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tv   Lectures in History Nixon Ford the Constitution  CSPAN  July 1, 2021 9:00am-10:20am EDT

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michael dobbs of the "washington post" has written a book titled "king richard" which looks at the special unit which eventually resulted in the resignation of the president of the united states. 50 years later, he focuses on that time in our history, an event that is well-known today as watergate. >> listen at or wherever you get your podcasts. on lectures in history, ken gormley teaches a class on the issues that arose during the presidencies of nixon and ford. he focuses on the watergate investigation and questions of control over nixon's secretly
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recorded white house tapes as well as issues surrounding ford's pardon of nixon. they moved the classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic and video is courtesy of the school. >> guys, we are ready to start. thanks for your patience and for logging in to class again today remotely during this unpleasant coronavirus situation which will hopefully pass soon. i'm glad to see you are all well and also that you've safely moved out of the dorms. i took a little walk through campus today. since we're social distancing here, dr. coopey isn't here with me in the room but she's there with you on zoom video. say hello. there she is. she can answer any questions about your papers afterward
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online. today we get into one of my favorite chapters in the whole year, and that is the chapter on richard nixon followed by gerald ford in this presidents and constitution book. the nixon chapter was written by the late stanley cutler. he was a professor of history at madison, wisconsin, one of the great scholars of the watergate era. this chapter was one of the last things that he wrote before he passed away in 2015. as you can see from the introduction, richard nixon was a man of many paradoxes. he was born in a modest home in california that his father built, he said, using a sears kit. his mother was a quaker. tried to instill in him a set of moral values. but his father spent his life pretty much as you can see as an
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argumentative, unhappy man. that set of qualities was also passed along to young richard nixon. after attending a quaker college about 17 miles from his home, he then went to duke law school, failed to get jobs at the fbi and a new york law firm which were his top choices, and reluctantly returned to california to practice law. there he married thelma pat ryan. he worked in the office of price administration in washington as world war ii broke out. and he eventually secured a navy commission in the south pacific. but he didn't see any combat. that was to his regret, because people like john f. kennedy became war heroes, and he did not. he returned to california after the war. won a close battle for congress for the house of representatives in 1946 where he gained national
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prominence as a tough congressman who supported the house committee on unamerican activities, which i'm sure you have read about, investigating alleged disloyalty and subversive conduct by people suspected of having communist ties. after two terms, he won a seat in the u.s. senate, then became eisenhower's vp. lost the battle for presidency against john f. kennedy in 1960. ran for governor of california and lost. moved to new york city to practice law. and then jumped back into the political arena in 1968. he called it the great game. and he beat democrat hubert humphrey in a tight election that year. so as you can see here, nixon was almost pugilistic. he battled constantly with congress as he sought to expand his executive power. a great example in the book is
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nixon's aggressive attempt to impound funds in order to thwart pieces of legislation passed by congress that he didn't like. for example, in october of 1972, you see congress was forced to override nixon's veto of amendments to the clean water act. the environment was becoming extremely important in the country at that time. nixon refused to spend this money. he didn't agree with it. he defied congress. ultimately, congress was forced to pass the impoundment control act of 1974 to control these sorts of abuses by nixon and his administration. similarly in 1973, something we see a lot in the later chapters, after congress learned that nixon had secretly bombed sites in cambodia without notifying congress, they passed the war powers resolution. again, clipped nixon's wings by
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requiring the president to notify congress about any armed conflict within 48 hours. and if they didn't give approval within 60 days, he had to withdraw military forces. that war powers act has really hung around the neck of every president since nixon constraining their powers. nixon wins a smashing re-election victory in 1972 by wide margins. before long, he is engulfed in the watergate scandal. white house operatives are arrested, carrying out a burglary inside the democratic national headquarters in the watergate hotel in washington. so now, nixon is implicated in covering it up and offering to pay a million dollars in hush money to keep the perpetrators quiet. as we discussed in class last
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time, i was privileged to write the biography of watergate special prosecutor cox. he was my constitutional law professor when i was at harvard law school. by the time i got to harvard in 1977, he was -- he had become a national hero for standing up to richard nixon during the watergate crisis, subpoenaing the secret white house tapes that would prove or disprove nixon's complicity in the watergate coverup. so i've done a lot of work on this era of american political history. that's why it's one of my favorite topics of all. i know most of your parents weren't alive at the time of watergate in 1973, 1974. i will take you back to october of 1973, during the darkest months of the nixon presidency, when at this time the wounds of
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watergate are fresh, the wounds of the vietnam war are just receding. the country is being consumed by a growing scandal called watergate. we're going to show this video. >> october 1973, the senate has begun hearings investigating possible white house involvement in a burglary at the watergate hotel and the subsequent coverup. the big question, what did the president know? when did he know it? investigators learned that president nixon has made secret tapes of every conversation in his executive offices. special prosecutor cox has subpoenaed the watergate tapes. on october 20, 1973, the stage is set for a political showdown unlike any in our history. one week earlier, october 12, 1973, mr. cox wins a court order demanding the president surrender the watergate tapes. nixon has one week to comply or
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appeal to the supreme court. monday, october 15, nixon and his chief of staff, alexander hague, come up with a scheme. cox can't have the tapes, but he can have an edited transcript to be prepared by 72-year-old senator john stennis. he can ask for no further evidence. cox cannot accept the proposal as friday's 5:00 deadline draws near. a showdown seems inevitable. 5:00 comes and goes with no word from the white house. finally, cox gets a call at home from nixon's attorney general elliott richardson. cox cannot have the tapes and he must not seek any further information from the white house. saturday, october 20th. fearing the president will get away with an obstruction of justice, cox makes a difficult decision. he will hold a press conference and explain the implications of the case to america. in making his point, he uses a prophetic example. >> a president can always work
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his will. you remember when andrew jackson wanted to take the deposits from the bank of the united states and his secretary of the treasury wouldn't do it. he fired it. then he appointed a new secretary of the treasury and he wouldn't do it and he fired him. finally, he got a third who would. >> at the white house, nixon and hague have been trying to persuade the attorney general to fire cox. they want him out of their hair. richardson insists he has no legal grounds. richardson is adamant. nixon gets tough. >> because of his refual to carry out the president's policies, the attorney general resigned. president nixon discharged cox, the watergate prosecutor and abolished cox's office. the deputy attorney has been fired. >> i spent seven years writing the cox book and studying this man. i can tell you that cox was an
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extraordinary figure in american law, not just as watergate special prosecutor, as you just saw, but on a much broader scale. he was actually a direct descendent of roger sherman, signer of the declaration of independence and constitution. he was an early law clerk to judge hand. labor advisor to senator john f. kennedy. solicitor general in the kennedy administration. we talked about that last class when we talked about the johnson and kennedy civil rights cases. he argued many of those famous cases in the supreme court. after watergate became chairman of common cause and fought to craft the ethics in government act of 1978 to try to reverse some of the abuses of watergate. you could hopefully get a little bit of a glimpse from that film clip that cox's performance in watergate was really the culmination of a lifetime commitment to the rule of law.
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i did hundreds of interviews in working on this book with major figures he had interacted with. this integrity and principal thing he was known for was not a fake at all. it's how he had lived his whole life. it was especially on display in the way he interacted with attorney general elliott richardson who was another one of these boston staid fellow. cox had taught him at harvard law school after world war ii. when you see how they navigated these difficult times during watergate, it's really remarkable. richardson told me when he picked cox, it was because of the basic integrity of the man rather than any political calculation or prosecutorial experience. he had none. the two men relied primarily on their instincts about each other in deciding how to deal with this growing watergate crisis instead of political
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calculations and maneuverings that were going on in most of washington at the time. nowhere was that more evident than in the dramatic battle for the white house tapes. as you probably know from history books, cox subpoenaed those tapes, again, to prove or disprove nixon's complicity in the watergate coverup. they were essential to all of the potential defendants, including john dean, his white house counsel, who said, listen to the tapes. nixon was talking about paying hush money. elliott richardson told me that he met with nixon multiple times to calm his fears about cox. and he said, cox would just as soon cut off his right arm than do anything improper or politically motivated. nixon just scowled at him. cox really didn't want a constitutional showdown. he knew there was a legitimate
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question here based on this notion of executive privilege as to whether he really did have the power to subpoena those tapes from the chief executive. i can tell you, most people don't realize this, but scholars at that time would have put their money on nixon in this battle. again, he had just won a major re-election victory. the argument was, why should a special prosecutor, who is unelected, or the courts even, tell a president what he has to disclose from the inner sanctum of the white house? someone asked me last week, why didn't nixon just burn the tapes? that's what his speech writer pat buchanan advocated. well, it wasn't so easy. who would do it? if you burn the tapes, the act itself could be a crime. for nixon, an impeachable offense. they remained in a closet in the white house as the watergate
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drama unfolded. as tensions mounted, too, there really was a constitutional crisis looming here. the vice president, as you see in stanley cutler's chapter, abruptly resigned for tax evasion charges after he was caught accepting bribes in little white envelopes as vice president and governor of maryland. the person next in line was speaker of the house carl albert. he had recently been drunk and in an automobile accident in front of a bar in washington. so he had no interest in being in the limelight. nixon appointed gerald ford to be his vice president. why did he do it? i think it was a very conscious, calculated decision by president nixon. ford -- don't forget, any impeachment proceedings would go where? to the house of representatives.
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ford was highly respected as the house republican leader. he was also a very longtime friend and supporter of nixon. ford is appointed vice president. as the battle over the tapes escalates, federal judge john sirika orders nixon to hand over the tapes. the court of appeals agrees with that saying that the judge at a minimum is allowed to listen to them in camera, in the privacy of his chambers, to determine if there really are any national security issues involved with them. the white house counters with what they call the stennis proposal. the senator was at this time a 71-year-old senator from mississippi who had hearing aides. he had hearing problems. he had been shot in a burglary
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attempt. the plan was that he was the only person who was going to be allowed to listen to the tapes. cox would then get summaries of the tapes. nothing else. it was a bold move. nixon was basically going for broke here. i interviewed stennis' doctor. he told me that the senator was on heavy doses of codeine at this time because of the shooting in the burglary. he didn't want to do it, but he felt there was no way he could say no to nixon. i also learned that nixon had a plan to take stennis to camp david, using one of his aides, who was a political operative. they were going to give him just select pieces of the tapes to listen to and then that would be it. no one would ever see the tapes again. these little summaries of the tapes would go to the special prosecutor. in the midst of this, nixon orders everything that flies to go to the middle east to assist israel in the war.
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this was a classic wag the dog moment. nixon was taking the ultimate gamble as one of his aides said. it was like he was riding a wave. he almost rode it into shore. this gamble that he took reached a crescendo with that saturday night massacre after the famous press conference that you just saw where cox refused to back down in seeking the tapes. it wasn't a total surprise that this was coming. cox, as you saw there at the press conference, gave the example of andrew jackson and said a president can always work his will and talked about the situation with the national banks. remember, we talked about that in the andrew jackson chapter. nixon took the gamble. but there were political consequences for him that he didn't bank on. his firing of cox because he was viewed as so honest and a man of
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integrity backfired and unleash aid firestorm of public protest. nixon was forced to hire a new special prosecutor who subpoenaed more tapes. then the supreme court agreed to hear the case of u.s. versus nixon to decide this monumental constitutional question once and for all. what exactly was the legal claim that nixon was making regarding the tapes? why did he say that these tapes were constitutionally protected? yes, eddie. >> since the president should be held to a different constitutional standard since there are charges so many important issues they shouldn't be held to the same subpoena power. >> okay. he was talking about this notion of executive privilege and suggesting that there was an
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absolute privilege. what does the supreme court say? do they agree there is such a thing as executive privilege? yeah. annie. >> they recognize executive privilege as a power. but they don't say it's absolute. >> okay. that's the key part. a lot of people don't realize it. there was an acknowledgement that there is such a thing as executive privilege, for first time. however, they say that's not an absolute power as nixon had argued. here these tapes were -- the need for presidential secrecy was outweighed by the need for those tapes to -- for the good of the criminal justice system to determine if criminal conduct had taken place here. by nixon or anyone else. it was essential in all of the other watergate trials potentially, too. i had a chance to interview
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chief justice berger who wrote the opinion. he had been appointed by nixon. i thought it would be interesting to find out how difficult was it for him to write this opinion that he knew was probably going to bring down the president, because he says, no person is above the law, right? that famous statement. not even the president. i'm sitting in his chambers with him. he had one of his law clerks take down a painting that was on the wall and bring it over to me. it had a picture of two law books and a candle. the books were red and brown. he said, those two law books represented the impeachment of andrew johnson and the trial of aaron burr. when he was a young law student studying at night school, he was in this little smokers club.
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they would take turns arguing famous cases. the two cases that he was in charge of arguing were the impeachment of andrew johnson and the trial of aaron burr. he said to me, i wrote that opinion 40 years ago. he was a great artist and a sculptor. he painted that picture when he was in law school because those cases were so important to him. he said it was a very easy matter, because those cases stood for the proposition that no person, not even the president, is above the law. this is a good reminder, by the way, that just because berger was a republican appointed by nixon, but you cannot assume that justices on the supreme court are going to vote on the basis of mrit. >> kyle: -- political affiliation. something the public believes. they have their own individual commitments to the constitution. their own sets of principals
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apart from any political affiliation. that was one instance where chief justice berger exercised that. the white house tapes were damning. they contained the smoking gun in which nixon offered to pay a million dollars in hush money to cover up the watergate crime, plus there was this infamous 18 1/2 minute gap in one of the key tapes at a key moment that suggested there had been a deliberate erasing. the result of the revelations in those secret tapes was so dramatic that impeachment resolutions were drafted in the house. obviously, before the house could even get to impeaching richard nixon, members of his own party, including senator goldwater, went to the white house and said they could no longer support him. on august 8, richard nixon flew away in a green helicopter, the first president in american
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history in all of the presidents we studied, to resign in disgrace. that begins another dramatic moment in american constitutional history as we move into the presidency of gerald ford. it lasted only less than 2 1/2 years. president ford's pardon of richard nixon becomes one of the seminal moments in the history of the american presidency. i do want to ask you, just before you read this chapter about gerald ford, what was your general impression of him as a president, as a historical figure? joe? >> i feel like he is not so much a bad president. he just didn't really have a chance to be a president. he was also kind of piggybacking off of nixon. he was essentially just a filler. he wasn't really elected to fulfill the office. he came in at the end of the
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vietnam war. he didn't really have a chance to do anything good. i wouldn't say he is terrible, but he wasn't really meant for the position. >> okay. that's great, joe. we're going to see -- we're going to have to make a decision whether he did do anything good. i want you to sit back for a few minutes. we are going to go back to the news that shocked the world as the events of the watergate scandal reached a surprise crescendo in september of 1974. >> i have learned already in this office that the difficult decisions always come to this desk. as president, my primary concern must always be the greatest good of all the people of the united states whose servant i am. as a man, my first consideration is to be true to my own convictions and my own conscience.
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my conscience tells me clearly and certainly that i cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. my conscience tells me that only i as president have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. now, therefore, i, gerald r. ford, president of the united states, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by article 2, section 2 of the constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free and absolute pardon unto richard nixon for all offenses against the united
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states which he, richard nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from july 20, 1969 through august 9, 1974. >> as you can see from this chapter, which is written by jeffrey crouch, who is a professor of history at american university, ford had been a loyal supporter since he and nixon began their careers together in 1948. he was actually getting ready to retire in 1973 when he was plucked out of relative obscurity to become vice president. now he is in the oval office. you have to picture this. he is surrounded mainly by nixon's people, nixon's
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loyalists as his own advisors. that presents some real problems. within days of his taking office on august 9th of 1974, journalists start swamping ford with questions about what are his intentions, is he thinking of pardoning richard nixon? not exactly what he was looking forward to in the first days on the job as president. on one hand, ford knew it was crazy to even consider pardoning nixon. the country had been ripped apart by watergate. by this point, nixon was perceived as a first rate villain, even by many republican leaders. one of ford's top advisors told me that he advised ford categorically not to do it. he said, you will be eat and live in the press. your political future if you decide to run for president on your own in 1976 will be shot to
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hell if you pardon nixon. on the other hand, this is hopefully what you can see from this chapter is that ford had a strong sense of what he thought he should do. he is a man who grew up with very modest origins. he was the adopted son of a paint and varnish sale zsalesma. he attended yale by coaching football. he was known as honest, straight-jawed, a straight shooter. after talking it over with his closest friends and his wife, he concluded that pardoning nixon was really the only solution to this mess. the country had been obsessed with watergate for nearly two years.
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if nixon was then criminally prosecuted ford feared that first of all the country would be dragged through the mud for several more years and secondly, maybe more selfishly, if you want to say that, he felt he would never get any of his own policy initiatives accomplished as president. so that's where this segment of this amazing story begins. gerald ford takes over the white house with only a day's notice. he is surrounded by aides and advisors who are nixon loyalists. those include the chief of staff alexander hague, general hague, the attorney general william saxby, nixon's fifth because they all kept resigning due to the scandal. in california, nixon's former press secretary ron ziggler is now acting as nixon's handler from afar. in the midst of this, a big
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issue arises. what is going to happen to nixon's records and tapes? these are key evidence in all of the watergate trials of nixon's co-conspirators in white house. they are scheduled to go forward in a few months. there are only a few people surrounding president ford that he can trust. bob heartman, who was his chief speech writer and now counsel to the president and a young lawyer named benton becker. he was special counsel to president ford. most of the figures in this drama died years and years ago. one of them, benton becker, whom president ford trusted completely, just passed away a few years ago. i was privileged to work with him really for more than a decade, hopefully helping to
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preserve this story for history. becker had been a young lawyer who did legal work for ford on congressional committees. ford was so impressed with him when he became vice president, he was involved in his confirmation hearings. now in his first month in the white house, he brings becker in to the inner circle. i did a program with benton becker in new york and then one here on the 40th anniversary. those were the last two programs that benton becker participated in. through his firsthand accounts, we have been able to piece together and better preserve this incredible sequence of events of what happened. we also have a contemporaneous memo that was lost in the archives of the gerald ford museum from 1974 detailing
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benton becker's firsthand accounts of everything that he went through. here is what we now know. within 24 hours of nixon leaving the office, ford picked up the phone and called his now -- the former chief of staff, now ford's chief of staff general alexander hague. he said -- i'm sorry, nixon called hague and said, send those boxes out here. so during his time in the white house, nixon had accumulated a huge storehouse of documents and these activated tapes in the white house that had been revealed during watergate. in fact, there were actually 900 reels of tape and literally thousands of boxes of documents. so many that the secret service told me that they were afraid that the fourth floor of the
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executive office building was going to collapse from the weight of all these things. benton becker was finishing up briefing president ford one day and alexander hague is ticking off a to do list of things. and he just kind of nonchalantly says at the end of one of his thoughts, just as casually as if he is ordering a cup of coffee, he says, yes, and we're sending president nixon his papers. he wants them. ford's aides stopped in their tracks when he said that and said, wait a minute, this is a big question. who owns those records and tapes? among other things, ford himself was keenly aware that they were essential evidence in the watergate trials. so they were afraid of letting them out of their sight. so ford said, none of this should be left -- should leave the white house until we get a ruling from the justice
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department as to who owns them. so four days later, the group -- same group met with william saxb saxbi. he assigned to one of the young lawyers this topic of researching who owned the tapes. it was antonin scalia. the opinion that scalia wrote concluded that there was no definitive law on the subject. but by custom and practice, he said, these materials belong to the president. some presidents had kept their papers. some had sold them, like grant, to earn money. chester arthur burned his papers before he died. we talked about that during that era that was a very common practice.
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saxby took the position that if ford didn't send the papers and tapes out to nixon it would be thumbing his nose at precedent, at the history of how presidents had treated this. ford sat back in his chair and said to benton becker, what do you think about this? becker replied, mr. president, i don't care what great things you accomplish in the next 3 1/2 years that are left in your time in office. if you send those records and tapes to california, the only thing the people will remember is that gerald ford committed the last act of the watergate coverup. becker said, you could have heard a pin drop at that moment. he wondered if that was the last speech he was going to be delivering in the white house. ford was quiet for a minute. when saxby tried to talk, he told him to be quiet. finally, ford said, those papers
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and tapes are staying here. they belong to the american people and i'm not giving them up. a pivotal moment in all of this and a pivotal moment because at that moment, an ananomous start to develop. ford called becker into the residence and said in strict confidence, i'm thinking about pardoning richard nixon. i need to know the legal ramifications. becker thought it was crazy. it was not his job to tell ford what to do. his job was to find out how broad the presidential power was here and what land mines might exist.
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could he pardon nixon before he was convicted of anything? did this cover federal crimes only? also state crimes? there were a host of issues that were left unopened. what benton becker discovered is that -- we have talked about this a little bit. the pardon power was enormously broad. it gave the president almost unbounded power, except it did only apply to federal crimes, not state crimes. otherwise, the president could even pardon for crimes that had not been committed without a conviction. also, nixon had resigned before he was impeached. so remember that provision in the constitution that says the pardon doesn't work for impeachments didn't apply because nixon had not formally been impeached. the most significant thing that benton becker discovered that he shared with only a couple of ford's closest advisors was that there was a 1915 case from the
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time of the woodrow wilson administration called burdick versus the united states. do you remember that? this case had involved an effort by president wilson to get testimony from an editor in new york in front of a grand jury about who leaked information. when the editor invoked the fifth amendment, his rights against self-incrimination, president wilson thought he would outsmart him. he called him burdick back into the grand jury and had a pardon waiting for him. how can you plead the fifth if you have been pardoned for what you have done? burdick refused to accept the pardon. he said this pardon makes me sound like i'm guilty. i don't want to take it. the case went all the way up to supreme court. they agreed with burdick.
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they said a pardon carries with it an acceptance of guilty. becker went in to see president ford and told him about what he had discovered. they met secretly and their white house counsel with the watergate special prosecutor to see if he would publically oppose a pardon if ford granted one. that would be a big problem for them if he stood in the way. he said actually, he was concerned already with the extensive publicity from the televised watergate hearings, he wasn't sure nixon could get a fair trial ever. if he ever got one, it would be years from then. so he signalled and my research disclosed he signalled his agreement with this decision to pardon, even though his own staff on the watergate special prosecution force didn't know and would have been appalled if
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they knew that he was agreeing to this. ford made a decision next to send benton becker out to california. a piece of the story that very few people know about. he went out there, actually, with nixon's personal attorney, herbert jack miller. he had been deputy attorney general under robert kennedy in the kennedy justice department. highly respected. becker's job was to try to hammer out a deal on the records and tapes. in fact, he carried a draft deed of gift with him. the plan was to give those over to the united states government to hold. nixon would be free to access them to work on his memoirs he was talking about doing. becker was also supposed to
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explain the ramifications of the burdick case to nixon and tell him that accepting this pardon would amount to an admission of guilt. ford said, i want you to sit down face to face with him and make sure that he understands this. so with that direction, becker flies off in a government plane with jack miller headed for california, not knowing where this was going to take them. one thing that's curious is why president ford would select this young lawyer who was really untested in many ways to negotiate one of the diceyest deals in american political history. it was because no one knew him. the washington press corps that was watching nixon's home just 24 hours a day, when he went driving through the gates, no one knew who it was. ford wanted secrecy.
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he wanted to get three things out of this, a deed of gift for the records and tapes, he wanted some sort of acknowledgement from nixon that he had acted incorrectly, perhaps even illegally in the watergate affair, and he wanted an express acknowledgement from nixon that he understood that acceptance of a pardon was an admission of guilt. becker was viewed as the best hope to get those three things. this is where becker has contemporaneous notes. the first day was a total bust. he never even saw nixon. his people, jack miller and ron ziggler, who was working as his handler, would go in and talk to him and come back and they would say, well, he likes the idea of the pardon. that's fine. these other two things are kind of problematic. let's deal with them later. becker later learned that while he was flying to california in the plane, from the white house,
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general hague called nixon and let him know what to expect and said, do not relent on these things. he is going to give you the pardon. don't cave in. don't agree to anything else. you gotta realize, the inner circle of the nixon presidency was actually now working against president ford secretly to undermine him. becker found a secure phone to call president ford. when he reported that night what was going on, ford was angry. he said, i'm ready to give this guy a pardon that could foreclose any chance of me becoming president and he is not going to agree. he said, give them one day. if it doesn't happen, it's never going to happen. the next day, the nixon team kind of does the same little dance around. they had drafted a letter of
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acceptance from nixon to the pardon. it said something -- it was in the third person and it said, the white house staff did some terrible things and didn't serve me well as president. not even a hint of contrition, which is what ford was looking for. becker was livid. he went out and found a phone and he called for a government plane. he suspected that the nixon people were bugging the phone, which they were. so he called and let it be known, he was going to be leaving. he walked in to see them and he said, i have talked to president ford and this negotiation is over today. if we don't work these out and i walk out the door, any discussion of a pardon is walking out that door with me. don't come back when your client is indicted, in jail. this is either now and these are the terms or that's it.
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that got their attention. a little bit later, jack miller came back with a signature on the deed of gift and also a new statement from nixon that was starting to sound conciliatory and said, i was not wrong -- i was wrong in dealing with the watergate matter, should have dealt with it more forthrightly, particularly when it got to a judicial stage. they were getting close to what they wanted. so now this was the moment when becker was supposed to meet with president nixon and explain the legal consequences of accepting the pardon under the burdick case. this is a chilling part of the story. he goes in to see -- he is taken in to see nixon in this cramped little office. according to benton becker's contemporaneous memo, he described nixon as nervous, almost frightened of meeting
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him. he had an impression of a man of freakish grotesqueness. his arms and body were so thin and frail as to project an image of a head size disproportionate to a body. the face wrinkled. the posture reminiscent of advanced age. nixon looked 20 or 30 years older than the 61 years of age he was. becker went through the legal implications of burdick carefully for almost an hour. at the conclusion of that, after shaking hands with the ex-president, he walked outside, got into a car to go to the airport. before he could even close the door to the car, ron ziggler ran out and said, come back, president nixon wants you to come back, he wants to give you something. becker went back into this
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little room. nixon is sitting there all by himself. he said, i wanted to thank you. he said, we have had a lot of bullies over the past year. you at least weren't a bully. then nixon pulled out this little white box and said, i would have liked to do more. and he looked around this empty room. there was nothing on the walls, nothing anywhere. and he said, but they took it all away from me. and handed him this little box. becker thanked him and he said he said to himself, i'm getting the hell out of here. he went to the car, drove to the airport, opened the little box and there was this little pair of cufflinks with the presidential seal on them, supposedly the last pair that nixon had. those are now on display in the gerald r. ford museum. that night, he gets back to washington, briefs president
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ford and ford schedules that press conference for the next day. neither of them slept much that night. the next morning at 8:30, which is 5:30 california time, ron ziggler called and said, he changed his mind. he is not going to sign that statement. he wants to go back to the original statement, the statement that basically blamed it on the staff. becker said, that's fine. i will tell president ford and i'm sure he will just plan to cancel the press conference for today. ziggler backed off. exactly 11:00 in the morning, president ford sat behind his desk in the oval office and granted the pardon which you saw on that video. what you couldn't tell on the other end of the camera watching that whole time was benton becker. one of the few people who knew everything that happened here. so i'm going to show you now a
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brief clip that tom brokaw, the iconic news anchor for nbc, did for us when we did the event for the 40th anniversary in 2014. mr. brokaw covered the pardon for nbc as these events unfolded 40 years earlier and here he is as he talks about his recollections of that incredible time. >> from what i remember gerald ford's pardon of richard nixon, the disgraced president who was forced to leave office because of watergate, it was a sunday morning, the social climate in washington by then was very relaxed. you must remember all that we had been through in that city in the fall of 1973, spiro agnew had been forced to resign. then we had the long siege of watergate, the supreme court decision, the explanation by
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richard nixon and ultimately his resignation. there was an enormous amount of relief not just in washington but across the country and such good will for gerald ford who seemed like a decent man who would always do the right thing. i was at a brunch at the home of the housing secretary carla hills when we began to hear that gerald ford was about to pardon richard nixon. it seemed like it was a signal that had come from outer space, from some kind of an alien environment, but, in fact, it was true. tables were overturned, people were rushing to cars, trying to get to the office, trying to get to the white house to file the story, to figure out what was going on. i ended up at the white house and the phones were ringing off the hook. it was instantly and enormously an unpopular decision. i have always believed that president ford an essentially decent man had prepared the country in some fashion by saying i'm going to ask president nixon to acknowledge his wrongdoing to find some way for him to say to the country
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how wrong he was, because he had not done that, and then i'm going to consider a pardon. a kind of negotiation that would go on in any kind of a prosecution, but he didn't do that. he wanted to put it behind him as quickly as possible. that was part of the gerald ford instincts and it served him well as a man and it served him well probably in the long run as a politician because he had no guile. there was no hidden agenda. he thought this was the right thing to do. at nbc the calls came in and they were almost universally critical. the country thought the president should pay a higher price for all that he had put the nation through. in the final analysis how will history treat all of this? it's always hard to know. my own judgment is that gerald ford, his standing in history, will be unsullied by his decision to pardon richard nixon. people will talk about it, but by and large they will find him as a very competent caretaker who found himself in the highest
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office of the land in the most unexpected circumstances. and richard nixon, could there be any greater punishment than to have to be the only president in american history who was forced to resign because of his ellis sit illegal behavior in the oval office and beyond. that was torture by richard nixon. it will never be eased by a pardon, by a president or by the rewriting of history. what i remember most of all, however, was that in washington in those days you woke up in the morning and had no idea what would happen next and there was nothing more stunning than to hear the president of the united states was about to pardon the former president of the united states. i'm tom brokaw, nbc news in new york. >> i have to tell you that most americans thought that the pardon was the wrong decision at
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the time. it sent the wrong signal that powerful politicians like nixon were above the law while ordinary citizens, you or i if we would have done this would have gone to jail for the same thing and certainly archibald cox felt that way at the time, too. ford understood that criticism, but he sincerely believed that pardoning nixon was the best thing for the country, which is what he told me multiple times when i first interviewed him in 1995. so i want to tell you about that interview. i met with ford at a hotel in new york city, it was part of my work on the archibald cox book. i wanted to get his side of the story because i thought the pardon was a bad idea, archibald cox thought it was a bad idea. he was impassioned when he talked about it and as he talked he literally pulled out his wallet from his back pocket and pulled out a little scrap of
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paper and read it. it was a citation to a supreme court case, burdick versus u.s. from 1915. i have to tell you i was at this time teaching constitutional law. i had never heard of the burdick case. he explained that this case stood for the proposition that acceptance of a pardon was an admission of guilt and even though the press and the american public had not digested this, didn't understand it, it was very much a part of his decision. and, in fact, he said he sent becker to california largely to explain the ramifications of that face-to-face. kind of like giving nixon his miranda rights. in 1999 when i organized a first -- i was really -- became interested in this topic after interviewing ford and did a first program at duquesne in
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1999 to talk about the ford pardon of nixon and to try to reevaluate it. one of the people who was able to attend was nixon's personal attorney, herbert jack miller. at this program he acknowledged for the first time with permission of the nixon family that this story was accurate and not only was this story accurate, in fact, miller said for the first time that nixon tried to not accept the pardon itself because he didn't want to admit guilt. and they had to actually have a heated exchange over a period of time before he agreed to accept the pardon. so ford felt that he had gotten for the country what it most wanted, some admission, acknowledgment of guilt by richard nixon and somehow that fact has really remains lost to
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history as far as most people are concerned. it's also really important to understand that there was this strong desire by ford and his team to deal with nixon's records and tapes. that can't be separated out from the whole pardon issue. and even though, again, the press didn't pay attention to that, ford was extremely worried that if those records and tapes were shipped out to california, they would go up in a big bonfire. i think he was probably right about that. today when you think about it the only reason we have this rich repository of history that has allowed us to understand that period of history is that ford brokered this deal to hold those papers in the trust of the national government until congress could act and pass ultimately the presidential records act which makes all of
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these papers for nixon and subsequent presidents accessible to the public. and there was also this big issue that weighed on ford heavily whether nixon could ever receive a fair trial if he was indicted and prosecuted, and my own research confirmed that leon jawarski had serious questions about that. you may know ford actually went to visit nixon in the hospital, he had phlebitis, he actually had concerns that he was going to die. so there were many, many factors going on here. but that story wasn't known to the american public so the honeymoon did end for president ford after that decision on the pardon and it was -- it was the end of the honeymoon for him and his whole family who had really been the darlings of the media at first and now they're part of this grand betrayal. when we did the 25th anniversary
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program here at duquesne, one of the speakers that i had come speak was ford's son, steve ford. it was very moving. he told me and told the audience at that time that when all of this was happening he was still a teenager and his father sat him down and explained that there were some circumstances like this where grace and mercy were necessary just like in a family. it was really very touching. so in my view i really do think that gerald ford did what he thought was right in granting the pardon based on every information -- based on all the information that he had. in the process he made the single decision that probably kept him from becoming president in 1976. one of the stories that really hit home for me is that when i talked to bob hartman one of his
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closest advisers, he told me that he was sitting at a meeting with president ford and begged him, can't you wait at least for a couple months past the november election. it will kill republicans in the 1974 elections and also do damage to you in 1976 if you pardon him. and ford just sat there and shook his head and said, if i decide to give richard nixon a pardon, it won't have anything to do with politics. too many decisions were made in this office in the white house based on politics over the last five years. if i do it, it's going to be because it's the right thing to do. so, of course, jimmy carter did win the election of 1976 by a small margin and the pardon of richard nixon was certainly a factor, one of the key factors
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with many voters that caused ford to lose. one of the things that it's interesting to think about is why didn't ford's communications people get this story out there better. all of this stuff that we've heard today in the benton becker revealed in the last couple of decades, well, first of all, you have to realize ford had been in office for a month at this time, had no real inner circle of his own, he was still operating with nixon people for the most part. also a key part, you guys weren't alive at this time, but ford's press secretary resigned in protest when ford gave this pardon. that kind of overtook the news, overshadowed everything else. there obviously was no internet back then, no cable news and so events just gal lopped away from there and there were no pieces to put back together to explain
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the story. my studying of all of this also suggests that ford and his people were walking on eggshells. it's easy for us to say, boy, it's obvious that nixon is going to turn over his papers and those tapes and that he's going to agree to a pardon. they weren't so sure of it, especially given nixon's mental state at that point at all. they were afraid if they pushed too hard on all of this he might snap and the whole deal could go down the drain. and there was also the issue, don't forget, what we started out saying, what benton becker discovered from the pardon power, it doesn't apply to state crimes, right? so there were potentially state crimes in california, also in the queue there, so they could not press for too much of an admission or nixon could be incriminating himself. so really the first time ford
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felt comfortable talking about all of this -- he made little mentions of it in press conferences but the first time was really after he had lost the election when his memoires came out and he appeared on the dick cavat show and talked openly about the burdick case and the records and tapes and all of the factors that were the key driving forces in making this happen. i was fortunate as part of that program that we did at duquesne in 1999 to have a chance to interview president ford at the ford library and museum in grand rapids. he died in 2006 at the age of 93, so i thought it would be fitting before coming to a close to show that video today, to hear what president ford himself said about the pardon.
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>> good afternoon, president ford. my name is professor ken gormley and it's an honor to join you here in the very beautiful gerald r. ford museum in grand rapids. as you know, today is the 25th anniversary of your controversial decision to pardon your predecessor in the white house, president richard m. nixon. i have just a few questions as we look back on that event in history. the single issue that seemed to dwarf all others in the eyes of the american public after the pardon was did president ford cut a deal with richard nixon in advance to pardon him. can you answer that question directly, mr. president? was there a deal of any sort? >> i testified before the house committee on judiciary that there was no deal, period. i think those are my exact words. and i can assure you some 25 years later that there is absolutely no credibility to
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that allegation. the truth is i was going to be president without any question of a doubt because president nixon was either going to be impeached and forced to resign, or he was going to resign on his own as he did. so i was going to become president, period, regardless of any comments between him and myself. >> and now that you're able to look back on your presidency with the benefit of 25 years' hindsight i ask you this simple question, would you pardon richard m. nixon again if you had to do it all over? >> well, based on some additional observations, testimony, et cetera, i think today if i had to go through the same process with more evidence
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i would certainly have executed a pardon on his behalf. there was no doubt when i did it back in september of 1974 that i was doing the right thing, regardless of what the press said, regardless of what many americans said. it was absolutely unequivocally the right thing to do for the country and you had to look at it from that point of view to understand why i took the action that i did. >> and did we learn anything more recently from the exhausting and divisive clinton scandal this past year? did it shed any light on what the nation might have endured back in 1974 if president nixon had not been pardoned but rather subject to a full-blown criminal prosecution? >> well, the clinton difficulties i think illustrate
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that the impeachment process is a very, very difficult one. you have to have action by the committees in the house, you have to have house action, which means full-blown debate, you have to have a decision by the house of representatives and then the case has to go before the united states senate on the actual question of conviction or otherwise. now, in the nixon case if there had been an impeachment vote by the house committee on judiciary, followed by a house in the house of representatives with all the debate and then subsequent action in the senate as there was in the clinton case, it would have been an atmosphere in the united states that would have precluded the congress and my white house from
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trying to solve the basic problems we had at home or internationally with the cold war. >> so you're as comfortable as we sit here today with the decision as when you were -- when you sat in the oval office 25 years ago today and spoke into the television cameras and granted the pardon? >> no question about it. i'm even firmer in my conviction that i did the right thing for the country. and i'm pleased to see that recent polls have indicated that more and more people in america today are agreeing with me than they did 25 years ago. >> that's the benefit of history, isn't it? >> right. >> thank you very much for sitting down with me today to discuss this historic event. >> thank you. thank you very much. >> thank you, mr. president. >> so after watching that video and also after reading this
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chapter, did that change any minds? did you guys change your mind about whether ford's granting of the pardon really was the right thing to do for the country? jess? >> well, i do think it was the right thing, but knowing how the american public tends to react to things i think they would have rather seen nixon burned at the stake than have the country heal. so while i think technically it was the right move it's definitely never going to be the popular move because essentially nixon just avoided justice and it's going to be frustrating for the rest of time. >> anyone else? yeah, robert? >> i think it definitely gave good inference on what presidential power is under the pardon and how far he could take it. he could use it at the highest level. i think that kind of was good in
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that sense and it did help heal the american people. where sometimes people act on emotions, it seems like president ford was acting more out of future logic as opposed to what was going on then. >> yeah, that's a good way to look at it. and when you talk about healing the country, his autobiography was called "a time to heal." i still remember that program that we did at duquesne where that was shown in 19 -- in the late 1990s, aired on c-span nationally, and after that weekend on monday i was in my office at the law school and my secretary called and said, some guy is on the phone who says it's president ford. should i hang up on him? i said, i don't know, send him in, i will talk to him. and it was president ford who was calling to thank me because he had spent all of those years feeling that the country didn't understand this and finally
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there was an opportunity for people to understand why he had made this really difficult decision. incidentally, this story and this burdick case were one of the main reasons i first decided to work on this presidents and constitution book because i wanted to show how the threads of history interconnect and shape a president's power. it doesn't just come from on high of all the powers dealing with domestic powers or war powers or whatever. so you saw when we had the chapter on woodrow wilson i made sure we inserted the story of the burdick case there in the 1915 segment and then when you get to ford you can see how it reappears and shapes history and presidential power. i wanted exactly to write this book to show that a president's
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powers as they've evolved under the constitution since george washington are very much about these unexpected events, about the strong personalities of the people who occupy the presidency. it's just as important as the sparse words in the constitution in article 2, we saw there's less than 1,000 words that define the president's powers. these threads of history tie events together and really tell an amazing story. so one can certainly debate the wisdom and the timing of ford's decision to pardon nixon, but there is way more support, jess, when you say that people would probably not come around to this, there is a lot more support now for the proposition that however awkwardly executed it was, that the pardon probably was the right thing to do for the country. in fact, before he died
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president ford was given the profiles in courage award at the kennedy library and presented it by senator teddy kennedy who had been one of the most adamant opponents of the pardon at the time and recognized that it really was an act of courage. i know from talking to president ford that that meant a huge amount to him after all of those years of criticism. i think that what we can learn from a story in history like this is that the essence of leadership involves making decisions even when they do run counter to the prevailing winds of public opinion, even when people, as you said, jess, do want to probably burn them at the stake, and even when it runs counter to their own advisers. the true test of conscience, i hope you can see from these two chapters, comes when an
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individual faces giving up his or her job or career or political future to follow his or her internal compass. and the only way -- and this is maybe the most important part of it -- the only way one has the strength of character to meet that test when the spotlight of history suddenly shines down on you is to spend your whole life making decisions like that on issues big and small and every instance of decision-making based on that set of principles, otherwise when this enormous political -- this political crisis comes and you're under so much public scrutiny and everyone is looking at you, it is really difficult to make those tough calls in those lonely moments. gerald ford and archibald cox to the same extent during the nixon
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saga both made their marks as leaders and as public figures because they had the strong compasses to guide them and they drew on those at these crucial and lonely moments when really no one was there to guide them and tell them what to do. and without that sort of moral grounding, i believe they never would have succeeded at that moment when they were placed in the position in history. so as we look back on the ford presidency, it did only last two and a half years, that's true, but i think there is a leavenworth reflecting for all of us about anyone who cares about our system of laws and government and especially for you guys. you know, students and those who are going to be the next generation of leaders, it's really important to think about these lessons. i really appreciate your participating in our class remotely today as we get through
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this coronavirus health crisis, hopefully it will pass before long and i hope you and your families are staying safe and healthy there and even though we're doing this using technology, it's still great to see you all there. don't forget your paper outlines need to get to dr. kupi and then we will gather for our next remote class when we talk about jimmy carter and ronald reagan. see you then. >> racial tensions in tulsa, oklahoma, led to an armed mob of white men marching on the city's predominantly african-american green wood district. the arrest of a young black man for his interactions with a white woman in a downtown office building triggered the unrest. over the next day the neighborhood known as black wall street would be the scene of shootings, looting and arson. while official numbers put the number killed at 36 historians
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believe the toll was as high as 300. 35 blocks of city were left in uns radio. tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv we explore the consequences that have day's events. >> american history tv on c-span 3 exploring the people and events that tell the american story every weekend. saturday at 6:00 p.m. eastern on the civil war, elizabeth varen and william curt's of the center for civil war history on their project about african-american soldiers fighting for emancipation. university of california riverside professor catherine allgor on the lives of women during the american revolution and early republic. and sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern
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the revival of the ship designed after the french vessel that brought major general lafayette back to the united states in 1780. exploring the american story. watch american history tv this weekend on c-span 3. >> "the new york times" began publishing the pentagon papers, a classified history of the stream nan war. this event subsequently led to the creation of a special investigative unit in the nixon white house which became known as the plumbers. author michael dobbs formerly of the "washington post" has written a book called "king richard" which takes a look at that special unit which eventually resulted in the resignation of the president of the united states. 50 years later writer dobbs focuses on that time in our history, an event that is
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well-known today as watergate. >> michael dobbs on this episode of book notes plus. listen at or wherever you get your podcasts. >> next on american history tv, historian carl sferrazza anthony looks at the fashion choices of pat nixon and betty ford reflected the culture of their times. he is the author of a book on first ladies and fashion and this talk is one of a series. the richard nixon foundation hosted this 50-minute event. >> ladies and gentlemen, my name is chris nordyke i'm the richard nixon foundation's director and i'm honored to introduce today's speaker. the nixon library has presented first ladies exhibits before and offered lectures on


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