H.P. Goldfield served as an assistant and law clerk to the Counselor to President Gerald R. Ford. Goldfield would later serve as Assistant Counsel and as Associate Counsel to President Ronald Reagan, who also appointed him as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Trade Development. Goldfield is Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, as well a senior international advisor to Hogan Lovells. H.P.
Goldfield was interviewed for the Gerald R. Ford Oral History Project on October 27, 2010 by Richard Norton Smith.
Smith: Thank you for doing this. How did your paths first cross with Gerald Ford?
Goldfield: I was a first year law student at Suffolk University Law School up in Boston.
Smith: I know it well.
Goldfield: And one of my professors had some relationships in the White House and mentioned that there was a program known as the White House Summer Internship and asked if anyone was interested. I walked up and responded, and that professor became a good friend. So I applied to the White House for the internship. I had worked Republican politics in Connecticut and California. I’d been a Coro Foundation Fellow out in California and did some work with a number of the senior lieutenants around then Governor Ronald Reagan and I thought it’d be a great opportunity to visit Washington. I had been a very short-term intern for Senator Weicker in Connecticut way back when, so I didn’t know any one person that could get me into the White House. This was at a time when Nixon was basically transitioning out.
Smith: So this was the summer of ’74?
Goldfield: This started in, I believe, late ’74—
Smith: Nixon leaves, of course, in August of ’74.
Goldfield: Right. It might’ve been the summer of ’74 that I started.
Smith: I mean, was Nixon still—?
Goldfield: No, he had left, but his people were still there. Pam Powell was still there running Youth Affairs in the fall, I believe, of ’74.
Smith: Can I ask you about one of the things that intrigues us and, maybe as an outsider, you had a unique perspective on?
Smith: Clearly one of the challenges that Ford faced, with no transition, was meshing the existing staff – Nixon people, whom he didn’t want to tar unfairly with Watergate – his own people from the Hill – and then such others as, over time, came in there. Did you sense tensions?
Goldfield: I didn’t sense any tensions. What I was going to say was that I didn’t know any one person well enough that could get me heard as a potential candidate as a White House summer intern. So I basically contacted everyone I knew in Republican politics and finally I got a call from Pam Powell’s office saying, “We’ve accepted you on one condition.” I said, “What’s that?” They said, “That we don’t get another call or letter on your behalf because it’s taking up too much time.”
But, to answer your question, I didn’t know President Ford well, but I saw him in action quite a bit and was in an atmosphere where you could get a good sense of the man and see him quite frequently. But I was only a White House summer intern. I think that he was, above all else, a very fair person. He had a very good heart, a very good intellect, and was unbelievably fair-minded as an individual. So, I don’t think that he was about to toss somebody over the side because they had worked for President Nixon who then had to resign. So, you saw a number of key individuals remain in various offices, including political offices, during the transition and during President Ford’s tenure. And I think that’s testament to his fairness. If somebody was talented and loyal, he was not going to throw them over the side.
Smith: Did you have any contact at all with Bob Hartmann? Clearly, Hartmann was an important and, in some ways, polarizing figure.
Goldfield: Right. I had very little contact with Hartmann. I started off in the White House Summer Internship and then was asked to stay on the permanent White House Counsel’s staff with Phil Buchen and his team. So, I transferred and was fortunate to get into Georgetown Law and graduated from Georgetown Law.
But as part of the process, every week the White House Summer Interns – some of whom are still my closest friends – would interview people. I remember one session with Don Rumsfeld, who was then chief of staff, I believe. He came in and we sat around on couches and all had a discussion with Rumsfeld and he then opened it up to questions after he spoke for a few minutes. My parents happened to be visiting from Connecticut so he was gracious enough to allow them to sit in on the session. I had just read a Newsweek article and I said, “Mr. Rumsfeld, Newsweek just portrayed you as ‘a Haldeman who smiles.’ Do you have any reaction to that?” I think I saw my parents both shrink down as low as they could in the chair. Rumsfeld gave a very quick ‘excuse me’ response and then came back to the question. But, it was a time where we were able to spend some time with these senior assistants.
Clearly, the most time I spent with members of the senior staff was with Phil Buchen who was, again, one of the most fair-minded, stable, thoughtful, great judgment individuals and the right guy for the time. I mean, we’d gone through such pain and agony and angst as a country over Watergate and over Vietnam, and to have someone with the relationship and trust that President Ford placed in Phil Buchen and to have the judgment that Phil Buchen had, the good common sense, and the strong legal capabilities – I was really honored to be able to participate in the White House Counsel’s Office. And it was a good predicate; I served in President Reagan’s White House Counsel’s Office, not so much because I was the best law student in America and chosen for that, but, as I describe it, having had a couple years with President Ford in the White House Counsel’s Office, I knew where the fire extinguishers were. And I think a lot of the White House Counsel’s Office is understanding what to use to put out what kind of fires. And I was fortunate to be given that opportunity.
Our assignments in White House Counsel’s Office as law clerks ranged from who can use the Seal of the President in responding to sixth grade classes to spending time on what to do about the Watergate tapes to spending time on War Powers when there was an incident between North Korea and South Korea over the chopping down of a tree, as I recall. So, it was just a really wonderful opportunity to have sort of a seat in the room to see some of these things going on.
Smith: Let me back up a bit. This may not be fair, but did you see things, or could you understand why Newsweek would characterize Rumsfeld in that fashion? He’s a tough guy.
Goldfield: Very tough guy, very smart man. Tough, but not tough just to be tough. I thought, when he had Dick Cheney, who I have huge respect for as a solid, loyal American with the fortitude to do what he thinks right, irrespective of the “politics” of a decision. I’ve seen Rumsfeld since the Ford years but only on a few occasions. I think he’s a tough-minded, bright fellow. I may disagree at times with his positions on policy, but I think he always did what he thought was correct. Maybe sometimes it wasn’t the right policy to engage, but I respected him as usually trying to do the, in my view, right thing. And I think you can tell a lot about a person by who he has next to him and to have Dick Cheney next to him said a lot to me about Rumsfeld.
Smith: Some of the people we’ve spoken with, beginning with Dorothy Downton, the President’s personal secretary have suggested that there was a difference of sorts in terms of how each ran the White House. And they were not being particularly critical or praiseworthy of one or the other, but just suggested that it was a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere under Cheney.
Goldfield: Than under Rumsfeld?
Smith: Than under Rumsfeld.
Goldfield: I don’t know the answer to that. I think each had their own styles. Dick Cheney can be extremely – how should I put it – tough is the wrong word. He has a clear focus and I think he is strong in his beliefs and put politics aside if it’s the right thing to do. And I think that carried with Mr. Cheney right through to his being Vice President more recently. I think that President Ford was a fairly relaxed sort of fellow. He was not a hard-nosed, take out the hatchet or hammer kind of fellow. And I think he had – even as a Republican leader on Capitol Hill – tremendous respect from the other side of the aisle and I think he used that currency wisely. You know, he had a tough time with the legacy of Vietnam, with the economy, and was really challenged with Russia which was a major challenge at the time. It was not an easy time, but I think he was exactly the right person to give America back its feeling of trust in their President.
Smith: One way of looking at the Ford presidency sees a trajectory of someone who came into office with a congressional mindset…who some would say ‘grew,’ some would say ‘evolved’…the story of the Ford presidency is about, without losing the skills that he had polished on the Hill, learning the difference between a congressional and an executive mindset. In other words, learning to be President.
Goldfield: Well, I think he learned quickly and I think he often got frustrated, in my recollection, with his congressional colleagues, particularly when it came to foreign policy. You know, I think he said something to the effect ‘We can’t have 535 chief executives when it comes to foreign policy.’ So, I think he evolved very quickly because, once you assume the mantle of President, your role becomes very clear and the decisions you have to make are right in front of you. You often don’t have the luxury of prolonged debates over months or years because decisions have to be made that affect our national security, our foreign policy. I think he evolved and understood quickly that there should be a separation of powers and that the President as chief executive and Commander-in-Chief ought to have the ability to act and enact in a decisive manner. And yet he remembered his congressional days and I think he had some sensitivity to what was happening in the Congress. But it still had to be frustrating in light of ‘You can’t have 535 commanders-in-chief.’
Smith: But there is irony that this man, by his own proud admission a child of the House, a product of Congress, should find himself, in many ways defending executive branch prerogatives against assault from Capitol Hill.
Goldfield: It’s ironic, but I think also, as I said, he learned very quickly that the decisions you have to make as commander-in-chief don’t give you the luxury of being able to convince a majority of 435 members of the merits of your position. We’ve got soldiers whose lives are on the line. We’ve got national security interests that are threatened on a daily basis. So you’ve got to step into a role where you’ve got to make decisions that you believe protect on national security and foreign policy interests, and worry about the politics later.
Smith: Which brings us to the War Powers Act. I’ve been told that every President since its passage has, to varying degrees, at least in private, insisted that it was of dubious constitutionality. But none of them have wanted to try that argument in the courts. So, you have this sort of grudging acquiescence.
Goldfield: Well, it’s basically, I think, a delicate balance where you’ve got significant tensions at play. As I said, I think that Congress, in terms of its constitutional role, versus the Executive Office of the President and its constitutional role…there will be dramatic tensions. And I think they really get joined when it comes to something as serious as war and peace or the War Powers Act. Again, I think the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has to be able to act without having to go through a long, drawn out congressional debate as to whether he has the authority to do this or that. The President derives tremendous authority, not just from the Constitution, or legal interpretations over time by the Executive Branch of War Powers Act, but by a number of the emergency powers the President derives from such as the International Emergency Powers Act. And I think that everybody understands how critical it is for the President to be able to act decisively and in timeframes that are sometimes less than what others from the Congress might think are reasonable in order to protect our national security. After the fact many, I would guess, might debate whether it was a decisive act within the President’s Constitutional prerogatives or a declaration of war. And, you know, that tension is probably a healthy tension – that there is that debate. But I don’t think that debate should forestall the President being able to exercise his authority to protect the nation when it needs to be protected.
Smith: I imagine a classic case in the Ford years would be the Mayaguez incident, where clearly it was in a fog to begin with, with things developing almost minute-by-minute. Just in an operational sense, it would be difficult to keep people informed.
Goldfield: It is, and how to inform the Congress, when to inform the Congress, and where’s the line, is going to be the subject of countless speeches, articles, and criticisms by both sides. Again, I fall back on the constitutionally derived prerogatives of the President, on the side of the Executive, when it comes to much of this. Because, when you’re there, you realize that there isn’t the luxury of time. You’ve got to act. You’ve got to respond. American soldiers’ lives are often on the line and our security is on the line. That’s not to say that someone should act precipitously or without the facts, but I’m not sure that you can ask for permission in each and every case. I think that the Counsel’s Office has made pretty clear where they believe the line is in terms of what triggers the Congress’ role under the War Powers Act.
Smith: Presumably, Ford had an advantage – a credibility built up over many, many years of interacting with his colleagues on the Hill – that he brought to that kind of situation which you can’t really quantify. That said, however, clearly things were changing and the ’74 election did produce a bumper crop of, at the very least, skeptics, profound skeptics, who did not have that personal relationship with Ford. Was there a tension there?
Goldfield: I wasn’t at a level to really understand or see that tension play out firsthand, but, you know, people were rightfully skeptical of presidential decision-making as a result of the Watergate episode. So, I think, again, the healthiest thing for our country is open debate. I think debate gives us the opportunity to air all sides of an issue and hopefully the decision maker is smarter and reaches a better decision as a result. I think that the skeptics were rightfully interested in what’s happening, what the information is that’s causing the President to put troops on alert or the like, and why aren’t we better informed about that. And I think, again, it goes to a balance, there ought to be strong consultation where there can be such – but, again, we can’t take one incident and then tie the President’s hands with respect to his ability to act in a reasonable fashion in the face of a threat or danger to our national security. So that tension, I think, will always exist and I’m not so sure that’s not a healthy tension.
Smith: Well, there’s a reason they call it healthy skepticism. But when healthy skepticism shades over into cynicism or a kind of reflexive distrust of the executive – and, certainly, there were pockets of that as a result of not only Watergate, but Vietnam as well—
Goldfield: As I said, with the legacy of Vietnam, of Watergate, etc., we were in very troubled waters. The skeptics are right to be skeptical, but that skepticism, I don’t think, should detract from the powers enumerated to the President as Commander-in-Chief to protect our security.
Smith: What was the mood around the place – and I realize you weren’t in the Oval Office – but just generally around the White House in April of ’75 as it became clear that Vietnam was falling?
Goldfield: Well, you couldn’t not be affected, especially by everything that you saw on the television every night about what was happening in Vietnam. There was a very serious mood. But, again, I think I’d be exaggerating or overreaching to say that I was there as a firsthand observer in the Cabinet Room or Roosevelt Room or Situation Room. I wasn’t.
Smith: Were you in the Counsel’s Office at that point?
Goldfield: I was in Counsel’s Office starting in June of ’75, as I recall.
Goldfield: But I was able to see just how tense a situation it can be. I remember getting a call to come in because – and I’m trying to stretch my memory a bit – a couple of our soldiers had been shot at or killed when they were cutting down a tree that was blocking the view of North Korea at the time, I believe.
Goldfield: So, seeing how tense that was gave me, I think, a real bird’s eye view into how tense situations can be. And, certainly, with the fall of Vietnam and what the President and his Cabinet and National Security staff had to deal with, you could feel the tenseness. But, again, I wasn’t a participant in the Security Council debate.
Smith: One of the criticisms that has been made over the years, particularly of the early months of the Ford presidency, was that wasn’t up to Presidential standards. Now, clearly, that’s a broad brush when you consider people like Bill Seidman, who went on to very distinguished careers, and Buchen as well. Part of it was the congressional staff. It was less Grand Rapids per se, but there was a sense that there were some people who rose to the occasion and others who—
Goldfield: Well, some of them rose to the occasion and went on to be members of Congress themselves. But what I think the Grand Rapids team brought was some sound judgment, a sense of self-confidence without being arrogant at all, there was no arrogance, very smart individuals. Whether it was Bill Seidman – who was a very good friend – or Phil Buchen or others, I think what the country wanted, President Ford brought them, which was ‘You can trust us. We have good judgment. We’re solid. We’re honest.’ It was a time that trust was sorely needed because of Watergate and because of the skepticism surrounding Watergate and Vietnam. So, I think there could not have been a better person for that job at that time than President Ford. There was never any arrogance about that man and he took his role seriously and I think he clearly understood how the Congress worked. And, as I said, he had friends on both sides of the aisle and I think he used that currency when he had to, although, you couldn’t use it each and every time, nor did they cash it all the time in terms of Congress’ response.
Smith: If you talk to someone who didn’t know who Phil Buchen was, describe him, what he did, and what his role was.
Goldfield: I’d say that Phil Buchen was as much a “counselor” to the President as he was Counsel to the President. He understood his role was to protect the Office of the President from a counsel’s standpoint, from the perspective of protecting the legal authorities and protecting the President and the White House staff in terms of understanding where the red lines were in terms of the law and making sure that everything operated at the White House and within the Cabinet agencies according to both the letter and spirit of the law.
But, I think Phil’s true strength was the fact that he had such a close relationship to the President from their days as law partners. Phil had tremendous judgment. Again, there was no need for him to have any great limelight and he would always give the President his honest assessment of a situation as counselor. And, I think, because of who Phil was as an individual, the President wanted him as a member of the Cabinet. As I recall, Phil was one of the few counsels who also had the rank of Cabinet member and I think that was critical, not just for the internal deliberations that occurred, but also for people’s perception, that here you have the President’s top legal advisor sitting at the cabinet table to ensure that some of the misguided transgressions of the past – there would be no countenance of that in this presidency.
Smith: When you came into that office, did he explain the governing principles of this office or this administration? How were you initiated to the Ford-Buchen view of things?
Goldfield: As a White House summer intern, we got a snapshot on a weekly basis, if not more frequently, of senior White House staff and mid-level White House staff, what they were working on, how the place operated, what the priorities were, et cetera. And, if you spent time reading as much as you could about what was happening at the White House in terms of internal memos or the daily press briefings, you got pretty smart pretty quickly on what the issues of the day were and where the President stood on some of these issues. But, you also got the sense from your weekly interviews with the likes of Don Rumsfeld, as I mentioned, or Hartmann or others, as to how they viewed the priorities and the process. And that was very, very instructive. I think I was – I don’t know – 24 or so years old at the time and a law student. But it was very instructive as to how the White House operates and that it’s a place that’s filled with human beings with their strengths and with their weaknesses and one got to see that it’s not always perfection in terms of either the process or the substance because it is human beings that are the players.
Smith: The Justice Department had been at the heart of a lot of the problems. One senses that, for example, in choosing Ed Levi as Attorney General or John Paul Stevens for the Court, that the President (presumably Phil Buchen) were very cognizant of the need to clean up the situation.
Goldfield: I think these appointments were a reflection of President Ford and his own character. Phil Buchen knew how to qualify and quantify that reflection of the President’s own character and desires. So, whether it was Ed Levi or Stevens – and I think – was Scalia the head of Office of Legal Counsel at the time?
Smith: May have been.
Goldfield: I may be mixing up my presidencies. But there was always—
Smith: He was at the Justice Department.
Goldfield: Right. I think during the Ford tenure, he was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, but it was a very compatible and healthy process between White House Counsel’s Office and the Justice Department. And, again, I’ll use the word trust. While we didn’t always have to agree, that debate produced a better product. There was never a sense that Justice was telling us what we wanted to hear as opposed to what their view of the particular issue or their response to the particular question should be from their standpoint. And so that’s why, I think, the judgment, the character, the self-confidence, but not arrogance of many of the senior White House staff really served the President well. Because it wasn’t telling the Justice Department ‘You will do this.’ It was respecting their own independence and intellect. Again, lawyers often disagree, but it was disagreeing without being disagreeable and allowing the debate to occur.
Smith: It was explicit that Ed Levi and the Justice Department were to be non-political. For example, he had nothing to do with the campaign in ’76. Did that extend back to the Counsel’s Office as well? To be as non-political as you could be?
Goldfield: I never considered our office to be partisan. That was true under Phil Buchen and President Ford and it was true under Fred Fielding and President Reagan because, once you allow yourself to be more partisan than providing unfettered advice based upon the law, I don’t think you serve the President’s interest. That doesn’t mean we weren’t political ourselves, but they weren’t asking us for a political opinion. There’s a political office at the White House. We had to review everything that went into the President’s office or that came out from a legal standpoint. Was it based on sound legal principles and sound legal reasoning? Under what authorities was the President being asked to take some action? Was he acting within those bounds? Now, we’re all human beings, so I’m sure our own political desires crept in at times, but by no means were they the overriding or the centerpiece of anything that we did in either counsel’s office. The President got fair, unfettered advice. The senior White House staff got fair, unfettered advice, whether they liked the particular advice or not.
Smith: Is it fair to describe the Counsel’s Office as the President’s in-house lawyer, in-house law firm? Describe the Counsel’s Office.
Goldfield: Counsel’s Office had to deal with such a huge range of issues. While the issues all in some way touched upon Presidential authority, many of them were pretty far removed from the most serious issues of the day. So, he had a group of mostly very smart, very seasoned lawyers, again, who understood what their role was and I think, at least as far as the two counsel’s office I was fortunate to be members of, we never tried to stretch our role into something that it wasn’t. So, it was a pretty good group of smart lawyers that came from various backgrounds. We’d sit in staff meetings and there’d be a healthy discussion of the issues, free and healthy discussion of the issues.
Smith: And Buchen would preside over that?
Goldfield: Well, I’m trying to remember. I’m not sure that I can recall back that far as to those staff meetings, but he had people like Bill Castleman and Rod Hills and Barry Roth and Ken Lazarus and Bobby Kilburg, for the most part, really top-notch lawyers who didn’t have an axe to grind or personal agenda.
Smith: We’ve interviewed Bobby. Had there been a woman in the Counsel’s Office before her?
Goldfield: I don’t know. I don’t recall. She is terrifically bright. She was a fabulous lawyer and, again, one of those individuals who was not afraid of speaking truth to power and that’s what you need in Counsel’s Office. It doesn’t mean that you have to be nasty in how you speak truth to power, but you need to be able, as a lawyer in that office, given the issues that sometimes you have to deal with, to be able to speak truth to power and she clearly was one of those and was respected for that.
Smith: And, clearly, Buchen welcomed that.
Goldfield: Welcomed that. Phil did not shy away from whatever the advice was that needed to be given. He never shied away because it may not be the most politically expedient answer. Never shied away from that. And that, I think, was the value of his tenure and, in my view, the value of Fred Fielding’s tenure.
Smith: Did Buchen ever talk about the pardon?
Goldfield: I don’t recall ever having a conversation with him about the pardon. But, again, it was so long ago that we may have had soft discussions. But I don’t think I did.
Smith: Did he ever tell Ford stories? They’d been friends for so many years. Did he ever talk about his old friend?
Goldfield: No. He may have done that with some of his peers. Don’t forget, I was a law clerk. I was not one of the lawyers for the President and when I wasn’t in Counsel’s Office working, I was going to law school. So, I wasn’t privy to too many of those conversations. But there was healthy camaraderie in the office and a tremendous amount of respect for both Phil Buchen and the President. So, I’m sure that there were occasions when Phil talked to Bobby or the like and there was a story or two, but it was a wonderful family at the time in Counsel’s Office and I think that was real important to the spirit that pervaded the office in the White House. President Ford had such respect from everybody that was there and deservedly so. And, as I said, some of my best friends today are people that I met in that White House at the time.
Smith: Ed Levi’s a pretty impressive figure, isn’t he?
Goldfield: He was very impressive. Again, I saw a lot of what came out of the Levi Justice Department, but I’d had very limited exposure to the man himself as a lowly law clerk in that office.
Smith: And John Paul Stevens may be one of the last justices to be chosen on the grounds of sheer legal talent as opposed to an ideological or philosophical bent. Clearly, the President was persuaded that Stevens was a moderate or moderate conservative. Stevens himself always insisted that he was and that he remained the same. There are those who claim that Ford – because, of course, you had this running narrative that Presidents are surprised by the people they put on the Court – and so there’s a desire to put Ford in that. The fact of the matter is that he was extraordinarily proud of that selection.
Goldfield: Because of the character of the person. I think that’s what mattered a lot to President Ford. And, again, I didn’t know the President very well. I got to know his son Jack a bit and stayed in touch with his son Jack for awhile. We’d hung out together as some of the younger White House staff members would.
Smith: Did Jack introduce you to any of his celebrity friends? Bianca Jagger, for instance?
Goldfield: I stayed pretty low-key, but Jack was a friend and Rod Spackman, another White House summer intern who’d been one of Jack’s closest friends. So we hung out together. But, going back to your question about Justice Stevens, I think it goes back to the character of the individual. What I think the President cared most about was – you’d assume that the person would meet the standard of legal excellence – but then what’s the character of the person? My guess is that meant a lot. I remember getting a call from Phil Buchen saying, “You’ve got to take a letter up to the Supreme Court and you’ve got to leave right now. Call us every five minutes when you’re in the White House car.” Well, it turned out that was the letter in response to the resignation of Justice Douglas. I didn’t know it at the time.
Smith: Of course, there had been a history.
Goldfield: Right, but I didn’t know at the time. That’s what I was carrying up there or carrying back, but I knew something was up when the car pulled back into the White House and all the cameras are flashing all over the place. That was sort of my little snippet of history.
Smith: You delivered it to Justice Douglas’ chambers?
Smith: His secretary?
Goldfield: I don’t remember at the time because I didn’t know what I was delivering, you know. Was it an invitation to a White House dinner?
Smith: So you didn’t know it was a response to his resignation.
Goldfield: Which, you know, showed that I wasn’t really part of the senior decision-making process. But I didn’t realize what it was at the time. On the way back in the car, I think somebody told me what I was involved in, but not when I was taking the letter up, as I recall. But it was a great opportunity to work in a White House to see it from the inside out. Again, it’s filled with human beings, most of whom are tremendously capable, tremendously trustworthy, and hugely loyal, not just to the President, but to the office in which they serve. I got to see a lot of really great people work and I think sacrifice lots of family time for their country.
Smith: I realize you were insulated from politics, but there’s no more political place in the White House, than particularly in an election year. Looking back and knowing what you know now, was there a sense that the White House was slow to take the Reagan challenge seriously? To accept that Reagan would in fact run, or realize just how formidable a challenge Reagan might pose?
Goldfield: Well, a few of the people that helped me get to the Ford White House were Mike Dever, Ed Meese, and others. They’d helped me a bit because I knew them when I was a Coro Foundation Fellow and I had helped run a campaign for one of then Governor Reagan’s cabinet members, Brian van Kamp, who was running for Secretary of State. Also, Craig Fuller, who was, and is today, one of my closest friends in life, was a Coro Foundation Fellow with me, ran the Youth Programs for Governor Reagan, I think, so I got to spend a lot of time with the Reagan folks. So, from my perspective, serving in the Ford White House and being very loyal to President Ford, I understood full well how creative and smart and politically astute those folks were. At the same time, Stu Spencer was running the Ford campaign. His daughter Karen was a White House summer intern and today is still one of my good friends, as is Stu. But Stu Spencer is as good as it gets in terms of Presidential politics or politics at large.
So, I think they realized how formidable Governor Reagan was, but they also realized the power of the bully pulpit of the presidency. And, you know, I think the American public saw in President Ford somebody they could trust. Now, why didn’t we win the election against Jimmy Carter? I’m not sure of that. I just think that with the legacy from Watergate and the legacy from Vietnam, people wanted a change from that. But President Ford came pretty darned close to winning that election. As I recall, in Ohio or Hawaii, I forget what it was, it wasn’t that much of a difference. They were very close. If those states had come in for Ford, there could’ve been a different outcome. We were all very disappointed, crushed that the man who we believed in so much didn’t get the final nod from the American public.
Smith: Afterwards, he said to intimates, “I can’t believe I lost to a peanut farmer.” And there is a suggestion it took him awhile to bounce back.
Goldfield: Well, it has to because, when you’re spending so much time running for that office and in that position at the time, you put your heart and your soul into that race. He was a competitive guy in that respect, as one would hope he would be, and I think he gave it a tremendous fight. Again, we were all disappointed knowing the man from the inside that he didn’t win that election. But he’s not somebody, my guess, that ever held many grudges. He had enough self-confidence without being arrogant that he could move on with his life and do so with his head up high. And he had self-deprecating humor. I mean, we hung out with Kennerly, too, at times, and Ford made fun of himself and he wasn’t afraid to engage in that self-deprecating humor which is part of the man and part of the character why he was so well liked up on Capitol Hill.
Smith: Did you resent, on his behalf, the Saturday Night Live, caricature – which was kind of a metaphor for whether this guy’s up to the job?
Goldfield: In each and every one of his important actions, I think, he left the public feeling better off than before and they realized the character they had in the man. So, I think that the public caricatures of President Ford not being able to chew gum and walk – you know, the fellow was a hell of an athlete and he went to pretty well-respected academic institutions and law schools, so I think he probably sat there and laughed when he saw it rather than resented it and threw something at the TV. He was very comfortable in his own skin and that came across to everybody who came in touch with him, very comfortable in his own skin. And, as I say, I had nothing but tremendous respect for the President and Mrs. Ford and the family. I think we were lucky to have him at the time to fill what was a huge gap at the time of trust.
Smith: Did you have any contact with Mrs. Ford?
Goldfield: Very, very limited contact with Mrs. Ford. Maybe in passing. As I said, I had much more contact having a beer or two or three with Jack, you know, because we were the same age and hung out.
Smith: Where would you hang out?
Goldfield: Oh, we’d be at a friend of ours at a summer place near Annapolis. We’d just go there and hang out and do things that kids in their twenties do, drink a beer or two and enjoy themselves. We all worked pretty hard and so, you know, it was all good-natured fun. Other than some beers, I didn’t see anything other than that going on. Maybe too many beers at times, but what twenty-year old hasn’t had a couple beers more than he or she should’ve?
Smith: How do you think Gerald Ford should be remembered?
Goldfield: As the right man for the mission and the mission was to fill the gap. There was a huge gap. There was very little trust, very little respect for the office of the President. And, what we needed was somebody to rebuild that bridge, to fill that gap, so the public could once again have trust in their chief executive and commander-in-chief and those around him. And I think his legacy will be that he put us back on track, that he then filled that gap because he was a man of such strong and good character. And I think he really left a legacy that will be long remembered as people pay tribute to his character and how important that character was to help heal the wounds of Watergate and, to some extent, Vietnam.
Smith: So character counts.
Goldfield: And that’s what I said. When he made appointments, character counts.