President Ford has pledged to played an active leadership role in the Republican Party, and twice declined to rule out the possibility that he might run again for public office.
In a reflective 50-minute interview in the Oval Office Friday the President defended his support of James A. Baker III for Republican national chairman. Asked if there was a risk in staking his titular party leadership on Baker's selection, Ford replied that there also was a risk in failing to provide leadership.
"If we lose, why that is one of the risks and gambles we take in this profession," the President said.
In the interview Ford left on doubt that he intends to remain a part of the political profession once he leaves office Jan. 20. He also said he has some surprises in store in his remaining 11 days in the White House, and declined to indicate whether one of his last actions would be issuing pardons to convicted Watergate defendants or granting amnesty to Vietnam war resisters.
The New York Times reported yesterday that Ford has ruled out a blanket amnesty for Vietnam was deserters and draft evaders, but is considering granting relief to a few limited categories of offenders.
As a gesture, the President is seriously considering taking some action involving clemency for at least a few men who ran afoul of the law because of the war, the newspaper said.
It quoted an aide as saying that one possibility now being looked at is restoration of veterans' rights to former servicemen who were wounded in the line of duty in Vietnam but who later deserted or committed some other offense that cost them their rights. The aide noted that the number of men in this category was not very large.
The President was not at all reluctant to speak up for Baker, a Texas lawyer who was widely praised for his skill in managing Ford's general election campaign. But Baker is considered at this point to be trailing Utah state GOP Chairman Richard Richards, whi is backed by Ronald Reagan, for the party chairmanship. The Republican National Committee will meet in Washington next Friday to make the decision.
Then Ford was asked whether he might become a candidate for President again, or, like President John Quincy Adams, return to the House of Representatives.
"That is too speculative to really give you a definitive answer," the President said.
The reporter tried again, with similar results.
"I though I fudged it up enough so you could take it either way," Ford replied with a broad smile.
In the interview on his performance and his prospects the President made thse other points:
If he recommends a pay raise for Congress and top officials in the executive and judicial departments, as advocated by a presidential commission, he will insist that this be accompanied by a code tightening ethical standards in all departments. The commission so recommended, but some congressional leaders, while desiring the pay raise, have balked at the Presidents requiring an accompanying ethical code.
He favors the idea of a six-year term for President. "If a man is elected for a lengthy enough period of time he doesn't have to worry about re-election because he is precluded from it," Ford said. "I can see some advantages to that."
President-elect Carter has a "constructive hand to play" in the tinderbox foreign policy areas of southern Africa and the Middle East and "a lot rests on his success." It also is important, said Ford, that Carter succeeded in getting a SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union.
The Warren Commission did "a good job" nd reached the right conclusions when it found that Lee Harvey Oswald was the killer of President Kennedy and that there was no evidence of a conspiracy in the assassination. Ford, who was a member of that commission, questioned the wisdom of a pending congressional investigation into the Kennedy assassination.
Failure to reduce unemployment swiftly was "the biggest disappointment" of his administration, but there was little he could have done to move faster because the world increase in oil and food prices forced him to deal simultaneously with inflation and unemployment. Ford said that Carter faces "a decicate situation" in fighting these twin economic perils.
"The real problem that my successor has isto continue that very narrow line, because we are almost at a point where six months or a year from now we can say we have really done . . .," Ford continued.
"I am not volunteering," Ford said with a laugh, when asked if he might wind up playing some role in a Carter administration. "I am about to leave and relax. But I am dedicated to the country. And depending upon the desires of any successor. I wouldn't duck an opportunity to contribute . . . I emphasize I don't want to embarrass the incoming President, I don't want to appear to be volunteering. But just like any good American, which I think I am, there is a call to duty. Sure, I will do what I can."
In other interviews he has given since his election defeat in November the President has pointed to his failure to get an agreement in a second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) as one of the major disappointments of his administration.
He was asked in The Washington Post interview whether the Republican presidential primary contest had contributed to his failure. Reagan repeatedly attacked Ford for purportedly conceding too much to the Soviets, and the President, during the Florida primary, said he had replaced the policy of detente with "peace through strength."
Ford said, in effect, that the Reagan challenge had no impact on SALT II.
"I don't think any adverse impact on our effort to get the SALT II agreement," Ford said. We were faced with two problems: one was some area of disagreement with the administration on the one hand, and some non-resolvable differences with the Soviet Union on the other. So it was a combination.