Roots of modern presidential distrust

Thirty years ago this week, Richard M. Nixon, facing impeachment for abuse of power, resigned as president.

The precise moment was 11:35 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1974 when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger received and initialed a terse letter of resignation.

The nation seemed to heave a collective sigh of relief.

Vice President Gerald Ford, sworn in as president, called the resignation one of Nixon's "finest personal decisions."

But still hanging in the air these many years later is the question: Did Nixon resign with the expectation of a pardon from Mr. Ford that would shield him from criminal action after almost certain impeachment?

Ford has acknowledged that a week before the resignation, Nixon's chief of staff, Alexander Haig, broached the idea of resolving the crisis by resignation followed by a pardon from the new president. Mr. Haig provided a legal memo explaining the almost unlimited pardon power of the president.

Two months later, before a congressional committee investigating the pardon, Ford acknowledged the Haig meeting, but asserted emphatically, "There was no deal."

In Ford's mind there had been none.

However, Nixon, freed from prosecution, his pension intact, may have thought otherwise.

The rest of his life - until his death in 1994 - Nixon devoted to travel, speeches, and books on foreign policy, conducting a sort of campaign for ex-president.

Though I was on his infamous "enemies list" and investigated by the FBI (an incident that became one item in the bill of impeachement against Nixon, under Article II, "Abuse of Power"), in time, the former president and I managed to have civil relations.

And he even praised one of my NPR analyses.

That does not change the fact that his presidency is remembered for wiretaps, surveillance, break-ins, and payoffs to witnesses.

It is remembered also for having given the word "gate" a new meaning - as in Koreagate, Irangate, and Monicagate.

But what is best remembered is that since Nixon, no president has been fully trusted by the American people.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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