"I looked upon him as my personal friend. And I always treasured our relationship. And I had no hesitancy about granting the pardon, because I felt that we had this relationship and that I didn't want to see my real friend have the stigma" of standing trial, Ford told Post reporter Bob Woodward.
Ford's remarks, which he asked not be released until his death, add to the rationale for pardoning Nixon a month after he resigned as president in 1974. Ford had claimed that he issued the pardon to allow the nation to move past Watergate and begin a time of healing, not for personal reasons.
Nixon and Ford had been acquainted since the late 1940s, but the depth of their friendship was not widely known. Nixon confided in Ford and sought his help during the Watergate crisis when Ford was House minority leader, the Post reported.
"I think that Nixon felt I was about the only person he could really trust on the Hill," Ford told Woodward. He also called himself Nixon's "only real friend."
"Anytime you want me to do anything, under any circumstances, you give me a call, Mr. President," Ford told Nixon during a May 1, 1973, telephone call, in which the embattled president told the Michigan congressman he was being abandoned by fair-weather friends on Capitol Hill.
That was the day after Nixon had announced the resignation of two top aides, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, the Post reports. The Nixon administration was unraveling.
Woodward played a copy of the White House recording of that conversation for Ford during the 2005 interview. Although the existence of the White House tapes had been known since 1973, Woodward reports Ford seemed stunned that that conversation was among them, but said he remembered it "vividly."