Ford Told Reporter Friendship With Nixon Affected Pardon

President Richard M. Nixon delivers a State of the Union address to Congress in 1974 at Vice-President Gerald R. Ford looks on. (Photo courtesy
President Richard M. Nixon delivers a State of the Union address to Congress in 1974 at Vice-President Gerald R. Ford looks on. (Photo courtesy

Former President Ford once called himself Richard Nixon's only real friend.

Now audiotapes reveal that the friendship between the two former presidents was even closer than once thought, and that friendship played a role in Ford's decision to give Nixon a blanket pardon in the Watergate scandal.

These new tapes give insight into why Nixon chose Ford to be vice president and why Ford pardoned Nixon. They come on top of revelations Thursday that Ford was very much against the Iraq War even though he publicly defended it.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos spoke with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who revealed Ford's true feelings about Iraq, about the former president's private personality versus his public one.

Woodward said he learned from Ford's private files and Nixon tapes that had not previously come to public attention that Ford and Nixon were extremely close friends.

A phone call from Nixon to Ford reveals the depth of their relationship.

Ford: Hello?

Nixon: Just wanted to express my appreciation for your note.

Ford: Anytime you want me to do anything under any circumstances. ... You give me a call.

Ford Stood by Nixon's Side

Most of the literature about Ford and Nixon suggests that when Nixon chose Ford to be his vice president, the two didn't know each other all that well -- Nixon made his choice based on the assumption that Ford was certain to get confirmed.

"That's what's in the historical record. That's what I thought quite frankly," Woodward said. "But then when you listen to these tapes. ... There's one moment where Nixon is almost begging Ford to go get support from Congress during Watergate. ... He literally says to Nixon, 'We will support you morning, noon and night.'"

Nixon: Tell the guys. ... To get off their ass and start fighting back.

Ford: You've got a hell of a lot of friends up here, both Republican and Democrat, and don't worry about anyone being sunshine soldiers or summer patriots.

Ford pardoned Nixon amid great controversy in 1974. At the time he said he did it to move the country forward, but Woodward believes friendship played a role, too.

"There was a personal element in pardoning Nixon. He felt he was lifting some sort of stigma," Woodward said.

In fact, that's exactly what Ford told Woodward in an interview.

"I looked upon him as my personal friend, and I always treasured our relationship," Ford said. "And I had no hesitancy about granting the pardon. ... I didn't want to see my real friend have the stigma."

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