Wil­liam Saxbe

US at­tor­ney gen­eral who called Nixon’s ad­min­is­tra­tion ‘one of the most in­ept in his­tory’

The Scotsman - - Obituaries -

Wil­liam B Saxbe, politician and lawyer. Born: 24 June, 1916, in Ohio. died: 21 au­gust, 2010, in Me­chan­ics­burg, Ohio, aged 94.

WIl­lIaM Saxbe was a for­mer United States sen­a­tor from ohio who was ap­pointed as Pres­i­dent Richard nixon’s fourth at­tor­ney gen­eral af­ter the in­fa­mous “Satur­day night Mas­sacre”.

Saxbe was an un­likely pick for at­tor­ney gen­eral, a one-term Repub­li­can sen­a­tor who had fre­quently crit­i­cised nixon, at one time say­ing that the pres­i­dent had “lost his senses” with his de­ci­sion to bomb north Viet­namese cities.

But Saxbe went on to han­dle the del­i­cate Water­gate con­tro­versy that led to nixon’s res­ig­na­tion and over­see an im­por­tant an­titrust suit that ul­ti­mately broke the Bell Sys­tem tele­phone com­pany’s mo­nop­oly in the US.

Saxbe took over as at­tor­ney gen­eral in early Jan­uary 1974, when the nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion was con­sumed by cri­sis. nixon’s first at­tor­ney gen­eral, John Mitchell, was ac­cused and later con­victed of crimes re­lat­ing to Water­gate.

His sec­ond, Richard Klein­di­enst, re­signed and later pleaded guilty in a pe­riph­eral mat­ter. The third, El­liot Richardson, re­signed from of­fice on that fate­ful Satur­day night, 20 oc­to­ber, 1973, when he re­fused to fol­low nixon’s or­der to fire the Water­gate spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor, archibald Cox, who had just sub­poe­naed the pres­i­dent, seek­ing taped con­ver­sa­tions.

When Richardson re­fused the or­der, the pres­i­dent gave the or­der to the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, who also re­fused and re­signed in protest. The next per­son in line, the so­lic­i­tor gen­eral, Robert Bork, com­plied with the pres­i­dent’s or­der, fir­ing Cox.

ac­cord­ing to his chief of staff, alexan­der Haig Jr, the pres­i­dent was des­per­ate for a re­place­ment whose nom­i­na­tion would go smoothly, and he even­tu­ally set­tled on Saxbe. an out­spo­ken, to­bacco-chew­ing sen­a­tor, Saxbe was known to go against his own party when it suited him, in­clud­ing ridi­cul­ing the nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion sev­eral times, call­ing it “one of the most in­ept” in his­tory.

Eleven days af­ter the “mas­sacre,” Saxbe drove up to the front of the White House in his Cadil­lac con­vert­ible – a pack of chew­ing to­bacco on the pas­sen­ger seat and his wa­ter­fowl shot­gun in the trunk – for a meet­ing with the pres­i­dent.

“nixon was so friendly I thought he was go­ing to hug me,” Saxbe said in his 2000 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, I’ve Seen the Ele­phant. “Some of his ad­vis­ers thought I shouldn’t be nom­i­nated be­cause of re­marks the ad­min­is­tra­tion found abra­sive. ‘Mr Pres­i­dent, I am afraid you will have to take me, warts and all,’ I said.”

When the Se­nate voted in De­cem­ber, it took less than 20 min­utes to con­firm Saxbe’s nom­i­na­tion, with only ten sen­a­tors op­pos­ing it.

For the most part, Saxbe’s re­la­tion­ship with nixon was am­i­ca­ble in the months be­fore the pres­i­dent’s res­ig­na­tion in 1974. But Saxbe would later rail against the pres­i­dent for “wreck­ing” the Repub­li­can Party, and he claimed he never for­gave him for his lies.

as at­tor­ney gen­eral, Saxbe’s out­spo­ken­ness would get him into trou­ble on more than one oc­ca­sion, in­clud­ing when he pub­licly re­ferred to Pa­tri­cia Hearst – the news­pa­per heiress kid­napped by the Sym­bionese lib­er­a­tion army – as a “com­mon crim­i­nal” for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a bank rob­bery led by the group. Saxbe was crit­i­cised for de­fy­ing the le­gal code of con­duct be­cause Hearst had not been charged with a crime at the time.

Saxbe re­paired some of the dam­age to his im­age with a 1974 an­titrust law­suit that even­tu­ally dis­man­tled the amer­i­can Tele­phone and Tele­graph Com­pany into six com­pa­nies.

af­ter Ger­ald Ford be­came pres­i­dent, Saxbe con­tin­ued as at­tor­ney gen­eral for sev­eral months be­fore step­ping down in early 1975, when he was ap­pointed am­bas­sador to In­dia. He served un­til 1977, be­fore re­turn­ing to his home­town, Me­chan­ics­burg, to go into pri­vate law.

Wil­liam Bart Saxbe be­gan his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer while still in law school, win­ning a seat in the ohio House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 1946. In 1953, he be­came speaker of the ohio House, then moved on to the ohio at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and even­tu­ally, in 1968, the United States Se­nate.

He met his wife, ar­dath Saxbe, known as Dolly, while the two were col­lege stu­dents. He re­called in his book that their re­la­tion­ship blos­somed af­ter he Saxbe made a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally bold state­ment.

“on our way to class asked her, ‘Do you like to neck?’ and she said ‘Yea.’ I’ll never for­get it: I kissed her right in the mid­dle of the oval, the big com­mon in the cen­ter of the cam­pus.”

Wil­liam Saxbe is sur­vived by his wife, two sons, a daugher, nine grand­chil­dren and four great-grand­chil­dren.

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