Former Vice President Dick Cheney writes in his new memoir “In My Time” that he had no idea that President Gerald R. Ford in September 1974 planned to pardon Richard Nixon, who had resigned in disgrace in August.
Ford, who had represented Grand Rapids in Congress for 25 years, is Michigan’s only president.
“Like most of America, I was surprised a few weeks later when on September 8 President Ford announced that he was granting a ‘full, free and absolute pardon’ to Richard Nixon,” Cheney wrote. “I was among the majority of Americans who thought then that it was a mistake. While I was prepared to believe that it miht be justified eventually, I was sure that it would cost Ford too much of his support in the near term.”
Cheney wrote that although it hurt Ford politically, the pardon was correct. “I was wrong about the wisdom of the pardon itself. It was clearly the right decision.”
Cheney recounts being asked by Don Rumsfeld if he was interested in serving as deputy chief of staff in Rumsfeld’s Key Bridge Marriot hotel room. Cheney was 33 and six years out of graduate school “and with a resume that wouldn’t necessarily rise to the top of anyone’s pile.”
He recounts moving out President Ford’s long-time congressional secretary, Mildred Leonard, who kept scheduling visitors like a “crowd of Grand Rapids Rotarians eagerly waiting to see their ‘Jerry.’” She was moved to a second floor suite of offces, where she continued to handle mail from Ford’s former west Michigan congressional district.
Cheney also recalled an ill-fated campaign to combat higher prices — “WIN” — or “Whip Inflation Now” that came with buttons that even Ford wore. The president dismissed criticism and instead “doubled down,” Cheney writes, by giving a speech in Kansas City where he encouraged young people to “clean up your plate before you get up from the table.”
The campaign was quickly shelved and when Ford was leaving office in January 1977, Cheney helped clean out his personal effects — and one desk drawer was “filled with red and white WIN buttons as fresh as the day they had been minted at the very beginning of the administration.”
Cheney was promoted to chief of staff in late 1975 and was in the post for 14 months. As deputy, hedrove his VW Beetle — missing a front fender since he “had been clipped by a Mrs. Smith’s pie truck” in a DC traffic circle. He finally agreed to a White House car and driver. (He later bought a silver station wagon.)
Cheney recounts completing a concession phone call to Jimmy Carter on Election Night 1976 after Ford’s voice had given out. He remembered visiting the Grand Rapids airport earlier on Election Day, and seeing a mural of Ford’s life — and watching Ford and some members of the press corps tear up.
After Ford departed on Inauguration Day 1977, Cheney and his family left Andrews Air Force Base — and he marked the end of government service by going out to lunch at a McDonalds just outside the base.