If These Walls Could Talk: Pardoning Nixon
On September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford told the American people that he had pardoned his predecessor, former President Richard Nixon.
September 3rd, 2012
11:23 AM ET

If These Walls Could Talk: Pardoning Nixon

Washington (CNN) - Sitting in the Oval Office, President Gerald Ford delivered the speech that many Americans hoped he never would give.

On September 8, 1974, Ford told the American people that he had pardoned his predecessor, President Richard Nixon, “for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in" during his presidency.

Ford made the case that his decision was part of an effort to begin healing the wounds caused by the Watergate saga, a political scandal involving the break-in at the Democratic National Committee and the subsequent coverup by the Nixon White House.

“My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed,” Ford told the American people. “My conscience tells me that only I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquillity, but to use every means that I have to insure it.”

The decision was delivered on a Sunday, a move that many critics said was an effort to dampen the political fallout. But that effort proved to be futile. Ford’s decision was so widely criticized that many political watchers -– including Ford himself -– have said that the decision to pardon Nixon led to the president’s 1976 loss to Jimmy Carter.

Just two days after the pardon, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass a resolution that opposed any further Watergate pardons until the White House provided documentation on how the pardon of Nixon came to be.

At the heart of this questioning was Alexander M. Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff. While Nixon was still president, Haig presented Ford, then the vice president, with a description of the presidential pardon process and a blank pardon form.

According to interviews with Ford, no decision was made at that point, but the fact that a Nixon staffer went to such lengths to hint at a pardon led many to speculate that Nixon agreed to step down from the presidency, thereby making Ford president, in return for a full pardon for any crimes committed.

In more recent interviews, Ford staffers acknowledged that the appearance of a deal for the presidency concerned them. “We didn’t want a situation where he’d agreed to a pardon and there would be an appearance of a quid pro quo,” John O. Marsh, a close confidant to Ford, told The New York Times.

Haig denies that any such deal was hatched. “You know, the president never, never was offered a deal,” Haig told CNN in 2006.

In interviews after his presidency, Ford regularly defended the pardon by stating that it was an effort to stop Americans from looking back on the past dark days, and to encourage them to focus on the future. In reality, while the pardon avoided a lengthy trial of Nixon, it heightened interest in Watergate and led people to feel that they never got complete answers from the former president.

Ford, on the other hand, was compelled to testify before Congress on October 17, 1974 due to the Nixon pardon. “There was no deal, period, under no circumstances,” Ford told the assembled representatives.

Ford was the first sitting president to formally testify in front of congress and although his testimony was not under oath, his decision to do so was seen as precedent-shattering.

In many ways, Ford’s legacy is still deeply defined by Watergate and his pardon of Nixon. Ford is the only president who was never popularly elected as vice president or as president (he became vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned). To this day he's referred to as an “accidental president.”


Topics: White House

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. John

    Maybe if Nixon had been prosecuted and sent to jail then later GOP crooks like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would not have broken so many laws and taken us to a trumped (Not Donald) up war.

    September 3, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Howard

      OBAMA'S LIES HAVE LOST HIM ALL CREDIBILITY !!!!!
      OBAMA AND HIS CORRUPT, LYING, SUPPORTERS ARE SO D E S P E R A T E !!! ... THEY ARE EVEN LYING ABOUT STATEMENTS WHICH THEY MADE ON VIDEO TAPE ... THEY HAVE SUNK TO THE LEVEL OF BASELESS ACCUSATIONS AND CHARACTER ASSASSINATION ... THEY'RE REDUCED TO ARGUMENTS ABOUT WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN ... WHILE ALL OF AMERICA IS EXPERIENCING THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING !!!
      SAVE AMERICA ... DUMP OBAMA ... ELECT ROMNEY & RYAN !!!

      September 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  2. Jay in NC

    Obama will pardon Eric Holder. Just wait and see.

    September 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Thinks2010

      So far Eric holder has not been convicted or impeached so there's no need for a presidential pardon at this point. You're jumping the gun.

      September 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • DEcember 2012

      MAYBE IN SALEM, DURING THE WITCH HUNT DAYS.

      September 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
      • Howard

        IS THIS THE BEST YOU OBAMA STOOGES CAN COME UP WITH ??? ... OBAMA HAS SQUANDERED NEARLY 6 TRILLION OF OUR DOLLARS ... UNEMPLOYMENT IS OVER 8% FOR OVER 40 MONTHS ... AND, CNN FOCUSES ON AN ERROR REGARDING RYAN'S MARATHON TIME ??? TYPICAL BIASED, PARTISAN REPORTING !!!

        September 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  3. Ray E. (Georgia)

    My, My,
    Reaching back to Richard Nixon I see. Richard Nixos's first Budget was a balanced one. Aw for the good old days, Eh. I wonder when we will see another Balanced Budget. Nixon went to China and the Soviet Union on a Quest for peace. Many don't remember the Cold War. The people are going to "Pardon" Obama in November.

    September 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Thinks2010

      Nixon is a very interesting president. In a lot of ways, he was an excellent president and very progressive and forward looking. However, his weaknesses lead him to do some very bad things. It's a real shame because he might have been one of the best presidents of the 20th century. If you had told me back in the 1970's that I would ever say that, iwould have told said you were out of your mind but the poor quality of some of the presidents that followed him casts a new light on this complex man and his presidency.

      September 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  4. Bob in Texas

    I remember the pardon well. It backfired. Rather than reducing focus on Watergate, it increased it. It also lead to the conclusion that government, particularly the Republicans, were a corrupted "good ole boy" network. They've not been trusted since.

    September 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Ray E. (Georgia)

      Well maybe Bob in Texas,
      As you may remember we had 4 years of Carter, just what all the Nixon haters wanted. To be rid of Republicians and Conservatives. So what happened. Reagan was elected and then Bush. 12 years of Republicians. Witt history repeat itself? Obama is looking a lot like Carter. SO, don't count your Chickens before they Hatch!

      September 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
      • DEcember 2012

        LOOKING LIKE CARTER? YOU MEAN LOOKING LIKE CLINTON, THE LAST TIME ANYONE HAS BALANCED A BUDGET.

        September 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
      • steve

        There is a mountain of diffeence between this administration and the Carter administration. For one foreign policy unlike Carter this administration is heads and tails above the Carter administration. Carter was bamboozled by the Regan Bush administration. Regan cutting a deal with the Iranians who were holding over 300 American citizens in the Iranian embassy. He used Oliver North as a conduit to move weapons into Iran behind congresses back, the Iranians in turn promised not to release the hostages until the Reagan was inaugurated. The hostages were literally released on Inauguration day as Reagan was taking the oath. Americans would later discover the evil deal when Reagan confessed on live TV ask for the forgiveness of the American public. That may of never happened if watergate was properly prosecuted.

        September 4, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  5. Howard

    IN SPITE OF EFFORTS TO REVISE AND FABRICATE WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED ... ASSUMING AMERICA SURVIVES THE ECONOMIC MELT DOWN, AND FUNDAMENTAL TRANSFORMATION BY BARACK OBAMA ... HISTORIANS WILL REMEMBER OBAMA AND HIS ADMINISTRATION, AS THE MOST CORRUPT, DISHONEST POLITICIANS IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

    September 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • DEcember 2012

      IF ANYONE LETS YOU NEAR A HISTORY BOOK, IT WILL BE THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT.

      September 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
      • Howard

        THE OBAMA'S ARE DESPERATE ... AND, WILL SAY, OR DO ANYTHING TO HOLD ONTO POWER ... THEY ARE EVEN TRYING TO DENY NUMEROUS STATEMENTS THEY HAVE MADE ON VIDEO TAPE ... IT'S TIME TO SAVE AMERICA, BY DUMPING OBAMA, AND ELECTING ROMNEY AND RYAN !!!

        September 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
      • Cynthia L

        Just a little side note to A LIE –Runners Magazine was fall-on-the-floor-astonished at Paul Ryan's claim that he finished his marathon UNDER 3 hrs.. SAY WHAT?? Oh those Ryan' Eyes! After that claim was a victim of a FACT CHECK when people came forward in the know about his NOT SO SUPER time, he just brushed it off and said he misspoke. Hahahahaha.

        September 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  6. Thinks2010

    Nixon should never have been pardoned. I think his pardon has only contributed to today's politicians' and some of their supporters' thad acts resulting from a feeling that they can ultimately get away with it and will never do time or suffer lasting consequences if they are found out.

    September 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • DEcember 2012

      POLITICAL PARDONS MAKE NO SENSE WHEN DONE BY PEOPLE FROM YOUR OWN POLITICAL PARTY. IT JUST REEKS OF CORRUPTION.

      September 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  7. W.G.

    I wonder why this article came up ? Republicans pardoning a crook like Nixon ? I guess that way
    it´ll be easier to pardon Romney when they arrest him for tax evasion .

    September 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  8. dahditdah

    Ford was appointed to the Vice-Presidency, and eventually to the Presidency, as a reward for this 'work' leading the Warren Commission down a dead-end alley. The pardon was just another corrupt deal and shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

    September 4, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  9. RCB

    Nixon- Watergate- recession – oil embargo – ilegally expand Vietnam war into Laos –

    Reagon – stock market crash – recession – Iran Contra scandal -l

    Bush 1 – recession – raised taxes on milddle class – 1st Gulf War

    Bush 2 – 9/11 (happened on W's watch) – recession , 2 wars sold to the American people due WMD's that did not exist –

    Romney – would more of the same of elected

    Hmmmmm......Republican Presential history very consistent in regards to ecomonic failure and starting unecessary wars.

    Nixon was our countries biggest embrassment until G W Bush came along. Mitt the Twitt already embarrassed himself in just 1 day in London. Flip flop Mittens and the boy wonder Lyin Ryan better hope their wives or daughters don't get raped and need an abortion but can't because their spouse/parent made it illegal. Of course they could just take their personal private plane to another country to accomplish that goal in secret.

    September 4, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  10. RealityBites

    Pardons for sleazy socialites like Mark and Denise Rich are a much bigger stain on America's dress than a pardoning a disgraced president.

    September 4, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  11. steve

    Reagan should of been charged in the Iran contra scandal, that would of put an end to the political corruption that exists today. No Republicans are constantly rewriting history to elevate St. Ronnie. I remember the hostages being released on inauguration day.

    September 4, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  12. Obama's America 2016

    CNN playing Obama's diversionary tactic games.

    The MSM is now beyond pathetic.

    September 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm |