Journalist Robert Parry talks about Gerald Ford’s role in ending the Watergate era, his moves to limit congressional and media oversight on executive power, and the roots of Bush administration in the Ford White House. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the issue of Vietnam and Watergate. Yes, President Ford is dead at the age of 93. And President Ford died last night. He became president in 1974 following the resignation of Richard Nixon, the only person to become president that was never elected president or vice president. Some described him as the "accidental president."
We are—many people are talking about President Ford. The statement of President Bush is: "President Ford was a great American who gave many years of dedicated service to our country. On August 9, 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." President Bush went on to say, "With his quiet integrity, common sense, and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the Presidency.
"The American people will always admire Gerald Ford’s devotion to duty, his personal character, and the honorable conduct of his administration. We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th President will always have a special place in our Nation’s memory. On behalf of all Americans, Laura and I offer our deepest sympathies to Betty Ford and all of President Ford’s family. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them in the hours and days ahead." That, again, the statement of President Bush upon the death of President Ford.
We turn now to Robert Parry, who is a veteran investigative journalist, author of Secrecy & Privilege. Robert Parry, can you talk about the significance of the role of President Ford in history?
ROBERT PARRY: Well, I think Gerald Ford gets a lot of credit because of when he became president and the extraordinary circumstances in which he became president. He was, of course, the person who followed Richard Nixon and brought, in a sense, the end to the national nightmare of Watergate.
In another sense, however, he also marks the beginning of the counterattack, if you will, against the efforts by Congress, the press and other Americans to rein in the imperial presidency. You start seeing already, in the early days of the Ford administration, an effort to strike back against those efforts to limit the executive power. We have efforts in the CIA, when he brings in George H.W. Bush, to push back against congressional oversight, to allow more space for the CIA to operate, to fight against efforts to expose some of the more corrupt CIA actions. And oddly, because of the timing of Ford’s presidency, that it sort of came after the period the Church Commission looked at in terms of CIA abuses, and it came before the beginning of the formal congressional oversight process, the CIA operated during that year with a great deal of freedom. And we know—we don’t know enough about some of the things that were done during that period.
So, I think while Ford gets a great deal of credit because he helped mend the nation’s wounds over Watergate, it wasn’t entirely this pleasant experience that some people are making it out to be. It was, in a sense, the incubator for the resurgence of the imperial presidency. People like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were in the Ford White House, and many of their feelings about re-establishing that imperial presidency have lived to this day.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about this critical period and the coming together of Cheney and Rumsfeld, when they came together for the first time with Ford, and also about what the pardon meant—those who said that the country just had to move on, many feel it’s the reason why Ford lost to Carter. It would have been the only time he was elected to federal office, if he had actually become president as a result of an election, as opposed to being chosen by the president as vice president, then taking over as president when Nixon left.
ROBERT PARRY: Well, clearly, the pardon of Richard Nixon was a politically understandable step. But again, it cut off some of the investigative efforts to really fully understand what had happened during that period of Nixon’s presidency. There’s always been this balance in Washington where there seems to be this obsession with moving on, and sometimes that leaves the American people without the full understanding of the facts of a situation, and therefore some of the problems can re-emerge years down the road, as we’ve seen in this resurrection of the imperial presidency in the past six years. So, I would think that that was—some of the lessons learned by Cheney and Rumsfeld in the Ford White House were the need to fight for those executive powers in ways that were sometimes surreptitious as well as more open.
We saw at the CIA, for instance, during that period, the CIA director, George H.W. Bush, attempt to conduct a number of CIA operations with the same kind of arrogance and secrecy that had covered previous ones. The main point during that period was to get the CIA off the front pages, as Bush once put it. So when you had events like the Argentine military coup, which set in motion the so-called dirty war and led to some 30,000 deaths, that occurred during that period. We still don’t know the full involvement of the U.S. government in that.
The assassination of Orlando Letelier, the Chilean foreign minister, and his American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt, occurs in September of 1976. And again, the impetus was not to find the truth, but to protect both the Pinochet government and the CIA from any fallout that might have occurred. Again, the timing of those things are important because Ford was trying to win that election in November. So if one overlays the political calendar to the efforts to misdirect investigators on the Letelier assassination, one sees the effort to keep the CIA from having negative press and therefore hurting Ford’s chances. So again you see this idea of protecting the presidency from negative information. And that whole approach of keeping the American people in the dark is something that the Ford White House, in a sense, put back in motion after Watergate. And I think the pardon was part of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Parry, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Bob Parry is an investigative journalist who’s written the book Secrecy & Privilege. His website is ConsortiumNews.com. When we come back from break, we will be joined by the publisher of The Nation magazine, Victor Navasky, about a very interesting court case that involved The Nation and, yes, former President Ford. Again, the latest news, President Ford is dead at the age of 93. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.