Leslie King was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on 14th July, 1913. His parents divorced when he was an infant and his mother remarried a paint salesman in Michigan. Leslie's name was changed to that of his stepfather, Gerald Rudolph Ford.
An outstanding sportsman he won a football scholarship to the University of Michigan, before studying law at Yale University. Ford graduated in 1941 and after being admitted to the bar began work in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
During the Second World War Ford served in the United States Navy and saw action in Okinawa, Wake Island, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Gilbert Islands. By the time he was discharged in 1946 had reached the rank as lieutenant commander.
A member of the Republican Party, Ford was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946. He was re-elected to the next eleven Congresses. He soon developed a reputation as a right-wing politician. As Harold Jackson pointed out: "He built up an impressive record of flat-earth conservatism. He voted against federal aid for education and housing, repeatedly resisted increases in the minimum wage, tried to block the introduction of medical care for the elderly, and consistently fought any measures to combat pollution. At the same time he supported virtually all increases in defence spending."
On the death of John F. Kennedy in 1963 his deputy, Lyndon B. Johnson, was appointed president. He immediately set up a commission to "ascertain, evaluate and report upon the facts relating to the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy." Gerald Ford was invited to join the commission under the chairmanship of Earl Warren. Other members of the commission included Richard B. Russell, Thomas Hale Boggs, Allen W. Dulles, John J. McCloy and John S. Cooper.
One possible reason Johnson selected Ford was that he was under the control of J. Edgar Hoover. According to Bobby Baker (Wheeling and Dealing), who was himself under investigation for his corrupt relationship with politicians, businessmen and call-girls, Ford had been secretly taped by the FBI when he had attended meetings with Fred Black at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel in Washington.
J. Lee Rankin became chief counsel for the Warren Commission. He then appointed Norman Redlich as his special assistant. Redlich began investigating the relationship between Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. He was especially interested in why Oswald appeared to be heading towards Ruby's apartment after the assassination.
According to William C. Sullivan (The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover's FBI) Gerald Ford provided J. Edgar Hoover with information about the activities of staff members of the commission. "Hoover was delighted when Gerald Ford was named to the Warren Commission. The director wrote in one of his internal memos that the bureau could expect Ford to 'look after FBI interests,' and he did, keeping us fully advised of what was going on behind closed doors. He was our man, our informant, on the Warren Commission."
Hoover ordered that the FBI should carry out an investigation of Norman Redlich. He discovered that Redlich was on the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, an organization considered by Hoover to have been set-up to "defend the cases of Communist lawbreakers". Redlich had also been critical of the activities of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
This information was leaked to a group of right-wing politicians. On 5th May, 1964, Ralph F. Beermann, a Republican Party congressman, made a speech claiming that Redlich was associated with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Beermann called for Redlich to be removed as a staff member of the Warren Commission. He was supported by Karl E. Mundt who said: "We want a report from the Commission which Americans will accept as factual, which will put to rest all the ugly rumors now in circulation and which the world will believe. Who but the most gullible would believe any report if it were written in part by persons with Communist connections?"
Gerald Ford joined in the attack and at one closed-door session of the Warren Commission he called for Norman Redlich to be dismissed. However, Rankin and Earl Warren both supported him and he retained his job. However, after this, Redlich posed no threat to the theory that Oswald was the lone gunman.
The original first draft of the Warren Commission Report stated that a bullet had entered Kennedy's "back at a point slightly above the shoulder and to the right of the spine." Ford realized that this provided a serious problem for the single bullet theory. As Michael L. Kurtz has pointed out (The JFK Assassination Debates): "If a bullet fired from the sixth-floor window of the Depository building nearly sixty feet higher than the limousine entered the president's back, with the president sitting in an upright position, it could hardly have exited from his throat at a point just above the Adam's apple, then abruptly change course and drive downward into Governor Connally's back."
In 1997 the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) released a document that revealed that Ford had altered the first draft of the report to read: "A bullet had entered the base of the back of his neck slightly to the right of the spine." Ford had elevated the location of the wound from its true location in the back to the neck to support the single bullet theory.
The Republican Party surprisingly nominated the extreme conservative, Barry Goldwater, in the 1964 presidential election. During the election campaign Goldwater called for an escalation of the war against North Vietnam. In comparison to Goldwater, Lyndon B. Johnson was seen as the 'peace' candidate. People feared that Goldwater would send troops to fight in Vietnam. Johnson, on the other hand, argued that he was not willing: "to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."
In the 1964 presidential election. Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been a popular leader during his year in office, easily defeated Barry Goldwater by 42,328,350 votes to 26,640,178. Johnson gained 61 per cent of the popular vote, giving him the largest majority ever achieved by an American president.
Another consequence of the election was that the House of Representatives had the largest Democratic majority since 1936. Gerald Ford was elected as minority leader by the slim margin of 73 to 67. During the Tet Offensive Ford called on Johnson to "Americanise the war". At that time, the US already had 500,000 troops fighting in the country. Johnson later described Ford as "so dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time."
By 1968, the popularity of the Democratic Party was in decline. Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to stand and was replaced by Hubert Humphrey as the party's presidential candidate. With progressive forces in the country unhappy with Humphrey's support of the Vietnam War, and with George Wallace collecting over 9 million votes in the South, it was no surprise when Richard Nixon won the election. Nixon received 31,770,237 votes against 31,270,533 for Humphrey.
Ford worked closely with Nixon's new administration. Alexander Butterfield later claimed that Nixon always had the minority leader totally under his thumb. He added: "He was a tool of the Nixon administration, like a puppy dog. They used him when they had to - wind him up and he'd go."
In 1970 two of Nixon's conservative nominees to the Supreme Court (Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell) failed their Senate confirmation hearings. Ford joined forces with Richard Nixon and Attorney General John N. Mitchell in an effort to get liberal justice, William O. Douglas, to resign. Stories were spread that Douglas was in the pay of the Parvin Foundation. In April 1970 Ford moved to impeach Douglas, the first major modern era attempt to impeach a member of the Supreme Court. Ford gained very little support for his actions and the hearings were brought to a close and no public vote on the matter was taken.
In 1973, Nixon's vice-president, Spiro Agnew was investigated for extortion, bribery and income-tax violations while governor of Maryland. On 10th October, 1973 resigned as vice-president. Nixon attempted to appoint John Connally as Agnew's replacement. However, Nixon was warned that his appointment would not be confirmed by Congress. Nixon therefore selected Ford instead.
Gerald Ford became president when Richard Nixon was also forced to resign over the Watergate Scandal in August, 1974. Ford therefore became the first man in history to become the president of the United States without having been elected as either president or vice president. Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president. During his confirmation hearings it was revealed that over the years he had made large gifts of money to government officials such as Henry Kissinger.
On 8th September, 1974, Ford controversially granted Richard Nixon a full pardon "for all offences against the United States" that might have been committed while in office. The pardon brought an end all criminal prosecutions that Nixon might have had to face concerning the Watergate Scandal.
On October 17, 1974, Ford vetoed the bill that would significantly strengthen the Freedom Of Information Act, calling it “unconstitutional and unworkable.” However, in November the House of Representatives and the Senate overrode President Ford’s veto.
In December, 1974, Seymour Hersh of the New York Times, published a series of articles claiming that the Central Intelligence Agency had been guilty of illegal activities. In his memoirs, Ford said that he feared a congressional investigation would result in "unnecessary disclosures" that could "cripple" the CIA. He and his aides quickly decided that he needed to prevent an independent congressional investigation. He therefore appointed Nelson Rockefeller to head his own investigation into these allegations.
Other members of the Rockefeller Commission included C. Douglas Dillon, Ronald Reagan, John T. Connor, Edgar F. Shannon, Lyman L. Lemmitzer, and Erwin N. Griswold. Executive Director of the task-force was David W. Belin, the former counsel to the Warren Commission and leading supporter of the magic bullet theory. In 1973 Berlin had published his book, November 22, 1963: You are the Jury, in which he defended the Warren Report as an historic, "unshakeable" document.
In her book, Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI, Kathryn S. Olmsted, wrote: "His choice for chairman, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, had served as a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which monitored the CIA. Members Erwin Griswold, Lane Kirkland, Douglas Dillon, and Ronald Reagan had all been privy to CIA secrets in the past or noted for their strong support of governmental secrecy."
The journalist, Joseph Kraft, argued that he feared that the Rockefeller report would not end "the terrible doubts which continue to eat away at the nation." This was reflected in public opinion polls taken at the time. Only 33% had confidence in the Rockefeller Commission and 43% believed that the commission would turn into "another cover-up".
At a meeting with some senior figures at the New York Times, including Arthur O. Sulzberger and A. M. Rosenthal, President Gerald Ford let slip the information that the CIA had been involved in conspiracies to assassinate political leaders. He immediately told them that this information was off the record. This story was leaked to the journalist Daniel Schorr who reported the story on CBS News. As Schorr argued in his autobiography, Staying Tuned: " President Ford moved swiftly to head off a searching congressional investigation by extending the term of the Rockefeller commission and adding the assassination issue to its agenda."
Rockefeller's report was published in 1975. It included information on some CIA abuses. As David Corn pointed out in Blond Ghost: "the President's panel revealed that the CIA had tested LSD on unsuspecting subjects, spied on American dissidents, physically abused a defector, burgled and bugged without court orders, intercepted mail illegally, and engaged in plainly unlawful conduct". The report also produced details about MKULTRA, a CIA mind control project.
Rockefeller also included an 18-page section on the assassination of John F. Kennedy (Allegations Concerning the Assassination of John F. Kennedy). A large part of the report was taken up with examining the cases of E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis. This was as a result of both men being involved in the Watergate Scandal. The report argued that a search of agency records showed that Sturgis had never been a CIA agent, informant or operative. The commission also accepted the word of both men that they were not in Dallas on the day of the assassination.
The Rockefeller Commission also looked at the possibility that John F. Kennedy had been fired at by more than one gunman. After a brief summary of the Warren Commission (1964) and the Ramsay Clark Panel (1968) investigations, Rockefeller concluded: "On the basis of the investigation conducted by its staff, the Commission believes that there is no evidence to support the claim that President Kennedy was struck by a bullet fired from either the grassy knoll or any other position to his front, right front or right side, and that the motions of the President's head and body, following the shot that struck him in the head, are fully consistent with that shot having come from a point to his rear, above him and slightly to his right."
Nelson Rockefeller also looked at the possible connections between E. Howard Hunt, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby and the CIA. He claimed that there was no "credible evidence" that Oswald or Ruby were CIA agents or informants. Nor did Hunt ever have contact with Oswald. The report argues: "Hunt's employment record with the CIA indicated that he had no duties involving contacts with Cuban exile elements or organizations inside or outside the United States after the early months of 1961... Hunt and Sturgis categorically denied that they had ever met or known Oswald or Ruby. They further denied that they ever had any connections whatever with either Oswald or Ruby."
This section of the report reached the following conclusions: "Numerous allegations have been made that the CIA participated in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Commission staff investigated these allegations. On the basis of the staff's investigation, the Commission concluded there was no credible evidence of any CIA involvement."
The report was condemned as a cover-up. Dr. Cyril H. Wecht accused the Rockefeller Commission of "deliberately distorting and suppressing" part of his testimony as to the nature of Kennedy's head and neck wounds. Wecht demanded that a full transcript of his testimony be released. Rockefeller refused on the grounds that the commission proceedings were confidential.
Ford's ability to govern was handicapped by the way he had obtained power and the fact that he had to deal with a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party. On over fifty occasions Congress vetoed his proposed legislation. Ford also struggled with rampant inflation and the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.
At the Republican National Convention in August, 1976, Ford defeated Ronald Reagan and won the party's nomination. His presidential campaign did not go well. In one of his televised debates with Jimmy Carter he stated "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe". Ford, was also handicapped by his association with Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal, and was defeated by Carter by 40,276,040 to votes to 38,532,360.
After his defeat in 1976 Gerald Ford retired to his home in Palm Springs, California. In 1980, Ronald Reagan gave serious consideration to Ford as a potential vice-presidential running mate. Negotiations between the Reagan and Ford camps took place at the Republican National Convention in Detroit. According to an article by Richard V. Allen (New York Times Magazine, July 30, 2000). Ford conditioned his acceptance on Reagan's agreement to an unprecedented "co-presidency", giving Ford the power to control key executive branch appointments (such as Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State and Alan Greenspan as Treasury Secretary). After rejecting these terms, Reagan offered the vice-presidential nomination to George H. W. Bush.
In January 2006, Ford was treated for pneumonia. In August of that year it was reported that he had been fitted with a pacemaker. Gerald Ford died on 26th December, 2006.