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