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AMERICAN MORNING

Gerald R. Ford: 1913-2006; Hajj Security; Is Denver Ready?

Aired December 27, 2006 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A long, distinguished life is over. President Gerald Ford dead this morning at the age of 93. Reaction is now pouring in as President Bush prepares to address the nation. We're live all across the country remembering Gerald Ford's life and legacy on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Good morning. It is Wednesday, December 27th. I'm Miles O'Brien.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Alina Cho in for Soledad today. Thanks for joining us.

O'BRIEN: We begin with the death of Gerald Ford. The man who led our country through the dark days after Watergate. He died last night at his home near Palm Springs, California. He was 93 years old.

Ford was handpicked by Richard Nixon to become vice president and then entered the Oval Office when Nixon resigned in disgrace in August of 1974. This morning the White House flag is at half-staff. President Bush expected to make a statement from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

President Ford was America's longest living president, surpassing Ronald Reagan by more than a month. When he reached that milestone he said with characteristic humility, "the length of ones days matters less than the love of one's family and friends." President Ford is survived by his wife of 58 years, Betty, four children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Full coverage ahead of Gerald Ford's life, death and career. Ted Rowlands is at the Ford family home in Rancho Mirage, California. Elaine Quijano is with President Bush in Crawford. Let's begin with Ted.

Ted, good morning.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

President Ford died, according to the family, at 6:45 last night Pacific Time. And a few hours after that, his wife of 58 years, Betty Ford, informed the nation and the world releasing a statement which said, "my family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather, has passed away at 93 years of age. His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

Gerald Ford's health had been failing over the last few years. This year he spent time in the hospital here in Rancho Mirage for several days and then, in August, he was admitted into the Mayo Clinic and had angioplasty and was there for several days as well. And last night he finally passed away here at his home. It's characterized as being peaceful.

As you said, he leaves behind four children, seven grandchildren, four great grandchildren, three sons and a daughter. The Ford family is reviewing the final plans for what will happen over the next few days and over the next week. He will lie in repose here in Rancho Mirage, California. At some point he will also lie in repose in Washington, D.C. and in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There will be funerals in both Washington, D.C. and in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his hometown, as well. Two funerals. Those are being planned.

When those will take place, it has not been released yet. The family's reviewing it. We should find out later today. They're planning some sort of press briefing here in Rancho Mirage. We're outside the private street of the Ford family home and we expect to get that information over the next few hours.

After leaving Washington, the Fords came out west to live in the California desert and this is where they settled and this is where they spent the last 20 plus years. Gerald Ford seen very often out on the golf courses here. Met a lot of people. A lot of people in this town and around the world will miss him dearly.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Ted Rowlands in Rancho Mirage, thank you.

Alina.

CHO: Late last night, President Bush spoke to former First Lady Betty Ford to offer condolences. In a statement, President Bush said, Gerald Ford helped the nation heal after Watergate and restored confidence in the presidency. Elaine Quijano live in Crawford this morning where, as we said, we're expecting to see President Bush in the next couple of hours. One of the rare times we'll see the president speak from inside the Crawford ranch.

Elaine, good morning.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning to you, Alina.

It was just before 10:30 last night Eastern Time that President Ford's chief of staff actually called Josh Bolton, President Bush's chief of staff, to inform him of President Ford's passing. Bolton, who is not here in Crawford, then notified President Bush a little bit before 11:00 Eastern and in turn President Bush made that phone call expressing his personal condolences to Betty Ford.

Now the president also expressed his sadness and sympathies in a written statement, noting that Gerald Ford, in his words, "assumed the presidency in an hour of national turmoil and division." And saying, "with his quite integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore pubic confidence in the presidency. The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration."

Now as you mentioned, President Bush is set to make a statement on camera to reporters from his ranch in Crawford in a couple of hours, around 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And White House Spokesman Scott Danzel (ph), last night, reiterating that the memorial arrangements for President Ford are being handled by the family, but also saying that President Bush, Alina, will attend the funeral.

Alina.

CHO: Elaine Quijano in Crawford for us. Elaine, thank you very much.

In many ways, Gerald Ford embodied the American dream. A humbled Midwesterner, born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 14, 1913. When his parents divorced just a year later, his mother remarried and he took the name of his stepfather, Gerald R. Ford Sr.

After serving 25 years as a congressman from Michigan, Mr. Ford replaced Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon's vice president in 1973. A year later, President Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became the 38th president. The only unelected president in U.S. history.

President Ford granted a full pardon to Richard Nixon and served less than two and a half years as president. Just 29 months. He survived two assassination attempts during a three-week period in his presidency.

We will have much more on the death of former President Ford throughout the morning, of course. And be sure to catch a special edition of "Larry King Live" tonight on Ford's life and career. That's "Larry King Live" tonight at 9:00 Eastern Time.

O'BRIEN: Other news this morning.

The clock is ticking for Saddam Hussein. Iraqi judges upheld his death sentence and, according to Iraqi law, Saddam will be hanged within the next 30 days. The exact time and place has not yet been made public.

Millions of Muslims are making their annual pilgrimage to Mecca as we speak. It is the annual Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam. The faith calls for every able bodied Muslim who can afford to do so to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. Security and crowd control once again big concerns. Last year 350 pilgrims died in a stampede. CNN's Zain Verjee joining us live now from Mecca with more.

Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, with almost three million people here in Mecca, pilgrim safety and security is key.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE, (voice over): Getting fit to handle the Hajj. Fifty thousand security forces mobilized to protect pilgrims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have only the target is safety the Hajj (ph).

VERJEE: Brining in six pads to soften body blows at a deadly ritual site. Emergency medical teams ready to react. Preparations at the ritual sights in the deserts beyond Mecca. For the head of Hajj security, crowd control is the key and using brand new traffic lights could help direct flow.

GEN MANSOUR AL-TURKI, HAJJ SECURITY CHIEF: Because when you make people stop, the huge crowd, people pushing each other, luggage fall down and then it might create a hazardous situation.

VERJEE: Like this. At the last Hajj, a deadly stampede killed about 350 pilgrims as they were performing a ritual rejection of evil.

It's been here on the Jamarat Bridge where the stampedes happened. To prevent that, the Saudi government has invested $1.5 billion in this huge construction project. They've created two new entry points for pilgrims to enter. They've made the bridge wider and they're creating more levels. All of this to ensure the smooth flow of pilgrims to stone those pillars.

Major General Mansour al-Turki, is watching everything carefully. The nerve center of security's command and control. A state of the art state of the Hajj. Instant images from 1,400 cameras eying Mecca and the ritual sites.

AL-TURKI: Here you look for the crowd density, you look for the flow of crowds, flow of road network.

VERJEE: New software zooms in to inspect. And if there's a problem, it's e-mailed out to a field commander to check out.

AL-TURKI: There are also supported by helicopters. Helicopters provided with cameras which send instant data.

VERJEE: The men in the control room are on alert for any suspicious activity. General Mansour says the Saudis will handle security, but the pilgrims must help with safety.

AL-TURKI: If people insist they want to do it their way, then they put themselves in danger and they put other pilgrims in danger and they put us in a bad situation.

VERJEE: A situation these young men must be prepared to face.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: And, Miles, the Hajj starts on Thursday where the pilgrims will leave the city of Mecca and go out to the desert to start a set of important rituals. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Zain Verjee in Mecca.

Alina.

CHO: Happening in America this morning.

Funeral plans announced for music legend James Brown. Tomorrow fans will get to play tribute at the famed Apollo Theater in New York where Brown's body will lie in repose. On Friday, a private ceremony for family and friends in Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia. Brown died early Christmas Day in Atlanta. He was 73 years old.

A close call for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family and some 300 other passengers on a British Airways jet that overshot a runway at Miami International Airport. No one was hurt and no damage to the plane, but some runway lights were damaged. The Blair family is in Miami on vacation.

And in Colorado, they're getting ready for another winter blast while still digging out from last week's big blizzard. One to two feet of snow and blizzard conditions are expected starting tomorrow. Chad Myers will have the updated forecast coming up. We'll take a look at Denver's airport to see how they're coping to head off another shutdown.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead, a closer look at the presidency of Gerald Ford. He died peacefully at his home last night, but led our country during some very tumultuous times. More on that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There were some tough times, challenging times, but I enjoyed every minute, good or bad. It's a beautiful, beautiful residence and the people there make it so comfortable. And if you enjoy the challenges, I don't think you ever really feel lonesome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Known for his humility, former President Gerald Ford reflecting on his time at the White House. President Ford passed away last night at his home in California. He was 93 years old. The oldest living president. We are awaiting President Bush's statement to the nation from Crawford, Texas. That is at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. We will carry it live right here on CNN.

Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, I guess you could say, thank you, sir, I'll have another. The mile-high city is bracing for its second blizzard in a week. Up to two feet of snow could fall again starting tomorrow. Last week's whiteout crippled Denver International Airport. We told you all about that. It's the so-called all weather airport, but thousands were stranded when the airport had to close for two days leaving some to wonder if DIA can handle another round.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN, (voice over): It was built to handle the tough Rocky Mountain winter, but Denver International Airport did not pass this acid test. When last week's blizzard dumped two feet of snow on the city, DIA was MIA.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People are getting cranky. We were stuck on the flight for eight hours. You know, it was not fun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hoping you can get me to Jacksonville.

O'BRIEN: With snow drifts as high as 12 feet, airport managers had no choice. The airport was shut down. Sixteen hundred flights canceled on Thursday alone. It left some 4,700 air travelers stranded, 3,500 of them spent the night at the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obviously you wonder, are they doing everything they can.

O'BRIEN: Airport officials insist they were doing everything they could, literally moving mountains of snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we did a good job. As good as we could of in a blizzard that essentially paralyzed all of eastern Colorado. We think we handled it pretty well. But we'll look at everything and decide if there's something we should do -- change in the future.

O'BRIEN: Now, with another huge storm gathering and another holiday travel weekend ahead, is Denver's airport ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The forecasts say anything from three inches to, that's best case, up to 20 inches, which is worst case. So you kind of have to deal with it as it comes, but you need to make sure everyone's prepared for the worst case and we'll try to deal with that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: We'll see how they do.

It's quarter past the hour. Chad Myers is sleeping in this morning a little bit because he was up late working on the Anderson Cooper show. We'll give him a little extra hour of sleep. So Bonnie Schneider is in.

Good morning, Bonnie.

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHO: We want to take a closer look now at the legacy of Gerald R. Ford. He served only two and a half years as president, but in that short time he seemed just the right medicine for a nation reeling from scandal and war. CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in for us in Los Angeles. AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken in Washington for us.

Good morning to both of you.

Bill, I want to begin with you.

Ford famously said, "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln." A catchy phrase. But what did he mean by that?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What he meant was that he was a modest man. He wasn't a flashy car like a Lincoln. And he was indeed that. He used to make his own English muffins. He wasn't a complex, deeply controversial figure like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, his two immediate predecessors. And that was meant to be reassuring that Americans could feel comfortable with him.

After his presidency, a historian took that phrase and said about is, well he wasn't a Lincoln, but he was pretty good Ford. That is, he won't shape up as great president on the order of Abraham Lincoln, but he was a pretty good president. And especially a good president for the times.

CHO: Certainly. And let's talk a little bit more about those times, Bob, because in an era where we talk so much about partisan politics, Ford was really a man of the center, wasn't he?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was what they called a main street Republican. A Midwestern Republican. Somebody who was a believer in conciliation with his opponents. He famously had a social relationship with many Democrats. Tip O'Neill, the late house speaker, we one of them.

He came into the presidency as somebody who was going to use this humidity to try and repair the nation. To get rid of the anger and the cynicism that had really started with the civil rights movement through the Vietnam War and then into Watergate. Many people, of course, sadly believed that that anger and cynicism has just grown in the years since the Ford presidency where we have a nation now that is really moved more by confrontation than conciliation.

CHO: And, Bill, Ford had said over the years that he believed his greatest achievement was healing the wounds of Watergate. He, as you know, pardoned President Nixon just a month into office. Really stunned the nation. How much healing did he do?

SCHNEIDER: Well I think, over the long run, Americans do see him as healing president. At the time, the pardon was deeply controversial. It ended his honeymoon after one month in office. He just had a latorent (ph) of criticism and a lot of people would continue to argue that it may have cost him his election to the presidency in 1976.

On the other hand, he calculated, and I think a lot of people think he was right about this, that the idea of putting a former president through a criminal trial, putting the country through a criminal trial, would have just intensified the bitterness, the cynicism. It was too much for the country after the deep divisions of Watergate and the Vietnam War. Remember, the Vietnam War ended on his watch, too. In April of 1975. Miga's (ph) incident was the last battle a month later. In both respects, I think he was seen by Americans as a healer.

FRANKEN: But during his presidency, Alina, we also had a nation that really sunk deep into economic distress. And he came up with something that was quite widely ridiculed. In effect a voluntary program called whip inflation, now win (ph). Well, he lost the next presidential election.

CHO: That's right. Inflation was at 12 percent at the time.

And Bob and Bill both, if you could, talk a little bit about -- he that he believed modern politicians were more interested in being superstars than heroes. He really wanted to be a hero. And he lived by those words, didn't he, Bill?

FRANKEN: Well, he wanted -- I'm sorry, Bill, go ahead.

SCHNEIDER: Go ahead, Bob.

FRANKEN: Well I was just going to say, he tried to bring in this culture of humility, of ordinary man into the White House and probably succeeded better than he wanted to. He became the butt of many jokes. Probably made the career of comedian Chevy Chase, who would satirize him as being a stumble bum. Since then, however, the presidency has reverted to the imperial presidency he was trying to turn around.

CHO: That's right.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. When he was president, he had to confront a very aggressive Congress. After the 1974 midterms, the Democrats had won a tremendous majority in Congress because of Watergate and they were very eager to challenge the power of the president. Ford defended it as best he could, but in the end, you know, he had to issue an awful lot of vetoes and that limited his ability to legislate, to really accumulate a distinguished record as president. But don't forget, while he lost the 1976 election, he really surged at the end and very nearly won. I think he got 49 percent of the vote.

CHO: That's right, he did.

Bill Schneider in Los Angeles for us, Bob Franken in Washington, we thank you both.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, east meets west. Why is Ford Motor talking to Toyota? Could these rivals be cooking up some sort of alliance? Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business."

And more on the death of Gerald Ford. We'll hear from President Bush later and a live report from Ford's California home coming up shortly, all ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were there 28 and a half years and we enjoyed it. It was a great honor. And I urge other young people to get into politics. It's an honorable profession and we need good people, men and women, who will serve in public office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The words of former President Gerald Ford dead this morning at the age of 93. Ford passed away at his California home last night. Details of his state funeral still being worked out. President Bush expected to address the nation on Ford's death in the 8:00 Eastern hour. We'll have it for you.

Alina.

CHO: All right. We'll be continuing to follow that story this morning.

In the meantime, we're going to take a look at some business news this morning. Top auto executives are meeting and it has a lot of other people talking. It is about 25 minutes after the hour and it's time now for Ali Velshi. He's "Minding Your Business."

So talk of a possible deal, Ali, huh?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Alina.

This is another Ford we're talking about. This is the Ford Motor Company. There are rumors swirling about a conversation between Ford's CEO, Alan Mulally, and the chairman of Toyota, which happened in Tokyo last week. Now both Toyota and Ford are downplaying the importance of the talks. We spoke to Ford and they say we meet regularly with other automakers on a variety of topics of mutual interest and we don't comment on what we talk about.

Folks who follow the industry say a deal -- at least a deal anytime soon is unlikely. Toyota doesn't need a headache. It is set to become the world's biggest automaker this year. Something that GM has held since 1931. Its also been a very rough year, as you know, for U.S. automakers. Ford started the year, about a year ago, laying off about 30,000 workers, offering buyouts to a lot of others. So we'll keep check on that story.

GM, meanwhile, is saying that the proposed changes to the fuel economy standards that are underway right now are going to hurt the American automakers a great deal. You'll remember back in the '70s it was those fuel economy standards that the Japanese responded to. High fuel prices. They made smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Americans continue to make the big cars. Well, Bob Lutz from GM is saying, if you make American car makers do that, we won't be selling the cars that Americans want to buy because Americans still want to buy big cars, according to GM. I'll be following both of these stories, Miles, and I'll be back in half an hour with some other stories on stock options.

O'BRIEN: Ali Velshi, thank you very much.

A quick look ahead at the stories we're following for you.

Soul legend James Brown gets one last moment in the world famous theater where he kicked off a music revolution.

The passing of a president who helped the nation heal after a constitutional crisis. A look at the tributes to the late Gerald Ford.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The man who helped end a national nightmare is dead. President Gerald Ford died last night in Rancho Mirage, California, at his home. Details on his funerals in Michigan and Washington due soon, as are remarks from President Bush, as we remember President Ford's life and career on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back to you, Wednesday, December 27th.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Alina Cho, in for Soledad this morning.

Thanks for joining us.

O'BRIEN: Gerald Ford's family is reviewing plans for his funerals in Washington and his home state of Michigan. The nation's longest-living president died last night at the age of 93.

President Ford took office during a time of great trauma, stepping in after Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal. This morning, the White House flag is at half-staff. President Bush expected to make a statement from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, at 800 a.m. Eastern Time. You'll see it here.

President Ford is survived by his wife of 58 years, Betty, four children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Full coverage ahead of Gerald Ford's life, death and career.

Ted Rowlands is at the Ford family home in Rancho Mirage, California. Elaine Quijano with the president in Crawford.

Let's begin with Ted.

Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

According to a family statement, the former president died at 6:45 Pacific Time last night peacefully in his home here in Rancho Mirage, California. A few hours after his death, the former first lady informed the world by releasing this statement, saying, "My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age. His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

Gerald Ford's health had been deteriorating over the last few years. This year alone he had two significant stays in hospitals here in Rancho Mirage, and also in Rochester, Minnesota, at the Mayo Clinic, where he had a heart procedure taken care of.

As you mentioned, he leaves behind four children, three sons and a daughter, and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Right now or soon the family will be putting the final preparations, or at least they will be deciding on what will happen over the next few weeks here, or next few days and then weeks in terms of what will take place.

He will lie in repose in three spots here in Rancho Mirage, California, in Washington, D.C., and also in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There will be funerals in both Washington, D.C., and in Grand Rapids, and he will eventually be laid to rest in Grand Rapids.

After the presidency, Gerald Ford and Betty Ford really spent most of their time here in the desert of California. They took up residence here. Betty Ford started her famous clinic here which has provided so much help, and together they started that and were really pioneers here, and they are a real part of this community.

So he will lie in repose here to give the folks that have gotten know the family. They were fairly private, but 20-plus years living in a town like this, you pretty much are seen and you get to know everybody. And we expect today a huge outpouring from the local community here in Rancho Mirage -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Ted Rowlands in Rancho Mirage.

Thank you -- Alina.

CHO: Late last night, President Bush spoke to former first lady Betty Ford to offer his condolences.

Elaine Quijano live in Crawford, where as we said we're expecting to see the president in just about 90 minutes from now.

Elaine, good morning.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alina. That's right, just before 10:30 Eastern last night is when President Ford's chief of staff called Josh Bolten, President Bush's chief of staff, to notify him of President Ford's passing. It was then just before 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time that Josh Bolten, who is not here in Crawford, then phoned President Bush to notify him, and in turn President Bush expressed his personal condolences to Betty Ford in that phone call.

Now, he also expressed his sadness and his sympathies in a written statement, saying that Gerald Ford, in his words, assumed the presidency in an hour of national turmoil and division and saying, "With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency. The American people will always admire Gerald Ford's devotion to duty, his personal character, and the honorable conduct of his administration."

Now, as you mentioned, President Bush is set to make a statement from his ranch in Crawford around 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And last night, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel reiterated that the Ford family is of course making arrangements for memorial services, but also saying that President Bush does plan to attend the funeral -- Alina.

CHO: And we expect to hear more about those funeral arrangements in the coming hours.

Elaine Quijano in Crawford for us this morning.

Elaine, thank you.

O'BRIEN: Also happening this morning, funeral plans announced for music legend James Brown. Tomorrow fans will get to play tribute at the famed Apollo Theater in New York, where Brown's body will lie in repose. On Friday, a private ceremony for family and friends in Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia.

Brown died early Christmas Day in Atlanta. He was 73.

A close call for British prime minister Tony Blair and his family. The British Airways 747 they and about 340 others were on overshot a runway at Miami International Airport last night. No one was hurt. Some runway lights were damaged. The Blair family is in south Florida on vacation.

In Colorado, they are getting ready for another winter blast while digging out from last week's blizzard. One to two feet of snow and blizzard conditions are expected starting tomorrow. An updated forecast is coming up very shortly.

CHO: Developing news oversea this is morning. Ethiopian soldiers fighting Islamic rebels with al Qaeda ties in Somalia. The United Nations envoy calling for the Security Council to take action. We'll have a live report just ahead.

And continuing coverage of our top story. President Gerald Ford dead at the age of 93. Live reports from California and Crawford, and CNN's Jeff Greenfield will offer his perspective on the president's place in history.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I got through Michigan, I was offered opportunities at the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, but I had a chance to go to Yale as an assistant football coach and go to law school at the same time. So that opportunity was so wonderful, I couldn't turn down the chance to further my education and earn some money in the meantime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Interesting fork in the road there.

Former president Gerald Ford talking about the decision that drew him closer to the sport of politics.

Mr. Ford died last night at his home in California at the age of 93. President Bush is expected to address the country on Ford's death in a little more than an hour. You'll see it here.

CHO: New developments now from that escalating conflict between Ethiopia and rebels in Somalia. Ethiopian troops advancing toward Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, overnight. They are looking to stop Islamic forces who oppose Somalia's western-backed government.

CNN's Africa correspondent, Jeff Koinange, has more for us.

Jeff, good morning.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Alina.

And it seems like deja vu all over again. The two warring nations of Somalia and Ethiopia which form part of what's known as the Horn of Africa are at it again for the second time in as many decades.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOINANGE (voice over): This may be the most iconic image the world has of Somalia: a U.S. military Black Hawk helicopter shot down in the capital, Mogadishu, followed by scenes of U.S. servicemen being dragged down the streets by angry Somalis. It led the U.S. to withdraw from the country more than a dozen years ago, and the world pretty much forgot about Somalia until now.

Somalia is back in the headlines fighting what can only be described as a confusing war. Ragtag bandits patrolling the streets of the capital in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft artillery. The country actually has a government, but it has been holed up in the town of Baidoa in the east, unable to govern and unwelcome in the capital, Mogadishu.

Mogadishu is controlled by the Islamic Courts Union, or ICU. Their goal, to create a Taliban-style government with strict rules on everything from dress to doctrine. Their ultimate objective, establishing strict Islamic law.

Experts say the Islamists are funded from various sources including, perhaps, al Qaeda. They control large swathes of Somalia and succeeded in recent weeks in slowly choking the government into submission.

Enter Ethiopia, home to one of the world's oldest Christian traditions but also many Muslims. It views the Islamists as a threat.

It stepped into the fight to help the Somalia government drive out the Islamists, and this is where things get complicated. Ethiopia has the full backing of the U.S., part of the war on terror. Ethiopia right now has the upper hand, with more troops, more experience, and superior air power. But the Islamists vow to fight for as long as it takes.

The last time these two nations fought each other was during the 1970s and '80s over a tiny strip of desert known as the Ogaden. It lasted more than 10 years.

The big fear now, this war could become an all-out regional conflict, not about land but about religion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOINANGE: And Alina, the latest wire reports say forces are about 80 miles outside the capital, Mogadishu. The question is, what happens when they do get to the capital? Do they become an occupying force, and for how long?

CHO: Jeff Koinange for us this morning.

Jeff, thank you.

O'BRIEN: Coming up on quarter of the hour. Bonnie Schneider in for Chad for the first hour this morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Up next, a look back at Gerald Ford's career, one of the greatest of the greatest generation. He was a man of the public center who sparred with Democrats and then had a beer with them later.

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Gerald Ford is the only president to sit in the Oval Office who never won a national election. He took the reigns of power in the midst of a constitutional crisis. His candor and his confidence just the tonic we needed, but his presidency was marred by missteps, literally and figuratively.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer looks back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FORD: My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With that simple declaration, Gerald R. Ford began his presidency with one overriding theme: a return to honesty in government.

FORD: I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy.

BLITZER: But only a month into office the nation's only unelected president stunned the country by issuing a blanket pardon to Richard Nixon, saying it was time to put Watergate permanently behind the nation.

FORD: A full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon.

Some people never have nor will they ever forgive me for pardoning Mr. Nixon. Again, I repeat I thought it was right and I believe it today even more so.

BLITZER: Gerald Ford was no stranger to the limelight. He was a very good football player at the University of Michigan and came home after World War II the perfect candidate.

He was elected to the House of Representatives one month after marrying the former Betty Warren. Once in Congress, Mr. Ford was very much of his era, slowly inching up the Republican leadership ladder until he game GOP leader. But his era was different. Democrats and Republicans actually got along.

FORD: For example, Tip O'Neill and I were strong adversaries, and we used to debate on the floor of the House many times because of his job and my job. But when we were through we would go out and have a beer together.

BLITZER: His presidency was brief, only 29 months. And remarkably, there were two assassination attempts in one year, 1975. Sarah Jane Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme were both caught and jailed.

By the time he ran for presidency on his own, it was an uphill fight. Inflation was high. He was up against a little known southern governor, but he helped sink his own cause against Jimmy Carter with a single remark from their debate.

FORD: I don't believe that the polls consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. BLITZER: In a tight election it might well have made a difference. He did lose, of course, to Mr. Carter, who was gracious at the inaugural.

JAMES CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.

BLITZER: After that defeat, Mr. Ford certainly did not avoid attention. But as he aged, he kept largely out of the public eye. Even late in life, however, at age 90, he prided himself on his health and conditioning.

FORD: I do take pretty good care of myself. I still swim four laps a day, two laps in the morning and two at night. I still do some setting up exercises. I don't walk as much as I used to, but I've had two total knee joint replacements, so the old legs aren't there the way they were 40 years ago.

BLITZER: And he never looked back. Proud and satisfied at what he accomplished in a very brief time in the Oval Office.

Wolf Blitzer, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: We'll have much more on death of former President Ford throughout the morning. And be sure to catch a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight on Mr. Ford's life and career. "LARRY KING LIVE," 9:00 Eastern, here on CNN.

CHO: We'll be watching.

And still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, one of the country's largest health insurers called in for a mandatory checkup. The government taking a close look at UnitedHealth.

And a stock options error that could cost a billion bucks to fix. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business."

And a good-bye for the fans. A memorial service set for legendary singer James Brown.

We'll have that and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Welcome back on this Wednesday edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

What took them so long? The SEC finally getting serious with UnitedHealth.

It's 55 minutes after the hour. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" this morning.

So, Ali, what's this all about? ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alina, you know, the good people at the SEC are a bit understaffed. It always takes them a while to get there, but you kind of knew this one was coming.

The SEC announcing now that it is formally investigating UnitedHealth. Now, if you look in your wallet there's a good chance you've got a UnitedHealth card, because it's the second largest health insurer in the country.

You might remember some time ago it was sort of central to the whole options backdating scheme. William McGuire, the former CEO, apparently was granted auctions at either the lowest price or pretty much close to the lowest price for several years in a row.

Hmm. The kind of guy you want to go to Vegas with.

UnitedHealth's own investigation said it found errors that are going to cost $400 million to up to $1.7 billion to fix. So you know that this investigation is going to lead to something.

The company is also going to have to restate its earnings back to 1994. So when you're -- if you're an investor and you're wondering why you care about this options scandal, it's because it's going to hurt the stock of these companies. More than 130 companies are being investigated right now by the SEC for options backdating.

Now, there's a company that seems to be doing the right thing. The world's largest meat producer, Tyson's Foods, is announcing that because it missed earnings targets last year, its senior executives are going to have to forego about $5 million in bonuses.

Not that these guys' salaries are shabby. The top three folks over at Tyson's make more than $1 million a year in salary. But the bonuses are a big part of compensation. I'm going to be talking about that later on. And these guys are not getting it because of the fact that their earnings weren't on target -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Ali Velshi.

We're coming up on the top of the hour now. Let's take a moment to see how some of today's papers are covering the death of President Ford.

The headline from the "Omaha World-Herald," "President R. Gerald Ford Dies at 93." Straightforward.

Ford was born Leslie King in Omaha on July 14, 1913. He then moved to Michigan when his parents divorced about a year later and took his stepfather's name.

CHO: That's right. Mr. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That's where his mother was from. The headline from the paper there, "The Grand Rapids Press," "He Saved a Nation," of course referring to healing the wounds of Watergate.

Ford's museum is in Grand Rapids. His library is in Ann Arbor. But the plan for now is for him to be buried in the courtyard of that museum.

O'BRIEN: And I think historians would probably say that was not -- that's not an overstatement, that headline.

The headlines from "The Washington Post" this morning, "Gerald R. Ford, 93, Dies," "Led in Watergate's Wake." Of course referring to the presidency after Nixon resigned.

Before becoming president, Ford served 25 years as a congressman from Michigan. He rose to be minority leader. The nation's only unelected vice president and president.

And sharing the byline in the story today, you may note, is Lou Cannon, the famous biographer of Ronald Reagan. The role of a lifetime, of course, you know about. And, of course, noted political reporter of that era.

That's a good read. If you want to read one particular piece on Gerald Ford this morning, I would recommend that one to you.

CHO: Absolutely. You will learn everything you need to know about Gerald Ford in that one article.

Moving on to the "L.A. Times," "Gerald Ford Dies at 93," of course, the headline there. As many of you know, he spent his later years in Rancho Mirage. That's about 130 miles east of L.A. in the desert there.

Moved there with his family after he lost the election. And of course we remember Gerald Ford later on in life, those famous pictures of him playing golf. He was an athlete. Played football, was an avid skier, played tennis and, of course, played a lot of golf, which many presidents do.

O'BRIEN: One slip on the steps in Salzburg, Austria, and he became fodder for comedians for being clumsy.

CHO: That's right.

O'BRIEN: And he was a great athlete.

CHO: Made Chevy Chase's career, but he was. He was an incredible athlete.

O'BRIEN: Let's get a check of the weather before the top of the hour.

(WEATHER REPORT)

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