There is no need to repeat what so many others have said about the charade of Ford’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee—the time wasted in fulsome obeisance to His Imperial Majesty, the abject thankfulness of the leadership for the privilege of being conned, the subcommittee’s disastrous lack of preparation for the hearing, the chance given Ford to waste most of the precious time available in a prepared statement which filibustered by repeating the evasive inadequacies he had already repeated so many times before, the strict five-minute rule which guaranteed grasshopper-minded interrogation, and above all the refusal to allow Bella Abzug of New York and John Conyers of Detroit to participate in the questioning their resolutions of inquiry had precipitated. To the general praise of Ms. Holtzman for the sole attempt at militant inquiry we would add only our dismay at what wet firecrackers the other two liberal members, Kastenmeier of Wisconsin and Edwards of California, turned out to be. Conyers deserves mention for the astute final words of the despairing statement he issued afterward, “The resolution of inquiry has been used shrewdly to forestall a thorough inquiry.” Ford—like Nixon before him—has temporarily at least turned investigation into self-serving theater.
Yet there were certain revelations which have been lost sight of. It is time to focus on them and see what can be learned by placing them in context. The first is that Nixon’s main concern during his last days in office was how to avoid prosecution. Of the six options Ford disclosed that Nixon was considering before he resigned, three dealt with the pardoning power. The second revelation is that Nixon was actually considering as one option pardoning himself and all the Watergate defendants before resigning from office. So brazen a spectacle as the climax of Watergate would have set off a fire-storm far greater than that which greeted the firing of Archibald Cox and disgraced the Republican party for a long time to come.
It is a pity there was no time at the swiftly stage-managed hearing to allow these disclosures and their full implications to sink in and be made the occasion for further probing. What was Ford’s reaction when Haig told him so barefaced a general do-it-yourself pardon (no doubt without including Judas Dean) was seriously being considered? Last November, at his confirmation hearing, Ford said “the people would never stand for it” if he pardoned Nixon. What did he think would be their reaction if Nixon pardoned himself and his whole odoriferous crew before resigning from office? What did he think would be the effect at the coming November elections? On the future of the Republican party? What did he say to Haig about it? What alternatives did they discuss to avoid so horrendous a spectacle? Was not the final option—“A pardon to the President” by Ford, that is, “should he [Nixon] resign”—the one sure way to prevent Nixon from committing political suicide …