Reuters : For Gerald Ford, dead men do tell tales

Monday, October 29, 2007

For Gerald Ford, dead men do tell tales

By Steve Holland | October 29, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dead men do tell tales: The late President Gerald Ford believed a successor, Bill Clinton, had a sex addiction and felt Hillary Clinton had "unlimited ambition" but the country was not ready for a woman president.

These juicy nuggets and more are included in private interviews Ford had with journalist Thomas DeFrank over the course of 16 years. DeFrank agreed to keep the conversations secret until Ford died, and after Ford's death at age 93 last December, DeFrank has published his book, "Write It When I'm Gone."

In comments that would have drawn major headlines at the time, DeFrank said Ford thought it might have been best if President George W. Bush dumped Dick Cheney as his vice presidential running mate in 2004 because of his muscular views on the Iraq war.

"Dick has not been the asset I expected on the ticket," he said of his one-time White House chief of staff.

Ford felt the same way in 1992, imploring then-President George H.W. Bush to get rid of Dan Quayle as his vice presidential candidate to spark a re-election campaign that was "dead in the water." The effort failed and Bush lost.

While presidents generally speak diplomatically in public, Ford did not hold back when talking privately. He said then-Vice President Al Gore was "such a bore" and Clinton's secretary of state, Warren Christopher, was "very nice" but "looks like a dried-up prune."

Ford was considered an accidental president, a Republican happy to be serving in the U.S. Congress when he was picked by President Richard Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew as vice president in 1973, and then took over as president in 1974 when Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal and its cover-up.

Ford told DeFrank in an interview after Nixon's death in 1994, "I couldn't help but be sad about how ill-advised and just plain stupid he was in the way he handled the cover-up."

Ford called Clinton "the best politician I've ever seen ... This guy can sell three-day old ice ... He's that good."

But he noticed during a visit by the Clintons to the Fords' Colorado home in 1993 that Clinton seemed to have a wandering eye.

"I'll tell you one thing: he didn't miss one good-looking skirt at any of the social occasions," Ford said. "He's got a wandering eye ... He isn't very subtle about his interest."

During Clinton's impeachment hearings in 1998 in a case involving Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Ford told DeFrank that he and his wife, Betty, had talked a lot about the subject (Mrs. Ford had battled problems with alcohol and painkillers in 1978).

"I'm convinced that Clinton has a sexual addiction. He needs to get help -- for his sake. He's already damaged his presidency beyond repair," Ford said.

Frank recounts a remarkable phone conversation in which Clinton lobbied for Ford's public support during the impeachment ordeal.

"We have a Jerry-Bill relationship," Ford said. "He said he really needed my help and wanted to know if I could help."

Ford said he told Clinton he could offer vocal support if Clinton would admit to lying about his relationship with Lewinsky, but Clinton refused.

"'I won't do that,'" Ford quoted Clinton as saying. "'I can't do that.'" Ford replied: "Well, Bill, this conversation must end."

Ford got an early glimpse of the political ambitions of Clinton's wife, Hillary, who is leading the race for the Democratic nomination in the November 2008 presidential election. He told DeFrank in 2002 that the former first lady has "unlimited ambition."

"The Republicans will make a mistake if they think she is gonna be a pushover," he said.

But he doubted she could win, saying "I don't think the country is ready for a lady president."

Instead, he felt the likeliest scenario for a woman to become president would be if a female were elected vice president and the male president died in office.

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at

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