The Pardon That Brought No Peace

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Watergate prosecutors regard the agreement as a quid pro quo for the pardon, but the White House denies it. On Saturday morning Becker delivered the agreement to the White House. Late that afternoon, Ford and several close advisers went over the final legal details of the pardon. He was still not completely sure that he would grant it, but, says one participant, "his mind was 95% made up." After that meeting, two old friends stayed behind with Ford. They were Buchen and Counsellor Robert Hartmann, whose long association with the President enables him to capture Ford's style and inner thoughts in speeches. Ford talked out his reasons and his beliefs, and the two men went off to put them into a brief personal statement. Hartmann finished it overnight.

Kind of Early. On Sunday morning, Ford went alone to early services at St.

John's Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House. He sat in pew 54, "the President's pew," which had been occupied by many Chief Executives before him. There was no sermon.

Along with some 50 other worshipers, the President knelt and received Communion. After the 25-minute service, Ford, looking solemn, climbed back into his limousine and returned to the White House.

Joining Hartmann in the Oval Office, Ford twice read the speech aloud, wrote in a few changes to make it flow more easily, and added the line referring to Nixon's health. Then he moved to a small adjoining office and began phoning congressional leaders; he had not previously informed them—or Jaworski —of the highly secret decision to pardon.

Many could not be reached because they were out golfing or otherwise relaxing.

When he broke the news to House Majority Leader Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr., the stunned Congressman said, "Jesus! Don't you think it's kind of early?"

According to O'Neill, Ford replied:

"There is doubt that he [Nixon] could get a fair trial, and it would take a year to a year and a half to try him. He's down on his health. I feel it's time to do it."

At 11:05 a.m., Ford somberly walked into the Oval Office to face a single television camera and a pool of reporters who had been advised to assemble for an important announcement.

The President engaged in none of the usual joshing banter with reporters, either before or after the speech. After he left the office, he told a staff member:

"Well, I think it was the right thing to do." Then the President went to the Burning Tree Club to play a round of golf with his old friend Melvin Laird.

Soon after, Laird was asked why Ford had acted just now instead of waiting until indictments had been returned. Said Laird: "The furor would have been much greater then. It is much easier now than it would have been afterward."

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