Yesterday VPR broadcast a commentary on the fortieth anniversary of Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon for all the crimes he committed while president. In the commentary, Vic Henningsen expressed the following sentiment:
But most of us now believe Ford was right; that a pardon would harm the country less than prolonged criminal proceedings against the disgraced former president. Though it wasn’t clear at the time, Ford did us a favor.
I don't know who the “us” is that Henningsen is talking about, but he and anyone who thinks the decision to pardon Nixon was the right thing to do is dead wrong.
Remember the context. We had just, one month earlier, seen the end of the most corrupt administration in history, and we had not yet seen the full scope of Nixon's criminality. Nixon's resignation in lieu of impeachment was just the beginning of the effort to reclaim the rule of law. Ford's pardon deprived the country of the chance to see Nixon's crimes redressed.
Constitutional crisis? No more than Spiro Agnew's prosecution for his crimes, or any other politician's. Ford's pardon was an advance ratification of Nixon's statement, in his David Frost interviews, that “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
No, even if there was no deal to get that pardon (and you will never convince me of that), by once and forever establishing that a president cannot face accountability for his criminal actions, Ford did a terrible harm to the United States.