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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Remembering Gerald Ford

Aired December 27, 2006 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
He never wanted to be president, but he helped redeem the office, just when the presidency and the country needed it most.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Healing the country, binding the wounds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our long national nightmare is over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From the stain of Watergate to the legacy of Vietnam -- how Gerald Ford's presidency still affects us today.

Tough choices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. FORD: I thought it was right. And I believe it today even more so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Pardoning Richard Nixon, losing reelection, and the Ford staffers who never forgot it -- their names, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

And just Jerry and Betty -- their battle with alcoholism and cancer, all in the public eye, the love that endured and sustained them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360: "Death of a President."

Reporting tonight from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And good evening again. I want to thank our viewers here in America for watching, and those watching around the world right now on CNN International. Tonight, preparations are under way for remembering Gerald R. Ford, who died last night at home in the California desert. At 93, he was the longest living American president. He became known as America's first accidental commander in chief, an appointed vice president taking office after Richard Nixon resigned.

As you will see tonight, however, this accidental president had anything but an incidental presidency. He took office with a country in dire straits. We will have more on that in the hour ahead.

But we begin with the latest on funeral plans from CNN's Dan Simon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Ford's funeral will have tributes never afforded a former president. To recognize his 24 years in the House of Representatives, the longest tenure of any president, his casket will be placed outside the House chamber on Saturday, and also outside the Senate chamber on Tuesday, because, as vice president, Ford was also president of the Senate.

GREGORY D. WILLARD, FORD FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: I know personally how much those two tributes themselves meant to President Ford. And to know that this tribute was being planned by those two bodies meant more than certainly words that I could have today to describe.

SIMON: Greg Willard, who worked for Ford in the White House, was handpicked by the family to provide details of the former president's funeral and to read a letter written by Mrs. Ford.

WILLARD: "My family and I are touched beyond words by the outpouring of affection and the many wonderful tributes we have received following the death of my husband."

SIMON: The public will have ample opportunity to pay their respects, with a public viewing Friday at the Fords' church in Palm Desert, California, his body then flown to Washington. As recognition for his service in World War II, the motorcade will stop briefly in front of the World War II Memorial, before heading to the Capitol, his body to lie in state on the Rotunda on Sunday and Monday.

Then, on Tuesday, people in Ford's home state of Michigan will be able to pay their respects at his museum in Grand Rapids, where he will also be laid to rest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Dan, do we know anything more now about the cause of his death?

SIMON: Well, Anderson, no cause of death has been released. We're just being told that he died peacefully with his family at his side. Obviously, it has been well-noted that he had significant health issues.

Anderson, one more thing we should tell you about the public viewings, it will be a closed casket. It will not be open.

COOPER: All right.

SIMON: Back to you.

COOPER: Dan, thanks.

If nothing else, presidential funerals bring together an elite and shrinking group, presidents and ex-presidents. The membership now stands at four, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, the first President Bush, and, of course, his son. All were on good terms with Mr. Ford.

One, the current president, shares a unique connection with the Ford administration spanning more than 30 years.

With a look at that, here's CNN's Elaine Quijano.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush remembered former President Gerald Ford as a great man who helped lead the nation through a period of division and turmoil, after Richard Nixon's resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most.

QUIJANO: Speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president offered his condolences to former first lady Betty Ford and the Ford family.

BUSH: President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States. He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character.

(on camera): It was just before 11:00 p.m. Eastern Tuesday when President Bush's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, called him with the news. President Bush then tried unsuccessfully to contact Betty Ford. Then, about an hour later, in an arranged call, President Bush expressed to her his personal condolences.

(voice-over): The ties between George W. Bush's White House and the Ford administration run deep. Vice President Dick Cheney once served as President Ford's chief of staff. And, in a written statement, Cheney said he was proud to have done so.

Of Ford's leadership during the troubled post-Watergate era, Cheney said -- quote -- "America needed strength, wisdom, and good judgment, and those qualities came to us in the person of Gerald R. Ford."

President Bush ordered flags on U.S. government buildings to be flown at half-staff for 30 days. The White House says President Bush does plan on attending the funeral services. Elaine Quijano, CNN, Crawford, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, today, of course, saw an outpouring of condolences from those who knew and worked with the former president, many of whom remain active in Washington and even the White House, as Elaine Quijano just mentioned, and CNN's Jeff Greenfield now expands on. His legacy is measured not so much in policy, as policy-makers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST (voice-over): He took office unlike any president before him, swept into the White House because his predecessor had been swept out by scandal.

This is our most enduring political memory of Gerald Ford. And, in part, because he served for so short of a time...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. FORD: I, Gerald R. Ford...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: ... only four presidents had a shorter tenure -- there is not that much in substance, no Ford plan or Ford doctrine.

But, for all that his amiable personality dominates our memory of him, there are significant political legacies surrounding Ford's White House years. One of the people who helped Ford beat back Ronald Reagan's primary challenge in 1976 was James Baker, who also worked for George Bush against Reagan in the 1980 nomination fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: But, when Reagan won that contest, he reached out to Baker, who became a key campaign aide, then White House chief of staff. And it was Baker who quarterbacked the post-election strategy of George W. Bush in 2000 when that election deadlocked, by most accounts, outmaneuvering his Democratic rivals.

More significantly, some of the political fallout from the Ford years continues to this day in very significant ways. His chief of staff, youngest ever, was Dick Cheney. His defense secretary was Donald Rumsfeld. They watched Congress assert its power, cutting off funds to South Vietnam, exposing abuses at intelligence agencies, and curbing executive power.

Cheney, in particular, saw this as a dangerous incursion into presidential power. As vice president, this Ford veteran, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, became the chief advocate for a sweeping view of almost unlimited executive power. Ford's CIA director was George Herbert Walker Bush. He backed conservative complaints that the CIA had been underestimating Soviet power and intentions, a much debated premise.

This controversy produced a strong belief among so-called neoconservatives that the CIA was risk-averse, unwilling to properly spot danger.

This was one reason why Rumsfeld and Cheney were so involved in the run-up to the Iraq war in intelligence matters. Their critics charge, this led to an over-eagerness to accept the idea that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

(on camera): So, while Gerald Ford himself leaves a modest political legacy, the people he chose to help guide his administration continued to have a big role in shaping American politics and policies decades after he left office.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Tom DeFrank is the Washington bureau chief for "The New York Daily News." He covered Gerald Ford for many years. They stayed close, meeting often, most recently just last month. Tom was with us last night, right after the news of President Ford's death broke, and joins me again now from Austin, Texas.

Tom, good to see you tonight.

Take us back to what it was like in the Ford White House when he first took office. How did it compare to, say, the White House today?

TOM DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, first of all, it was just like a fog had lifted from the White House, Anderson.

I mean, one of my favorite stories happened a week after Ford became president. He became president on Friday, August 9, 1974. He had a state dinner for King Hussein of Jordan on August the 16th. And I think it's fair to say, Gerald Ford will be the first, the last, and the only president ever to have danced at a state dinner at the White House to a tune called "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."

(LAUGHTER)

DEFRANK: And it was just a metaphor for how things suddenly got better.

I can remember Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon going over to one of his closest friends and just saying very emphatically, happy new year.

I think that's really the -- the tone just changed overnight. And I think that said a lot about -- about the new way of doing things.

COOPER: I -- I -- I must say, I wish there was video of him dancing to "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." I remember the song quite well.

DEFRANK: Well, and, you know, and I was there, Anderson, because that's another thing Jerry Ford did never before and never since.

There were five of us who traveled with him all the time on Air Force Two, four reporters, one photographer, not 200 like today, five. At that dinner with King Hussein, all five of us were invited guests to dinner. And that tells you a lot about his style as well.

COOPER: Was -- in terms of his style, was he a man who -- who wore the presidency heavily? I mean, did it weigh on his shoulders? Did he agonize over decisions? Or was he more at peace? And sort of did he have a process for making decisions?

DEFRANK: Well, he had a process for making decisions.

He surrounded himself with strong people, some of whom were probably smarter and more capable than he was. He was not afraid to -- to seek the counsel of strong individuals, like Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Alan Greenspan, Jim Baker, Paul O'Neill, and many others.

And I don't think he ever lost a night's sleep worrying about decisions. He was very comfortable with who he was. And he was able to decide something and move on.

COOPER: Was he treated fairly in sort of pop culture? I mean, I remember growing up watching the early "Saturday Night Live," Chevy Chase making fun of him, tripping and falling.

But, you know, when you read his bio, this was a president who was offered two jobs in -- with pro football teams.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: He was clearly one of the most athletic presidents ever to hold the office.

DEFRANK: He was a very above-average skier. He played tennis. He played golf well into his 80s, until he had to have two knee replacements. He was very vigorous, very athletic.

And, up until about three years ago, he -- he swam laps twice a day. When I saw him in May for his last interview, he was really irritated at his doctors. And I can remember. I walked into the room, and he said, the doctors -- he used a bad word -- he said, the doctors won't let me get into the pool. He said, I'm really mad about it. All I do is dog-paddle, and they won't let me do it. I'm on a leash, and I don't like it.

COOPER: He chose to pardon President Nixon. At the time, it was obviously a very controversial decision. A lot of people just condemned him. It divided the country. Did he -- was he just looking farther ahead than most people did at that time? Ted Kennedy has subsequently come around and said, you know, look, I was strongly opposed to it back then. And then he gave him a Profile in Courage Award more recently.

DEFRANK: I think President Ford understood that he would never get out from under the -- the pall of Watergate if Richard Nixon had to go on trial. There would be investigations on Capitol Hill. There would be legal proceedings dragging on well through the 1976 elections.

And I think Ford understood that the country would be paralyzed, as a practical matter, and the only way to lance that boil was to pardon Nixon.

COOPER: Tom DeFrank, it's good to talk to you again. Thanks, Tom.

Gerald...

DEFRANK: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Gerald Ford was appointed vice president, of course, and became president under the terms of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution.

Here's the "Raw Data" on that.

Section One reads, "In case of the removal of a president from office or of his death or resignation, the vice president shall become president."

In Section Two: "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the vice presidency, the president shall nominate a vice president, who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both houses of Congress."

Richard Nixon chose him. And, one month later, President Ford made a decision that would change both men's lives -- coming up, more on Gerald Ford's controversial presidential pardon, why he did it and the price he paid for it.

Also ahead: Betty Ford's remarkable legacy. She used her own battle with alcoholism to transform the treatment of addictions. We will take you inside the family intervention that saved her life. And we will look at the relationship these two had over 58 years.

And, in Denver, a major case of deja vu, as more wicked weather is bearing down. How bad is it going to be? Well, we will tell you. We will be bringing you the latest on a developing winter storm -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE") G. FORD: I was the sole person who had to make that decision. But, when you look back at the alternatives that I had, it was the right decision. And I have no question that it was the right thing to do then. And I'm more certain today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, it doesn't get any clearer than that. Ford never once wavered from his decision to pardon Richard Nixon. He believed it was essential for the national healing process. And it may have cost him the 1976 election.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve takes a look back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Division, distrust, disillusionment, the aftereffects of Richard Nixon's presidency and the scandal it spawned, Watergate. With one dramatic politically perilous move, his successor, Gerald Ford, hoped to move the country past it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 8, 1974)

G. FORD: Do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: But the pardon, sprung suddenly on a Sunday morning just one month after Ford took office, did not heal the country. To the contrary; some of the anger which had been focused on Nixon was redirected at Ford himself.

YANEK MIECZKOWSKI, AUTHOR, "THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORICAL ATLAS OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS" It led to suspicions that Ford had somehow colluded with Richard Nixon. And it tainted what had become Ford's stock-in-trade during that first month of his presidency, which was that here was a man from the Midwest of decent values who could restore integrity to the Oval Office.

MESERVE: Ford maintained that there was never any deal that Nixon would make him president in exchange for a pardon.

But, nonetheless, Ford's action triggered a plunge in his approval rating. Overnight, it plummeted from 71 percent to 50. And it contributed to his loss of the presidency to Jimmy Carter in 1976.

But Ford never voiced any regret about the pardon, which came to define his presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE, DECEMBER 17, 1999)

G. FORD: It was my principal responsibility to restore integrity in the White House and to bring about healing in the country. I have no question that it was the right thing to do then. And I am more certain today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: With time, the country came to the same conclusion. In 2001, the former president was awarded the prestigious Profile in Courage Award for putting his love of country ahead of his own political future, for forgiving what so many could not.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's a decision which still reverberates today.

Joining me now to talk about it from Seattle is David Gergen, who was an adviser to four presidents, including Gerald Ford and the man he pardoned.

David, good to see you.

Was it the right decision?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Absolutely.

President Ford has said several times since then, Anderson, that he was being consumed as president by -- he once explained to a group of students that I was with that -- he said, look, 80 percent of my time was being devoted to the fortunes of one man, only 20 percent to the fortunes of 250 million Americans, at a time when we had to worry about rising inflation, a -- the possibility of a recession, and, of course, winding up the Vietnam War.

All of that considered, he had to change his priorities. I think he made the right decision. It has been recognized as since -- since -- that it was the right decision.

I think that, in retrospect, the president himself would say that he might have gone about it differently. He might have -- he might have showcased it differently. He might have notified people in advance or given the public some sense that it was coming. It was such a shock.

COOPER: Why? Because it came -- it came as a complete surprise?

GERGEN: Yes. He -- he had held a press conference only a few days before, in which he had said, Anderson, that he wasn't going to consider the possibility until the -- until Nixon was actually indicted. And, of course, that had not occurred.

So, it was a complete surprise. It was only known within the White House to just a handful, four or five of his closest associates, a couple of whom were not happy with the decision. But they decided that he was -- you know, he had made up his mind, and they couldn't talk him out of it. But I can just tell you, it came on a Sunday morning at 11:00, as Jeanne Meserve just reported, you know, on a Sunday, you know, just people -- or many people are going to church. And it was a shock to the nation, because there was this immediate suspicion that, you know, something fishy was afoot, that there was a fix in, that somehow he had been promised, if you -- if you will promise to pardon Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon will leave office, and that that was the fix.

Of course, that had not happened. President Ford graciously, when he was asked about it by Congress, waived any executive privilege and went and testified in front of the Congress. That had not happened. It did not totally quiet the suspicions, but people gradually came to believe him and see that there was not a fix, that he did it on the merits.

COOPER: I'm always fascinated how presidents wear the office. And that's probably not the right term, but I -- I asked the same question to -- to Tom DeFrank a few moments ago

I mean, how did this president make decisions? How -- day to day, how did his White House work? And -- and compare that, if you can, to today's White House.

GERGEN: Well, I'm glad you had Tommy DeFrank here. He is a wonderful -- he has a wonderful memory, with great stories about that period.

You have to understand, when Gerald Ford came into office, that he was not a man who had spent his life trying to get there. He had -- his highest ambition was to be speaker of the House. And, so, it was completely accidental. He did not prepare in the way most presidents prepare, so that, when he got there, he brought his small Capitol Hill staff, a very good group of people, but it was a very large responsibility.

And, frankly, there was a lot of confusion and a melee there in the beginning. And it took a lot of time to settle down and get the reins. And he did not turn to a strong chief of staff system in the beginning. He wanted to not do -- he didn't want another Bob Haldeman, of the kind that Richard Nixon had.

So, when Don Rumsfeld first came in to be chief of staff, he wasn't given a lot of authority to -- to really bring order. And, when Dick Cheney became chief of staff, there still was not a lot of authority. Dick Cheney really won his spurs by straightening out the place over time.

And, in the last six months, eight months of the Ford presidency, I can tell you, under Dick Cheney's leadership, it was a much more effective organization. The president brought the integrity to it, and Dick Cheney brought a lot of order to it.

But -- so that he -- there were a lot of times in the decision- making process when it was somewhat messy. Fortunately, we -- in Gerald Ford, we had somebody -- the nation was blessed to have somebody who was so well -- he was such a decent person and so well- anchored, that there was not a lot of rancor in that White House. And, much more importantly, people -- everybody on that staff, you know -- the leader sends out signals to everybody around him or her of what kind of organization this is going to be. And the signals that came to everybody was, this is a man who is going to tell the truth, and expects his staff to tell the truth to -- to the press and to others. And that made for a very honest White House, and I helped to right the ship over time.

COOPER: And his relationship with Betty Ford, I mean, 58 years together, remarkable.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Yes.

You know, David Herbert Donald, the -- the biographer of Lincoln, once told me, the most important asset a president needs is a friend. And Betty Ford was that friend. She was a marvelous woman. She steadied him. I remember, when Nixon resigned, he went off in that helicopter, that famous picture, and the -- and -- and Gerald and Betty Ford turned to walk back up toward the White House, that, about halfway up the lawn, he put out his hand, and she put out her hand, and they walked up hand in hand.

And it was so clear he looked to her for that kind of reassurance. And, of course, she had this bubbly personality that endeared her to so many, because she was so forthright about -- not about -- just not about her -- not only about her own health issues, but she was a very strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, for putting a woman on the Supreme Court.

She was -- and -- and she was -- you know, she was -- in those days, those were the early days when you could -- you had these -- you could talk to truckers and everything like that. They loved to talk to her. They called her big momma.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: Big momma.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Wow. You don't see that in the history books.

Hey, David...

GERGEN: You don't see that.

COOPER: Yes, it was good talking to you. Appreciate your perspective.

GERGEN: Thank you. Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much, David.

Becoming president, of course, turned Gerald Ford into a marked man -- ahead in our special coverage, how he survived two assassination attempts within two weeks on his life.

Also, we will talk more about the remarkable and inspiring woman who was the love of Gerald Ford's life for nearly 60 years.

And you're looking at live pictures right now of the White House there and across the country. This is the first of 30 days that U.S. flags will fly at half-staff to honor the late president.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. FORD: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, just a couple years after serving in World War II, just before he entered politics, a young Gerald Ford married a divorcee and one-time dancer with Martha Graham ballet company. That was back in 1948.

When they got to the White House, and in the years that followed, their lives would be changed by alcoholism and cancer. But, together, with millions of Americans watching, Gerald and Betty Ford got through it.

CNN's Randi Kaye looks back on their long love affair.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Politics was Gerald Ford's second love. His first was partner and friend of more than 50 years, his wife, Betty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

BETTY FORD, FORMER FIRST LADY: We just thank the good lord for the days he's given us. And we just hope to keep going, as Jerry says, another 50.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARL SFERRAZZA ANTHONY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think they enjoyed each other's company enormously.

KAYE: Carl Sferrazza Anthony has known the Ford family for a quarter-century, and has written about many first ladies. He saw firsthand the love affair between Betty Ford and the former president.

ANTHONY: On that day he inherited the presidency, when Nixon resigned, he immediately mentioned and thanked his wife in his speech, and basically said he has no obligation to anyone except one person, his wife. And that was unprecedented.

KAYE: Gerald Ford first met Betty Bloomer back in 1947 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They married the following year, two weeks before he was elected to his first term in Congress.

Over the years, through four children, a host of health problems and personal battles, their affections only grew.

ANTHONY: He certainly was a man who had absolutely no reservations about kissing his wife in public. And I think, as president, that was really unprecedented.

KAYE: In 1974, when Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer just a month after they moved into the White House, they battled it together. And when she went public with her prescription drug and alcohol dependency, it was Mr. Ford who stopped drinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He decided that he would stop drinking. He would do that, not because he thought he had any problem or she thought he had a problem, but simply because it was make it easier for her.

KAYE: Their love for one another was not lost on the public or the media. And the first lady handled questions about it with her hallmark frankness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said, "You know, I've been asked every possible personal question except how often I sleep with my husband.

And the interviewer said, "And if somebody asked you that?"

"Well, I'd say I would sleep with him as often as possible."

You never heard a first lady before talking about sleeping with her husband.

KAYE: With her husband at her side, Betty Ford set a new standard for White House candor. She let the nation know she and the president would be sharing the same bedroom, a first at the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was one of those men I think atypical of his generation who was not at all threatened by a strong, articulate woman.

KAYE: In the end, it was Betty Ford who released word of her husband's passing to the nation, not a family spokesperson or friend. With a love so deep, who would have expected less?

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Fifty-eight years together. A remarkable partnership. As you just heard, Betty Ford tells it like it is. She has always been outspoken, especially when it comes to her struggles against addiction. She won that battle and in so doing became a champion for others fighting similar demons.

Again, CNN's Dan Simon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (voice-over): They survived many a crisis in the White House. But perhaps the greatest personal challenge for Gerald and Betty Ford came after they left Washington.

BETTY FORD, FORMER FIRST LADY: So, I was probably in denial for years.

SIMON: Mrs. Ford was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription drugs.

STEVE FORD, SON OF GERALD AND BETTY FORD: We were scared we'd lost our mom.

SIMON: In 1978, the family held an intervention, with the former president confronting his wife of 30 years.

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We told Betty that we loved her and we were going to help her, and the net result was she believed us.

SIMON: The intervention was a success. Here's what Ford told Larry King in a 2002 interview.

B. FORD: It was hard for me to admit that anything was wrong. But they pointed out some of the things where I had disappointed them.

SIMON: After being treated at the Long Beach Naval Hospital and going public with her problems, Ford knew she could help others. In 1982, she founded the Betty Ford Center at Rancho Mirage, California.

B. FORD: They have a very structured program. That's important, because they're there to get well. And we don't encourage them to bring novels or exercise equipment or any of that. They have enough to reverse or turn around in their life without any other distractions.

SIMON: The center says 70,000 patients have come through its doors. But with a 90-day price tag of up to $34,000, it's the rich and famous who get the attention. Dozens have been treated, among them, Kelsey Grammer, Ozzy Osbourne, Liza Minelli, David Hasselhoff and Elizabeth Taylor.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Did you go to Betty Ford?

ELIZABETH TAYLOR, ACTRESS: Yes. Twice.

KING: A good place?

TAYLOR: Yes. Oh, yes.

KING: Did it work?

TAYLOR: Oh, yes. It took me twice to go back to Betty Ford. The first time just didn't work.

SIMON: And for the woman who started it all and left a legacy of hope and recovery, every day is still a struggle.

B. FORD: Just waking up in the morning and being clean and sober and saying, "I have another day clean and sober." And then you put one 24 hours together with another one and another one, and eventually you get kind of proud of it.

SIMON: Dan Simon, CNN, Rancho Mirage, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And she has many reasons to be proud. As a congressman, Gerald Ford served on the Warren Commission which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But little did Mr. Ford know that someday he would be president and the target of would-be assassins. Next, the amazing stories of how he survived not once, but twice, when our special report, "Death of a President", continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. FORD: My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Extraordinary indeed. That was Gerald Ford shortly after taking the oath of office on August 9, 1974.

In that same speech, he said he was acutely aware that Americans had not elected him and asked that they confirm him as their president with their prayers. Many did but not all, of course.

President Ford served for just 895 days, and in that short time, he faced a lot more than many presidents ever have, including not just one but two assassination attempts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): History would have been written very differently had these two women had their way, Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore. They're currently serving life sentences for trying to kill then President Gerald Ford, becoming the first and then the second woman in history to attempt to assassinate a U.S. president. September 5, 1975, a sunny day in Sacramento as President Ford walked from his hotel to the state capital for a meeting with the governor of California.

G. FORD: 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. Scared the heck out of me.

COOPER: The woman in the red dress was Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of cult leader Charles Manson, who blamed Richard Nixon and then President Ford for the cult's legal troubles.

Fromme was heard shouting, "The country is a mess. This man is not your president" as she tried to fire her weapon, a .45 Colt automatic. With the holster still on her leg, she exclaimed, "It didn't go off. Can you believe it? It didn't go off."

There were four bullets in the gun, but they weren't loaded properly.

Ford was shaken but undeterred. He still insisted on attending his meeting with the governor and California lawmakers. Without mentioning the incident just moments earlier, he spoke of what he called the truly alarming increase in violent crime throughout the country.

Seventeen days later, back in California, Ford emerged from a hotel in San Francisco after a speech. He stopped to wave hello to the crowd. Two shots were fired, narrowly missing the president. He escaped in his limousine.

The shooter, an unassuming 45-year-old housewife named Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant with ties to extreme political groups. She told authorities, quote, "There comes a point when the only way you can make a statement is to pick up a gun."

When Betty Ford rendezvoused with her husband on Air Force One later that afternoon, she hadn't yet been told of the second attempt on the president's life. She reportedly greeted him breezily, saying, "How did your day go?"

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And what a day it was. Someone aboard Air Force One that day said a lot of martinis were consumed on that flight home.

In other news, there has been a development in an exclusive story we told you about last night here on 360. Coming up, a grim discovery in the search for two American mountain climbers missing in China.

And you think last week's snowstorm was bad? Well, another whopper is on the way. It is threatening to tangle up holiday travel across the country. We've got the latest forecast.

And why some luggage that didn't end up at the airport is our "Shot of the Day". What are they doing with your bags? All ahead when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight nearly nine of 10 Americans call themselves Christians, but what exactly does that mean and how does it play out in American life? As you might imagine, those questions have many answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): From the Christians who believe the end is near and who look forward to that moment...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next thing that happens on the calendar is that Christ comes to gather his church. They're raptured and taken out of -- out of the world to be with him in heaven. He meets them in the clouds.

COOPER: ... to those whose reading of the gospel means promises of success...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Open up the doors for them to have well- paying jobs with full benefits, father, in the name of Jesus.

COOPER: ... to those conservative Christians who rail against those who don't agree with their faith.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think you have the same spirit as Jesus?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Jesus looked at some people, and he said, you all are dead men's bones. You have the stench of death all over you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So what is a Christian? And where do you fit? A 360 special starting at the top of the hour in about 15 minutes from now.

An update, though, right now on the story that we brought you last night. Sadly, it's not the kind of news anyone was hoping for.

Rescuers in China's Szechwan province have said that they have located the body of one of two American mountain climbers. It is daytime there, and crews are headed to the site as we speak.

Christine Boskoff and Charlie Fowler have been missing since last month. The body has not yet been identified. The second climber has not been found, dead or alive.

We're joined tonight by David C. Jones, a friend and colleague of Christine's.

David, thanks very much for being with us. What's the latest that you've heard from China? DAVID C. JONES, FRIEND OF CHRISTINE BOSKOFF: Our search and rescue teams found the body at about 17,400 feet on Genyen Peak, Szechwan province, yesterday about 1:30 in the afternoon.

There is no other identification on the body other than a gray boot, blue gaiter and modern mountaineering gear that was found nearby, but as yet, positive confirmation has not been made.

COOPER: So how many people do you have in the area and what are they doing right now?

JONES: We've got about 35 rescuers headed up by Ted Callahan, a Mount Everest guide, who's the coordinator on the ground in China. And then about 35 Chinese nationals and Tibetans that are working with Ted, on five different teams.

COOPER: How difficult has this search been? I mean, at one point a couple -- you know, two weeks ago when I talked to Charlie Sistern (ph), they weren't even sure exactly what area to search in.

JONES: That's right, Anderson. We started off with a very broad search area but over the least several days, we've been able to narrow it down quite a down and been able to focus the search entirely on the Genyen Peak and Genyen mass area.

COOPER: And a big breakthrough came when you -- I think they located the driver who both had left, I guess, their bags with. What did that tell you?

JONES: We did. We were able to interview the driver, who told us when he dropped them off and when they were expected back. We were also able to take a look at the gear that they had left with the driver. And then we found the diaries, the journals of both Chris and Charlie. And in there, indications of where they intended to climb.

And so that's where we were able to really focus in on Genyen peak as well as four other charted peaks, all inclined.

COOPER: And I think I know the answer to this, but I've got to ask. Do you have any sense of what happened out there at this point?

JONES: At this point, it is mere speculation, but it appears that it's either avalanche or the climbers were blown off near the ridge. And we've got climbers that are heading up the mountain as we speak and when they are -- when they get up there and are able to disinter the body, we're going to be able to know a lot more as to whether or not they're roped up or whether the climbers are separated or what.

COOPER: And pardon my ignorance. You say blown off. You mean literally blown off the mountain by wind?

JONES: Yes. These peaks are tall. They are over 6,000 meters. So that puts it at around 22,000 feet. And so the winds up there can get fierce. COOPER: It's just such a terrible thing, and we will continue to follow the story. And we appreciate all your efforts. I can't imagine how difficult it's been for you, kind of a one-man band, trying to mount this rescue operation on the other side of the world. But thanks for your efforts.

JONES: You bet. Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Take care.

Tonight, a major storm is gathering strength out west. Coming up, we'll tell you who is getting ready for 45-mile-an-hour winds, heavy snow and blinding whiteouts. Also going to talk about what it's going to do to airport and holiday travel later this week.

Also ahead tonight, the "Shot of the Day". Take a look. Baggage that didn't end up on the carousel. You won't believe where it was found. If you're traveling at all, you'll want to see this "Shot of the Day". A break first. You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Imagine being stuck on that road. Drivers just east of Seattle had a tough go of it yesterday as they tried driving through the snow. Now there's word that another storm is going to hit the western part of the country. This one is expected to strike tomorrow. It could dump another foot of snow on parts of Colorado, which is still recovering from last week's blizzard. So are the airports.

The National Weather Service said the storm could delay or even ground flights in Denver's airport again. For more on the storm, CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf joins us now from Aurora, Colorado -- Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Anderson, it's amazing that something so pretty can cause so many headaches, but indeed, it has caused plenty of headaches and it's been just over a week since the last heavy snowfall and the problem is, the snow is still on the ground.

Take a look at this video. We got this from all across Denver today. The snow, we've got it on the streets. It's causing many problems. People still are stuck.

Now granted, you see blue skies above and people out there in the short sleeves, but the snow is causing all kinds of headaches. I mean, families trying to get up and down sidewalks. It's difficult there. People are trying to run through the snow. The roads still a mess in many places.

The big problem is, as you mentioned, is we've got a winter storm watch that's going to be in effect through the rest of -- let's see, virtually all of Thursday and then into Friday evening, where they could see anywhere from a foot of snowfall in downtown Denver, some places a bit more. What we're going to do is we're going to show you this weather map. This is going to be the scenario into Thursday. Take a look at this area of low pressure, this big "L" that you see over the central Rockies. That's going to be your big weather maker.

We've got a lot of moist air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. Moist air also coming in from Canada right near the top of that, near the northern half, coming in from Canada, a blast of cold air. And it's going to be a combination of that moisture mixed in with that icy, icy air that is going to give us some of the snowfall.

Now we're going to transition from this image and show you a radar. This shows you parts of Utah, part of the Rockies, all the way into Denver. Already we're starting to see the telltale affects of that snow developing out towards the west.

Now it's going to be tomorrow around noon when these first snowflakes should begin to kick in for the Denver metropolitan area. Now, coupled with that, we're also going to be dealing with wind gusts that are going to top say 15 to 25, some possibly close to 50 miles an hour as we make our way over the next couple of days.

So Anderson, with the possibility of a foot of snowfall in Denver combined with the strong, gusty windy conditions, there's no question we could see anywhere from a few feet of snow here and there with snow drifts approaching five, maybe even six feet as we get closer into the weekend.

And then, on top of that, as the storm system moves a little bit more to the east, it's going to make that transition from the snow maker to a rainmaker, possibly bringing serious thunderstorms and tornados to part of the southeast U.S.

COOPER: Reynolds, appreciate it. Go throw that snowball at somebody now.

WOLF: Got you.

COOPER: It could rain in New York on New Year's Eve. I hope not because I'm going to be in Times Square once again. Even with the rain, it will be a great time. I hope you join me.

We're going to circle the globe, bringing you New Year's celebrations from Sidney to Moscow to London, and of course, all across America, New Orleans, Chicago, Florida. We're also going to have musical guests Nelly Furtado, the B-52's, Lionel Ritchie, the Killers, the Scissor Sisters, so many more.

And also, oh yes, there's more, you can help pick the winner of our "Keeping Them Honest" contest. Go to our web site, CNN.com -- CNN.com/360 to view the profiles and vote. We'll reveal the winners New Year's Eve. A lot of folks out there keeping them honest.

And you can contribute, too. We want to hear your resolutions. We'll play some of them on New Year's Eve during the broadcast. For that, you go to CNN.com/ireport to find out how. Now resolution for airline baggage handlers, do not lose your luggage. Or my luggage. But they do, and worse, you'll never guess where some of this luggage is ending up. That is our "Shot" tonight.

But first, Randi Kaye has the "360 Bulletin" -- Randi.

KAYE: Hi, Anderson.

A defiant farewell letter from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as he faces the hangman. It was posted on a Ba'athist web site today, and in it, Hussein tells reporters he accepts his fate and calls for national unity.

Followers have threatened to retaliate against the United States if the execution does take place.

Look for an announcement tomorrow from John Edwards. That's when the former Democratic senator and John Kerry running mate will declare his presidential candidacy. He'll do it in New Orleans where he's helping rebuild a home destroyed by Katrina.

Two other Democrats, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, have already entered the race.

A record day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones closed above 12,500 for the first time. Blue chips were up almost 103 points. The NASDAQ rose 18 and the broader S&P index gained ten.

And some bad news for the bears: the Bush administration now wants to put polar bears on the list of threatened species. The reason: global warming. Their habitat is, well, melting. A final decision could take about a year -- Anderson.

COOPER: Randi, thanks. Time now for "The Shot." Check this out. Bad enough that the airlines lose your luggage.

Get this, the owners of a pet store near Houston discovered 68 pieces of luggage were discovered in a trash bin behind their shop today. The bags were from various international flights and several different airlines.

Continental Airlines says it's working with other carriers to match the bags with lost luggage claims. That's mighty nice of them.

No one knows how or why the bags turned up in the trash. I got a couple of ideas. Even the FBI is investigating. Unbelievable.

Well, it's happened only once in the last 33 years. Next, the very latest on plans for the solemn state funeral for a former U.S. president.

And stay with us for a 360 special hour. Starting at 11 Eastern, we look at what is a Christian and how you fit in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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