Thursday, December 28, 2006

I'll buy you a Ford Mustang

More about kindly old Gerald Ford, the bestest non-elected President ever:

To accompany the pardon, Ford announced he was giving the former president ultimate control over all his White House papers and tapes. And the new President asked Congress to fork over $800,000 to Nixon for transitional expenses. While outraged lawmakers were powerless to override a presidential pardon, they immediately blocked the Ford-Nixon tape accord, and slashed Ford's request for the transition funds to $200,000.

While the pardon and the sweetness of the deal shocked most Americans, former President Nixon was not the least bit surprised. He had not only anticipated the move that would free him from possible prosecution; he had played a major hand in arranging it. From what is now known of the secret maneuvering that went on behind the walls of the crumbling Nixon White House, it is perfectly clear that the idea of a pardon originated with Nixon, not Ford, and was broached to Ford even before Nixon stepped down.

The Watergate investigation picked up an excruciating intensity for President Nixon during the summer of 1974, and, as more and more Watergaters were indicted or convicted (in the end, 40 Nixon Administration officials were either indicted or jailed for Watergate crimes), the mastermind of the cover-up feared his own prosecution. And for good reason.

Behind the scenes, Watergate grand jury foreman Vladimir Pregelj had written to Nixon asking for his testimony. Nixon's chief defense lawyer, James St. Clair, had quickly said no, that Nixon would only answer written questions or sit down alone with the special prosecutor — offers that were rejected by the grand jury. (Years later, in 1982, ABC News would reveal that all 19 Watergate grand jurors had voted in a straw vote to name Nixon a co-conspirator, but that Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski wouldn't go along with them. The jurors settled on secretly naming Nixon an "unindicted co-conspirator.")

There was no telling what the grand jury might do once Nixon departed the safety of the Oval Office, and there was evidence that Nixon was aware of precisely what the grand jury was doing, because he was being clandestinely clued in on its activities. On a Watergate tape not released until 1997, he is overheard saying he regularly received cover-up information and advice from the Justice Department's top Watergate investigator, Henry Petersen. Nixon said he heavily relied on this inside intelligence, declaring, ''I didn't make a move without Henry Petersen from the time of April 15th (1973). I talked to him all the way through.'' Nixon's revelation came in a June 5, 1973 conversation with his Watergate lawyer, Fred Buzhardt.

On the very day Nixon resigned, a confidential memo to Leon Jaworski from two of his top prosecutors suggested just how close Nixon came to being indicted and prosecuted: "In our view there is clear evidence that Richard Nixon participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by concealing the identity" of those responsible for the scandal. The memo contained five arguments for, and five against, indicting Nixon. The No. 1 reason for an indictment was: "The principle of equal justice under the law requires that every person, no matter what his past position or office, answer to the criminal justice system for his past offenses." The top reason against indictment seemed far less compelling: that Nixon's resignation was punishment enough.

Eager to avoid the risk of winding up in a federal penitentiary (even though he had once self-pityingly told Alexander Haig: "Some of the best writing is done from prison"), Nixon dispatched Haig to Vice President Ford's office on Aug. 1st — the eve of the release of "the smoking gun" tape — to raise the prospect of a pardon with Ford. The President realized the tape's contents would spark a revolt among congressional Republicans and doom his chances of survival. Despite repeated assertions that "I'm not a quitter," he knew a quick exit was in order. Nixon also knew a pardon would allow him get to keep his fat congressional, vice presidential and presidential pensions. He would also gain taxpayer money for an office and staff — and be provided with Secret Service protection — for the rest of his life. To stay and fight would be to face the certainty of congressional impeachment, conviction, and expulsion without any golden parachute or perks.

Look, he wasn't a truly horrible man like GWBush. Well, actually, I think the folks in East Timor might disagree:

Two newly declassified documents from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, released to the National Security Archive, shed light on the Ford administration’s relationship with President Suharto of Indonesia during 1975. Of special importance is the record of Ford’s and Kissinger’s meeting with Suharto in early December 1975. The document shows that Suharto began the invasion knowing that he had the full approval of the White House. Both of these documents had been released in heavily excised form some years ago, but with Suharto now out of power, and following the collapse of Indonesian control over East Timor, the situation has changed enough that both documents have been released in their entirety.

The invaluable Amy Goodman has more:
Former President Gerald Ford died last night at the age of 93. We begin our coverage of Ford’s time in office with a look at his support for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor that killed one-third of the Timorese population. We’re joined by Brad Simpson of the National Security Archives and journalist Alan Nairn. [rush transcript included]

Sleep well, Grandpa Ford.

Update: From the always brilliant DarkBlack: