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CNN Larry King Live

Special Encore Presentation: Interview with Gerald Ford

Aired December 30, 2006 - 21:00   ET


GERALD R. FORD, DECEASED FORMER PRESIDENT: I want to be a good president. I need your help. We all need God's sure guidance. With it nothing can stop the United States of America.

Thank you very much.


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, we remember the 38th president of the United States, in his own words. An hour with Gerald Ford is next on a very special LARRY KING LIVE.

Thanks for joining us. Tonight, we're remembering a remarkable man. Gerald Ford became president of the United States August 9th, 1974. The same day that Richard Nixon resigned the office in disgrace.

In Ford, the country found someone whose honesty were above reproach. He was the man Americans needed in a very troubled time. It was a honor and a privilege to interview him on numerous occasions and to call him a friend.

Tonight, we want to share one of those special hours with you, December 1999. While the world looked forward to the century ahead, we look back at the century that was. And I started by asking the president, once a football star at Michigan about the one job he never took.


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

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

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

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

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

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

KING: Minority leader.

FORD: For nine years.

KING: Vice president.

FORD: Nine months.

KING: And president.

FORD: Two and a half years.

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

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

FORD: Not a bit.

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

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

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

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

FORD: Well, I enjoyed every bit of it.

KING: Really?

FORD: It was a challenge.

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

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

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

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

FORD: That is correct.

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

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

KING: So they haven't wavered then?

FORD: Not a bit.

KING: Were you rushed? There are some would say that President Johnson put a rush on all of you to get this done.

FORD: It was desirable to get it completed prior to the elections of 1964. We had 13 months to do it, to carry out our responsibilities as a commission. So I think we had ample time, Larry. And the pressure of the election coming up didn't really interfere with our judgment.

KING: Do you think one of the reasons the conspiracy theorists hold forth in so many areas is that it's hard to accept that one lone man could change the world?

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

KING: Correct.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: More of the life and times of President Gerald Ford. Don't go away.


FORD: Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, distinguished guests and my very dear friends.

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




FORD: I, Gerald R. Ford, president of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, have granted, and by these presents do grant, a full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from July 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.

KING: In retrospect, President Ford, was the pardon of Richard Nixon the toughest decision you had to make?

FORD: It was a tough one, because it was a decision where I had to sign my name. And I was a sole person that had to make that decision. But when you look back at the alternatives that I had, it was the right decision. And I have ...

KING: No doubt about that either?

FORD: I had no question that it was the right thing to do then, and I am more certain today.

KING: The alternatives being you wanted to avoid the embarrassment of a trial of a president?

FORD: Well, there was no question that if I had not granted the pardon, there would have been an indictment, there would have been a trial, there probably, without a question of a doubt, a conviction. And then you would have had one, two, three, or four years of appeal. It would have been a traumatic incident in the country for three to five years.

KING: It may have cost you an election, right? May have?

FORD: It may have. It was one of several factors.

KING: What was it like for you to assume the vice presidency in those days, replacing a discredited vice president, and then having all of this break while you're in the -- you're a breath away, and here it is, breaking -- what was it like for you? FORD: I was very fortunate, Larry, in that I, as a member of Congress, had had many opportunities to meet with, work with, listen to firsthand, other presidents, going back as far as Harry Truman. Harry Truman took me and the other members of my committee and gave us a personal tour of the White House at the time we were going to decide whether to tear it down, rebuild it or what.

And then, of course, I had the honor of knowing Eisenhower and Kennedy and Nixon and Johnson. So I wasn't a stranger to the White House itself, or the responsibility or the issues.

KING: How about a scandal going on all around you, though?

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

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

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

KING: In the House together, right?

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

KING: What did you say?

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

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

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

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

KING: You did?

Did you call Betty right away?

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

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

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

KING: Contact at all.

FORD: ... with him. I had an attorney from my White House staff go out with his attorney, Jack Miller, to negotiate the final terms of two things -- one, what we were going to do with Nixon's papers, tapes and records. That was an important issue. Some people wanted to get all of that out of the White House.

And I said no, because those documents were important for whatever trials, if any, were going to be held; and secondly, what the terms of the pardon would be, how they would announce it, and whether President Nixon would make a public statement accepting it.

Well, my attorney, Benton Becker, did a fabulous job in negotiating. And the net result was we got the papers, kept them in Washington, and there was, in effect, an acceptance by President Nixon.

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


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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vice President Ford this morning as he left his home to come here for this occasion said it was indeed one of the saddest incidents that he has ever seen. There's the president waving good-bye. You hear the applause.




FORD: I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together. Not only our government, but civilization itself. That bond, though stained, is unbroken at home and abroad.

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

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

Did you see yourself as having to heal this country?

FORD: That was my prime objective as the occupant of the Oval Office.

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

KING: What was ending that war like for you?

FORD: Well, to sit in the Oval Office, Larry, and see those people from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon taking helicopters and to know that we were being literally kicked out of Vietnam by the North Vietnamese, that was a sad experience for any president, to see us lose as we did, so ...

KING: And you had to tell us about it?

FORD: I had to go on television to explain what had transpired, and that we had rescued all of the U.S. military personnel and as many as possible of our South Vietnamese allies who had fought with us year after year as good allies.

KING: Taking you now to current, you attempted or did get involved in the Clinton-Lewinsky matter by offering to somehow barter or -- what was your role there? I remember you wrote an op-ed piece.

FORD: I wrote an op-ed piece for "The New York Times," which said that rather than go through the process of an impeachment by the House and the actual conviction in the Senate, it would be far wiser to have a condemnation by resolution by the House and the Senate.

KING: A censure.

FORD: A censure, in effect. I recommended that. I still think it would have been the right idea. It was rejected by the Congress.

Subsequently, about three weeks later, former President Carter and I signed a joint op-ed piece for "The New York Times" that, in effect, reiterated the suggestion that a censure was the right process.

KING: In retrospect, is that what they should have done?

FORD: I think so. Having lived through the Nixon trauma, I know that -- or I knew that an impeachment and conviction would have been a terrible waste of time, and it would have made more sense to have a responsible censure resolution.

KING: You -- did you not say recently that the Clinton people personally asked you to get involved, and you asked him to at least admit perjury?

FORD: Well, one of his top lawyers called me and made a suggestion that maybe I could be helpful by saying something public, and then subsequently, I talked to the president himself, and I said, I would be glad to, providing he would admit that he had committed perjury, and he said he could not and would not. So my role never went further.

KING: As one former president, member of the opposition party looking at another, how do you explain Mr. Clinton? Even his strongest critics would say extraordinary success. How does he do it?

FORD: Well, he is a very bright, extremely articulate individual, and he works at the job, and he's had his share of successes, and he's had his share of problems.

KING: You have an also been critical of your own party of late, especially its drift farther rightward. Was that tough for you, to come out and criticize your own, to break the Reagan rule of we don't criticize our own?

FORD: Not at all, because I think having been in the political arena actively and holding positions of responsibility, at my age, I have an obligation to speak out as I really feel, and I feel very strongly that the Republican Party ought to be the party of the middle, not an extreme right-wing party and duplicate the mistake that my Democratic friends made for about three elections of being too far to the left. The record is that when the Democrats nominated an extreme liberal...

KING: McGovern.

FORD: McGovern, Dukakis, the others, they lost. And we Republicans will lose if we nominate candidates who are on the fringe, the extreme right. The public generally, Larry, believes in moderation, middle of the road political philosophy and ideology.

I have no fear for the future of this great country. And as we go forward together, I promise you once more what I promised before. To uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right. And to do the very best that I can for America. God helping me, I won't let you down. Thank you very much.



KING: We're back with President Ford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KING: When you all met with her, right?

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

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

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

KING: Was it difficult for you? You knew as a former president this is going to get a lot of publicity.

FORD: That never entered my mind. I assumed it would, but the openness that we've always had, Betty and myself, I think helped many people who had similar problems just like when Betty was very open and frank when she had her mastectomy surgery. So as a family we have a tradition of being up front. You can't change.

KING: Was that difficult for you, living with breast -- the breast cancer?

FORD: Not at all. Not at all. It was ... KING: No macho problems, as many men seem to face sometimes or we hear about?

FORD: No, I can say to any husband, don't be handicapped by being so limited in your affection and love for your wife that you worry about that.

KING: What did you -- were you angry at Bob Woodward when he wrote in "Shadow" this -- I'll quote it -- "Ford was unaccustomed to the high level of scrutiny. He was used to a congressional lifestyle, which often included alcohol at lunch, and this had proved particularly embarrassing for Ford when he gave a luncheon speech once in Denver, skipped several dozen pages because he had what his aides call a few martinis before speaking." And he wrote later that you cut back after that.

Were you embarrassed to read that, or not?

FORD: Well, I don't remember the incident, and I therefore raise some question whether it ever took place. But I am very proud to say that following Betty's good decision, I haven't had a drink for 21 years.

KING: Even though you never had a problem, did you?

FORD: No, I just decided that ...

KING: Support her by not drinking yourself?

FORD: I just decided after she had started her sobriety, that I wasn't going to drink myself, and so I haven't had a drink in 21 years.

KING: And when the -- President Clinton presented you with the Gold Medal he, said of you and Betty, "Their children are here, still rooting for them. And that's something, because kids go through hell if their folks are in politics. They get all the burdens and none of the benefits." True?

FORD: There's a great deal of truth to that. On the other hand, our children were all born in Washington, Larry, and so they grew up in the political arena, to a degree, when I was in the Congress and vice president. So they ...

KING: Knew the scene?

FORD: They knew the ball game and they understood it.

Now, Susan has objected from time to time that when she was 17 and we were in the White House and she had a date, she had to have Secret Service along with her when she went. Now that's not the best environment for a young ...

KING: By the way, if you make a date with the daughter of the president, do you call? Do you come to the front door? What do you do? FORD: Well, I don't ...

KING: You're going to take her to the movies -- what do you do?

FORD: I'm not sure how that happens. I wasn't too involved in it. Susan seemed to have dates.

KING: Secret Service followed her to the movies?

FORD: Oh, yes. They were with her many of the times. They drove she and her date to wherever they were going.

KING: It goes with -- it's a sad thing that that has to be in this country, right?

FORD: That's too bad, right.

KING: Do you ever -- are you ever annoyed by them, having them around?

FORD: No, no, I admire the Secret Service. They're very professional. They understand their responsibilities, and Betty and I have a good relationship with them. They respect our privacy, and we respect their professionalism.

KING: Back with more of President Gerald Ford on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Anderson Cooper here in New York with some late details on the death of Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States.

He was 93 and had been in failing health recently. Funeral details are pending. If past experience is a guide, there will be several memorial services including a state funeral in Washington.

A short time ago the White House released the following written statement from President Bush. In part it reads, "President Ford was a great American who gave many years of dedicated service to our country. On August 9th, 1974, after a long career in the House of Representatives and service as vice president, he assumed the presidency in an hour of national turmoil and division. With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency."

Gerald Ford took office during the Watergate scandal. First as vice president and then president at the resignation of Richard Nixon. You will remember he later pardoned Mr. Nixon and presided over the end of America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

He is survived by wife Betty, their four children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We'll have more throughout the night and tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay tuned to CNN for the very latest.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My God. There's been a shot. There's been a shot.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay back, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up on the sidewalk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're being pushed back by the police. Somebody has fired a shot here. We don't know if anybody's been hit. My God. Somebody fired a shot.

KING: What about being shot at?

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

KING: She's still in jail?

FORD: She's still in jail.

Well, I had gone to breakfast at a hotel across from the state capitol. And I was walking along the walk to pay a courtesy call on then-Governor Jerry Brown.

And I noticed as I walked along a lady in a red dress following behind the first row of people who were there greeting me. And as I went to shake hands, a hand appeared with a pistol in it about as far as you are from me. And Larry Boondorf, one of my Secret Service agents, very alertly saw it, grabbed the pistol, and prevented her from pulling the trigger.

KING: Did you see it?

FORD: Well, I saw the pistol.

KING: What was that like, that moment?

FORD: It scared the heck out of me.

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

FORD: That closely. And I ...

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

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

KING: San Francisco. FORD: ... San Francisco after making a speech before the San Francisco foreign policy group. As I walked out of the hotel to get into the car, a shot took place. And fortunately, it missed me.

Now, I'm told that across the street, where the shot came from, a lady, Sarah J. Moore, pulled the trigger. But a marine standing next to her saw it and hit her hand, and that result was the shot missed me.

KING: Where is she?

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

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

FORD: Not at all.


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

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

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

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

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

KING: And, of course, Reagan being shot. Do you have some thoughts on guns in this country? There's a constant debate about it.

FORD: Let me just say this. We've never owned a gun in our house. I'm not a hunter, so I have no ...

KING: Personal.

FORD: ... personal views, other than I think some reasonable, responsible gun control legislation is desirable. I don't think that's going to solve the problem a hundred percent, but I think reasonable restrictions do make sense.

KING: What are your thoughts on the great debate in your party about abortion?

FORD: Well, I have to be very frank and clear here. Betty and I are pro-choice, period. We have no apology for that. And we, on the other hand, don't think that issue should be in the partisan political arena.

KING: Shouldn't be in the platform even?

FORD: That's right. It's not a philosophical, partisan issue. It's a very personal issue. We can be opposed to abortion, but it should not be thrown into the partisan political debate. And, therefore, even though we're pro-choice, we would oppose any effort to get an anti-abortion provision in our platform.

KING: Do you think the party can get itself together in that? I mean, there are a lot of worries that, you know, we're the all- inclusive party, but you know the differences are extreme in that area.

FORD: Well, a major national political party has to be a party as an umbrella. And under that umbrella, you'll have differences of opinion on individual issues. And abortion is one of those. We have some who are pro-life and some who are pro-choice. And we have other issues, Larry, where there is a legitimate difference of opinion.

KING: Guns is one of them.

FORD: And you can't have a limited party on one sole issue and win a national election.

KING: Back with more of President Gerald Ford on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.




FORD: Let me say this. From the bottom of my heart, after the scrimmages of the past few months, it really feels good to have Ron Reagan on the same side of the line!

KING: Have you been to see President Reagan?

FORD: I went to see him about a year ago. I was in L.A., and I called, and Nancy said I could stop by.

And I went to his office, and it was very, very sad, Larry. He didn't recognize me. I spent about a half hour there. Toward the end, as I reminded him of our many experiences together, there was some semblance ...




FORD: ... in '76, but aside from that, we've been good friends. Betty and Nancy are good friends. And I think he was a good president.

KING: Is that the worst of diseases? It's right up there, ain't it?

FORD: Well, it's a terrible tragedy to see people like President Reagan go through that circumstance.

KING: And this extraordinary friendship that you have -- I guess embodied with President Carter. You two, I mean, you ran against each other. It was a tough, close race, and now you have -- you appear together at forums, you go to the Peace Center, he comes to your place. This started on the trip back from the Sadat funeral, right?

FORD: Well, that was sort of the highlight of it. President Reagan asked Nixon, Carter and myself to go to represent him at the Sadat funeral. And in the 20 or 30 hours that we spent together in an aircraft, we became good friends.

And the net result is our friendship has grown, and I have gone to his library/museum in Atlanta, and he's reciprocated, come to mine in Michigan. I think he's a fine person. He spends a great deal of time with the Habitat for Humanity, and he travels extensively. And we have many good things in common.

KING: Should former presidents be put to -- I don't mean to like -- better use than we do?

FORD: Well from my personal experience, whenever a sitting president, Democrat or Republican, calls and asks for help, a former president responds.

Jimmy Carter asked me to do two or three things to help get votes for recognition of People's Republic of China, the Panama Canal problem.

And I had opportunities more recently with President Clinton. I participated in a White House conference to push NAFTA, along with Jimmy Carter and George Bush. So former presidents are always available, and I have known no former president who didn't respond when asked by the White House.

FORD: The world knows where we stand. The world is ever conscious of what Americans are doing. For better or for worse. Because the united states today remains the most successful realization of humanity's universal hope. The world may or may not follow but we lead because our whole history says we must.

The establishment of justice and peace abroad will in large measure depend upon the peace and justice we create here in our own country, for we still show the way.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... arrival in Salzburg. It was raining as he and Mrs. Ford came down the steps leading from Air Force One. The president caught a heel and fell.

Mr. Ford said he was all right. He got up quickly, obviously embarrassed and tried to shake hands with Austrian Chancellor.

FORD: Mr. Chancellor, Mrs. Kreisky, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your gracious welcome to Salzburg and I'm sorry that I tumbled in.

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

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

KING: What about personally?

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

KING: You were an All-American.

FORD: Not quite.

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

KING: What's life like now?

FORD: Well, I'm having a wonderful time in retirement. I am trying to cut back. I have been to 180 colleges and universities to lecture, to teach. That was a wonderful experience, to be at the grassroots level with the next generation of young people.

And let me say, without any qualification, I'm convinced this generation of young people will do a first-class job when the reins of government are turned over to them.

KING: You're optimistic about the millennium then, about the next turn?

FORD: Absolutely. You know, Larry, the United States has a great track record in the 20th century. We won two World Wars against aggression. We overcame communism, as exemplified by the Soviet Union. We won the battle against the Depression ...

KING: Segregation.

FORD: ... of the 1930s.

We have gotten rid of the Jim Crow laws. We've given minorities a better break. So I think our track record is good. And I am confident in the 21st century, those in positions of responsibility will carry on and do better. KING: Do you still get the lump when you hear "The Stars and Stripes"?

FORD: Oh, I sure do.

KING: Does July 4 still move you?

FORD: I am very emotional and patriotic when it comes to anything involving what I think is the greatest country in the history of mankind.

KING: And an honor having you with us.

FORD: I've enjoyed it, Larry. It's been wonderful.


KING: Thanks for joining us on this special tribute to a very special man, long remembered.

We were very close with Gerald Ford and counted him a friend. Best wishes to Betty and the family. Good night.


FORD: My fellow Americans, I once asked you for your prayers and now I give you mine.

May God guide this wonderful country, its people and those they have chosen to lead them. May our third century be illuminated by liberty and blessed with brotherhood. So that we and all who come after us may be the humble servants of thy peace.

Amen. Good night, God bless you.