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On Friday, Aug. 30, Ford called Buchen into the Oval Office. Ford asked him how long the criminal process and the trial of Nixon might drag on, how long it would be before the nation finally had Watergate behind it. Buchen's answer fell like lead: it would take nine months to a year before a trial could begin. Jaworski himself had told Buchen that, because of the massive publicity surrounding the House Judiciary Committee's unanimous finding that Nixon should be impeached because he obstructed justice, it would take a year or even longer "before the selection of a jury is begun." All during this agonizing period, Ford reasoned, he would be dogged by public questions about his views on Nixon and on a pardon. Said one of Ford's aides: "The longer it went on, the less candid it would compel him to be. He did not like not giving a straight answer just because it would be impolitic, and he knew he would have to do that."
At Ford's direction, Buchen worked throughout the Labor Day weekend to provide legal grounds for a pardon. He found precedents to establish that a pardon need not await an indictment or conviction. For example, he cited the case of a reporter who had been pardoned before testifying in a criminal action involving the customs department —during the Wilson Administration.
From Labor Day onward, intense, highly secret discussions went on in the White House. Some of Ford's closest advisers warned him that granting a pardon would greatly damage him in the eyes of the public. Aides pointed to the Gallup poll released last week showing that 56% of the public believed that Nixon should be tried for possible criminal charges arising from Watergate, while only 37% opposed such action. But the President said, with an edge to his voice, "I don't need to read the polls to tell me whether I'm right or not."
The Tapes Deal. Last week Ford gave a delicate job to a longtime friend, Benton L. Becker, a Washington criminal lawyer. The President assigned him to travel to San Clemente last Thursday and show Nixon a preliminary draft of a Ford statement granting a pardon.
Becker was also assigned to complete the negotiations between the White House and Nixon for an agreement granting the Watergate prosecutors—and presumably other lawyers—the right to examine his tapes and presidential papers for use in future cases. White House Counsel Fred Buzhardt had insisted that these records belong to Nixon and proposed shipping them forthwith to San Clemente; that prompted Ford to fire Buzhardt.
On Friday Nixon signed an agreement. The terms were hammered out by Becker, Nixon's attorney Herbert J.
Miller Jr. and former Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler. The tapes and documents will be turned over to the General Services Administration, which will store them near San Clemente. Two keys will be needed to open the vault; Nixon has one, the Government the other. Nixon has the right to listen to the tapes, and probably will do so in writing his memoirs. After five years he can order the Government to destroy the tapes or parts of them. In any case, the tapes must be destroyed in 1984 or at the time of Nixon's death, whichever comes first.