By Richard Ben-Veniste (commissioner on the 9/11 Commission)
Friday, December 29, 2006; A27
Gerald R. Ford was a decent and honorable man. Under his steady hand, the nation began the process of recovering from the terrible trauma of Watergate — the lies, distortions, coverups, misuses of federal agencies to exact political revenge, illegal wiretapping, burglaries. . . . The list went on and on — all in the midst of the deeply divisive Vietnam War. Did Ford make the right decision in pardoning his predecessor? The answer to that question is more nuanced than either the howls of outrage that greeted the pardon three decades ago or the general acceptance with which it is viewed now.
When Richard M. Nixon resigned and Ford became the 38th president of the United States, the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s Office, of which I was a member, was preparing for the criminal trials of Nixon’s top aides — H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Mitchell. We had accumulated significant evidence showing Nixon’s active participation in a conspiracy to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigation of the Watergate break-in and the related “White House horrors,” to use Mitchell’s famous description. Nixon himself had been named an “unindicted co-conspirator” by the grand jury — even before the Supreme Court compelled disclosure of the “smoking gun” tape.
It was our collective view that so long as Nixon held the office of president, the constitutionally sanctioned process of impeachment should trump any suggestion that a sitting president be indicted. But there was considerable disagreement within the special prosecutor’s office on the proper way to discharge our responsibilities vis-a-vis private citizen Nixon. (more…)