Sawyer Interviews Ford: Pardoning Nixon Was 'Absolutely Essential'

"Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer talked to President Ford in May 2001 as he was bestowed a Profile in Courage Award by President Kennedy's daughter Caroline.

They discussed the Sept. 8, 1974 pardon of President Nixon.

Sawyer: We've talked about the fact that you believed it was right, you felt that the Nixon situation was profoundly distracting to the country, you had to get it back on course. Nonetheless, when an aide walks in to you and says, "Mr. President, your popularity has just gone from 71 percent to 49 percent in a few days," were you shaken? Did you have any doubt?

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Ford: I knew that it would be unpopular. It was more unpopular than I expected, but that did not change my mind. I felt then, as I feel today, the pardon of President Nixon was absolutely essential.

It was part of the healing process of the times in Washington and the country. We had gone through the Watergate tragedy. We had had the war in Vietnam. The country was torn apart. And it was absolutely essential that we step forward to try, in any way possible, to heal the -- these wounds, so to speak. And so I granted the pardon because it was right then. And I'm pleased and honored that the Kennedy Library and Caroline and others in the family now agree with me.

Sawyer: And, President Ford, a definition of courage from you?

Ford: Courage is standing up for what you know is right, regardless of the pressures from all sides to do nothing or to do something differently. Courage is a great character asset to people in public life, particularly, but otherwise, because it means that we're moving forward in the right way and not accepting the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

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