SACRAMENTO, Calif. – President Gerald Ford recalled seeing a hand holding a large handgun slipping through a crowd at the California statehouse in 1975 before a Secret Service agent lunged at Charles Manson disciple Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, according to a 38-year-old videotape released Monday.
The former president calmly and carefully recalled the attempted assassination in the videotaped testimony that would later be used in Fromme's trial. The roughly 20-minute interview taped in Washington was released by a federal court as the result of a motion filed by a local historical group.
In it, Ford gestures gently with his hands and sips water as he answers questions from a lawyer about what began as a routine morning in September 1975, before Fromme pushed through a crowd on the street, drew a semi-automatic pistol and pointed it at Ford.
The gun wasn't fired, and Ford wasn't hurt.
In the taped testimony posted online by The Sacramento Bee (http://bit.ly/178GA1E ), Ford recalls seeing a "weathered" woman in a brightly colored dress as he walked toward the building, where he planned to meet with the governor.
She "appeared to want to either shake hands or speak, or at least wanted to get closer to me," Ford says.
He then saw a large gun coming through the crowd of well-wishers. But when asked if he saw the face of who was holding it, he answered, "No, I did not."
The gun was about 2 feet away from him, Ford said.
"It was simply the hand with the weapon in it, at a height between my knee and my waist, approximately," Ford said. He then described a frantic moment when a security agent seized the suspect and Ford was rushed away.
Fromme was sentenced under a law covering assaults on U.S. presidents. She was released from prison in 2009.
The tape, which represents a historical footnote in the widely publicized case, was released as a result of a motion filed by the Eastern District Historical Society, a nonprofit that seeks to preserve the history of the federal court based in Sacramento.
The case was the first in history featuring oral testimony from a sitting president in a criminal trial.
Fromme was a college student before joining Manson's "family," where she reportedly got her nickname because of her voice. She was never implicated in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and eight others, for which Manson is serving a life term in California.
Ford died at his Southern California home on Dec. 26, 2006. He was 93.