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Larry King Live Weekend

The Best of Interviews With Gerald Ford

Aired February 3, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING: Tonight: Gerald Ford in his own words; a look back at my interviews with the 38th president of the United States. It's next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

Thanks for joining us. We are opening up our presidential archives again tonight, our focus: Gerald R. Ford. He emerged from the nightmare of Watergate, succeeding Richard Nixon in the Oval Office in August of 1974. He survived two assassination attempts and then lost the White House to Jimmy Carter in 1976 in one of the closest elections in American history.

The first time I sat down with him, it was July of 1980, the Republican Convention in Detroit. Everybody was buzzing about the possibility the former president might join Ronald Reagan on the GOP ticket as vice president. Naturally, I asked his about all the talk.

Mr. Ford told me Mr. Reagan had broached the idea with him long before the convention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GERALD R. FORD, 38TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I always said, Governor Reagan, this really is not the thing to do, I can be more helpful on the outside, et cetera; but I did, as a matter of courtesy and respect for the prospective candidate and prospective candidate, that I would listen and take it under consideration. We had a number of very, very constructive meetings but, for reasons that I think are understandable -- and it just wouldn't fit.

KING: It would have been unusual, to say the least, right -- politically?

FORD: It would have been very unique, if that's the right word. Let me say that neither Betty nor myself had any problems of pride; that was no issue.

KING: No problems of pride?

FORD: No, no, no, no; that's not a matter that would have affected either one of us.

KING: Do you miss the White House? Do you miss the presidency?

FORD: Of course. KING: Because Harry Truman...

FORD: That's why I tried so hard to convince the American people that they should have had a different result, and I think a few of them regret..

KING: I'm Sure they do. Truman said that he didn't miss it, that he liked the feeling of nobody following him around and the free feeling of being away from it; you don't?

FORD: I live my own life; there is, of course, the Secret Service and they do their job very professionally and a lot of nice people are always saying hello and so forth. I like people, so...

KING: You have your own life, THOUGH?

FORD: Oh, sure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The next time I caught up with Gerald Ford was at the '92 Republican Convention in Houston; he was getting ready to address the delegates. I asked him about his wife Betty and the impact of her remarkable candor about her problems with alcohol.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Was it tough, before we talk about current issues, just quickly -- was it hard for you when your wife went public?

FORD: Not at all, because when we had a family intervention in our home in Rancho Mirage, our children and various doctors -- she went to the Long Beach Naval Hospital and was there about a month -- but I think the fact that she went public was good for her. And I know it was good in convincing other people that alcoholism is a disease, it's not a question of morality; and therefore, I think she has given people the inspiration to face up to their problems and to go for treatment.

KING: Was it hard -- is it -- was it hard to live with an alcoholic? One guess is that might be one of the hardest types of -- and remember, you're a public man, major congressional leader, vice president, president?

FORD: Well, in retrospect, Larry, it was tough. But most people, once they understand what alcoholism is, it's a disease, then you understand why the person has all kinds of problems.

KING: So you were able to love her right through it?

FORD: Oh, yes. I was very proud of her, particularly since she has been to treatment and now is the chairman of the board of the Betty Ford Center for Chemical Dependency, and the wonderful job they do all year long for so many people. I couldn't be more proud.

KING: All right, what does Gerald Ford say to George Bush tonight, if the president were here, in a very similar position to what you were 16 years ago?

FORD: Well, I've told the president that political polls are very volatile. And I well remember, as you said on the air, that I was behind over 30 points when we left Kansas City in 1976 but, because we were convinced we had a good record, domestically as well as foreign policy -- because I honestly believed I could do a better job than my opponent, we worked at it and we came awfully close. We lost by less than 2 percentage points.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Don't touch that remote -- more from the 38th president of the United States just ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: Some call me an elder statesman. I don't know. I don't mind telling you that I'm not ready to quit yet!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More now from our '92 convention interview with Gerald Ford. At one point during our talk he reminded me that he was the last surviving member of the Warren Commission, and that led us to discussion Oliver Stone's controversial movie, "JFK," released in 1991.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You did not like "JFK," the film, did you?

FORD: No, because it was produced as an alleged documentary, and the truth is it was a combination of half-truths, distortions and misinformation. So it was an excellent movie from the point of view of the spectator, but as a documentary, telling what happened in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated, it was the wrong story.

KING: When you were watching it, did you cringe? What did you feel like? I mean, you headed that -- you were a major member...

FORD: I was one of seven members.

I didn't see it until one time I was flying back from New York to California and they had it on the plane, so I was a captive audience; but I watched it...

KING: And?

FORD: ... and it made me more angry than I ever thought I would be, because it was so cleverly done, distorting what the facts were. For them to use Jim Garrison (ph) as the chief justice in the picture -- that's an abominable action.

KING: There's no doubt in your mind it was Lee Oswald acting alone?

FORD: Lee Harvey Oswald committed the assassination, and our commission found no evidence -- no evidence of a conspiracy, foreign or domestic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We'll hear more on the Warren Commission later in the program.

My next sit down with Gerald Ford was in July of 1998, shortly after he'd celebrated his 85th birthday. There was a lot to talk about, including a follow-up on something he'd said to me off-camera during our convention interview six years earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: At the Republican convention in Houston, you guested with us. You sat there and watched Pat Buchanan make a speak -- went on after it, and you turned to me and said, what's happening to my party?

What happened to your party?

FORD: We did not conduct ourselves really wanting to win. You cannot win a national election, neither Democrat or Republican, if your candidate and your philosophy is on the extreme right on the one hand, or extreme left on the other. The Democrats lost the presidential election with McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, because they were to the left of center. The Republicans will not win if they pick a candidate who was identified as an extreme right candidate.

KING: Didn't they take over your party, though?

FORD: They hadn't better, if they want to win. I think we've got to have, in the Republican Party, a big umbrella, so that people on the right, people on the left and people in the middle can work together. Now, that doesn't mean they agree on every issue, and abortion is one where there is significant difference. Betty and I are pro-choice, but we can work with people who are pro-life on the broader issues involving Republican philosophy.

KING: But when they say, Mr. President, that's a moral issue; it's not discussible and we have those -- we've had them on this program, might be called on the religious right who say, we're not going to be in your party, that's how big an issue this is?

FORD: Well, if that's the attitude they take and they have their own party, they won't win, and their impact in the political arena will be negligible.

KING: In other words, pragmatically, they'd elected Democratic?

FORD: That's right. No question about it. Now, I've been criticized by, I've forgotten who it was, on the basis that I don't have the proper family values. Well, Larry, let me be very frank with you. I think Betty and Gerry Ford have good family values.

KING: Why were they criticizing you?

FORD: Because we're pro-life -- I mean, pro-choice.

KING: Just for that reason, they...

FORD: Yes. They say, we don't have the right moral values. We don't understand the issue. Well, my point is: we've had 50 years of healthy, wonderful married life, raised four fine children. I think our family values are pretty good.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: As I try, in my imagination, to look into the homes where families are watching the end of this great convention, I can't tell which faces are Republicans, which are Democrats and which are independents. I cannot see their color or their creed; I see only Americans

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was easy for us to criticize you because we were caught up in the moment. You didn't get caught up in the moment, and you were right; you were right for the controversial decisions you made to keep the country together, and I thank you for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: What's your reading on -- President Clinton and this whole thing?

FORD: Well, Larry, I have scrupulously refrained from getting into the argument pro or con. It seems to me that other former presidents would be well-advised, and they have, to say nothing about the charges and countercharges. George Bush hasn't; Jimmy Carter hasn't, and I don't intend to.

KING: All right. But you were quoted in the "Omaha-World Herald" as saying, "The current charges and denials have unfortunately damaged the presidency at home and abroad." You avoided comment out of respect. How damaging at home and abroad, without commenting on Ms. Lewinsky or anything?

FORD: That's pretty hard to be definitive. But there's no question in my conversations with foreign leaders from abroad, or from citizens around the country, the White House, as such, has been undercut and damaged by the flurry of charges and rebuttals.

KING: And as a former resident and a former president, is that embarrassing? Sad? How do you term it?

FORD: Larry, it's sad because the White House, historically, is looked upon as the epitome of integrity and leadership and everything else that's good. And anytime you get even unfounded charges there -- the public begins to ask questions.

KING: What does a president do when he can't tell the truth to the people, or is there never such a situation?

FORD: There are occasions where a crisis is on the horizon, imminent, where for a president to say, this might happen next week, could be harmful in trying to solve the problem before it became a matter of serious consequence. So a president, on occasion, can tend to...

KING: Fudge?

FORD: ... fudge a bit. And that's -- I think when you bear in mind the national interest is involved, the public would understand that. There's a difference, however, between that and where a president deliberately lies to cover something up, and that's inexcusable.

KING: In other words, did such and such travel to Chicago last week to deliver a piece of paper for you? Absolutely not. If they absolutely did, that's a lie and no excuse for that.

FORD: Right.

KING: Do you think his or her conversations with staff aides are their business?

FORD: Well, we have a tradition in this country -- it's not in the Constitution, where you have executive privilege.

KING: Those words don't appear in the Constitution?

FORD: Those words are nowhere found within our Constitution. It developed over the years. President Nixon utilized it very frequently during the Watergate tragedy and the Vietnam War, and the court upheld it on many occasions, the Supreme Court. But it has to be justified on a case-by-case basis.

KING: We'll be right back with President Gerald Ford. He's -- at 85, we can call him an American institution. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with President Gerald Ford. What of the private life of a public individual is our business?

FORD: That's a tough question to answer, and I think it varies with the person and the incident. Betty and I always resented questions and invasion of the lives of our children. We were mature enough -- we'd been around long enough, questions involving whatever we were doing or had done were perfectly legitimate, whether I was in the Congress or the White House. On the other hand, there are certain intimacies of a family life that, in my judgment, ought not to be opened wide for public scrutiny.

KING: Your wife, though, came forward with it. Your whole family came forward with it. You didn't have to. You could have made it something else -- you could have lied and said it was a kidney disorder or something, right?

FORD: Of course, Betty has always been extremely open and frank, when she had her mastectomy.

KING: Right. But was that our business? Was her mastectomy, Nancy Reagan's, was that our business?

FORD: Well, Betty thought it was important for her to be open about it and thank goodness she did because, as a consequence, many, many women around the country went to have the examination that either pointed out the fact that that person had cancer or didn't. And that saved many, many lives. Now, in the case of alcohol and chemical dependency, that was a much more difficult one to...

KING: But she did?

FORD: She did. And I'm darn proud of her.

KING: It's generally assumed that President Kennedy had relationships. By the way, you were friends with him.

FORD: Oh, yes. He was a good friend of mine.

KING: Did you know any of this?

FORD: I kept hearing rumors.

KING: Was that our business? In other words, is it our -- forget President Clinton for minute. President X. If President X is married, appears with his wife, and has a relationship with someone else, is that the country's business?

FORD: If it's done in any way that, whatsoever, might adversely affect his responsibilities in being president of the United States. There are other former presidents -- Harding being probably...

KING: Classic.

FORD: ... the classic example. In fact, there's a new book out by his widow that...

KING: Incredible.

FORD: ... I'm told sets down in detail.

KING: Times, places, closets and the White House.

FORD: Right. But anyhow, unless it adversely affects the conduct of his office, I -- have reservations about the private life being laid out as an open book.

KING: Did you ever think we'd be talking about this as a topic of national interest, with a former president of the United States?

FORD: Well, the first presidents I ever knew -- Harry Truman had no such activities. We've heard rumors about Ike, but I never really believed them, and...

KING: Kennedy, it never got out.

FORD: Never got out.

KING: Johnson had his ways, right?

FORD: Yes.

KING: You knew him pretty well.

FORD: I knew Lyndon very well. But I never saw any...

KING: Hanky-panky.

FORD: ... concrete, hanky-panky. All kinds of stories, and certainly Nixon never did.

KING: Carter.

FORD: Carter. So the track record of recent presidents isn't bad.

KING: We'll be right back with more of President Gerald Ford, he's 85 years young; just take a look. Don't go away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: My fellow Americans, we have a lot of work to do. My former colleagues, you and I have a lot of work to do. Let's get on with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: Theirs is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that. And if I can, I must.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING: You might well have been reelected if you didn't pardon Richard Nixon. It was a very close election. It was very controversial. If you had to do it all over again, still do it?

FORD: I certainly would have, and I'm more convinced today, Larry, than I was in 1974.

KING: Why?

FORD: Because the public now understands why I did it, or a majority of the public does and that reassures me. Of course, when I did it in September of 1974, I was absolutely convinced that the only way for me, as president, to spend 100 percent of my time working on the problems foreign and domestic for the American people, was to get the Nixon problem off my desk.

And the only way to do that was to pardon Richard Nixon, so I could concentrate on the economic crisis I had to face, the prospect of going to Vladivostok to meet with Brezhnev. The problems of the Middle East, where the Arabs and the Israelis were at each other's throat. I had a full desk of serious problems, and as long as the Nixon matter of his tapes and papers were on my desk, I was spending 25 percent of my time with lawyers arguing one way or another. What do you do with those papers?

KING: You also knew that there would be accusations that him giving you the vice president to you, he had offered you, you must do this for him and quid pro quo?

FORD: Well, that was always one of those speculative charges that never had any substance.

KING: He never asked you? You never...

FORD: Never did. Al Haig, representing him, never asked me. That was a totally inaccurate, untrue allegation.

KING: What does a president do when he reads an allegation that isn't true? I mean, how does he -- can't sue the newspaper.

FORD: Well, in the case of the allegation about the pardon, I volunteered and went up and under oath testified before a House committee and said, those charges were nonsense, had no substance. You can't do more than that.

KING: Do you think, by the way, on that issue that President Clinton maybe ought to come forward and testify about this whole matter, put it away?

FORD: It would help to clarify the situation.

KING: Certainly we'd know more than we know?

FORD: Well, I think it would be reassuring if the public felt he was willing to come up and testify under oath, publicly.

KING: Did you -- were you the one that told Richard Nixon he was being pardoned?

FORD: No, no. I had a member of my staff, Beton Becker (ph), who went out to California, and told him that under certain circumstances, I would probably grant him a pardon.

KING: During all those years when he revamped himself, in a sense, did you talk frequently? Did you...

FORD: We didn't talk frequently, but we continued our friendship that had started on January 3, 1949.

KING: In the House?

FORD: In the House, when I took my oath of office and he was in the House chamber, having been there two years earlier. After I took the oath of office, along with my other freshmen, this fellow came up to me, who I didn't know, and he said, "I'm Dick Nixon; congratulations." That's how our friendship started.

KING: Would he be considered an American tragedy?

FORD: Yes, he would be a complex American tragedy, because in foreign policy, Larry, he was as good, if not the best president, in the last half of this century. The things he did -- opening China, et cetera, were terrific. He made one serious mistake and I, unfortunately, think he was misled by some of his staff, who tragically had an influence on him, and that led to Watergate, et cetera.

KING: But with your job, the buck stops with you?

FORD: That's right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: In all my public and private acts as your president, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end. My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our next chat with Gerald Ford was in December of '99, during our millennium month of very special interviews. The former president was now 86. We talked about his health, which he said was great; he also mentioned that he'd had a couple of knee replacements. That prompted a question about the career path that he didn't take.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Why didn't you go to the NFL? You had a -- three teams were after you, and you chose to go to Yale. Why?

FORD: Well, when I got through Michigan, I was offered opportunities at the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. But I had a chance to go to Yale as an assistant football coach and go to law school at the same time. So that opportunity was so wonderful I couldn't turn down the chance to further my education and earn some money in the meantime.

KING: See what a mistake? You could have made something out of yourself. What a mistake you made. Are there ever times you say, I would have liked to have played pro football?

FORD: I would, in retrospect, liked to have played one year just to prove that I could. But the opportunity to go to Yale and be an assistant coach and go to law school at the same time might not have been available.

KING: Of course, Gerald Ford is a major story in this century. You look back on an incredible -- how many years in Congress were you?

FORD: Twenty-five and a half years, 13 elections.

KING: Minority leader?

FORD: For nine years.

KING: Vice president?

FORD: And nine months.

KING: And president?

FORD: Two and a half years.

So we were there 28 1/2 years, and we enjoyed it. It was a great honor. And I urge other young people to get into politics. It's an honorable profession, and we need good people, men and women, who will serve in public office.

KING: Those who have dishonored it have not turned you off from it?

FORD: Not a bit. In politics, like any other profession, Larry, there are bad apples. You have it in your profession. We have it in all other professions. But that doesn't mean that young people shouldn't serve in government, elective office or appointive office.

KING: What was it like to -- you went, you and the wife -- get the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

FORD: That was a great, great thrill to have President Clinton give us the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And then to have it followed a few months later with a Congressional Gold Medal, that was a great thrill because the president, speaker, Democrat leaders in the House and the Senate all said some very nice things. KING: They sure did. I will give you some quotes later.

What was it like to be back in the White House?

FORD: That was nice to come back and to see the place, and particularly, Larry, there's some wonderful people who work there regardless of who is the president.

KING: Still there from when you were president? FORD: There were some of the people who were there when Betty and I were there. They came back specially just to say hello and to reminisce a bit. That was a great thrill.

KING: What, President Ford, was the -- we have asked other presidents this. Clinton says it's the loneliness at times -- what was the worst part of being president? What aspect of that job did you like the least?

FORD: Well, I enjoyed every bit of it.

KING: Really?

FORD: It was a challenge.

KING: The bad were good?

FORD: Oh, yes, that was always a challenge even though it was difficult on occasion dealing with the Congress. Even, on occasion, it was difficult dealing with Mr. Brezhnev from the Soviet Union over in Vladivostok or Helsinki. Sure, there were some tough times, challenging times, but I enjoyed every minute, good or bad.

KING: Did you ever feel it was a lonely place? Did you ever feel isolated?

FORD: On occasion, but not often. It's a beautiful, beautiful residence, and people there make it so comfortable. And if you enjoy the challenges I don't think you ever really feel lonesome.

KING: So many areas to cover. One, though, you're the last living member of the Warren Commission.

FORD: That is correct.

KING: Have you ever had a doubt that there was anyone other than Lee Harvey Oswald involved?

FORD: I reiterate what we as a seven-member board did, or commissioned. We said Lee Harvey Oswald committed the assassination, and we as a commission found no evidence of a conspiracy, foreign or domestic. We agreed on that unanimously. I think today I have the same strong feelings.

KING: So they haven't wavered then?

FORD: Not a bit. KING: Were you rushed? There were some would said that President Johnson put a rush on all of you to get this done.

FORD: It was desirable to get it completed prior to the elections of 1964. We had 13 months to do it, to carry out our responsibilities as a commission. So I think we had ample time, Larry. And the pressure of the election coming up didn't really interfere with our judgment. KING: Do you think one of the reasons the conspiracy theorists hold forth in so many areas is that it's hard to accept that one lone man could change the world?

FORD: Well, let me just say this, Larry, there are critics, cynics about who killed Abraham Lincoln.

KING: Correct.

FORD: And that's over a hundred years ago. So I am sure you're going to have people -- in addition to Oliver Stone and some of the other people -- in the years ahead who are going to say the same thing. But the truth is, I have seen no new, credible evidence that would change my mind.

KING: Betty was here just a while back.

What was that like? Tell us about discovering Betty's alcoholism and that famed meeting when the family had -- but how did you know your wife had a problem?

FORD: Well, I was what they call an enabler. I really didn't recognize it. Our daughter Susan was the one who really raised the issue in the family, and...

KING: Was this in the House, when you were in the House?

FORD: No, this was when we had left Washington and were in California. Susan...

KING: So she was drinking in the White House, and you had enabled that. You didn't -- weren't aware of a problem?

FORD: But we were not what I would call drinkers. Her problem was a combination of prescribed medication by doctors in the White House and elsewhere, plus a few martinis or a bourbon and water during the afternoon or evening.

KING: And as an enabler, you said it's OK, right?

FORD: Yes. I think I worried about it, but I didn't see that it in any way whatsoever prevented Betty from carrying out her duties as first lady. But Susan was more alert to it than I or anybody else in our family, and she was the one that prompted the intervention that took place in our house in Palm Springs.

KING: When you all met with her, right?

FORD: That's right. We had the children, two doctors who were experts in intervention. And it was not an easy hour and a half or two. We had to be very frank, up front. The children expressed their experiences where they were disappointed, but...

KING: Did she -- she said she almost -- that helped her the most. She realized it right away and got to work at it.

FORD: Well, right after that she committed to go to the Long Beach Naval Hospital for a month of treatment. And, of course, she's had 21 or 22 years of total sobriety.

KING: Back with more of President Ford on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE in our millennium month right after this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: I have not campaigned either for the presidency or the vice presidency; I have not subscribed to any partisan platform; I am indebted to only one man, and to only to one woman, my dear wife.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: In exactly eight weeks we have demonstrated to the world that our great republic stands solid, stands strong upon the bedrock of the Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president of the United States late in 1973, after pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion. Then-President Richard Nixon, tangled in Watergate troubles, picked Gerald Ford to replace him. I asked President Ford about handling himself in the midst of scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FORD: Well, that was a distressing circumstance. When I was vice president, it was a narrow path I had to follow -- if I condemned Nixon as vice president, people would have criticized me. On the other hand, if I embraced him too strongly, people would have been highly critical, so I had to go down a very narrow path.

KING: How did President Nixon -- and was President Nixon the one to tell you, I am resigning, you are going to be president? How were you told that?

FORD: He asked me to come to the Oval Office, and asked me to sit down. I had known Dick Nixon for 20 some years. We were good personal friends.

KING: In the House together, right?

FORD: That's right. And I supported him when he was up for election. He asked me to sit down, and he said: Gerry, I'm going to resign tomorrow. And I want you to know that I have full confidence that you can carry on, particularly the foreign policies that we have agreed on over the years and whatever domestic problems we have.

KING: What did you say?

FORD: I said, well, I wish this was not going to happen, because I really had hoped that the things that may come to light were not the truth or were not justifying his resignation.

So I was saddened because a friend was taking that very dramatic step. But the facts were there, and he had no choice.

KING: What was it like, though -- what did you think and feel as you left the office, knowing that tomorrow, you're the leader of the free world?

FORD: Well, as I said a moment ago, I felt confident that I was prepared.

KING: You did?

Did you call Betty right away?

FORD: She knew where I was and knew what was going to happen, because we had been forewarned. The night before, as we went to bed, we actually held hands and prayed that our new responsibilities we could carry on as a team and do a good job.

KING: When you pardoned President Nixon, did you call him?

FORD: No. I had no direct contact...

KING: Contact at all.

FORD: ... with him. I had an attorney from my White House staff go out with his attorney, Jack Miller, to negotiate the final terms of two things -- one, what we were going to do with Nixon's papers, tapes and records. That was an important issue. Some people wanted to get all of that out of the White House. And I said no, because those documents were important for whatever trials, if any, were going to be held; and secondly, what the terms of the pardon would be, how they would announce it, and whether President Nixon would make a public statement accepting it. Well, my attorney, Benton Becker, did a fabulous job of negotiating. And the net result was we got the papers, kept them in Washington, and there was, in effect, an acceptance by President Nixon.

KING: No big personal statement, though, a release, right, I think?

FORD: No.

KING: What was it like to stand on the lawn the day he left and went to that helicopter and that famous wave?

FORD: Well, Betty and I were not happy to see a friend go through that traumatic experience. Though I think we were saddened by it, Larry. Even though it was a new challenge to us, to see Pat and Dick leave under those circumstances, that was not a pleasant moment.

KING: Henry Kissinger said about Gerald Ford, "He was called after the Vietnam War and Watergate to heal the most severe national divisions since the Civil War."

Did you see yourself as having to heal this country?

FORD: That was my prime objective as the occupant of the Oval Office. You can remember, as I do, the turbulence and the turmoil that existed because of the Watergate scandal, the problems of the tragic war in Vietnam. Families were torn apart. Communities were disrupted. You had riots and all the other things. It was a terrible time in this country. And it was my principle responsibility to restore integrity in the White House and to bring about healing in the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquility, but to use every means that I have to ensure it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with President Gerald Ford.

Other aspects of his life -- what about being shot at?

FORD: Well, I had two experiences. One in Sacramento when Squeaky Fromme, a member of the Manson gang tried to...

KING: She's still in jail?

FORD: She's still in jail. Well, I had gone to breakfast at a hotel across from the state capitol. And I was walking along the walk to pay a courtesy call on then-Governor Jerry Brown. And I noticed as I walked along a lady in a red dress following behind the first row of people who were there greeting me. And as I went to shake hands, a hand appeared with a pistol in it about as far as you are from me. And Larry Boondorf, one of my Secret Service agents, very alertly saw it, grabbed the pistol, and prevented her from pulling the trigger.

KING: Did you see it?

FORD: I saw the pistol. KING: What was that like, that moment?

FORD: It scared the heck out of me.

KING: I mean, not many of us have seen a pistol pointed at them.

FORD: That closely.

KING: Did you lean forward to try to stop, or did he jump in right away?

FORD: He got there before I could really react. Larry was a hundred percent on the job. And then, of course, about a month later, I came out of the St. Francis Hotel in...

KING: San Francisco.

FORD: ... San Francisco after making a speech before the San Francisco foreign policy group. As I walked out of the hotel to get into the car, a shot took place. And fortunately, it missed me. Now, I'm told that across the street, where the shot came from, a lady, Sarah J. Moore, pulled the trigger. But a Marine standing next to her saw it and hit her hand, and that result was the shot missed me.

KING: Where is she?

FORD: She's in jail, too. They're both in, I think, a Parkersberg, West Virginia, federal penitentiary.

KING: Did that cause you increased hesitancy about future appearances?

FORD: Not at all.

KING: No?

FORD: That was one of the risks that you have to assume, Larry, when you're in the White House.

KING: But it's logical to have some fear?

FORD: Well, I guess you would say subjectively you have fear, but you can't let those kind of incidents -- excuse me -- restrict you in your responsibilities as a...

KING: So you're out in public the next day?

FORD: That's right. And on occasion, you'll wear a protective vest. But very unusual.

KING: A couple of other things, George -- president -- Governor George W. Bush is facing some of this, people making fun of him a little, his intellect, and they made fun of you on bumbling, falling down. Did that bother you, or did you take it good-naturedly?

FORD: I tried to take it good-naturedly, at least as far as the public was concerned, because if you react otherwise, it just aggravates the problem, makes it worse.

KING: What about personally?

FORD: In a subjective sense. You know, I had a fairly good record in athletics at the University of Michigan.

KING: You were an All-American.

FORD: Not quite. But anyhow -- and I loved to ski, and I go got to ski fairly well. So I subjectively resented the implications that I couldn't keep my balance. But when you're in public office, you have to expect criticism from the press, from your opponents, from everybody else, and you have to live with it.

KING: We'll be back with more of President Gerald Ford -- 86 years young; his wife was with us a while back as well. This is LARRY KING LIVE in our millennium month; don't go away.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, President and Mrs. Gerald Ford.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: My most recent interview with Gerald Ford was in August of 2000 during the Republican convention in Philadelphia. I reminded the 38th president of the United states how he had criticized his party for leaving people out back in '92. I asked whether he thought the GOP had become more inclusive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FORD: This year, I see a major effort being made by George W. and his associates to bring people in. They made an effort to get Colin Powell. They brought Dick Cheney in. They're bringing in some of the governors that have a fine, fine record. He's gone to the NAACP, made a speech that was a welcoming one. There isn't a single area so far that he hasn't reached out to bring people in under the umbrella.

KING: You are pro-choice.

FORD: Yes, sir.

KING: Is this party open to pro-choice believers?

FORD: Well, they've accepted Betty and me. I guess they...

KING: But the platform discounts you.

FORD: We understand that you have to make major concessions. We're pro-choice and proud of it, but we don't condemn the people who feel otherwise. That's a legitimate ideological view. I wish we could get abortion out of the political arena, but -- if we did, we could solve it more quickly and, I think, more successfully. But the fact that George Bush welcomes people like myself and Betty who are pro-choice is indicative that he's building the tent that will give us a victory.

KING: You like George W.

FORD: I like him very much. I think he's a better candidate -- or he's running this campaign -- I'll put it that way. I think he's running this campaign better than the one run by his father a couple of years ago. George has learned from the mistakes that were made in the last Bush campaign, and, so far, I think they're producing good results.

KING: What do you think of Al Gore?

FORD: I have known him...

KING: A long time.

FORD: He was a little boy because, when I first went to Congress, his father was a very prestigious member of the House of Representatives. He was probably one of the finest orators in the Congress at that time, very liberal. He was much too liberal, as it turned out, in his home state of Tennessee because he was beaten by Bill Brock. But Al Gore Sr., was a person that had the attributes to run for president himself.

KING: First-rate guy.

FORD: He could give you a stem-winding (ph) speech that would knock you cold.

KING: What do you think of his son?

FORD: Little too mechanical. I compare him to his dad. His dad, you know, would walk into a room and would dominate it by his talent and his showmanship. Albert Jr., I think, is a little too mechanical, not as spontaneous as he ought to be.

KING: And do you expect a close race?

FORD: Absolutely. These polls are interesting because they're close. So I think you're going to see a race that will come right down to the -- the last votes that are being counted.

KING: We'll be up late that night.

FORD: I think so. As you may remember, I lost by 1-1/2- percentage points, and we didn't concede until the next morning...

KING: I remember.

FORD: ... because there were some states that were coming in. We -- if we had won one or two, we would have won.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Gerald Ford wound up in the hospital just hours after our interview with him was broadcast. It was eventually determined that he had suffered at least one small stroke. He was released from the hospital, headed home to California a week later.

We're glad to report a spokeswoman for the former president says he's fully recovered and currently on his own agenda, co-chairing a panel to study election reform from with former President Jimmy Carter.

Thanks for watching this Saturday edition LARRY KING WEEKEND. Tomorrow night: highlights of our conversation with the man Gerald Ford succeeded, Richard Milhouse Nixon. Don't miss it; good night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: My fellow Americans, I once asked you for your prayers, and now I give you mine: May God guide this wonderful country, its people and those they have chosen to lead them. May our third century be illuminated by liberty and blessed with brotherhood so that we, and all who come after us, may be the humble servants of thy peace. Amen. Good night, God bless you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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