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Gathering Discusses Whether Nixon’s Pardon Was The Right Decision 40 Years Ago

Forty years ago tomorrow, President Gerald Ford appeared on national television declaring he had granted former President Richard Nixon a full pardon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

While the infamous investigation has been extensively publicized and analyzed, Ford’s reasoning behind the pardon mostly remains an untold story.

That’s according to Ken Gormley, Duquesne University’s Dean of Law, who is coordinating Monday’s event along with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, at which major players in Ford’s decision recount their involvement.

Benton Becker, former special counsel to Ford, plans to share his story about traveling to California to basically read Nixon his Miranda Rights since a 1915 Supreme Court decision stated an acceptance of a pardon was an admission of guilt, according to Gormley.

“Ford sent Becker out there to get Nixon to accept the pardon and acknowledge his guilt, and we learned in doing work leading up to this some years ago that President Nixon tried to resist even taking the pardon because he didn’t want to admit guilt,” Gormley said.

Gormley, whose interview with Ford will be presented at the program, said the president thought he had accomplished what the American people wanted at the time – a legal admission of guilt.

But Ford’s decision still shocked and angered many, including Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor, who was the only female on the team planning to indict and prosecute Nixon.

“Jill Wine-Banks was the person who interrogated President Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods in the grand jury about the infamous 18 and a half minute gap on one of the key Watergate tapes,” Gormley said. “So she played a lead role.”

Gormley said she will recount her story and discuss how the past 40 years has affected her opinion about the pardon.

Also speaking at the gathering is Timothy Naftali, former director of the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library, who is known for creating a display about the scandal at the library.

Ford’s son, Steve Ford, is participating through a special video interview that will show at the program.

“His father told him that in some cases, you have to - like being a father of the family - have mercy, not take the strongest punishment, in taking care of issues like this because it may end up dividing the family even further, or in this case, the country,” Gormley said.

Tom Brokow, NBC News special correspondent, will also be featured in a video, recounting his experience of covering Nixon’s resignation and pardon.

Gormley said he hopes the gathering will help people see the full picture and decide for themselves if the pardon was the right decision.

“Often we learn through history and looking back over many years and decisions become clarified,” Gormley said. “And this is one that I think that not nearly enough was known about the circumstances at the time.”

The gathering is tomorrow from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Duquesne University’s Power Center Ballroom.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.