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Ford To Gingrich: Tone It Down

Former President Ford says House Speaker Newt Gingrich should curb partisan attacks on the White House and predicts the Republican Party will lose the next presidential election unless it reins in its "extreme right."

Mr. Ford also spoke Monday about a special court exemption for Secret Service agents who protect the president, saying they should be permitted to testify about criminal allegations, but not in civil suits.

Gingrich intensified verbal attacks against President Clinton and his administration this spring, accusing the Democrats of "lawbreaking."

Mr. Ford, who was a Republican House member for 24 years and served as House minority leader, said he believes Gingrich should leave "partisan attacks" to others.

"One thing that speakers have to understand is that the speaker is speaker for the House...434 members of both parties" in addition to himself, the former president said.

"He doesn't speak as a partisan," Mr. Ford said. "He speaks for all members of the House. You have to keep that high-level attitude and let the partisan attacks come from your majority leader.

"The speaker is better advised to stand back," Mr. Ford said.

He spoke at the National Press Club after presenting a pair of journalism awards.

Looking at the wider political picture, Mr. Ford said he believes that if "extreme-right" partisans within the GOP control the party's policies and dictate its choice of a presidential candidate for the 2000 elections, the party will lose at the polls.

Mr. Ford, who survived two attempts on his life as president, said he believes "Secret Service agents have a responsibility to testify in criminal matters, including those which may involve the president and his associates."

But he drew a distinction between criminal and civil testimony by agents, saying, "I do not think there is a comparable responsibility to testify on civil actions."

Mr. Ford did not comment on Secret Service claims that the possibility of having to testify at all would cause presidents to keep agents out of earshot, thus making assassination attempts more feasible.

Mr. Ford, who turns 85 on July 14, was named vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973. He became president in 1974 when Mr. Nixon resigned during the Watergate scandal.

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