Benton Becker, who acted as the liaison between President Gerald Ford and his predecessor, Richard Nixon, during the delicate negotiations that led to Ford’s pardon of Nixon in September 1974, died Aug. 2 at his home in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was 77.

The cause was liver cancer, said a son, Brian Becker.

Becker was perhaps an unlikely choice to carry out such a high-level mission during one of the most sensitive moments in presidential history. He was 36 at the time and had been a lawyer for less than 10 years.

A onetime federal prosecutor, Becker came to know Ford while working on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee in the late 1960s, when Ford was a congressman from Michigan. After Ford was named vice president in 1973, Becker became an unpaid adviser, working alongside White House counsel Philip Buchen. Ford became president on Aug. 9, 1974, after Nixon’s resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Soon afterward, Ford and Buchen asked Becker to investigate the constitutional authority of issuing a presidential pardon to the disgraced Nixon. Becker concluded that the president had such prerogative, even if Nixon had not been charged with a crime.

Rightly or not, Ford believed a pardon would save the country from unnecessary political bloodletting. Becker became his personal emissary to Nixon and his representatives.

In early September 1974, Becker flew to Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California, with a draft of the pardon in his briefcase. One of Ford’s demands, Becker told author and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, was that Nixon admit guilt in the Watergate affair.

“You’ll never get it,” said Nixon’s onetime chief of staff, Alexander Haig, who was present at the meeting.

In California, Becker negotiated primarily with Nixon’s lawyer, Herbert J. Miller, and with Ronald Ziegler, Nixon’s former press secretary. The first draft of Nixon’s statement, written by Ziegler, said in its entirety, “In accordance with the law, I accept this pardon.”

Becker turned it down, according to published reports, requesting that the statement show more contrition. In the end, a compromise was worked out, with Nixon saying he was “wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.”

Another point of contention arose over Nixon’s White House tapes and papers. In the past, they were considered the property of the president, but Becker recommended that the records be stored in a government archive.

He later said in interviews that Nixon’s staff had tried to destroy thousands of documents. Becker personally stepped in to prevent a truck from hauling boxes of materials from the White House. He helped arrange an agreement to have Nixon’s papers maintained by the General Services Administration. (After decades of lawsuits, they are now in the National Archives.)

On Sept. 8, 1974, Ford issued a pardon for any crimes Nixon may have committed as president. The surprising and controversial decision led to widespread criticism, and Ford’s press secretary, Jerald terHorst, resigned in protest.

Becker was immediately pushed into an unwelcome public spotlight. Time magazine called him a “dubious choice” for such a sensitive assignment when it was learned that, while shuttling between the White House and San Clemente, Becker was under investigation by the Justice Department for tax evasion.

One of his clients in a stock-fraud case charged that Becker had asked him to give false testimony in court, which Becker denied. In the end, Becker was never charged.

In a memorandum written soon after Ford’s pardon, Becker described his encounters with Nixon and his staff in vivid detail.

Becker said he packed so hastily when leaving Washington that he forgot his cuff links and was negotiating the pardon of the president with his sleeves held together with paper clips.

“Ziegler commented to me,” Becker wrote, “that it must be difficult to make a decent living in Washington as it was obvious I could not afford a pair of cuff links.”

Benton Lee Becker was born Feb. 22, 1938, in Washington. His father sold insurance.

He graduated from the District of Columbia’s Coolidge High School in 1956, from the University of Maryland in 1960 and received a law degree from American University in 1966.

While working for the Justice Department in the late 1960s, Becker helped prosecute U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, D-N.Y., for corruption and took part in a flag-burning case against radical provocateur Abbie Hoffman. He entered private practice in 1969.

Becker moved to Florida in 1977 to teach at the University of Miami, then worked as a special counsel in the state attorney’s office of future U.S. attorney general Janet Reno. He had a private practice in Coral Gables, Florida, from 1983 to 2012.

Survivors include his wife of 51 years, Joanne Silberberg Becker of Boynton Beach, three children, a brother and eight grandchildren.

In his 1974 memo, Becker recalled his first meeting with Nixon in San Clemente.

“I was shocked,” he wrote. Nixon, who was 61, was thin and frail and “appeared to demonstrate a sense of nervousness or almost fright at meeting me.

“He was old … Had I never known of the man before and met him for the first time, I would have estimated his age to be 85.”