BRIAN LAMB, HOST: James Cannon, author of "Time and Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment With History," in the promotional literature they send out--and they have a little Q&A that they do with you--the question is: What is the story that this book tells? Your first sentence I want you to amplify on. You answer, `How an honest politician from middle America took over from a lying crook of a president.' I didn't see you write that, but do you feel that strongly about it?
Mr. JAMES CANNON, AUTHOR, "TIME AND CHANCE: GERALD FORD'S APPOINTMENT WITH HISTORY": I do. I do. I think that's the essence of the story. This is a story, a classical story, of good vs. evil. And what this story is about is what Richard Nixon did to put this country in such a state of constitutional peril and how this rather stolid, but honest, man came to the rescue and ended, a little raggedly, but ended the national nightmare that Watergate had been.
LAMB: You think that Mr. Nixon was a lying crook of a president.
Mr. CANNON: I do.
LAMB: How long have you felt that?
Mr. CANNON: I've felt that since I read the tapes and listened to the tapes and listened to what he said subsequently to the public. The most--one of the most fascinating things about my research into this book was the degree to which Nixon himself consciously and deliberately lied. He made a conscious decision to lie up at Camp David the day he fired Haldeman and Erlichman. He said, `I either have the choice'--and he's written this in his book, `I either had the
choice to tell the truth and risk being taken out of the presidency or to lie, and I decided to do the latter.'
LAMB: You say in your notes in the back that his presidential memoirs are some of the most important in history, or some of the str--how did you define them?
Mr. CANNON: They are the--they are the most revealing in--in history of all the presidential memoirs that I have read or studied, and I believe I've read all the last 20 or so years. His revealed more. And this is a fascinating thing all by itself. I asked Ray Price, who was sort of the final editor for "R.N. Memoirs," how this was so. How did it happen that Richard Nixon to--revealed this much of the dark side of his nature? And his answer was, `Well, we persuaded him
that he would have a better book, a more credible book, if he did reveal the dark side of his nature. And further, that it would probably sell better.' And Nixon, for whatever reason, those or
others, decided to tell a great deal about his own agon--the own agon--his own agony in the long course of Watergate.
LAMB: You write, `As president and after, Ford rarely met or even talked to his predecessor.'
Mr. CANNON: That's correct.
LAMB: Is that true till today?
Mr. CANNON: That is true till today. Ford did attend—President Ford did attend President Nixon's--the opening of President Nixon's library, but their conversations have been brief, usually kind of small talk and--while the photographer is taking their picture. And--and never in a personal revealing conversation such as they might have had when Ford was in the House and Nixon was president.
Mr. CANNON: I think the real reason, Brian, is that Ford is a forgiving man, but he is--he could not--and I don't believe he has forgiven Nixon for deceiving him and deceiving the American people on what had actually happened in Watergate.
LAMB: When did--when did he find out that he lied to him?
Mr. CANNON: On July 31st, 1974. The afternoon when Al Haig came in alone, having insisted that the meeting be one-on-one, came in alone and told President--Vice--then Vice President Ford that he had seen the transcript of the smoking gun tapes, and there was no question but
there was evidence against Nixon that would force him from office. And it was at that point that Haig told Ford and for the first time Ford understood it. He had--it had been a long course for him. He had been friends with Nixon for 25 years, and he had been told by Nixon more than once that Nixon had nothing to do with Watergate. And Ford is not only a man who can be trusted, but he does trust. And he trusted Nixon. He believed Nixon. He believed what Nixon told him, that he had had nothing to do with Watergate, until that afternoon when Haig came over and revealed the truth to him.
LAMB: When did you first meet President Ford?
Mr. CANNON: Sometime in the--in the '70s when I was working for Governor Rockefeller and came down here on behalf of the state of New York to become active in some legislative enterprises we had before the House. I met President Ford then.
LAMB: How long did you work for Governor Rockefeller?
Mr. CANNON: About five years.
LAMB: Other politicians you've been with?
Mr. CANNON: I was chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader and then Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker for a total of eight years.
LAMB: Did you work for Gerry Ford?
Mr. CANNON: Yes. I worked for Gerry Ford in the White House for two years.
LAMB: And in preparation for this book, you say in the back you spent 100 hours with him.
Mr. CANNON: I did. I had--I went out--when I first thought of doing this book, I went out to see President Ford to tell him I--of my plans. And his immediate reaction was, `I thought nobody would ever ask.'
The second reaction I had--had to him was--I said, `Well, there may be a lot of things here that I find out, or some things that I find out, that--that won't be very advantageous to you. And I wouldn't want this to cost us my--our friendship.' He said, `Don't you worry about that. I know more about the mistakes I made than anyone else, and I'll tell you what they were.' And he then reve--he then opened his files; he opened his diaries; he opened the--the then-closed parts of his library to me. He made available to me about a million and a half words of oral history that he had done in 1977, when he was preparing to write his own autobiography. I would estimate only 10 or 15 percent of that had ever been used.
So I had the--the great advantage of being able to read all this vast storehouse of presidential recollections, and then I could go to him and--and invest the hundred hours or so that I had with him in focusing on major questions and making sure that I was comfortable that what he was telling me was the facts as sa--as far as we could get at them.
LAMB: Did you publish things in this book that he didn't in his?
Mr. CANNON: Oh, yes. There's quite a lot in here. We...
LAMB: Can you give us an example?
Mr. CANNON: Yes. The first example about his growing up. He said very little about his growing up. But I realized, as I--after about a year or year and a half of research into this book, I realized that the--the significance of Ford's growing up is that he was--he was taught, trained and--and educated in an environment of--of all the old-fashioned virtues that families in America seemed to have in the '20s and '30s more significantly than they do today.
For example, they were trained to be honest, to tell the truth, to work hard, to study hard. They were--their report cards were examined. Their parents were very assiduous about what they did in school and after. Ford grew up in a time when honesty and integrity were--and grew up in a family and in a place, Grand Rapids, Michigan, where that was highly prized. So I felt it was essential to understand the presidency of Ford, indeed to understand how it was that he got to be president. I had to show how this--this boy grew up into the person he was, so that when the time came to find someone to replace Richard Nixon, they turned to a man who had the degree of integrity and credibility that Ford did. Nobody disliked him. Everybody trusted him.
LAMB: On the jacket of the book, you've got endorsements from Russell Baker, Mike Wallace, Ben Bradlee, Michael Beschloss, R.W. Apple Jr. And then in the material that was sent, one from Connie Chung.
Mr. CANNON: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Let me just pick one. Actually, the one that was the most interesting, if I can find it, was a--kind of an addendum. It was this right here. And I'll show the audience what it is; we'll get a close shot of it.
Mr. CANNON: Is that the Mike Wallace?
LAMB: The Mike Wallace--you know, everybody can read it for themselves. I see there's some strong language in there. `I picked up the galleys and said to myself, "I don't really want to know that much more about Gerald Ford than I already know." But I started reading and I kept reading and reading and finished the book. Then I said to myself, 'Son of a B, this is a hell of a story, about a hell of a strong and able man and president.'
Why did--why did you get his endorsement? And what does it mean to the book?
Mr. CANNON: What I was looking for and asking people to read the book before published was to find--get the judgments of more than one person who had had some understanding of Watergate, the story of Watergate and what had happened afterward. Connie Chung, for example, covered that story--and very well. I--I knew her--I got to know her at the time that Rockefeller was confirmed. But she had been intent on that story. Mike Wallace and--in his television shows, has done a great deal of very good work in talking to Nixon and in examining
Watergate. And I thought he would be a good person to look at this story because, in order to tell the story of how Ford became president, I had to tell the story of Watergate. That was—without Watergate, he would not have become president. I had to t--tell the story of Agnew. Without Agnew's being forced to--from office, Ford would never have become president.
So I had to tell this whole story. So in focusing on--on the jacket, the comments, I wanted to get some opinion about Watergate, and Mike I knew would give me a frank and candid opinion. And he did write the blurb that is on the j--jacket of the book. I called him up to thank him the next day, and this is what he said to me over the telephone.
LAMB: How long have you known Ben Bradlee?
Mr. CANNON: 1960.
LAMB: What were you doing when you met him?
Mr. CANNON: I was national affairs editor when Ben was our best reporter--best political reporter covering the campaign of--of—of John Kennedy.
LAMB: And you were at Newsweek.
Mr. CANNON: I was at Newsweek. I was the international affairs...
LAMB: What was his job?
Mr. CANNON: He--his job was political reporting. He was in the Washington bureau, and--and he knew--he knew Kennedy. They were neighbors, and we assigned him to cover the Kennedy campaign. And he did a hell of a job.
LAMB: He writes, `This is the best account I have read of the dramatic unraveling of the Nixon presidency.'
Mr. CANNON: Well, I thought that was a particularly high compliment, since The Post had such--had such a major role in--in carrying this story and in revealing this--this story of Watergate until the other elements came along to pick up the baton.
LAMB: When it got to the chapter about Spiro Agnew, I was surprised by what I read. But then I asked a lot of my colleagues, `Do you remember why Spiro Agnew left office and how much money was exchanged?' And I didn't find one that even came close. I want to know why you--no one knows any--much about that today and what actually did happen to Spiro Agnew.
Mr. CANNON: Watergate was such a powerful story, in and of itself, that the Agnew story seemed almost a sidebar. And in essence, it was--it was dramatic in and of itself, but it was--it was in the shadow of Watergate and never seemed as consequential as it actually was.
Agnew--Agnew was not Nix--Nixon's first choice for vice president at any time. And in particular, in 1972, Nixon wanted to dump him from the ticket and replace him with Connally. But that was politically unfeasible, as Mitchell and others--John Mitchell, his campaign
manager--and others argued. So Nixon came to the conclusion, `OK, we'll--we'll help Ag--we'll make su--sure that Agnew is not the nominee in '76. We'll make sure that John Connally is.'
And immediately after the--the election of '72, Nixon made the first moves to make certain that Agnew was not going to be his political successor. And the notes of their conversations are in the Nixon papers over in the Nixon f--archives, which are still under government control.
LAMB: Have--has this ever been published before?
Mr. CANNON: I don't think so. I don't think so. I--I had never seen it before. But there were Haldeman's notes from his conversation with Nixon on what they were going to do to make sure that Agnew would not be nominated in '76. And Nixon, with his skill in politics, said--the es--the theme of what he was saying is that, `Look, we've got to cut him down. We've got to make sure he understands he's not our choice. But we can't go too far--or we--we can't go too far with
this or too--be too abrupt about it, or it may be that he will react and he has some support too.'
So it was--it was--it is--it is, at this point, the only true evidence is that it was more or less coincidence--put it that way--more or less coincidence that Nixon wanted to get rid of Agnew, and that months later--weeks later that Agnew was first investigated for income tax problems.
LAMB: Who was Spiro Agnew?
Mr. CANNON: Spiro Agnew was a perfectly good governor of Maryland who was chosen in 1968 to be Nixon's running mate because he couldn't have who he wanted. His first choice was Bob Finch, and his second choice was Rog Morton. And for various reasons they didn't think it
was the best idea, so running late, so to speak, on--on making his choice at the convention in '68, Nixon turned to Agnew, who was about as surprised as everybody else.
LAMB: And governor of the state of Maryland, comes in as vice president. Where was Gerry Ford in 1968?
Mr. CANNON: In 1968, Gerry Ford chaired the Republican Convention as House minor---as House Republican leader. He was--he had been—in 1968, he had been House leader for four years and was hoping that in '68 or '70 or '72 or at sometime in his life the Republicans would
elect enough House members so that he could be speaker. His ambition was to be speaker.
LAMB: Because we've just seen a transfer--or about to see a transfer--of power in the Republican Party in the House--Bob Michel to someone else--at the moment, it's only Newt Gingrich who's running for that job--and it's peaceful. What happened when Gerry Ford became
leader of the minority party in the House? And what year was it?
Mr. CANNON: He--he became leader of the minority party in the House in 1964, after the debacle of 1964, when--when the Goldwater campaign--wi--because of the Goldwater campaign and other reasons, the Republicans lost a massive number of House seats. And the--several
leaders, including Charley--including Bob Griffin and Don Rumsfeld and--and Goodell from New York, felt that there had to be a change from--from Halleck who--Charley Halleck was a--an old-fashioned, hard-driving, hard-talking, bibulous member of the House. And the younger turks--the young turks in the House felt it was time for a change. And they turned to Gerry Ford, persuaded him to challenge Halleck. And he did, and I believe won by three votes.
LAMB: How--was--was that an--an unhappy transfer for Charley Halleck?
Mr. CANNON: Yes. Yes, it was. Charley accepted it, but he never really recovered from that loss.
LAMB: You've got a picture here--and we'll get a close-up of it. I just want to ask you if that is George Bush right there. I can't--make you get your glasses on. Richard Nixon's over here.
Mr. CANNON: I'm--I don't think so. I don't think so because I'm not sure that George Bush was ever in the Chowder and Marching Society. I just don't know. He could have--he could have been. I just don't know. Usually they came--they j--were permitted to join a few years later. But it's an interesting question, and I don't know. But I'll find out.
LAMB: What was the Chowder and Marching Society?
Mr. CANNON: The Chowder and Marching Society was a group of young Republican leaders who--almost all of whom had been veterans in the war, and their--they organized themselves in 19--in the late 1940s to--to defeat--organize and defeat an effort by Democrats in the House
to give major bonuses to veterans of World War II. These Republicans felt that was unnecessary and a mistake, and they organized to oppose it. And they did so. They did successfully oppose it. And they continued because it was what is so effective--it became what is so effective in the House, which is a cohesive group of young activists who can stick together on issues and thereboo--therefore become a formidable force within the larger House body.
LAMB: Go back to Spiro Agnew. What was the law regarding succession back in 197--what year did he resign? '72?
Mr. CANNON: '70--'74--'73.
LAMB: '73. What was the law then? How--what governed the—the process of succession?
Mr. CANNON: The 25th Amendment. The 25th Amendment, fortuitously, was in place when Agnew--when Agnew resigned. When Kennedy was—when Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson became president, of course, and for a period of more than a year the speaker of the House, who was the next in line of succession, was John McCormack. And John was quite old then, and there was considerable concern about whether it—whether he could function as president if, indeed, he should--if, indeed, something should happen to Lyndon Johnson.
So Senator Birch Bayh and a number of others thought it was a good idea to have a--a process created, where if there was no vice president, then the president would nominate a candidate for vice president, and the House and the Senate would separately confirm him. As you know, usually it's only the Senate that confirms a nominee, but deliberately they included the House because they wanted all the members of the House to have a chance to weigh in on so important a matter. So the 25th Amendment was--which was passed in the--in the '70--in the '60s, I believe, late '60s--the twe--the 25th Amendment was fortuitously in operation when Agnew left office.
LAMB: June of 1972. Watergate. The break-in. The election. Then later on that year--and then we're in '73, President Nixon is re-elected. He still has his vice president, Spiro Agnew. When did Gerry Ford first find out that Mr. Agnew was in trouble?
Mr. CANNON: He was on a trip with--to Connecticut, with Mel Laird, who was a close friend of his. And Mel Laird always knew a lot about what was going on in the White House and--and otherwise--and still does. And Mel Laird mentioned to him, to Ford, that he thought Agnew
had a serious problem. And that's about all he said. And Ford accepted that, said nothing to anybody and had the impression that Mel might be kind of testing him to see if he knew it and was ready to exchange a little information. But Ford--it was news to him, and so he simply accepted it. And that was the first time he ever knew that Agnew had a problem.
LAMB: Was Mel Laird testing him? I mean, did you ever find out whether--where was Mel Laird working at the time?
Mr. CANNON: Mel Laird, I believe, was...
LAMB: Was he in the White House?
Mr. CANNON: I--I think he was out of the White House at that point. He--he was close to the White House, but I believe he had not come back in at that point.
LAMB: And did you ever learn whether they were--he was testing him?
Mr. CANNON: I know Mel Laird, and I believe he was always testing, ready to exchange information. This is a man who has one of the highest orders of br--brainpower in Washington.
LAMB: What happened next?
Mr. CANNON: Well, the--nothing happened for a while, until The Wall Street Journal--well, there was a lot happening behind the scenes—a lot--what was happening behind the scenes was that a new attorney general, Elliot Richardson, found out the--about Agnew's problem from the--from the then US attorney in--in--in Baltimore and was—was almost literally sickened by the realization--this is Elliot Richardson, the attorney general--sickened by the realization that here we have Watergate already building up to a problem that may mean the impeachment of Nixon, and now we have charges that the vice president of the United States took bribes, including one, physically, in the White House.
LAMB: How'd they find that out?
Mr. CANNON: They found it out by pursuing a--a series of investiga--a series of reports in Maryland that it had been common practice in--in Maryland for payments to be made by contractors to--who received public service awards, public contracts, public works awards, highway contracts and so on. They'd gone back over time, and they found that some of these--some of these contractors had indeed paid cash payments. And in pursuing them, they found out that Agnew had, as county executive of Baltimore County and as governor of Maryland--had, in their evidence, in their testimony, taken bribes and that these bribes had continued even after Agnew became vice president.
LAMB: Did the former vice president ever admit that he...
Mr. CANNON: He did not. He contends to this day that it was—that he took no money. But he did resign. He resigned because of the abundance of evidence against him and because, very frankly, as he wrote in his book and as--as his former national security adviser confirmed, Agnew was scared that Al Haig, then chief of staff, would have him killed if he didn't resign.
LAMB: Have him killed.
Mr. CANNON: Have him killed.
Mr. CANNON: Physically. This was--this was the import of Agnew's concern, and so he has written in his book that finally he decided he had no choice; that he knew what might happen to--to--and--to someone who resisted the president. And he felt that the only thing—course he had was to resign. And he did. He plea--he pleaded nolo contendere to one tax charge, but Agnew has never admitted that—that he took a bribe.
LAMB: What does nolo contendere mean?
Mr. CANNON: No contest.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Mr. CANNON: That he did not contest this charge. He did not admit it, but he did not contest it.
LAMB: You write this. `Altogether the payments to Agnew totaled more than $100,000 and were made over the span of six years. Vice President Agnew accepted the last envelope of cash in his office in the White House.' How can you write that if he never agreed that he
had done that?
Mr. CANNON: It is on record in the court in Baltimore as part of the attorney general's detailed listing of the eviden--evidence against Agnew that this was the facts that they had turned up in the long investigation of this issue.
LAMB: You have a whole series of notes in here about the money and how it was exchanged. The last one is Mats, and I don't know who that was. Do you happen to remember the name Mats? `Gave $20,000 in cash in a manila envelope to Agnew in the governor's office for contracts to his engineering firm. After Agnew became vice president, Mats paid him in cash in the vice president's Executive Office Building office over near the White House, one payment of $10,000, one of $5,000, one of $2,500.'
Mr. CANNON: This is the evidence that the attorney general and US attorney collected from the contractors who--who testified to this, who had each gave detailed testimony about the payments he had made to Agnew. This collective testimony was put on the record deliberately by Elliot Richardson so that the public would know permanently that these were the charges against Agnew, and this was why he was being forced to resign.
LAMB: Did he talk to you for this book?
Mr. CANNON: Agnew did not talk to me. We exchanged some letters. He--he declined to be interviewed for the book. And--but we did exch--verify certain points by mail, which he agreed to do.
LAMB: Why did he refuse to talk to you in person?
Mr. CANNON: I don't know. He said he had never talked to—about those unfortunate days and would never do so.
LAMB: Did you try to call him?
Mr. CANNON: I tried to call him and I wrote him several letters, and he wrote back very politely, but simply said no.
LAMB: What happens when you try to call him? Who do you end up getting in contact with? And where do you try to reach him?
Mr. CANNON: You try to reach him at a--at his phone in Palm Springs where he lives.
LAMB: And do you--do you reach a secretary? Or...
Mr. CANNON: You reach--you usually reach an answering service.
LAMB: Do you have any idea where this man is in--in his professional life? What he's doing today?
Mr. CANNON: I do not. I know where he lives. I passed by his house, in fact. He lives, curiously, not that far from Gerald Ford in--in Rancho Mirage, California. But I never made any attempt to stop and knock on his door.
LAMB: I should say that in an interview we did with Gerry Ford, he said that he had seen him and talked to him. I just wondered if you had had a conversation with the former president about his conversation with him.
Mr. CANNON: Yes, I did. I asked President Ford about it. And he said, yes, he bumps into him now and then at some--some function, some fund-raiser they both attend in--in Palm Springs or that area. And they say hello, and that's--that's about it. It's interesting there was never any animosity--never any animosity between Agnew and Ford. In fact, on the d--on the day that Agnew resigned, he--and--and Ford was chosen later that evening--when Ford got home that night, he had a message that Agnew had called. He called him back and they talked for a few minutes, and Agnew congratulated Ford. And Fo--and President F--and then vice--then nominee Ford told Agnew, well, that he was sorry it turned out that way.
LAMB: We're not going to get to very much in this book, as you can tell, because there's not enough time. But for those that want to know the scope of this book, from where to where do you go?
Mr. CANNON: Basically, this book--about 100 pages is about--is a biography of Gerald Ford and who it was and what kind of a person he was. It's his growing up, his political career. Because this was essential to a--the re--the reasons for his choice as vice president. About--the middle of the book is about the set of events and circumstances by which Watergate came about, by which Agnew was forced out of office and--and eventually Nixon forced out of office and how Fo--how President--how President Ford felt when he realized that he was going to be--become president of the United States.
LAMB: Did you ask Mr. Haig whether he did intend to have Mr. Agnew killed?
Mr. CANNON: I did. He scoffed at the idea. He scoffed at the idea. He said that--that this simply was not true.
LAMB: Did you talk to Al Haig much more for this book?
Mr. CANNON: I talked to him a lot. I talked to him three times, I believe, for this book. And--and he made some very revealing--he gave me some good leads to what I should look for and made some very revealing comments about what had happened in those days. But I—I think that Al Haig performed a great service to this country. In effect, he was the acting president for, oh, almost a year. And we--and we owe him a great debt. But I think that he made a mistake in that after President Ford came in office, Al Haig, then ch—still chief of staff, felt that he would continue with the same power that he had had under Nixon. But Ford had no intention of letting Al Haig continue to run the White House and told him so.
LAMB: Where'd you grow up?
Mr. CANNON: I grew up in--in Alabama and then moved to New York.
LAMB: What town in Alabama?
Mr. CANNON: Athens.
LAMB: Why did you move to Al--to New York?
Mr. CANNON: After World War II, I decided to--I'd been around the world a couple of times in the course of military service, and I decided to look for horizons in other--other parts of the country. And I decided to go into journalism, and did so in upstate New York.
LAMB: Where? What school?
Mr. CANNON: Well, I didn't go to school. I went to work on a small local newspaper in Potsdam, New York and then a daily paper in Gloversville, New York and then to The Baltimore Sun and then to Time magazine and then to Newsweek.
LAMB: No college degree.
Mr. CANNON: Oh, yes. I went to the University of Alabama.
LAMB: What were your parents like? What did they do?
Mr. CANNON: They were both teachers. They were both teachers. My mother was a teacher of English, and my father was a teacher of mathematics and the principal of--or rather, superintendent of the city schools of this small town.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Mr. CANNON: Yes, I do.
LAMB: How many kids?
Mr. CANNON: Two. Two sons; they're 39 and 40.
LAMB: If you had to pick between journalism and politics--and you've been in both--which one would you--which one's the most...
Mr. CANNON: I'd pick both, which is exactly what I did. I spent 20 years as a journalist, then decided I liked political reporting so well I ought to get out of the grandstand and see if I could go down on the playing field. And I did. And much as I like journalism--it's a wonderful and entertaining life--much as I liked that, I found that politics was even more exciting, even more of an adventure.
LAMB: Back to the--the pardon. I--I--you write in here that the reason why Gerry Ford didn't win in 1976 was because of Richard Nixon. Why did you say that?
Mr. CANNON: The first place--in--in the first place, Richard Nixon had left such a--an appalling impression on the country as a consequence of Wa--Watergate and his long delay in--in telling anything like the truth about Watergate. It had been so--he had left such a bad impression that people wanted a change. They found a change. They had a change in Ford, and they liked that change. And--but politically, the pardon damaged Ford and reminded voters and--and others in the country that we'd had a very bad time with—in the second term of Richard Nixon.
LAMB: You spent a lot of time on the pardon. How come?
Mr. CANNON: The pardon is not only what is most often remembered about Ford. I felt that I had to--to--that I would have the best opportunity anyone would ever have to collect and report all the details of the pardon. I knew all the principals, and I was able to talk to all the principals except Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon also would not--declined to be interviewed for this book.
LAMB: How did you go about asking him?
Mr. CANNON: I asked him through friends. I asked him directly. I wrote him letters. And he would not agree to an interview. I asked him early, and I asked him in the--just last summer, finally. But he would not agree to an interview, but he did agree--through the intervention of a good friend, he did agree to answer five questions. So I wrote him a letter asking five questions, and he sent me a—I believe it's a three- or four-page detailed letter answering those questions, the most consequential of which--well, there are two very--two questions of--of the most consequence.
One is: Why did you pick Ford rather than someone else? And the other question was--that he did respond to was that: When you picked Ford for vice president, did you think you would be able to serve out your term? And his answer, which he put into this letter, I thought with considerable candor--he--he--he thought on balance he probably could not.
LAMB: Now who were the principals in the pardon?
Mr. CANNON: The principals in the pardon are, of course, President Ford himself and--and Phil--Phil Beuchen, Jack Morris, Bob Hartman and basic--and Al Haig. They--they--they were the people that Ford mentioned--that Ford mentions at the time and he called in to advise
him on this.
But the story of the pardon is really in two parts. There's the—the first part of the story must begin with Al Haig coming over to tell Vice President Ford that there's evidigains--evidence against Nixon that may force him out of office. And at the same time, he presents six options, he calls them. The sixth option--which is in writing, which is very important--the sixth option says that if--suggests that if Nixon--that Nixon will resign if Ford will agree to pardon him.
LAMB: Let me stop and ask you, what time of 1974 is this?
Mr. CANNON: July--July 31st.
Mr. CANNON: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: President Nixon is president, Gerry Ford is vice president. And Al Haig's job is what?
Mr. CANNON: White House chief of staff.
LAMB: He comes to visit Gerry Ford and presents these six options.
Mr. CANNON: That's correct.
Mr. CANNON: All right. The sixth option--th--the first five options are--are slightly curious because they are all options that are open to President Nixon, and Ford would have nothing to do with those. I mean, he couldn't do anything about those anyway. But the sixth option was the key option because that is the option where--which—in which Haig suggests that Nixon may be ready to resign if you, Mr. Vice President, will agree to pardon him.
LAMB: Now where did you get the six options? Where did you find them?
Mr. CANNON: The six options are in Ford's testimony—subsequent testimony to the House. And in his--in his--in his testimony he presented when he went up to testify after--after the pardon.
At any rate, Ford did not turn down that option--that sixth option right away. He--he was cautious. He was careful. And he told Haig he wanted to think about it and get back to him. He did--he did talk later that afternoon with Bob Hartman.
LAMB: Who was Bob Hartman?
Mr. CANNON: Bob Hartman was his speechwriter and senior political counselor. And Hartman was outraged--and said so--that this was a--a--a terrible thing for Haig to have presented; that it was unthinkable that this should be done. But Ford did not yet agree. He talked that night with Betty Ford, who was concerned also, but she said finally, `I'll go along with whatever you think is the best thing to do.'
The--the next morning he talked to Jack Morris, who--who was then his--his foreign policy adviser, his national security adviser and a longtime friend and a sage if there ever was one. And Morris told him also, `Mr. Vice President, Bob Hartman is right. You can't do this.'
But Ford was still unconvinced, until they--he--they--they--and—and Morris said, `Well, who will you believe? You don't believe us. Who will you believe?' And so either Morris or Hartman suggested Bryce Harlow. They can't remember which for sure. And--and Harlow
came--was invited to come in and talk to Pres--Vice President Ford about it. And Harlow, who had advised Eisenhower and Nixon and any number of other public officials and was widely respected by Ger--Gerry Ford--Harlow, with some eloquence--and Hartman made notes and it's reported in this book...
LAMB: Let me just interrupt again. That was July 31st; we're now about August 1st?
Mr. CANNON: August 1st. We're now...
LAMB: Now he resigns--the president resigns on this--on the 8th or the 9th...
Mr. CANNON: 9th.
LAMB: ...of August.
Mr. CANNON: Yeah. Right.
LAMB: Makes a speech the night of the 8th.
Mr. CANNON: That's correct.
LAMB: OK. Just so we--only got a couple of days to go here.
Mr. CANNON: That's right. OK. We've really--day--let's count. Day one is the day the proposal is made for the pardon and Ford learns he is going to be president. It may be six months; it may be six days. But he knows he's going to be president. And then Friday--the--the--August the 1st, is the day when Ford is finally convinced by Bryce Harlow that this is unthinkable. They--the net message is that, `Mr. Vice President, your own presidency will be
tainted if you do this. You cannot do this.' He said--Ford says, `Well, what do you want me to do?' And--and Harlow says, `Right now don't call Nixon.' He said, `That would be the worst possible thing you could do. But call Haig and tell him that none of this is--is—is to be regarded as a deal.' And Ford, in effect, calls Haig on the telephone and says, `Al, no deal.'
LAMB: What does Mr. Haig say?
Mr. CANNON: Mr. Haig says--well, he--he expresses--to me, he expresses some shock that anyone would think that he was trying to make a deal.
Mr. CANNON: Well...
LAMB: What's wrong with a deal?
Mr. CANNON: Nothing was wrong with a deal, frankly. And the idea was--what the deal was: that Nixon would resign, Ford would become president and pardon Nixon right away. That would be...
LAMB: Was that legal?
Mr. CANNON: ...part of--yes, it's quite legal. There's nothing--nothing at all illegal about it.
LAMB: What happened next?
Mr. CANNON: What happened next is that once Nixon found out he—that there was no deal, he told his staff and his speechwriter that he was going to stick it out, he was going to force the impeachment and force a trial in the Senate. And he did plan to do that. We're now on Saturday and Sunday. He planned over the weekend to stick it out. On Monday, the smoking gun tape is revealed.
LAMB: August the 5th, maybe?
Mr. CANNON: The 5th is correct. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: The smoking gun tape is revealed.
Mr. CANNON: The smoking gun tape is...
Mr. CANNON: It is audiotape. And what it says, comes down to, is that this tape in three instances on--on June 23rd of 1972, six days after Watergate, in three instances, three times that day, Nixon tells his chief of staff, Haldeman, to have the CIA stop the FBI investigation of Watergate. That was obstruction of justice, a clear-cut case of it. And once it was revealed, Nixon lost all of his final support in the--on the House Judiciary Committee.
LAMB: What's Gerry Ford doing all during this time? Is he--you said that he gave up on the former president on the 31st of July--is that what you said earlier? What was the date that he--he knew that Richard Nixon was lying to him?
Mr. CANNON: The 30--the 31st of--of July--of July, correct.
LAMB: Of July.
Mr. CANNON: That--that's Thursday.
LAMB: So what's he doing about this time?
Mr. CANNON: A variety of--he has this--he has a meeting. He has a speech in New Orleans. He has a series of trips, stopping at—for three House members in Mississippi, and then going on down to New Orleans over the weekend to make a speech. And he and Hartman and Morris agreed that the best possible thing for him to do is go ahead and carry out the schedule. Or that if he cancels it, it will raise more questions than they want to deal with.
LAMB: When does he learn that he's going to be president, absolutely?
Mr. CANNON: Well, he--Ford f--was not absolutely sure of it, and, in fact, Haig told him not to be absolutely sure of it until he heard it from Nixon himself. And he heard it from Nixon himself on Thursday, August 8th, the day before Nixon actually resigned.
LAMB: The day he made the speech.
Mr. CANNON: The n--yes. Ford learned it at about noon, and Nixon made the speech that night.
LAMB: What'd he do?
Mr. CANNON: What did...
LAMB: Vice President Ford at that time...
Mr. CANNON: What did Vice President...
LAMB: What was his reaction?
Mr. CANNON: His reaction--well, first reaction...
LAMB: And he hadn't promised--he had not promised the pardon.
Mr. CANNON: He had not promised the pardon. And they--he had never discussed it with Nixon by his account--and I believe his account. He never discussed the pardon personally with Richard Nixon.
LAMB: Has he ever discussed it to this day, other than grant the pardon?
Mr. CANNON: Well, we get to the second stage. After he grants it, it does--it does come up because three days--two or three days after he granted the pardon, Nixon called him up and said on the telephone--and apologized for all the problems that the pardon had caused. And if he--and said that if--that maybe he ought to just decline to accept the pardon. And Ford, who took very careful notes on this telephone conversation, said, `No. No. The damage is done. We'll let it stand as it is.' Ford felt, correctly, that for—for Nixon to then say he wouldn't accept the pardon wouldn't help anything; it would just make the whole problem worse.
LAMB: We did get ahead of the story. But I want to probe you a little bit on where you're getting all this information and how you are confident that it's the accurate information on the fact that they had not--that--that Vice President Ford hadn't--hadn't promised a pardon. Are--are there--you've got a lot of material that you got in the Gerald Ford Library...
Mr. CANNON: Right.
LAMB: ...that no one else has seen?
Mr. CANNON: That's correct. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And that the--the former president didn't use in his own memoirs--meaning President Ford?
Mr. CANNON: He--he--yes. He d--he simply--there was simply more there than he could possibly use in one book. And, you know, I've probably not used more than 15 per--20 percent of what had not been used. There's still an abundance of material in the Ford Library that's not been used.
LAMB: Let's try to--we--time goes by so fast. Try to get—President Ford becomes president on the 9th of August. When is the pardon then eventually granted?
Mr. CANNON: The pardon is granted about a--si--five weeks later. It's--the pardon is--is granted be--because Ford, who went in wanting to do--solve every problem and put this behind him--and indeed he thought--he thought and said in his inaugural address, `The long national nightmare is ended.' He thought it was over.
LAMB: Who thought of that statement, by the way?
Mr. CANNON: Hartman. Bob Hartman. And it's--it's--and Ford thought it was too critical of Nixon and wanted to take it out, but Hartman, to his great credit, insisted, insisted, insisted, until Ford said, `Well, OK.' And later, Ford, to his credit, said, `Bob, you were right. It was right to leave it in. It was the right thing to—to say.'
LAMB: Bob Hartman still alive?
Mr. CANNON: Bob Hartman's still alive.
LAMB: Where does he live?
Mr. CANNON: Here in Washington.
LAMB: Has he written a book?
Mr. CANNON: Yes, he does. He wrote a very good book, as a matter of fact, called "Palace Politics," and some of this material is in his book--his reflections of it. It's an excellent book. And not only did I read it and study it carefully, but I had an opportunity to talk to Bob as well many--several times.
LAMB: Let me ask you about your technique. Because as I read the book, there are lots and lots of quotes all through it, but there are no footnotes to the quotes. Ba--back in the back, there's all kinds of material and page numbers and all that. What was your theory of how to write the book?
Mr. CANNON: I--the--my theory of how to write the book was to talk to everyone involved. I set out from the beginning, and my purpose in--in writing this book was to get all this information collected in one place before--while all of these people were still alive. Almost
everybody who was involved in Ford's life and his presidency is alive except for, oh, a handful--five, six people. So I wanted to get it all down while they were still alive. I did. I made extensive notes. I did transcripts. I did tapes. I did transcripts. And then I developed a long--kind of chronologies of events. Like the pardon event; I took everything that could be found about it anywhere--official documents and unofficial documents and people's recollection--and put together a chronicle of what happened when and used that in writing the story.
LAMB: How much time did you spend with the Richard Nixon tapes? And where are they?
Mr. CANNON: The tapes are in the--the Nixon presidential materials files in the National Archives. They were in Virginia; they've sin--since been moved to College Park, Maryland.
LAMB: How much is available to someone like you?
Mr. CANNON: A great deal. In fact, it's available to any--to—to any per--person. It's all public information. You--it's all cataloged and it's there. Not all the tapes, I must point out—not all the tapes have been made available. There are--maybe 15 percent of them are available, and the others have still never been made public.
LAMB: You say on the pardon that Al Haig was talking to Richard Nixon at the time he was telling Gerry Ford he wasn't talking to Richard Nixon--or was told not to talk to Richard Nixon.
Mr. CANNON: He was told not to. That's correct. That's right.
LAMB: Explain that.
Mr. CANNON: Let me go back one second. See, Ford, after his first pre--press conference--at his first press conference, was asked, to his dismay--and--four or five questions, serious questions, about what he was going to do about President--former President Nixon.
Unfortunately, Ford gave as many answers as there were questions, and he realized the confusion he had caused. That--and he'd simply made his problem worse.
He realized also that there was no way to put this behind him unless something drastic happened. And it was as a result of his thinking over the problem and what ought to be done about it, and essentially Ford was convinced that the most important thing to the country was to get on with governing, to address the serious economic problem we were having, to address sern--serious foreign policy problems we would have--to get on with that and get off the subject of Watergate. The only way, he felt, that we could get off the subject of Watergate was for him to pardon Richard Nixon. And he decided to do it and then tec--and then he asked--called his staff in and asked them to tell him how he could do it.
LAMB: Back to the Al Haig, Ron Ziegler...
Mr. CANNON: Right.
LAMB: ...all that conversation back and forth. What--what happened? I mean, I'm looking at a quote here that said when--when—Benton Becker is another name here.
Mr. CANNON: Right. Benton Becker was the lawyer that Ford sent out to negotiate the--the statement of that--of a par--that Nixon would--would make if--when he accepted the pardon.
LAMB: Benton Becker, quote, "My first impression," Becker said, "was unhappily one of freakish grotesqueness. His arms and body were so thin and frail as to project an image of head size disproportionate to a body. Had I not known otherwise, I would have estimated his age to be 85. The famous Nixon jowls were exaggerated, the face highly wrinkled, the hair disheveled and the posture and comportment all reminiscent of advanced ages. At times he was alert; at times he appeared to drift." Where did you get that?
Mr. CANNON: From him. From Benton Becker in an interview.
LAMB: With you.
Mr. CANNON: Yes. Mm-hmm. A taped interview.
LAMB: And when you go back to that, the granting of the pardon, did you ask Gerald Ford would he do it again?
Mr. CANNON: Yes, I did. I did. And the answer is yes. He would.
Mr. CANNON: Because he felt it was the most important thing for the country. He did not believe this country should put through the—be put through the agony and the--and the international humiliation of putting a former president in the dock. There was no question about
Nixon's guilt. There was no question but people understood his guilt. Not only had the special prosecutor found the evidence--and that evidence, too, is in the National Archives, which I have read. There was enough evidence there to put Nixon in prison for 30 years. And the evidence turned up by the--by the House Judiciary Committee, under Peter Rodino, was exhaustive, extensive and is--is a matter of record in the congressional files.
LAMB: Are you talking about the Henry Ruth prosecutor information on the previous page where you say, `tax deductions for a disallowed gift, a ….presidential papers, obstruction of justice and the Pentagon--justice in the Pentagon Papers," that kind of thing?
Mr. CANNON: That's Henry Ruth's summary of the--of the evidence. But I looked at the evidence and the penalties, and it would total to--probably up to 30 years for...
LAMB: Back to the Al Haig thing. President Ford told his chief of staff, at that time Al Haig, not to talk to President Nixon?
Mr. CANNON: He told the whole group. He said, `Now I don't want anybody to talk to anybody about this. This is within this room because I'm--I'm not sure that I'm going to do this or when I'm going to do it or how we ought to do it, but it is--I want you to know it is my plan to pardon Richard Nixon.' And he sent Phil Beuchen out to get research--to research the question of how he could pardon him. Could--the issue was: Could he issue a pre-emptive pardon? Could he pardon someone for a crime that--for which he had not yet been indicted?
LAMB: What did Al Haig say to you when you asked him why he talked to Richard Nixon in spite of the fact that he was told not to?
Mr. CANNON: He says, `Well, there were certain communications going back and forth which were necessary.'
LAMB: Did you ask him--I mean, again, was he--did he violate any kind of a law?
Mr. CANNON: No, he did not. He did not. He did--it is not--it is not a law--there's no violation of the law for--but it was a breach of the confidence of the new president for him to be communicating the new president's intentions to the old president.
LAMB: What was the hardest part for you in writing this book?
Mr. CANNON: The hardest part was all of the writing. The--the easy part was collecting this information. The hardest part was leaving things out.
LAMB: How long did you work on it?
Mr. CANNON: Four and a half years.
LAMB: What has been the reaction--or maybe the most unusual reaction you're getting from people that you know that have followed this issue closely?
Mr. CANNON: The first reaction is that--well, it's somewhat akin to Mike Wallace's reaction, which is that, you know, `I never felt—felt Gerry Ford was that interesting.' But the fact is that he does have a very interesting early life, an interesting growing up. And being the--the son, the biological son, of a very wealthy dissolute man who--who would never help him through all the perils of his life.
LAMB: What was his name at birth?
Mr. CANNON: Leslie King.
LAMB: And why did he change it to Gerry Ford?
Mr. CANNON: His mother--Leslie King was an abusive husband. His mother, who was then all of 19, 20 years old, realized it from the honeymoon on that she had a problem. Then she found herself--that she was pregnant. She stayed with her husband through the pregnancy. But then he threatened to kill her and the baby--literally threatened her with a butcher knife to kill her--and she talked to a lawyer, who advised her to get out of the house as quickly as possible. When the
baby was 14 days old--I believe he was 14 days old--she took him, with the help of a nurse, found a carriage and--and went across the river from Omaha to meet her parents, and they took her back to Mi—to Chicago and then to Michigan.
LAMB: We're out of time, but has Gerry Ford read this, and what was his reaction if he did?
Mr. CANNON: Gerry Ford's re--I asked him to read it when it was in galley proofs to correct errors. He did correct a few errors. He still does not like the idea of my saying that Haig came over to offer a deal. But in my judgment, that's what Haig was doing, and that's what I've said in the book.
LAMB: James Cannon is the author. This is what the book looks like. "Time and Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment With History." And we thank you very much.
Mr. CANNON: Thank you.
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