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Book: Ford feared Cheney was GOP liability, called Clinton sex addict

  • Story Highlights
  • Late president's talks with reporter to be published in "Write It When I'm Gone"
  • Gerald Ford called Cheney a liability for 2004 ticket, preferred Giuliani
  • Ford said Bill Clinton was sex addict, believed Hillary Clinton "stronger"
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From Ed Henry
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former President Gerald Ford suggested to a reporter in 2004 that Vice President Dick Cheney should be dumped from the Republican ticket, according to a new book to be published Tuesday.

Presidents Clinton and Ford mark the 200th anniversary of the White House with Hillary Clinton in November 2000.

Ford preferred former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani because he feared Cheney had become a "liability" to President Bush, according to the book's author.

CNN obtained an advance copy of "Write It When I'm Gone," and interviewed author Thomas DeFrank.

Ford privately gave New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton high marks, saying she was "tougher and stronger" than her husband, who Ford said he had mixed feelings about, DeFrank said.

While Ford thought Bill Clinton was the best pure politician he had ever seen, he felt Clinton needed therapy for sex addiction.

"He thought Bill Clinton had a serious addiction here and he needed help," DeFrank told CNN. "And Jerry Ford didn't have a vengeful bone in his body. I think his comments about the addiction business were heartfelt on his part."

In 1991, Ford began a series of off-the-record conversations with DeFrank. The reporter had gained Ford's trust when he worked for Newsweek magazine covering Ford as vice president and president.

DeFrank, now the Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News, said Ford spoke to him on the condition that the conversations be kept secret until after the former president's death, which came in late 2006.

Cheney served as chief of staff in the Ford White House. Bush's former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, also was defense secretary in the Ford administration.

"Gerald Ford always thought that Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were his favorite proteges," DeFrank said. "He always kind of felt like he raised them as pups. But in 2004, President Ford said to me that he was fearful that Cheney would be a liability on the ticket."

Ford revealed that people within the Republican party had called him inquiring if there was a move afoot to dump Cheney from the ticket.

"Ford said to me, 'And they asked me the question in a way that makes it sound like they want me to help make that happen, which I'm not gonna do,'" DeFrank recalled Ford telling him.

"Ford loved Dick Cheney till the day he died. He loved Dick Cheney. And he was not going to be part of a cabal to get rid of Cheney."

But when DeFrank asked Ford if he believed Cheney had become a liability, the former President said yes and suggested Giuliani as a possible replacement. "He did say, 'I'm apprehensive as to Cheney's value to the ticket in 2004,'" DeFrank said.

A spokeswoman for Cheney had no immediate reaction to the new book when reached by CNN.

Before his death, Ford also expressed his opinion that Giuliani would be the GOP's strongest presidential candidate in 2008.

"He said at one point that if the Republicans wanted to win and stop Hillary Clinton, Giuliani would be their best bet," said DeFrank.

Ford also speculated about the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming the nation's first female president and expressed admiration about her credentials, though he disagreed with her on many issues.

"He also said once, 'She's tougher and stronger than her husband. She's got stronger convictions. And when she gets her back up, he defers to her, and she's not gonna roll over,'" DeFrank said.

"He was very admiring of her political skills. He was not very admiring of her political philosophy. He thought she was 'an old-fashioned liberal with unbounded ambition,' was the way he put it. But he thought she was a very competent politician."

Ford was much more conflicted about Bill Clinton, according to DeFrank.

"He once said to me, 'I called my old friends in Washington and said: Don't underestimate this guy. He can sell three-day-old ice; he's that good,'" DeFrank said of Ford. "He thought Bill Clinton was the best pure politician he'd ever been around. But he also had serious reservations about Bill Clinton's personal side."

Based on his wife's own battle with addictions and her work at the Betty Ford Clinic, the former Republican president "saw a dark side to President Clinton" and believed he needed therapy for an addiction to sex, according to DeFrank.

"He was not trashing and bashing Bill Clinton," said DeFrank. "I think his comments about the addiction business were heartfelt on his part. I think he had lived with a woman who had severe addiction to prescription drugs and to alcohol and he had seen addiction up close, and I think that's what really motivated him."

A spokesman for Bill Clinton did not immediately respond to a CNN e-mail seeking comment on the book.

DeFrank told CNN he knows he will face some criticism for keeping these conversations secret for so long. He says it weighed on his conscience that he may have been used by Ford to spin his own view of history.

"It's a very fair question," said DeFrank. "All journalists know that we every day make agreements with sources to protect them in exchange for information. When you accept something like that you may be used or spun, but it's part of the business."

DeFrank said Ford never would have cooperated if his comments were published in his lifetime, so the author believes history is richer for having these insights now out in the public record.

In another embargoed 2004 interview reported shortly after Ford's death, Ford told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward that Bush and his chief advisers -- Cheney and Rumsfeld -- "made a big mistake" with their justifications for the Iraq war. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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