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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Ford Appointment to White House

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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Spiro T. Agnew.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]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew, US Department of Justice, Nixon administration, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Watergate Resignations and Firings, Vice President Spiro Agnew

Gerald R. Ford, Jr.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

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Senate Watergate Investigation, Ford/Nixon Connections

Gerald Ford takes the oath of office.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]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Donald Rumsfeld, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House

August 19, 1974 cover of Time magazine, inspired by Ford’s speech.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]

Entity Tags: Jimmy Breslin, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Harry Reasoner

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Illegal Wiretapping & Surveillance

Jerald terHorst.Jerald terHorst. [Source: Dirck Halstead / Getty Images]During a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jerald terHorst is grilled about the fate of the thousands of hours of recordings made by former President Richard Nixon, recordings clandestinely made by Nixon of conversations with his aides, staffers, advisers, and visitors (see February 1971 and July 13-16, 1973). The practice of secretly recording White House conversations began with Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Nixon had gone far beyond the simple recording systems made by his predecessors. He had hidden microphones in the lamps and room fixtures in the Oval Office, his office in the Executive Office Building (EOB), the Cabinet Room, and in the Aspen Lodge at Camp David. In all, he made over 3,700 hours of recordings between July 1971 and July 1973. The tapes are loaded with evidence of criminal conspiracies and deeds involving Nixon and dozens of his closest advisers and aides, and are of intense interest to reporters and the Watergate prosecutors. TerHorst causes a stir when he tells listeners that the tapes are currently being guarded by Secret Service personnel, and “they have been ruled to be the personal property” of Nixon. Ruled by whom? reporters demand. The “ruling” is based on a “formal,” albeit unwritten, legal opinion by White House lawyers Fred Buzhardt and James St. Clair, who had helped frame Nixon’s Watergate defense. TerHorst is unaware of the legal dispute over the tapes brewing in the White House and in the office of Leon Jaworski, the Watergate special prosecutor. Ford was not involved in the decision to turn the materials over to Nixon, says terHorst, but concurs in it. TerHorst is speculating far more than the reporters realize; he has been given little information and only scanty guidance from Buzhardt. When asked if the decision to give the documents and tapes to Nixon comes from “an agreement among the different staffs, the special prosecutor, the Justice Department, and the White House legal staff,” terHorst replies unsteadily, “I assume there would be because I’m sure neither one would just take unilateral action.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 71-75]

Entity Tags: Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fred Buzhardt, US Department of Justice, James St. Clair, Jerald terHorst

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Watergate Tapes and Documents

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]

Entity Tags: Robert Hartmann, Nixon administration, Henry A. Kissinger, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Donald Rumsfeld, Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

Nelson Rockefeller.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]

Entity Tags: Richard Herman, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, Jesse Helms, George Herbert Walker Bush, Barry Goldwater, Melvin Laird, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons

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]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Philip Buchen, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Fred Buzhardt

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon Pardon

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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Robert Hartmann, Ford administration, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Philip Buchen

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Watergate Tapes and Documents

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

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons, Nixon Campaign 'Dirty Tricks'

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]

Entity Tags: Townhouse Operation, Nelson Rockefeller, Leon Jaworski, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush, Melvin Laird, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, James Cannon

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon, Ford Relations with Media, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ford Neocons, 'Townhouse Operation'

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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Eric Sevareid, George Herbert Walker Bush, John Rhodes, Nelson Rockefeller

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon, Ford Relations with Media

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]

Entity Tags: William Saxbe, Philip Buchen, Benton Becker, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, William Gulley

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Watergate Tapes and Documents

Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford at a Los Angeles hotel, October 1974.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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Ford administration, George S. McGovern, Nelson Rockefeller

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House

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]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, James R. Schlesinger, William Clements, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, George Brown

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon, Ford Relations with Media

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]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Spiro T. Agnew, Jerald terHorst, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Charles Colson, National Security Council, James R. Schlesinger, Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon, Ford Relations with Media

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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, William Proxmire, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Fred Buzhardt, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Congressional Investigations, Ford Appointment to White House, Nixon Resignation

Both houses of Congress vote to override President Ford’s veto of the Freedom of Information Act amendments passed by Congress (see January 1974 - September 1974). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 30]

Entity Tags: Freedom of Information Act, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House

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]

Entity Tags: John Tower, Church Committee, Nelson Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Church, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, ’Rockefeller Commission’

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House

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

Category Tags: Ford Appointment to White House, Ford/Nixon Connections

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