Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Saddam's Farewell Letter; Remembering Gerald Ford; Interview With Bob Dole

Aired December 27, 2006 - 19:00   ET


ED HENRY, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

HENRY: Happening now: America mourns and remembers the 38th president. We have new details on plans for Gerald Ford's funeral -- tonight, the legacy of the man who led a divided nation in the wake of Watergate.

MALVEAUX: Also this hour: He was Gerald Ford's longtime friend and his running mate in 1976. Former Senator Bob Dole shares his stories about the man and the politician he knew in his emotional first interview since Ford's death.

HENRY: And a farewell letter from Saddam Hussein, as the ousted leader prepares for his hanging. Is he rallying his homeland in the final days before his death, or stirring up yet more hatred?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


Tonight: portraits of a president who served in one of America's darkest political times, and new plans to honor him right here in the nation's capital and the states he called home.

HENRY: We learned a short time ago that the Gerald Ford's state funeral will begin Friday at a church near his current home in California. The public will be invited to pay last respects. The 38th president's casket will be flown east, and he will lie in state the U.S. Capitol Rotunda through Monday.

Saturday, the first of three funerals will be held for President Ford inside the Capitol Rotunda.

MALVEAUX: On Tuesday, Ford's casket will be taken by motorcade to National Cathedral here in Washington for another funeral service.

Later Tuesday, Ford makes the final journey to his home state of Michigan. his casket will be flown to his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, where he will be buried after a third funeral service at nearby Grace Church.

HENRY: Let's bring in CNN's Dan Simon. He's in Palm Desert, California, near the former president's home.

Dan, what's historic about former President Ford's funeral plans?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ed, this is really fascinating.

We are told that, in the Capitol, once Mr. Ford is held in state under the Rotunda, his body for a period of time is going to be placed outside the House chamber. And that recognizes the fact that he served more time in Congress than any other president.

Then, after that, his body is going to be placed outside the Senate chamber, and that recognizes that he was the vice president of the United States and also president of the Senate. This is apparently something that has never happened before. Mr. Ford was aware of these plans. And, Ed, we are told he was deeply touched by it -- Ed and Suzanne, back to you.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Dan. We appreciate that. We will be getting back to you over the next couple of days.

President Bush today set the tone for many of the tributes being paid to Gerald Ford. Mr. Bush focused on Ford's character and his attempts to bring the nation back together, after Watergate tore it apart.

Our White House correspondent, our colleague Elaine Quijano is in Crawford, Texas, with the president.

Elaine, good evening to you.


This morning, from his ranch here in Crawford, President Bush praised Gerald Ford as a great man, saying that he devoted his best years of his life in serving the United States. Now, the president noted that Ford took power in a period of what he called great division and turmoil, a reference, of course, to the very bitter atmosphere that existed in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Now, the president said that, for a nation that needed healing, Gerald Ford came along when the country needed him most.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Ford lived 93 years, and his life was a blessing to America. And now this fine man will be taken to his rest by a family that will love him always and by a nation that will be grateful to him forever.

May God bless Gerald Ford.


QUIJANO: Now, it was just before 11:00 p.m. Eastern time last night that President Bush received a called from his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, about the news. And, shortly after that, President Bush himself tried calling Betty Ford, but was unable to reach her at that time.

Then, about an hour later or so, in an arranged call, we're told, President Bush and Betty Ford were able to speak, President Bush expressing to her his personal condolences -- Ed and Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Elaine, obviously, real close ties between the Ford administration and the Bush administration, as we know, the former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as well as the vice president, Dick Cheney. How did he find out about the news?

QUIJANO: Well, we are told -- first of all, the vice president was in Wyoming, according to spokeswoman Lee Ann McBride. And we are told that it was around 11:35 p.m. last night, Eastern time, that, in fact, the Ford family reached out to the vice president's staff.

And, shortly thereafter, Vice President Cheney was told by his personal aide of this news. Now, we should note that the vice president is actually due to arrive here in Texas tomorrow. He is going to be taking part in that National Security Council meeting that President Bush is having with his top aides to discuss Iraq options -- Ed and Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Elaine.

Tonight, top Democrats and Republicans are sharing fond memories of Gerald Ford and offering condolences to his family. They're all acutely aware of the difficult times Ford faced as president and the political climate they face now.

Our Brian Todd has a sample of the reaction -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, Ed, Gerald Ford's passing comes at a time of deep political divide here in Washington. But some of America's top political figures are taking a break from all that to remember one of the few presidents who really did heal the nation.


TODD (voice-over): Gerald Ford was America's oldest former president. Now that title falls to George Herbert Walker Bush. The 41st president talked about the passing of a member of that elite club of men who served in the Oval Office.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're all familiar with his healing the wounds of the United States after Watergate, but he was typical Jerry Ford. It never went to his head that he was president, and a truly remarkable man. And we send Betty and the kids and the rest of their family our family's love.

TODD: The other former presidents remember Gerald Ford as a unifying political force.

Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton issued a statement, saying: "Gerald Ford brought Americans together during a difficult chapter in our history, with strength, integrity and humility."

Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in the 1976 presidential election, calls him "a man of highest integrity, whose lifelong dedication to helping others touched the lives of countless people."

According to his former press secretary, that selfless bearing endeared Gerald Ford to the public.

RON NESSEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He never wanted to be president, never expected to be president, wanted to serve one more term in the House, and then retire to spend more time with Betty and their children. And, so, his personality was not distorted, as some politicians' personalities are.

TODD: On the brink of a power shift on Capitol Hill, Democratic and Republican leaders are of one mind about Ford, who served in the GOP leadership of the House.

Incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi praises Ford's fair and reliable leadership. Outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert calls him a unifier, a statesman, and an everyman.


TODD: Lawmakers at the center of a divided Capitol, former president and aides remembering a man who healed a nation in an even more trying political era -- Ed.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Brian.

Gerald Ford's brief time in the White House was largely defined by a single, highly controversy act.

With that part of the story, we say hello to Jeanne Meserve.

Good evening to you, Jeanne.


People who knew President Ford have called his pardon of Richard Nixon a tough decision, a lonely decision. It was certainly a costly decision.



RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MESERVE (voice-over): Watergate was this nation's Shakespearian tragedy. Richard Nixon left the White House, but, like Hamlet's ghost, he haunted the country, strewing division, distrust, disillusionment.

With one dramatic politically perilous move, his successor, Gerald Ford, hoped to move the country past it.


GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: .. do grant a full, free and absolute pardon on to Richard Nixon, for all offenses against the United States.


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.


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.



MESERVE: And, today, most historians agree. Ford famously called Watergate a national nightmare. With his pardon of Richard Nixon, one man said, he allowed the country to dream again -- and back to you.

MALVEAUX: And, Jeanne, just a quick question here. What effect did the pardon have on the president's -- the substance of his presidency here? How did it impact in the years to follow?

MALVEAUX: Suzanne, one of the historians we talked to today said Ford was immensely frustrated by the fact, in his first month in office, so much of his time and attention was consumed by Nixon, consumed by Watergate.

And projections were that an indictment and trial could take years. He wanted to clear the decks. And although the -- the controversy didn't go away with his pardon, certainly, he was able then to turn to the economy, to energy, the issues that mattered to him, and, on the economy in particular, made some significant changes and progress -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jeanne Meserve, thank you very much.

And, of course, coming up; Saddam Hussein speaking about his impending execution and more in a very revealing letter. Will show you what he wrote.

HENRY: Also, new developments, as Pakistan tries to clamp down on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. We have details on what some say is a drastic plan.

MALVEAUX: Plus: Former Senator and vice presidential candidate Bob Dole remembers his 1976 running mate, the late Gerald Ford.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Saddam Hussein's Baath Party is warning of -- quote -- "grave consequences" if the former Iraqi dictator is executed. That comes one day after an Iraqi appeals court upheld the death sentence for the former dictator. And Saddam himself is now speaking out about his impending death.

CNN's Carol Costello joins us live with the details on that story -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, Saddam Hussein supposedly wrote this letter on November 5, the day he was sentenced to death. He offers himself as sacrifice.

Here's more.


COSTELLO: (voice-over): A goodbye letter from a condemned man -- former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attempting to get the last word in a long missive posted on a Baathist Web site.

It's addressed to his supporters both inside and outside Iraq. And it takes a swipe at Americans, which Saddam refers to as merciless tyrants. And Iraq's neighbor, the largely Shia Muslim Iran, he calls the Iranians "hateful, devil-worshipping Persians." He writes that: "Both countries are trying to enslave you and incite you to fight each other."

But Saddam urges Iraqis to unite, writing, "I hereby call upon you not to hate or bear grudges, because this will prevent you from being equitable and just."

The letter strikes fatalistic notes as well, with Saddam writing, "It's to God to decide if he wants me to join the pious and martyrs in heaven, or to postpone this as he sees fit. He is our creator, and we all ultimately return to him."

He closes by calling Iraq a "loyal and honorable nation," and saying, "I bid you farewell, and submit myself to the merciful and every faithful lord."


COSTELLO: Well, with all this talk of forgiveness, Hussein's followers are threatening violence if their one-time leader is executed -- back to you, Ed and Suzanne.

HENRY: Thank you very much, Carol Costello, in New York.

Let's go to Baghdad now for more on Saddam Hussein's impending execution.

That's where we find CNN's Ryan Chilcote.

And, Ryan, I wonder if, on the ground there, you're getting any sense of how imminent this execution may be?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very little, but it could be very -- very imminent.

What we do know is that, according to Iraqi law, Saddam has to be executed within the next 30 days. He must be executed, by Iraqi law, by January 27. But he could be executed within the next few days. It's entirely possible. We do know that the Iraqi prime minister has already said that he thinks that Saddam Hussein should be hanged by the end of the year.

So, it's not at all clear that they would wait to do this. They may want to get it over with very quickly -- Suzanne, Ed.

MALVEAUX: And, Ryan, of course, there's a lot of fear, I imagine, where you are about how Saddam Hussein's execution really could contribute to the violence. How are they preparing? And what are people feeling at this time, this sense of anticipation of this hanging?

CHILCOTE: There -- there is a sense that Saddam's execution could contribute to the violence in the short term. That is something that the Saddam loyalists, that strand of the insurgency that supports Saddam, that's something that they are vowing, that they are saying that they are going to carry out more attacks against the government, more attacks against U.S. forces. And the Iraqi government concedes that that it's entirely possible. It may even try to introduce a curfew to preempt that. The largest question is, is, what does this mean long term? Will Saddam's execution have a big impact on -- on the insurgency and on the violence? And I think it's not clear that it will. Its not clear that this will have much impact.

Saddam Hussein, quite frankly, might be a little bit irrelevant. The Saddam loyalists only make up a part of the -- the insurgency. You still have to deal with groups like al Qaeda in Iraq. And they are really gathering strength. They have been the entire year.

For those groups, Saddam Hussein is not a figurehead. It just really doesn't matter to them if he's executed. And these groups have shown themselves to be very resilient over the last couple of years, as this -- as the insurgency has really grown.

Remember, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, there were some people -- that was earlier this year -- there were some people that were saying that they thought that would lead to a decrease in the violence.

Well, just the opposite -- what we have had is an increase in violence -- so, not clear that Saddam's execution will have much of an impact on the insurgency at all, on the violence.

MALVEAUX: Well, Ryan...

CHILCOTE: Suzanne, Ed.

MALVEAUX: ... we certainly hope it remains calm. Thank you very much, Ryan Chilcote.

And, of course, up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM: The grande dame of the White House correspondents remembers covering Gerald Ford. We will hear from Helen Thomas in just a few minutes.

HENRY: Plus, a famous impersonation from the Ford era and how it managed to avoid coming across as mean-spirited.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Carol Costello joins us now from New York with a closer look at other stories making the news.

Carol, what do you have?

COSTELLO: Hi, Suzanne.

A spokeswoman says rescuers looking for two missing American climbers in the southwest China mountains did indeed find a body, says it hasn't been identified yet. But the other climber is presumed dead, too. Teams plan to return to the site at 17,000 feet on Thursday to bring the body down. Veteran climbers Christine Boskoff and Charlie Fowler were reported missing after they failed to return to the United States on December 4.

British Airways blaming bad lighting for a mishap with one of its planes carrying British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family -- it happened yesterday at Miami International Airport, when the Boeing 747 overshot the runway. It clipped some runway lights after landing, but did not leave the pavement.

Federal aviation officials say the airport lights were working properly, though. No one aboard the plane was hurt.

The office of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney says, going forward, it will be tough for state legislators to dodge voting on a proposed gay marriage ban. The highest court in Massachusetts says it cannot compel lawmakers to act. But the court did issue a stinging rebuke for what it calls their indifference to their constitutional duties. The legislature will reconvene on January 2. Governor Romney supports the gay marriage ban.

A U.S. appeals court ruling today could affect more than 100 Major League Baseball players tested for potential steroid use. The court says lower courts wrongly blocked government access to confidential drug tests conducted by two labs. Prosecutors are still investigating whether some players lied to a federal grand jury about using performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds? Major League Baseball has declined comment so far, saying its lawyers must first review the court's decision.

That's a look at headlines right now -- back to you, Suzanne and Ed.

MALVEAUX: Carol, thanks so much.

And, of course, up ahead: Before he was a presidential candidate in 1996, he was President Ford's running mate in 1976. Our conversation with former Senator Bob Dole when we come back -- you don't want to miss this one.

HENRY: He got very emotional.

And later: the career that Ford helped launch. Did Chevy Chase make or break the president's image? You be the judge.



HENRY: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

MALVEAUX: Happening now: mourning in America. The nation remembers Gerald Ford. One day after the death of America's 38th president, many are praising his integrity and devotion to duty, as plans are made to lay him to rest.

HENRY: There will be a ceremony Friday in California that is open to the public. Next, Ford will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol through Monday, with a state funeral on Saturday. On Tuesday, Ford's remains will be flown to his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he will be buried.

MALVEAUX: And John Edwards has a message for you: He would like to be the next president.

Edwards will announce his candidacy tomorrow in New Orleans. That's according to a campaign aide.

Wolf Blitzer has the day off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HENRY: And I'm Ed Henry.


It was 1976. Gerald Ford was making his first attempt at being elected to the White House, after inheriting the presidency from Richard Nixon, and then pardoning him.

MALVEAUX: At Ford's side in that turbulent election year, his running mate.


MALVEAUX: Bob Dole, thank you so much. This is the first time you're speaking since we have heard this bad news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

When did you last see Ford?

BOB DOLE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had an opportunity to visit President Ford at the Mayo Clinic in August. I was there to help dedicate a veterans memorial. and -- and he was in the Mayo Clinic, and I stopped by and spent about 30 minutes visiting with him. He was -- and he was very -- a very fragile condition then.

But -- but, at that time, he wasn't able to speak. He was able to -- I think he knew I was there, but we kind of conversed through his son, Michael. Mike was there, and he kind of helped us along.

MALVEAUX: And you were his running mate. Tell us about that special relationship.

DOLE: We were friends, too. That's first. We have been friends since 1961, when I came to Congress. He was already there. And when he became Republican leader in '65, it was three votes in Kansas that put him over the top, which he never forgot.

But we sort of had a Rose Garden strategy in '76. He stayed in the Rose Garden and sent me into the briar patch.


DOLE: And I was supposed to go out and mix it up. And I guess I did. But he put on a tremendous effort the last two or three weeks of the campaign. And we were 30 points behind at one time, and, you know, ended up very close, very, very close.

But I think the strength of Ford, partly, was that he never sought the presidency. He wasn't elected vice president. He wasn't elected president. He had no obligation to any group or any individual.

And he had -- you know, he had a free hand. And that was an asset. Plus, he understood. He knew how to count, and he knew Republicans were in the minority. And he knew, to get anything done, he needed to reach across the aisle. And he had a lot of friends on the other side.

HENRY: And now that you see the Capitol so divided these days...

DOLE: Yes.

HENRY: You were a creature of the Senate. He was a creature of the House. Was that part of the bond you shared, that sort of reaching across the aisle we don't see now?

Can you reflect a bit on how things have changed over these last 25, 30 years?

DOLE: It seems to me, without being critical, because I'm not there now, but it seems to me it has changed a bit. It seems -- it's more personal now.

I mean, politics has always been a rough-and-tumble game. And, of course, he was a party leader. He carried the flag for the Republicans. And Democrats didn't always agree with Gerald Ford, the Republican leader, or Gerald Ford, the president.

But he understood, you know, the limits, how far you can go. And he understood when it was time to reach out, whether it's Speaker Albert or Speaker McCormack or Speaker O'Neill. That's going way back before you probably were both born. But, in any event...

HENRY: What do you think also, when you talk about the rough and tumble of politics, let's talk about the pardon of Richard Nixon. People now are saying, boy, it was a heroic move. Back then, it was much more unpopular. Talk about that time.

DOLE: He dropped 40 points in popularity, I think, almost 40 points on the pardon of Nixon. You talk about tough choices. And it surely cost him the election in '76, that and the economy was in the tank, too. That didn't help much either.

But I think the pardon was the right thing to do from the standpoint of the country's interest, but from the political self- interest it was probably the wrong thing to do. So, it demonstrated to me that President Ford would put the country first, which is very important.

MALVEAUX: Obviously, the two of you were very close and politics aside, give us a sense of what he was like as a man, as a friend, and what it was like for you to hear the news today. DOLE: Well, he's like somebody you'd like to have as a neighbor. He's just a regular person, a regular guy, know what you saw is what you got. I mean, you got Gerry Ford, and he was born in Omaha, Nebraska, grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, beat an incumbent Congressman, got into politics at an early age, was a great football player, graduated upper third of his class at Yale Law School.

But beyond all of that, he was just a nice guy. You could sit down on the House floor, and I've done it dozen of times when he was the leader and I was just a little something in the House, and sat down and talk to him about your family or about anything. And he always had time. You always had access if you wanted to see him.

I think the same is true when he went to the White House. It sort of changed. It was sort of an open-door policy at the White House. Democrat or Republican, if you knew Gerry Ford, you probably had access.

HENRY: Senator, can you also talk, when you talk about family, about his relationship with Betty Ford. I recall when...

DOLE: Well, they were a team, no question about it. And as I look back on it, you know, I don't remember all the details, but, you know, that was always first in his life, his family. And the four children, Betty, and she's been by his side through thick and through thin, and they've helped each other along the way.

But just a nice guy. You know, kind of people you really like -- there are a lot of people like that in America, don't misunderstand me, but he came along, the right man, the right place, and the right time when the country was in turmoil and helped heal the nation, which is remarkable.

HENRY: How did he bury the hatchet with Ronald Reagan? When you were in the rough and tumble of the '76 campaign, that rough primary challenge, and then by 1980, he and Reagan were talking about potentially...

DOLE: How about a ticket. I was there in Detroit. That was pretty exciting stuff. But didn't happen, but probably shouldn't have happened in retrospect. A lot of talk about it.

And in '76, I think there may have been a little disappointment that maybe, you know, feeling on some of the Ford people that Reagan could have done more, but I met with President -- or Governor Reagan or ex-Governor Reagan in '76. I was sort of the liaison, and he was supportive, but, you know, they had a tough contest. It wasn't decided until, what, midnight the night before the convention was supposed to start in Kansas City?

So, it all worked out, I think, quite well. And after being defeated by President Carter, he and Carter became fast friends and did a lot of worthwhile things, and it really should make American people feel good about politics and maybe some politicians.

MALVEAUX: Tell us something that we don't know about President Ford, a special story or a moment that you shared.

DOLE: It happened in Russell, Kansas, one of the metropolitan areas in America. And that was our first stop on the campaign trail, and we'd had a big speech at the courthouse where I was the featured speaker.

Then we went by my mother's to have fried chicken and she locked the door and couldn't find the key. And we seldom locked our doors in those days in Russell, Kansas, but for some reason she did that day.

And here was the President of the United States standing on the stoop waiting for my mother to find the key, and of course she was a nervous wreck. I think her picture was in the "New York Times" the next day, as I recall.

But, you know, he just -- he didn't grumble. He said, well, we'll look for it together. And that was Gerald Ford to me, Gerry Ford. It wasn't Mr. President. It was Mr. President, but in the House, it was Gerry Ford.

HENRY: And if he were here today, what would you tell him about what you think his legacy will be?

DOLE: I think it's a profile in decency and courage and integrity.

HENRY: And what, in particular -- we know about the pardon, but what other aspects of his presidency, beyond the pardon, do you think exhibit that?

DOLE: Well, I think the so-called Helsinki Accords, when he travelled to Helsinki, Finland, and it was all about human rights and all about recognizing sovereign nations. He was criticized for that at the time, but I think it turned out to be a very responsible act on his part.

But I think transcending all that is this ability he had, the personality he had, to sort of go from place to place and without, you know, rubbing people the wrong way. He's a good man. I think if you want a definition of Gerald Ford in three words, it's a good man.

MALVEAUX: Is this a tough day for you, Mr. Senator, today?

DOLE: Pardon?

MALVEAUX: Is this a tough day?

DOLE: Tough day. I mean, everybody knew it was going to be happening, but I think, you know, you never want it to happen. And I'm to be -- proud to be one of the honorary pallbearers at his funeral.

HENRY: And you will be.

DOLE: Yes. HENRY: And what goes through your mind -- you've obviously -- President Reagan has passing away just in the last couple years, now President Ford. What do you think about these people that you slugged it out with...

DOLE: Well, that's that generation which I'm part of, you know, the generation that is disappearing. And he was one of the last World War II presidents -- President Carter, President Bush and that was it, and President Reagan. But one of the last four.

But, you know, he left his prints. He left his -- I think history's going to judge Gerald Ford and give him very high marks.

HENRY: Thank you very much, Senator Dole, for a very interesting conversation.

DOLE: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.


MALVEAUX: And Senator Bob Dole, of course, showing some emotion there tearing up at the end, giving his recollections.

HENRY: Absolutely, yes. One of the last statesmen of that era.

MALVEAUX: When Republicans first made George W. Bush their presidential nominee in 2000, Gerald Ford was there and so was our own Wolf Blitzer.

HENRY: Wolf interviewed former President Ford at the Republican National Convention in Florida, and they discussed the man who would become the 43rd commander in chief. Take a listen to this.


GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Both Betty and I are really overcome, Wolf, because we have such wonderful memories of our term in the White House, short as it was, but the opportunity to do things constructively at home and abroad, well, coming here tonight brings back all those great, great memories.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tell us what you think about this Republican candidate.

FORD: Well, I'm all for George W. I was from the very beginning, and of course, Dick Cheney is an old-time friend of mine. He worked for me as my chief of staff when I was president. He did a superb job in the Defense Department during the Persian Gulf War. He ran and served in the Congress. He has got an outstanding career in public service. I think he'll add tremendously to the Bush election campaign, and will be a first-class vice president when they win.


MALVEAUX: And that was our own Wolf Blitzer with President Ford in 2000.

It was at his swear in ceremony, August of 1974, that President Ford said, "I am indebted to no man and only to one woman, my dear wife." The former first lady, Betty Ford's, contributions are chronicled in detail online.

Jacki Schechner is standing by with details -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Suzanne, Gerald and Betty Ford's life together is well-documented online, thanks in part to the Ford Presidential Library and Museum Web site.

This photograph taken from their wedding together October 15th, 1948. Some more candid photos, this one at their apartment in Alexandria, Virginia from 1952, and from a fishing trip together in Jamaica in 1972.

Some more official photographs, like the Ford swearing-in from August 9th, 1974, and just a month later, Betty Ford would be diagnosed with breast cancer. This photograph was taken October 2nd, 1974 from her hospital bed after she had surgery.

Now, today on the Gerald Ford memorial Web site, there is a very short statement from Betty Ford. She says that his was "a life of love of God, family and country."

That same statement is posted on the Web site of her clinic, the Betty Ford Center. She set up this drug and alcohol treatment facility in 1982 after her own bout with chemical dependency. If you go to, we put together a full collection of all the resources we found throughout the day today memorializing the president and his wife Betty Ford -- Suzanne, Ed.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Jacki.

Just ahead, mining the border. We'll have details of Pakistan's explosive plan to rein in al Qaeda and possibly Osama bin Laden.

MALVEAUX: Plus, how do you keep millions of people safe during the world's largest pilgrimage? CNN's Zain Verjee reporting from Saudi Arabia on Hajj security. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


HENRY: There's a new controversy tonight in the global war on terror. Pakistan is under increasing pressure to stop al Qaeda and its allies from causing death and devastation next door. Now Pakistan says it's ready to take a potentially explosive step.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us with details on that.

Brian, what's the scoop?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ed, Pakistani officials tell us they have 80,000 troops along their border with Afghanistan and 700 checkpoints. They are tired of being told that's not enough. So they're about to do something they know is controversial.


TODD (voice-over): Rogue civilians queue up at a border crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan, under the watchful eye of Pakistani security forces. But other stretches of the border are not patrolled, left wide open to militants, some allied with Taliban and Al Qaeda, to launch attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces.

It is believed Osama bin Laden may also be hiding in this vast mountainous region. Pakistani officials tell CNN they're sick of blistering criticism from U.S. and Afghan leaders that these attacks are routinely launched from the Pakistani side of the border, and that the government isn't doing enough to stop it. So they're taking a bold step.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: We have no other choice but to mine it and fence it.

TODD: Land mines along some parts of the border, fences at other stretches, and Pakistani officials say, more security forces in additional areas. Most of this, in the northwest frontier region. They say not all of the 1500 mile border can be sealed. Afghan officials tell CNN these measures are not an answer; going after terrorists directly is. A former CIA officer who has tracked the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in the region has this warning for Pakistani commanders.

GARY BERNTSEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: If they don't have people on scene, you know, covering those minefields, the Taliban will breech those fields. They'll use combat engineering techniques to blast past through them and they'll cross through.

TODD: But Gary Berntsen and Pakistani officials say even if they don't stop each person, the strategy can be effective.

DURRANI: Let's say there are 100 people going, there will be two or three people going. If there is a 1,000 people going, there will be maybe 50 people going, and whenever you breech a fence, or when you breech a minefield, then it is known and it gives you reaction time.

TODD: But a human rights official says noncombatants in those areas won't have reaction time.

SAM ZARIFI, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: We're going see a significant number of civilians, thousands of civilians subjected to risk of injury by these land mines.


TODD (on camera): Sam Zarifi calls this plan a disastrous idea. Pakistan's ambassador tells us he is a former soldier. He also does not like land mines. But he says this is an unusual situation requiring unusual measures. He says the mined areas will be marked by fences and warning signs. But Gary Berntsen and Human Rights Watch officials tell us civilians often miss those signs -- Ed, Suzanne. HENRY: Thank you, Brian Todd, as the hunt for Osama bin Laden continues.

Meanwhile, protecting the pilgrims. Millions of Muslims have made the journey to Mecca for the Hajj.

MALVEAUX: And now it's up to Saudi Arabia for keep them safe.

Our own Zain Verjee is in Mecca. And she joins us -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ed, Suzanne, with about three million people here in Mecca, pilgrims' safety and security is key.


VERJEE (voice-over): Getting fit to handle the Hajj -- 50,000 security forces mobilized to protect pilgrims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have only -- the target is safety of the Hajj.

VERJEE: Brimming in thick pads to soften body blows at a deadly ritual site. Emergency medical teams ready to react. Separations of the ritual sites in the deserts beyond Mecca.

For the head of Hajj security, crowd control is the key and using brand-new traffic lights could help direct flow.

GEN. MANSOUR AL-TURKI, HAJJ SECURITY CHIEF: Because when you make people stop with the huge crowd, people pushing each other, luggage fall down, then it might create a hazardous situation.

VERJEE: Like this. At the last Hajj a deadly stampede killed about 350 pilgrims as they were performing a ritual rejection of evil.

(on camera): It's been here on the Jamarat Bridge where the stampedes happened. To prevent that, the Saudi government has invested $1.5 billion in this huge construction project. They've created two new entry points for pilgrims to enter, they've made the bridge wider, and they're creating more levels. All of this to ensure the smooth flow of pilgrims to stone those pillars.

(voice-over): Major General Mansour al-Turki is watching everything carefully. The nerve center of security's command and control, a state-of-the-art state of the Hajj. Instant images from 1,400 cameras eying Mecca and the ritual sites.

MANSOUR: Here you look for the crowd density. You look for the flow of crowds through the network (ph).

VERJEE: New software zooms in to inspect, and if there's a problem it's e-mailed out to a field commander to check out.

MANSOUR: They are also supported by helicopters, helicopters provided with cameras which send instant data. VERJEE: The men in the control room are on alert for any suspicious activity. General Mansour says the Saudis will handle security but the pilgrims must help with safety.

MANSOUR: If people insist that they want to do it their way, then they put themselves in danger and they put other pilgrims in danger and they put us in a bad situation.

VERJEE: A situation these young men must be prepared to face.


VERJEE (on camera): The Hajj starts on Thursday. Pilgrims will leave the city of Mecca and go to the desert, to the Mina Valley, to start their rituals -- Ed, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Zain.

And up ahead tonight, memories of the Ford White House from a woman who's covered the beat for decades. Helen Thomas remembers the late president.

HENRY: Plus, it was a much needed laugh in troubled times, but what did Mr. Ford think of this famous impersonation?

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


HENRY: The early days of Gerald Ford's presidency coincided with the early days of a TV phenomenon, "Saturday Night Live." And for better or worse, maybe both, that helped shapes Americans impressions of their new commander in chief. Bill Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, no stranger to humor, picks up the story right there. Bill, how are you?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: How did Gerald Ford leave his stamp on the presidency? By showing his human side.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Gerald Ford worked hard to present himself as a reassuring and comfortable figure, someone who we learned early on made his own English muffins for breakfast.

HENRY KISSINGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: He did what he needed to do. He was calm. What you saw was what you got.

SCHNEIDER: Ford followed Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, two intensely complicated and devious presidents. That's why it was important for Ford to be reassuring.

FORD: Our long national nightmare is over.

SCHNEIDER: Inheriting Watergate and Vietnam, Ford aimed to be a healer. He saw the Nixon pardon as a healing gesture, a way to avoid the trauma of a long criminal trial.

FORD: It would have been a traumatic incident in the country for three to five years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came down the steps...

SCHNEIDER: They say laughter is the best medicine. President Ford's clumsiness became a national joke.

Comedian Chevy Chase made his name portraying the president as a stumble bum. Jokes about the pratfall president didn't come across as nasty, they were sort of endearing...

CHEVY CHASE, ACTOR: I just want to thank you for having me here. And I'm kind of embarrassed. And I hope you pardon me.

SCHNEIDER: ... especially when Ford was in on the joke.

Ford was actually an accomplished athlete and avid skier and golfer, a former college football player who was recruited by the pros.

FORD: When I got through Michigan, I was offered opportunities at the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.

SCHNEIDER: Gerald Ford aimed to be the antidote to Richard Nixon's imperial presidency. It worked. Perhaps too well.

The American public rates Ford the most average president in modern times. Sixty percent of Americans rate his presidency as average. More than any president since Franklin Roosevelt.


SCHNEIDER: Gerald Ford once called himself, quote, "a Ford, not a Lincoln." He wanted to showcase his humility, and that turned out to be an apt description. One historian called him "not a Lincoln, but a pretty good Ford" -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: And Bill, of course, we're seeing an outpouring of support, live pictures from Grand Rapids, Michigan where there are many candle displays and people coming forward to pay their last respects.

And of course another person paying her last respects is veteran reporter Helen Thomas, who has long covered Washington and the White House. And on this day, after Gerald Ford's death, she's remembering what was so unique about the 38th president.


HELEN THOMAS, VETERAN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The first day we started covering him we went to his home in Alexandria, Virginia, and he was busy toasting English muffins. We thought, well, this is really a down to earth president. He really let us in on a lot of things. He had been here for 30 years or so. So he was very acquainted with all of the reporters who began to cover him at the White House. It was a very comfortable experience.

It was a quantum leap for him because, as Brian said, there was no aspiration to be president. He wanted to be speaker of the House. But I think that he was -- he settled into the job as though he had been planning for it all his life.

I remember being outside the church across the street from the White House, St. John's, and it was an 8:00 service the president attended. And I'm standing there with the AP reporter, and we were waiting for the president to emerge, and I said to him when he did, I said, "Mr. President, what are you doing for the rest of the day?" And he said, "Just wait." He said, "We're going make an announcement."

Well, the AP reporter and myself, Gaylord Shaw (ph), raced across Lafayette Park, went to our -- went to the press room, grabbed our phones and said, you know, it's going to be a big announcement. And my office tells me that I said that President Ford was going to pardon President Nixon, but I don't remember that. And I would like to think it was true.

We were struck by his -- the kindness that he had, a sense of decency. I think you'll notice in all the obituaries and everyone who has spoken about him, there wasn't -- hasn't been one mean thing to say, because he was very -- he was a good person. And he -- I think he was very human, very humane.


MALVEAUX: And of course that seems like a much different time, the legacy of President Ford, having breakfast -- reporters have been English Muffins with the president at his home?

HENRY: We should try that sometime, show up at the White House, the two of us, when we go back to our day jobs. I bring the muffins, you bring the butter, and we knock on the door. What do you think will happen?

MALVEAUX: Well you know, it's funny because I do think that was a time where there was a sense of bipartisanship. And that is something that Washington, of course, is just really urging for.

HENRY: Thanks for joining us, I'm Ed Henry/

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Up next, right after a quick break, a special edition of "PAULA ZAHN NOW."



© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines