortable Becker withdraws as graciously as he may. “I just wanted to get the hell out of there,” Becker will later recall. [Werth, 2006, pp. 304-306]
President Ford, realizing that has got all the concessions he is likely to get from Richard Nixon (see September 6, 1974) and fearing that Nixon may die before he can issue any executive clemency, finalizes his plans to announce a pardon for Nixon. He informs his closest advisers. Press secretary Jerald terHorst is not fully aware of the internal dealings for any pardon until he enters the press room, having been informed that Ford is preparing to make a major announcement. TerHorst is stunned at the news that Ford will pardon Nixon. He belatedly realizes that for weeks he has been misled by Ford and, accordingly, he has inadvertently misled the press and the American people about Ford’s intentions. Ford’s explanation that he did not want to force terHorst to lie to the press carries little weight with the press secretary. He feels that his 25-year relationship with Ford has been irrevocably tainted. Nevertheless, terHorst restrains himself, agreeing to come in early the next morning to help craft the statement to the press. But, driving home at the end of the workday, terHorst decides to resign. [Werth, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Ford delivering the televised address in which he announces the pardon of Nixon. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum]At 11:01 a.m., President Ford delivers a statement announcing the pardon of former President Richard Nixon to a bank of television cameras and reporters. He calls Watergate and Nixon’s travails “an American tragedy in which we have all played a part.” He says that to withhold a pardon would subject Nixon, and the country, to a drawn-out legal proceeding that would take a year or more, and “[u]gly passions would again be aroused.” The American people would be even more polarized, and the opinions of foreign nations towards the US would sink even further as the highly public testimonies and possible trial of Nixon played out on television and in the press. It is doubtful that Nixon could ever receive a fair trial, Ford says. But Nixon’s fate is not Ford’s ultimate concern, he says, but the fate of the country. His duty to the “laws of God” outweigh his duty to the Constitution, Ford says, and he must “be true to my own convictions and my own conscience. My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot continue to prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed.… [O]nly I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book.… I do believe with all my heart and mind and spirit that I, not as president, but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy.” Nixon and his family have “suffered enough,” Ford continues, “and will continue to suffer no matter what I do.” Thereby, Ford proclaims a “full, free and absolute pardon upon Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he… has committed or may have committed or taken part in” duiring his presidency. On camera, Ford signs the pardon document. [Werth, 2006, pp. 320-321]
Less than ten minutes after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), Nixon’s aide Ron Ziegler reads the “statement of contrition” he and Nixon’s lawyer have agreed to as part of the pardon deal (see September 6, 1974). The statement is substantially the same as the draft agreed upon by Nixon and Ford’s respective representatives. Nixon, traveling with his wife Pat to the Palm Beach, California, estate of Ambassador Walter Annenberg, tells Pat, “This is the most humiliating day of my life.” But, author Barry Werth notes, Nixon has traded for the pardon, and gotten his terms. He will be able to write his own version of history without ever having to admit guilt or responsibility for any aspect of Watergate. He will be able to rehabilitate himself, perhaps even once again play a role in world affairs. He admits to nothing more than “mistakes” and “misjudgment.” Nevertheless, as historian Stephen Ambrose will note, in accepting the pardon, Nixon implicitly acknowledges his guilt. Werth will write in 2006, “Full, free, and absolute, a pardon was also damning and irrevocable—especially for a presumed offender who never was so much as charged with a crime.” Nixon will later write, “Next to the resignation, accepting the pardon was the most painful decision of my political career.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 321-323]
After attending church, President Ford works on the final wording of his statement announcing the pardon of Richard Nixon. His statement will emphasize Nixon’s failing health and decades of service to the Republican Party and America. Ford alerts a few Congressional leaders of his upcoming announcement. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) is nonplussed. “What are you pardoning him of?” he asks, “It doesn’t make any sense.” Ford replies, “The public has the right to know that in the eyes of the president, Nixon is clear.” Goldwater is taken aback. “He may be clear in your eyes, but he’s not clear in mine,” Goldwater retorts. House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) is equally blunt. “I’m telling you right now,” O’Neill says: “this will cost you the election. I hope it’s not part of any deal.” Ford responds, “No, there’s no deal,” to which O’Neill says, “Then why the hell are you doing it?” O’Neill says that if Ford has to pardon Nixon, the timing is bad. He needs to wait. Ford disagrees. The resistance from without is reflected inside the White House, when press secretary Jerald terHorst tenders his resignation to Ford (see September 7, 1974). TerHorst’s letter says in part, “I cannot in good conscience support your decision to pardon” Nixon, “even before he has been charged with the commission of any crime. As your spokesperson, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded military service (see August 31, 1974) as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardon for former aides of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes—and imprisoned.… [I]t is impossible to conclude that the former president is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national well-being.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 316-319]
Just hours after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), he sees evidence that the pardon is even more unpopular than he had feared. The White House switchboard is flooded with “angry calls, heavy and constant,” as Ford’s lawyer Philip Buchen will later recall. The response, says resigning press secretary Jerald terHorst (see September 8, 1974), is roughly 8-1 against. TerHorst’s admission to the press that he is resigning over the pardon adds even more fuel to the blaze of criticism. “I resigned,” terHorst tells reporters, “because I just couldn’t remain part of an act that I felt was ethically wrong.” Reporters almost uniformly side with terHorst against Ford; as author Barry Werth will later write, “the press concluded intrinsically that terHorst’s act of conscience trumped the president’s.” TerHorst’s resignation is inevitably compared to Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” (see October 19-20, 1973), and engenders a similar avalanche of press criticism and public outrage. The day after, protesters greet Ford in Pittsburgh with chants of “Jail Ford!” Conservative columnist George Will writes, “The lethal fact is that Mr. Ford has now demonstrated that… he doesn’t mean what he says.” The New York Times calls the pardon a “profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act.… This blundering intervention is a body blow to the president’s own credibility and to the public’s reviving confidence in the integrity of its government.” Ford’s popularity plunges almost overnight from 70 percent to 48 percent; fewer than one in five Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Ford’s biographer John Robert Greene will write that journalists begin “treating Ford as just another Nixon clone in the White House—deceitful, controlled by the leftover Nixonites, and in general no different than any of his immediate predecessors.” Werth will conclude that Ford’s “self-sacrific[e]” is the political equivalent of him “smothering a grenade.” Nixon’s refusal to atone in any fashion for his crimes placed the burden of handling Watergate squarely on Ford’s shoulders, and that burden will weigh on his presidency throughout his term, as well as damage his chances for election in 1976. Ford will later write: “I thought people would consider his resignation from the presidency as sufficient punishment and shame. I thought there would be greater forgiveness.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 328-332] Years later, Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, will reflect that the pardon should have “been delayed until after the 1974 elections because I think it did cost us seats [in Congress]. If you say that that is a political judgment, it’s true, but then, the presidency is a political office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 27]
President Ford names outgoing chief of staff Alexander Haig to be supreme allied commander in Europe, provoking an outcry in Congress and unprecedented demands that Haig be confirmed for the post by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) says, “I’d like to put him under oath to learn his role in the Nixon pardon” (see September 8, 1974). Haig will not be compelled to testify before the committee, but he weathers another scare, this one from inside the White House. Haig is told by former Nixon White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, who now works for Ford, that the group preparing Ford for his upcoming House testimony on the pardon (see Mid-October 1974) has “prepared sworn testimony for the president that could very well result in your indictment,” as Haig will later write. Haig storms to the White House, reads the testimony, and demands an immediate audience with Ford. White House staffers refuse him. Haig then threatens to announce his knowledge of “a secret effort by Ford people to hurry Nixon out of the presidency behind Ford’s back.” Haig gets the meeting. He learns that Ford has not read the testimony, and decides that Buzhardt’s threat is hollow. [Werth, 2006, pp. 335-336]
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld speaking to reporters, 1975. [Source: Gaylinkcontent (.com)]President Ford asks Donald Rumsfeld to replace the outgoing Alexander Haig at the White House (see September 16-Late September, 1974). Rumsfeld has long been Haig’s choice to replace him (see August 14, 1974). Ford does not want to give Rumsfeld the official title of “chief of staff,” and instead wants Rumsfeld as “staff coordinator.” The difference is academic. Ford wants the aggressive, bureaucratically savvy Rumsfeld to help him regain control over a White House that is, in the words of author Barry Werth, “riven with disunity, disorganization, and bad blood.” Rumsfeld agrees, and names former Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney as his deputy (who makes himself valuable by initially doing the lowest forms of bureaucratic scutwork). Rumsfeld and Cheney will eventually wield almost Nixonian power in Ford’s White House, successfully blocking the “in-house liberal,” Vice President Rockefeller, from exerting any real influence, and hobbling Henry Kissinger’s almost-limitless influence.
Blocking of Rockefeller and Kissinger for Ideological and Political Reasons - Rumsfeld begins his in-house assault in classic fashion: trying to cause tension between Kissinger and White House officials by snitching on Kissinger to any White House official who will listen. Kissinger eventually tells Ford: “Don’t listen to [Rumsfeld], Mr. President. He’s running for president in 1980.” Rumsfeld and Cheney do their best to open the White House to hardline defense hawks and the even more hardline neoconservatives led by Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) and Jackson’s aide, Richard Perle. (Though Rumsfeld and Cheney are not considered neoconservatives in a strict sense, their aims are almost identical—see June 4-5, 1974). Kissinger’s efforts to win a negotiated peace between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East are held in contempt by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the neoconservatives; using Ford’s press secretary Ron Nessen as a conduit, Rumsfeld and Cheney leak information about the negotiations to the press, helping to cripple the entire peace process. Rumsfeld and Cheney have larger personal plans as well: they want to secure the White House for Rumsfeld, perhaps as early as 1976, but certainly by 1980. One of their methods of winning support is to undercut Kissinger as much as possible; they believe they can win support among the GOP’s right wing by thwarting Kissinger’s “realpolitik” foreign policy stratagems.
Rumsfeld as 'Wizard of Oz' - According to the chief of Ford’s Economic Policy Board, William Seidman, Rumsfeld’s bureaucratic machinations remind him of the Wizard of Oz: “He thought he was invisible behind the curtain as he worked the levers, but in reality everyone could see what he was doing.” Rumsfeld and Cheney will make their most open grasp for power in orchestrating the “Halloween Massacre” (see November 4, 1975 and After). [Werth, 2006, pp. 336-337; Unger, 2007, pp. 49-52]
Entity Tags: William Seidman, Ron Nessen, Richard Perle, Barry Werth, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Henry A. Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller, Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Ford, weighing whether or not to sign into law a set of amendments strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA—see January 1974 - September 1974), is given a memo by aide Ken Cole. In it, Cole writes: “There is little question that the legislation is bad on the merits, the real question is whether opposing it is important enough to face the political consequences. Obviously, there is a significant political disadvantage to vetoing a Freedom of Information bill, especially just before an election, when your administration’s theme is one of openness and candor.” [National Security Archive, 11/23/2004] Ford will veto the bill, but Congress will override his veto (see November 20-21, 1974).
President Ford testifies before a House subcommittee about his pardon of President Nixon (see September 8, 1974). When told, “People question whether or not in fact there was a deal” between Nixon and Ford—the presidency traded for a pardon—Ford replies, “There was no deal, period, under no circumstances.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 333] Ford’s testimony is “only the second time in history that the president had ever done that,” Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney will later recall, marveling at Ford’s near-unprecedented agreement. Cheney is incorrect; not only did Abraham Lincoln testify before the House Judiciary Committee in 1862 about a news leak, but both George Washington and Woodrow Wilson had also testified before Congress. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 28]
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 1966, is significantly strengthened by a series of amendments (see January 1974 - September 1974) which become law over President Ford’s veto. Ford initially wanted to sign the bill as soon as it came to his desk from Congress, but was persuaded to veto it by Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, and the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Antonin Scalia. Rumsfeld and Cheney argued that the bill would promote leaks to the media from within the administration, and Scalia wrote a brief judging that the bill was unconstitutional. But Congress, weary of opposition after almost 11 years of investigations, reports, and hearings (and out of patience with executive foot-dragging after the Watergate investigations), is ready to pass the bill. The House of Representatives votes overwhelmingly to override Ford’s veto by a 371-31 vote. The Senate votes to override the veto 65-27. As a result, government attempts to hinder FOIA requests—subjecting requesters to unusual delays, charging requesters exorbitant prices for copying and searching, subjecting requesters to bureaucratic run-arounds, mixing confidential and exempt materials with non-exempt materials and using that juxtaposition to refuse to release materials, and forcing requesters to file costly lawsuits to force compliance—will be markedly constrained. [National Security Archive, 11/23/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 10]
Ford and Brezhnev in Vladivostok, 1974. [Source: Public domain]President Gerald Ford meets with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev in Vladivostok. Ford, attempting to restart the moribund SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks) negotiations, finds Brezhnev willing to deal. The Soviet Union offers to sign off on one of two options: equal ceilings (allowing each side the same number of long- and short-range ballistic missiles and heavy bombers), or what he calls “offsetting asymmetries,” which would allow the US to have more MIRV—Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle—missiles while the Soviets have more launch vehicles. Most American experts believe the “offsetting asymmetries” option is better for the US—leaving the USSR with measurably fewer MIRV launchers, warheads, and payload capacity, or “throw weight.” However, Ford, knowing he will have to get the deal past neoconservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) and his call for numerical equality, reaches an agreement with Brezhnev that both the US and USSR will be allowed 2,400 long-range delivery systems, of which 1,320 will be MIRVs. Author J. Peter Scoblic calls the deal “yet another instance of right-wing opposition to arms control undermining not only nuclear stability but the stated goals of conservatives—in this case, a US advantage in MIRVs.” When Ford returns to Washington with the deal, hardline right-wingers will fiercely oppose the deal on the grounds that the numerical equality in launch vehicles gives the USSR an untenable advantage. “[T]he agreement recognizes and in effect freezes Soviet superiority in nuclear firepower,” says New York Senator James Buckley, the only member of the Conservative Party ever to hold a Senate seat. Governor Ronald Reagan, a voluble opponent of any arms-control deals, says, incorrectly, that the Vladivostok agreement gives the Soviet Union the opportunity to have a “ten-to-one” advantage in throw weight. Though the Vladivostok agreement becomes part of the overall SALT II negotiations (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), conservatives among both parties will stiffen their opposition to the deal. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 78-79]
Nelson Rockefeller is sworn in as vice president (see August 20, 1974). [Rockefeller Family Archives, 6/7/2007]
Bad Blood and Confirmation Difficulties - Rockefeller has trouble even before taking office. Branded as a liberal by many in the Republican Party, and winning as many enemies as friends with his outsized ego and gladhanding demeanor, Rockefeller garnered swift and obdurate resistance particularly from the right wing both outside the White House (see August 24, 1974) and in (see September 21, 1974 and After). During the Senate’s confirmation hearings, many Democrats and some Republicans relished forcing Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men in the country, to open his finances to public scrutiny. Even President Ford privately expresses his astonishment. “Can you imagine?” he asked during the hearings. “Nelson lost $30 million in one year and it didn’t make any difference.” When it was revealed that Rockefeller had given huge personal contributions to lawmakers and government officials—including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger—in the form of “loans” that never needed repaying, the Senate hearings became even more inquisitorial. The hearings dragged on for months until Ford personally intervened, telling House and Senate leaders that it was “in the national interest that you confirm Rockefeller, and I’m asking you to move as soon as possible.” [US Senate, 7/7/2007]
Cheney Wanted Reagan - Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, far more conservative than either Ford or Rockefeller, opposes Rockefeller’s influence from the start, and works with his boss, Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, to minimize Rockefeller’s influence. In 1986, Cheney will say that Ford “should have thought of Ronald Reagan as vice president in the summer of 1974, if you are talking strictly in political terms.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 38]
Domestic Squabbles - Both Ford and Rockefeller want the new vice president to be what Ford calls “a full partner” in his administration, particularly on domestic issues. Ford appoints him to chair the Domestic Council, but behind the scenes, Rockefeller’s implacable enemy, Rumsfeld, who sees Rockefeller as a “New Deal” economic liberal, blocks his influence at every term, both from personal and ideological dislike and from a desire to keep power in the White House to himself and his small, close-knit aides. (Cheney, ever attentive to indirect manipulations, inflames Rumsfeld’s dislike of Rockefeller even further by suggesting to his nakedly ambitious boss that if Rockefeller was too successful in implementing domestic policy, he would be perceived as “the man responsible for drafting the agenda of 1976,” thus limiting Rumsfeld’s chances of being named vice president in Ford’s re-election campaign (see November 4, 1975 and After). When Rockefeller tries to implement Ford’s suggested policy that domestic policymakers report to Ford through Rockefeller, Rumsfeld interferes. When Rockefeller names one of his trusted assistants, James Cannon, to head the Domestic Council, Rumsfeld slashes the Council’s budget almost to zero. When Rockefeller proposes a $100 billion Energy Independence Authority, with the aim to reduce and perhaps even end the nation’s dependency on foreign energy sources, Rumsfeld joins Ford’s economic and environmental advisers to block its creation. When Rockefeller proposes an idea for the president to Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld hands it off to Cheney, who ensures that it dies a quiet, untraceable bureaucratic death.
Rockefeller Neutralized - Cheney later recalls that Rockefeller “came to a point where he was absolutely convinced that Don Rumsfeld and myself were out to scuttle whatever new initiatives he could come up with.” Rumsfeld and other Ford staffers ensure that Rockefeller is not involved in key policy meetings; when Ford proposes large cuts in federal taxes and spending, Rockefeller complains, “This is the most important move the president has made, and I wasn’t even consulted.” Asked what he is allowed to do as vice president, Rockefeller answers: “I go to funerals. I go to earthquakes.” He says, only half sardonically, that redesigning the vice-presidential seal is “the most important thing I’ve done.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 38-39; US Senate, 7/7/2007]
Following in Rockefeller's Footsteps - Ironically, when Cheney becomes vice president in 2001, he uses what Rockefeller intended to do as a model for his own, extremely powerful vice presidency. James Cannon, who came into the Ford administration with Rockefeller, will marvel in 2006, “Cheney is now doing what he and Rumsfeld blocked Rockefeller from doing—influencing policy.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 39-40]
President Gerald Ford reauthorizes the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and 1970). The reauthorization contains new provisions to permanently bar literacy tests nationwide and provide language assistance for minority voters. The law also extends the “preclearance” provisions that require courts to monitor states with a history of discrimination. During hearings about the bill, Congress heard testimony about voting discrimination being carried out against Hispanic, Asian, and Native American citizens. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; African American Voices in Congress, 2012]
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (see December 19, 1974 and After) is instrumental in keeping Senate Democrats from finding out too much about the intelligence community’s excesses. When the New York Times reveals the existence of a decades-old illegal domestic surveillance program run by the CIA (see December 21, 1974), President Ford heads off calls from Democrats to investigate the program by appointing the “Rockefeller Commission” to investigate in the Democrats’ stead. Senate Democrats, unimpressed with the idea, create the Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community (see April, 1976). Rockefeller is adept at keeping critical documents out of the hands of the Church Committee and the press. When Senator Frank Church asks for materials from the White House, he is told that the Rockefeller Commission has them; when he asks Rockefeller for the papers, he is told that he cannot have them because only the president can authorize access. One Church aide later calls Rockefeller “absolutely brilliant” in denying them access in a friendly manner. “He winked and smiled and said, ‘Gee, I want to help you but, of course I can’t—not until we’ve finished our work and the president approves it,’” the aide recalls. Senator John Tower (R-TX), the vice chairman of the committee, will later reflect, “We were very skillfully finessed.” But even Rockefeller, who has his own history of involvement with the CIA, is taken aback at the excesses of the CIA, particularly its history of assassinating foreign leaders. Rockefeller will eventually turn that information over to the Church Committee, giving that body some of the most explosive evidence as yet made public against the agency. [US Senate, 7/7/2007]
H. R. Haldeman testifying to Congress in July 1973. Haldeman’s testimony was damaging to all four defendants. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, along with former Mitchell aide Robert Mardian, are convicted of various Watergate-related crimes, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, fraud, and perjury. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell receive sentences of two to eight years in prison; Mardian will be given a sentence of ten months to three years. They immediately appeal their convictions on the grounds that they could not receive a fair trial because of the massive publicity surrounding Watergate. This was the same argument President Nixon’s lawyers used to influence President Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon (see September 8, 1974). The appeals court will reject the contention. [New York Times, 2/16/1999; Werth, 2006, pp. 334]
Ehrlichman Asks for Leniency - All four will write letters to Judge John Sirica asking for leniency in sentencing. The only letter that is made public is Ehrlichman’s; he writes of his “profound regret” for his role in the Watergate conspiracy, and adds: “I have been found to be a perjurer. No reversal on appeal can remove the stigma.” Ehrlichman asks that he be allowed to spend his sentence working with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, using his legal talents to help them with land-use problems. Sirica will ignore the letter in his sentencing. Sirica will also ignore Haldeman’s argument that he only did the bidding of his boss, President Nixon, and that since Nixon never served jail time, neither should Haldeman. Mitchell, mired in divorce proceedings from his wife, says of the sentence: “It could have been a hell of a lot worse. They could have sentenced me to spend the rest of my life with Martha Mitchell.” [Time, 3/3/1975]
'Abdicated My Moral Judgments' - Reflecting on his conviction and his conduct during the Nixon years, Ehrlichman will say in 1977: “I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else. And if I had any advice for my kids, it would be never—to never, ever—defer your moral judgments to anybody: your parents, your wife, anybody.” [New York Times, 2/16/1999]
Map of the Cambodian coast showing the island of Koh Tang. [Source: American Merchant Marine at War]A US cargo ship, the SS Mayaguez, is seized by the Cambodian navy in the Gulf of Siam. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urges retaliatory action to punish the Cambodians and retake the ship, arguing that the US must let the Communist forces in Southeast Asia know that, even though the US has withdrawn from South Vietnam, the US would defend itself and its interests. President Ford agrees. Without asking or even consulting Congress, Ford, calling the capture of the Mayaguez an “act of piracy,” orders US Marines to attack Cambodian warships and storm the island of Koh Tang (sometimes spelled Kaoh Tang) where the crew of the Mayaguez is believed to be held prisoner. On May 15, some 180 Marines storm the island in a helicopter assault, with light air support. [American Merchant Marine at War, 6/5/2000; Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
Violation of Constitution, Law - Ford briefs Congressional leaders after the fact; the leaders agree that the attack is the right decision, but sharply disagree with how Ford carried out the decision. A 1971 law prohibits the use of ground forces in Cambodia, and the 1973 War Powers Resolution requires advance consultation with Congress “in every possible instance.” Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-OK) reminds Ford, “There are charges on the floor [of the House] that you have violated the law.” And Senate Majority Whip Robert Byrd (D-WV) asks why Ford did not inform Congressional leaders before ordering the attacks, saying, “I’m for getting the ship back, but I think you should have given them a chance to urge caution.” Ford replies: “It is my constitutional responsibility to command the forces and to protect Americans.… We have a separation of powers. The president is the commander in chief so long as he is within the law. I exercised my power under the law and I complied with the law. I would never forgive myself if the Marines had been attacked.”
'Nerve and Steel' - The Mayaguez and her crew are recovered, and Ford’s decision is hailed by media outlets such as Newsweek as a “daring show of nerve and steel,” a “classic show of gunboat diplomacy,” and “a four star political and diplomatic victory.… It was swift and tough—and it worked.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
Facts Far Different from Initial Reporting - But subsequent information shows that the initial reports of the US military action were false. The government will claim that one Marine died and 13 were wounded in the invasion of the Cambodian island. In reality, 40 soldiers die—15 in the initial assault (13 Marines and two Air Force soldiers), 23 Marines in a helicopter crash, and three Marines who are inadvertently left behind, captured by the Cambodians, and executed. Forty-four Marines and six Air Force soldiers are wounded. The US expected maybe two dozen Cambodian soldiers on the island, but in actuality well over 200 heavily armed and entrenched Cambodian soldiers were in place. The crew of the Mayaguez had never been on the island; the Cambodians had taken them to the mainland. And the Cambodian government had already publicly announced it was releasing the vessel and the crew before the attack began—Ford had not yet received the message when he authorized the Marine assault. Marines had stormed the Mayaguez and found no one on board; the crew was at sea in a fishing boat when the Marines launched their attack. It is never completely clear why the ruling Khmer Rouge releases the crew so quickly; some speculate intervention by China or Israel. But the facts of the incident, and the unexpectedly large number of deaths and injuries, are submerged in a wave of patriotic fervor that sweeps the country. A Ford administration official will later admit to Newsweek that the operation had been “the sheerest sort of jingoism,” but, he will argue, it worked to perfection, “and nobody challenges success.” Overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support for Ford and the “rescue” of the Mayaguez, Congress quickly shelves its objections to Ford’s usurpation of Constitutional principles. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “The Mayaguez incident revealed just how difficult it would be for Congress to rein in a president once troops were committed.” [American Merchant Marine at War, 6/5/2000; Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh publishes an explosive story in the New York Times, revealing that US submarines are tapping into Soviet communications cables inside the USSR’s three-mile territorial limit. Hersh notes that his inside sources gave him the information in hopes that it would modify administration policy: they believe that using submarines in this manner violates the spirit of detente and is more risky than using satellites to garner similar information. The reaction inside both the Pentagon and the White House is predictably agitated. Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, traveling in Europe with President Ford, delegates his deputy Dick Cheney to formulate the administration’s response. Cheney goes farther than most administration officials would have predicted. He calls a meeting with Attorney General Edward Levi and White House counsel Philip Buchan to discuss options. Cheney’s first thought is to either engineer a burglary of Hersh’s home to find classified documents, or to obtain search warrants and have Hersh’s home legally ransacked. He also considers having a grand jury indict Hersh and the Times over their publication of classified information. “Will we get hit with violating the 1st amendment to the constitution[?]” Cheney writes in his notes of the discussion. Levi manages to rein in Cheney; since the leak and the story do not endanger the spying operations, the White House ultimately decides to let the matter drop rather than draw further attention to it. Interestingly, Cheney has other strings to his bow; he writes in his notes: “Can we take advantage of [the leak] to bolster our position on the Church committee investigation (see April, 1976)? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigation?” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 34-35]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, US Department of Defense, Ford administration, Edward Levi, Donald Rumsfeld, Church Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Buchan, New York Times, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Alexander Solzhenitsyn. [Source: Catholic Education (.org)]Famed Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn speaks at an AFL-CIO meeting in Washington. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), a hardline conservative hawk who, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, is “an absolutist who saw the Cold War as a struggle being waged on ‘every continent’ and who was eager to speak up ‘in favor of freedom and against Communism, wherever it was found,’” attempts to arrange a meeting between Solzhenitsyn and President Ford. Ford, with an upcoming trip to the USSR and a meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, refuses, fearing that meeting with Solzhenitsyn might sour the meeting with Brezhnev. (Ford overrides the arguments made by his chief of staff, Dick Cheney, who presses Ford to meet with the dissident.) Conservatives are outraged at what they see as naked political amorality—refusing to meet with a legitimate anti-Communist hero in order to placate a Communist leader. Conservative pundit George Will writes that the Ford White House is “showing a flair for baseness that would have stood them in good stead with the previous [Nixon] administration.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 76, 78]
President Ford signs the “Helsinki Final Act,” the final measure of the Helsinki Accords. This set of agreements, negotiated by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, settles issues left standing since the end of World War II. Among other things, the Accords finalize post-war borders of a number of European nations, effectively legitimizing Soviet control over the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The Accords are signed by 35 nations, including the US, Canada, and every European nation except for Albania and Andorra. American conservatives decry the signing, calling it equivalent to the Yalta agreement of 1945, which they say gave far too much control of Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union after the war. Famed Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn (see Summer 1975) denounces the Accords as “the betrayal of Eastern Europe” and says that “an amicable agreement of diplomatic shovels will bury and pack down corpses still breathing in a common grave.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 76-77]
In preparation for the upcoming “Halloween Massacre” (see November 4, 1975 and After), Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, who has what he thinks are secret ambitions for the presidency (see September 21, 1974 and After), convinces President Ford to name George H. W. Bush as CIA director because of that position’s political liabilities. When Bush accepts the position, Rumsfeld says this will “sink the son of a b_tch for good.” During his Senate confirmation hearings, Bush will publicly be asked to promise that he won’t be Ford’s running mate in 1976. “Bush thought that was a total violation of his Constitutional rights,” Pete Seeley, who will become Bush’s press secretary in 1981, will recall. “He was not happy. But he was always a team player and he did as he was asked.” Bush always believes Rumsfeld planted this question. Bush will never forgive Rumsfeld for trying to sabotage his political aspirations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 52-53]
President Ford fires a number of Nixon holdovers and replaces them with “my guys… my own team,” both to show his independence and to prepare for a bruising 1976 primary battle with Ronald Reagan. The wholesale firings and reshufflings are dubbed the “Halloween Massacre.” Donald Rumsfeld becomes secretary of defense, replacing James Schlesinger (see November 4, 1975). George H. W. Bush replaces William Colby as director of the CIA. Henry Kissinger remains secretary of state, but his position as national security adviser is given to Brent Scowcroft. Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld’s deputy chief of staff, moves up to become the youngest chief of staff in White House history. Perhaps the most controversial decision is to replace Nelson Rockefeller as Ford’s vice-presidential candidate for the 1976 elections. Ford’s shake-up is widely viewed as his cave-in to Republican Party hardliners. He flounders in his defense of his new staffers: for example, when Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) asks him why he thinks Rumsfeld is qualified to run the Pentagon, Ford replies, “He was a pilot in the Korean War.” The ultimate winner in the shake-up is Rumsfeld, who instigated the moves from behind the scenes and gains the most from them. Rumsfeld quickly wins a reputation in Washington as a political opportunist, gunning for the vice presidency in 1976 and willing to do whatever is necessary to get it. Rockefeller tells Ford: “Rumsfeld wants to be president of the United States. He has given George Bush the deep six by putting him in the CIA, he has gotten me out.… He was third on your [vice-presidential] list (see August 16-17, 1974) and now he has gotten rid of two of us.… You are not going to be able to put him on the [ticket] because he is defense secretary, but he is not going to want anybody who can possibly be elected with you on that ticket.… I have to say I have a serious question about his loyalty to you.” Later, Ford will write of his sharp regret in pushing Rockefeller off the ticket: “I was angry at myself for showing cowardice in not saying to the ultraconservatives: It’s going to be Ford and Rockefeller, whatever the consequences.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 340-341] “It was the biggest political mistake of my life,” Ford later says. “And it was one of the few cowardly things I did in my life.” [US Senate, 7/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, William Colby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James R. Schlesinger, Barry Goldwater, Donald Rumsfeld, Brent Scowcroft, George Herbert Walker Bush, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Henry A. Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Newly appointed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld begins working to undermine the US-Soviet arms negotiation talks almost immediately. He scuttles an informal trip by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Moscow; when Kissinger does reach an accord with his Soviet counterparts, Rumsfeld derails it by letting it be known that the Pentagon would not agree to the deal. President Ford later recalls, “The attitude in the Defense Department made it impossible to proceed in the environment of 1976.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 80-81]
US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meet with Indonesian president Suharto in Jakarta and give him tacit approval to invade and annex East Timor. Suharto complains that the integration of East Timor into Indonesia is being resisted by Communist sympathizers. According to declassified US Government documents, Suharto tells Ford and Kissinger, “We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action.” Ford responds, “We will understand and will not press you on the issue.” Kissinger then advises Suharto not to take action until he and the president have returned to Washington. “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly.” Kissinger explains. “We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return.” [Republic of Indonesia, 12/6/1975 ; John Pilger, 1994; CNN, 12/7/2001; BBC, 12/7/2001] The following day, Indonesia invades East Timor (see December 7, 1976).
President Gerald R. Ford signs a presidential directive giving the Iranian government the opportunity to purchase a US-built nuclear reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. Iran, with support from the US, wants to develop a massive nuclear energy industry that has complete “nuclear fuel cycle” capability so fissile materials can be supplied self-sustaining basis. US companies, chief among them Westinghouse, stands to make $6.4 billion from the sale of six to eight nuclear reactors and parts. The shah has argued that Iran needs a nuclear energy program in order to meet Iran’s growing energy demand. Iran is known to have massive oil and gas reserves, but the shah considers these finite reserves too valuable to be spent satisfying daily energy needs. In a 1975 strategy paper, the Ford administration supported this view saying that “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” Top officials in the Ford administration—including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, who is responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency—are strong supporters of Iran’s ambitions. Kissinger will tell the Washington Post 30 years later that the Ford administration was not concerned about the possibility of Iran using the facilities to produce nuclear weapons. “I don’t think the issue of proliferation came up,” he says. But Charles Naas, deputy US ambassador to Iran at this time, will tell the Post that nuclear experts had serious concerns about potential proliferation. Naas will explain that the administration was attracted to the nuclear deal “terms of commerce” and interested in maintaining good relations with the shah. [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]
President Ford and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sign a communique relating to the SALT negotiations in November 1974. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library / Public domain]Newly ensconsced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, after making a series of speeches attacking Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s policy of detente with the Soviet Union, waits until Kissinger is away visiting his Soviet counterparts in Moscow to persuade President Ford to shelve the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), the ongoing series of negotiations between the US and USSR to limit nuclear arms. “Rumsfeld won that very intense, intense political battle,” recalls Melvin Goodman, the head of the CIA’s Office of Soviet Affairs at the time. The move serves several purposes: to undercut Kissinger, Rumsfeld’s rival (see September 21, 1974 and After); to push Rumsfeld’s own Cold War, hawkish agenda (see June 4-5, 1974); and to set up a move to get Rumsfeld and a coterie of neoconservatives, including Paul Wolfowitz, in a position to either influence or counteract the CIA. The idea is to, in essence, hijack the US’s national security apparatus and find intelligence that will support their much harsher, antagonistic view of US-Soviet relations—and to push their belief that the US can fight and win a nuclear war. [Unger, 2007, pp. 53]
Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) runs for the presidency on a staunchly conservative platform of absolute anti-Communism, widespread reduction of government, and strict moral virtue. Many Republicans see Reagan as a more charismatic successor to the hardline principles espoused by former presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (R-AZ); Reagan also has the virtue of not being “tainted” by any association with Watergate. Reagan condemns the Soviet Union in near-apocalpytic terms, and denounces his Republican opponent, President Ford, both for refusing to meet with Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn (see Summer 1975) and for signing the Helsinki Accords (see August 1975), which he says gives “the American seal of approval [for] the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe.” Reagan is an absolute opponent of any sort of detente with the Soviets. His campaign echoes strongly with conservative Republicans; he nearly defeats Ford in the all-important New Hampshire primary, wins 12 states in the general primary, and reveals, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, “the antinegotiation attitude once the exclusive province of conservatives now appealed to rank-and-file Republicans.” Reagan loses the primary battle to Ford, but the effects are long-lasting. By the time of the Republican convention, Ford abandons the use of the term “detente” altogether, and Reagan supporters succeed in having a “Morality in Foreign Policy” plank added to the Republican platform which repudiates detente, acclaims Solzhenitsyn as a hero, and calls the Helsinki Accords a secret agreement to give unprecedented power to the USSR. Scoblic calls Reagan’s plank “a shocking rebuke to a sitting US president from his own party.” Ford is furious, but is persuaded not to oppose it by his chief of staff, Dick Cheney. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 77-78]
President Ford issues Executive Order 11905, which limits the power of the CIA, the NSA, and military intelligence to engage in surveillance of US citizens. Perhaps its most well-known provision is a total ban on “political assassinations” by US government personnel. [Gerald R. Ford, 2/18/1976; Roberts, 2008, pp. 38] The provision is sparked by the Church Commission’s finding (see April, 1976) that assassination is “unacceptable in our society,” and a political embarassment, especially botched attempts such as the CIA’s efforts to kill Cuba’s Fidel Castro. [Grant J. Lilly, 4/6/2006]
Earl Butz. [Source: Slate]Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz resigns after making a stridently racist joke that is reported in Rolling Stone. Butz, flying from New Mexico to California, found himself on board with singers Pat Boone and Sonny Bono as well as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, now working as a reporter for Rolling Stone. Butz, whom Time magazine describes as a “gregarious man” with a “barnyard sense of humor,” wanders over to kibitz with Boone and Bono, both active in the Republican Party. When Boone asks why the Republicans aren’t able to attract more black voters, Butz responds: “I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things. First, a tight p_ssy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to sh_t.” Dean later reports the joke in his Rolling Stone column, without naming Butz as its source. (Interestingly, a Japanese newspaper sanitized the translation, reporting Butz as saying, “Blacks wanted only three things in life: pleasant family relations, comfortable footwear, and adequate toilet facilities.”) Before long, other media outlets have learned who said it, and Butz was revealed in the media as the perpetrator of the joke.
Ford Initially Defends Butz - President Ford does not immediately fire Butz because the secretary claims that his words were taken out of context; he claims that the joke was preceded with, “Things have come a long way since the days when a ward politician could say…” Ford considers Butz a friend and is reluctant to fire him outright; furthermore, Ford doesn’t want to alienate voters in key farm states. But when both Democrats and Republicans begin calling for Butz’s firing, Butz decides to resign. Butz tells reporters that he is not a racist, and that his resignation “is the price I pay for a gross indiscretion in a private conversation.” Time magazine later reports that Ford’s indecision costs him credibility and support—instead of doing the right thing when the time came, Ford seemed instead to merely cave under pressure. A top Ford aide later says, “I’m afraid some people will start wondering how straight a guy, how nice a fellow the president really is.” Ford loses little support in the farm states; although organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation bemoan Butz’s resignation, smaller farmers rejoice in his departure, saying that he favored big producers and agribusiness interests over smaller, independent farmers. As for Butz himself, he is remarkably unrepentant and oblivious to the racial content of his humor. He will tell a reporter in the days to follow: “You know, I don’t know how many times I told that joke, and everywhere—political groups, church groups—nobody took offense, and nobody should. I like humor. I’m human.” [Time, 10/18/1976; Reston, 2007, pp. 54]
Casual Racism Mark of Butz's Breed of Politician - In February 2008, in a column marking Butz’s passing, Slate’s Timothy Noah will write that Butz was one of the last of a breed of politicians who routinely peppered their conversations with off-color, racist, and offensive remarks, certain that their power and position made them untouchable. Butz was certainly not the only one in the Nixon and Ford administration to make racist remarks: in 1971, President Nixon himself told Donald Rumsfeld, that blacks “basically are just out of the trees. Now let’s face it, they are.” (Nixon was wise enough not to make such remarks in public.) But by 1976, most lawmakers and office holders had learned to keep such observations to themselves. Noah will write: “Butz was not one of the smarter ones. He was a bigot and, even then, at 66, not a young man. And so he got caught in a paradigm shift. Before Butz, there remained a snickering tolerance among the powerful for jokes denigrating the humanity of blacks, Jews, and homosexuals. After Butz—well, the jokes about gays limped along for awhile, but it finally sank in that racism and anti-Semitism would seldom be tolerated, even in private.” [Slate, 2/4/2008]
Jimmy Carter celebrates his presidential victory. [Source: PBS]Gerald Ford loses the presidency to Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter, an obscure Georgia governor who contrasts himself to the Nixon and Ford administrations by promising “never to tell a lie to the American people.” The Republican Party’s widening rift between its moderate and conservative wings dooms Ford’s chances at being elected to the office he has held by appointment for over two years (see August 9, 1974). [Werth, 2006, pp. 342] Ford’s de facto campaign chairman, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, contributes heavily to Ford’s loss. Unready for the stresses and demands of a presidential campaign, Cheney nevertheless wrested control from Ford’s ostensible chairman, Bo Calloway, and promptly alienated campaign workers and staffers. Press secretary Ron Nessen will later write, “Some reporters privately started calling him the Grand Teuton, a complex pun referring to his mountainous home state of Wyoming and the Germanic style of his predecessor in the Nixon administration, H. R. Haldeman.” Cheney tried throughout the campaign to move Ford farther to the right than the president was willing to go; even with his attempts, Ford’s primary challenge from Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) did much to peel away the right-wing Republican base, while Cheney did little to reassure the liberal and moderate Republicans whom many feel are Ford’s natural base. Cheney succeeded in persuading Ford to adopt a convention platform much farther to the right than Ford, and his supporters, wanted; in particular, the Reaganesque “Morality in Foreign Policy Plank,” which stated, “we shall go forward as a united people to forge a lasting peace in the world based upon our deep belief in the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the hand of God,” alienated many more secular Republicans, who were not comfortable with the aggressive Christianity and implied imperialism contained in the statement. (Ultimately, it took the intervention of James Baker, a veteran Republican “fixer” and close friend of the Bush family, to head off disaster at the nominating convention.) Ford aide James Cannon will say that Cheney “was in over his head.” Had Cheney’s former boss Donald Rumsfeld stayed as chief of staff instead of moving to the Pentagon (see November 4, 1975 and After), Cannon believes Ford would have won a second term. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 40]
Entity Tags: Ron Nessen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., James Cannon, James Baker, Bo Calloway, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Although the entire “Team B” intelligence analysis experiment (see Early 1976, November 1976, and November 1976) is supposed to be classified and secret, the team’s neoconservatives launch what author Craig Unger will call “a massive campaign to inflame fears of the red menace in both the general population and throughout the [foreign] policy community—thanks to strategically placed leaks to the Boston Globe and later to the New York Times.” Times reporter David Binder later says that Team B leader Richard Pipes is “jubilant” over “pok[ing] holes at the [CIA]‘s analysis” of the Soviet threat. Team B member John Vogt calls the exercise “an opportunity to even up some scores with the CIA.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 57] Team member George Keegan tells reporters, “I am unaware of a single important category in which the Soviets have not established a significant lead over the United States… [This] grave imbalance in favor of Soviet military capability had developed out of a failure over the last 15 years to adjust American strategic thinking to Soviet strategic thinking, and out of the failure of the leadership of the American intelligence community to ‘perceive the reality’ of the Soviet military buildup.” Keegan’s colleague William van Cleave agrees, saying that “overall strategic superiority exists today for the Soviet Union,” and adds, “I think it’s getting to the point that, if we can make a trade with the Soviet Union of defense establishments, I’d be heartily in favor of it.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 95]
Used to Escalate Defense Spending - The experiment is far more than a dry, intellectual exercise or a chance for academics to score points against the CIA. Melvin Goodman, who heads the CIA’s Office of Soviet Affairs, will observe in 2004: “[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld won that very intense, intense political battle that was waged in Washington in 1975 and 1976. Now, as part of that battle, Rumsfeld and others, people such as Paul Wolfowitz, wanted to get into the CIA. And their mission was to create a much more severe view of the Soviet Union, Soviet intentions, Soviet views about fighting and winning a nuclear war.” Even though Wolfowitz’s and Rumsfeld’s assertions of powerful new Soviet WMD programs are completely wrong, they use the charges to successfully push for huge escalations in military spending, a process that continues through the Ford and Reagan administrations (see 1976) [Common Dreams (.org), 12/7/2004; BBC, 1/14/2005] , and resurface in the two Bush administrations. “Finally,” Unger will write, “a band of Cold Warriors and neocon ideologues had successfully insinuated themselves in the nation’s multibillion-dollar intelligence apparatus and had managed to politicize intelligence in an effort to implement new foreign policy.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 57-58]
Kicking Over the Chessboard - Former senior CIA official Richard Lehman later says that Team B members “were leaking all over the place… putting together this inflammatory document.” Author and university professor Gordon R. Mitchell will write that B’s practice of “strategically leaking incendiary bits of intelligence to journalists, before final judgments were reached in the competitive intelligence exercise,” was another method for Team B members to promulgate their arguments without actually proving any of their points. Instead of participating in the debate, they abandoned the strictures of the exercise and leaked their unsubstantiated findings to the press to “win” the argument. [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 ]
'One Long Air Raid Siren' - In 2002, defense policy reporter Fred Kaplan will sardonically label Team B the “Rumsfeld Intelligence Agency,” and write: “It was sold as an ‘exercise’ in intelligence analysis, an interesting competition—Team A (the CIA) and Team B (the critics). Yet once allowed the institutional footing, the Team B players presented their conclusions—and leaked them to friendly reporters—as the truth,” a truth, Team B alleges, the pro-detente Ford administration intends to conceal. Kaplan will continue, “The Team B report read like one long air-raid siren: The Soviets were spending practically all their GNP on the military; they were perfecting charged particle beams that could knock our warheads out of the sky; their express policy and practical goal was to fight and win a nuclear war.” Team B is flatly wrong across the board, but it still has a powerful impact on the foreign policy of the Ford administration, and gives the neoconservatives and hardliners who oppose arms control and detente a rallying point. Author Barry Werth will observe that Rumsfeld and his ideological and bureaucratic ally, White House chief of staff Dick Cheney “drove the SALT II negotiations into the sand at the Pentagon and the White House.” Ford’s primary opponent, Ronald Reagan, and the neocons’ public spokesman, Senator Henry Jackson, pillory Ford for being soft on Communism and the Soviet Union. Ford stops talking about detente with the Soviets, and breaks off discussions with the Soviets over limiting nuclear weapons. Through Team B, Rumsfeld and the neocons succeed in stalling the incipient thaw in US-Soviet relations and in weakening Ford as a presidential candidate. [Werth, 2006, pp. 341]
Entity Tags: Melvin A. Goodman, New York Times, Paul Wolfowitz, Reagan administration, Ronald Reagan, Richard Lehman, William van Cleave, John Vogt, Richard Pipes, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Gordon R. Mitchell, Bush administration (43), Boston Globe, Barry Werth, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Bush administration (41), Central Intelligence Agency, ’Team B’, David Binder, Fred Kaplan, Craig Unger, Ford administration, George Keegan, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence
Indonesia invades and occupies the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. An estimated 200,000 people—roughly one-third of the country’s population—will be killed in the violence and famine that follow. [Extra!, 11/1993; John Pilger, 1994; Sojourners, 9/1994; BBC, 5/17/2002] The invasion was tacitly approved in advance by US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the day before during a meeting with Suharto (see December 6, 1975).
President Ford’s exiting chief of staff, Dick Cheney, takes most of his papers and documents with him instead of donating them to the Ford Library as most other White House officials do. Cheney has already made a reputation for himself as an unusually secretive bureaucrat. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 27]
In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost asks about what then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman knew on June 20, 1972 (see June 20, 1972), when he and Nixon discussed Watergate in the conversation that would later be erased from Nixon’s secret recordings (see November 21, 1973).
Avoiding Questions - Nixon tries to accuse Frost of putting words in his mouth; Frost refuses to be baited. Nixon then uses diversion, addressing not the June 20 conversation, but instead spinning out a discourse focusing on his lack of advance knowledge of the break-in and accusing the media of pinning unwarranted blame on him. Frost lets him speak, then focuses again on the conversation: “So we come back to, what did Haldeman tell you during the eighteen-and-a-half minute gap?” Nixon dodges the known material in that conversation—the suggested “public relations offensive” to evade criticism and investigation of the burglary, and instead says that he and Haldeman were worried that the Democrats had bugged the Executive Office Building.
Questions about Stennis's Hearing - He tries to segue into a digression about charges of Democratic eavesdropping from the 1950s, but Frost pulls him back, and asks why he offered to allow only one senator, Mississippi Democrat John Stennis (see October 19, 1973), to hear the tapes. Stennis was “alas, partially deaf and very old.” Frost notes that the sound quality of the tapes was often poor, and adds, “If you and [Nixon’s personal secretary] Rose Mary Woods could not hear them clearly, Senator Stennis was not an ideal choice.” Nixon tries to turn Frost’s question into a challenge to Stennis’s intellect and even his integrity, but Frost repeats: “His hearing is crucial. You’ve just said so.” Nixon retorts that he has never noticed a problem with Stennis’s hearing, and even if Stennis had hearing problems, “[a]fter all, there’s an invention called hearing aids…” Frost is clearly enjoying Nixon’s marked discomfiture, but is unaware that he is making a gaffe of his own: Stennis has, by all accounts, perfectly good hearing. However, Nixon knows nothing of Frost’s error, and writhes under Frost’s relentless questioning about Stennis’s alleged inability to adequately hear everything on the tapes. (Frost’s gaffe will not be noticed at the time and will first be revealed in James Reston Jr.‘s 2007 book on the interviews, The Conviction of Richard Nixon.)
Who Erased the Tape? - Frost focuses on the question of who exactly erased the June 20 tape. It has been determined that only three people could have possibly erased the tape: Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary; and Nixon himself. No one was ever indicted for the crime of destruction of evidence because Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski was unable to determine who of the three might have actually performed the erasure. Nixon tells Frost that it could have been rogue Secret Service agents who erased the tape, but that charge falls flat under its own weight of implausibility. Bull had offered to take a lie detector test in denying that he erased the tape. And if Woods had erased the tape, it would have undoubtedly been by accident. The tape was subjected to at least five separate manual erasures, making an accidental erasure unlikely at best. That leaves Nixon as the most likely suspect. Nixon refuses to admit to erasing anything, and Frost says, “So you’re asking us to take an awful lot on trust, aren’t you?”
Avoiding Perjury Charges - After further dodging and weaving, Nixon finally falls back on a legal reason why he won’t answer the question: he had already testified under oath to a grand jury that he had not erased the tape; that Woods most likely erased the tape by accident. Being pardoned for his crimes during his presidency by Gerald Ford (see September 8, 1974) wouldn’t cover his lying under oath after his resignation, he says, and he isn’t going to give a jury a chance to charge him with perjury. [Reston, 2007, pp. 118-122]
Interview Airs in May - This interview will air on US television stations on May 4, 1977. [Television News Archive, 5/4/1977]
Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Stephen Bull, John Stennis, James Reston, Jr, David Frost, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, Leon Jaworski, Rose Mary Woods
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former US Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) writes an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore to abandon his attempts to win the presidential election and concede the election to Republican George W. Bush. “It was a close election, but it’s over,” Dole writes. Dole begins by recalling his own experience from 1976, where Republican President Gerald Ford, with Dole as his running mate, chose not to challenge a narrow election loss to Democrat Jimmy Carter. “It took a while, but I was proud of Gerald Ford when he did the right thing by not contesting the election,” Dole writes. Dole asserts that two separate recounts have taken place [in reality, only one, a machine recount, has occurred—see November 10, 2000] and both verify Bush as the winner of the Florida vote. Instead of gracefully conceding, Dole writes, the Gore campaign is “making every effort to keep the nation divided for weeks with recounts, lawsuits, and endless politicization of the election.” Dole urges Gore “to put his country’s agenda ahead of his agenda; to put the people’s interests before his personal interests.” The American people need closure after a long presidential campaign, Dole argues, and to drag out the process “is bad for the people.” Gore “risks alienating even more Americans” by continuing to press for manual recounts. “Participation in our democracy continues to decline. More and more people are turned off by politics and are tuning out of elections. It is precisely this type of politicization that continues to disenchant people. They want leadership, not lawsuits. They need someone committed to what is good for the country, not what is good for a post election campaign.” Asking for recounts “is bad for the country.” Bush needs time to plan and execute a smooth transition into the presidency, Dole writes, time that Gore is not giving him. Bush “must begin planning his administration. He must prepare a budget and begin selecting a cabinet. He must begin meeting with world leaders and a Congress already bitterly divided. A smooth transition will help to ensure a successful presidency and a more secure and prosperous nation for the next four years.” And finally, history will look askance at Gore for being “the first presidential candidate to challenge his election defeat in the courts. The presidency should be won through inspiration, not litigation.” [Washington Post, 11/11/2000]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Washington Post, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Domestic Propaganda
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Vice President Dick Cheney, formerly the chief of staff for President Gerald Ford (see November 4, 1975 and After), says, “Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the ‘70s served, I think, to erode the authority… the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area.” Cheney says that he and George W. Bush have restored some of “the legitimate authority of the presidency” that was taken away in the aftermath of Watergate. “I think the vice president ought to reread the Constitution,” retorts Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean comments that Bush and Cheney’s behavior “reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.” [Toronto Star, 12/21/2005; Werth, 2006, pp. 348]
Peter Hoekstra. [Source: Public domain]The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. [House Intelligence Committee, 8/23/2006]
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2006]
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006]
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” [Antiwar.com, 8/26/2007]
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006] Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” [Tom Paine (.com), 8/25/2006]
Entity Tags: John Prados, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, National Security Council, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jane Harman, Saddam Hussein, Rush Holt, Peter Hoekstra, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, David Albright, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Christian Westermann, International Atomic Energy Agency, Frederick Fleitz, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Intelligence Committee, Gary G. Sick, Donald Rumsfeld, Hezbollah
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
The US government’s Nixon Presidential Library begins making the grand jury testimony of former President Richard Nixon available to the public. In June 1975, Nixon testified about his involvement in the Watergate scandal after his resignation (see August 8, 1974) to a California grand jury. Although he was protected by the pardon granted him by his successor, Gerald Ford (see September 8, 1974), he could have been charged with perjury if he lied under oath. No such charges were filed against Nixon. Judge Royce Lambeth ordered the testimony made public in July 2011 over the opposition of the Obama administration, which argued that too many people from the Nixon administration were still alive for secret testimony involving them to be made public. Lambeth wrote, “The court is confident that disclosure will greatly benefit the public and its understanding of Watergate without compromising the tradition and objectives of grand jury secrecy.” The records are available at the California home of the library and online. Historian Stanley Kutler, who was one of the principal figures involved in the lawsuit to bring the testimony to light, says, “This is Nixon unplugged.” However, he adds: “I have no illusions. Richard Nixon knew how to dodge questions with the best of them. I am sure that he danced, skipped, around a number of things.” Nixon’s testimony, conducted for 11 hours over two days, was the first time an ex-president ever testified before a grand jury. The library is also releasing thousands of pages of other Watergate-era documents, several oral histories from that time, and 45 minutes of recordings made by Nixon with a dictating machine. Some portions of the Nixon grand jury testimony have not yet been made public, due to the fact that they deal with people still alive. Some or all of that information may be made public at a future date. Kutler says it is doubtful the public will learn much more about Watergate from the new records: “The grand jury after that testimony had a chance to sit and indict but they did not, so I don’t expect it to be that important.” He adds that the opening of grand jury records is a milestone by itself, “another precedent for opening up secretiveness in public life.” [Associated Press, 11/10/2011] After initially reviewing the transcripts, Kutner says: “It’s Nixon being Nixon. It’s a virtuoso performance. How about $10 for every time he says, ‘I don’t recall’?” [Daily Mail, 11/11/2011] According to reporters who review the transcripts, Nixon spent much of his time before the grand jury defending his legacy as president and denying first-hand knowledge of any of the activities that made up the Watergate scandal, but acknowledging his administration committed some questionable acts. “I want the jury and the special prosecutors to kick the hell out of us for wiretapping and for the plumbers and the rest,” he said, “because obviously, you may have concluded it is wrong.” [Associated Press, 11/11/2011] Nixon reiterated the story that his secretary Rose Mary Woods accidentally erased 18 1/2 minutes of an audiotape that might have shown his complicity in the Watergate conspiracy (see November 21, 1973), saying: “Rose had thought it was four minutes, or something like that. Now the counsel have found that it is 18-and-a-half minutes, and I practically blew my stack.… If you are interested in my view as to what happened, it is very simple. It is that it was an accident.” Nixon was harsh with the Watergate prosecutors, accusing them of persecuting him and employing what he called double standards against him as opposed to his Democratic adversaries. “If I could give one last bit of advice,” he told the prosecutors, “taking the double standard is going to make you much more popular with the Washington press corps, with the Georgetown social set, if you ever go to Georgetown, with the power elite in this country. But on the other hand, think of your children—they are going to judge you in the pages of history.… I mean, I am not unaware of the fact that the great majority of the people working in special prosecutor’s office did not support me for president.” [Daily Mail, 11/11/2011]
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