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Ex-Attorney General for Nixon Dies

February 3, 2000

PHOENIX (AP) _ Richard Kleindienst, who served as U.S. attorney general during the Nixon administration and pleaded to a misdemeanor in a case related to the Watergate scandal, died Thursday. He was 76.

Kleindienst died about 1:30 a.m., said Fred Wakelin, owner of the Arizona Ruffner Wakelin Funeral Home in Prescott, where Kleindienst had lived.

Kleindienst’s wife, Margaret Dunbar Kleindienst, said he died of lung cancer at his home. He had been battling the disease for 4 1/2 years.

``We’re very proud of what he’s done in life. Those things help us,″ said Mrs. Kleindienst.

Kleindienst assisted with Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1968, then stayed on as deputy attorney general, eventually replacing Attorney General John Mitchell, who left in 1972 to head the Committee to Re-elect the President _ the organization at the heart of Watergate.

Nixon described Kleindienst as ``a man strong in character who is at his best when the going is toughest.″

Kleindienst was sworn in as attorney general in June 1972. Referring to his critics, he told Newsweek magazine that, ``I want to have a strong program in favor of civil rights to answer the cynics. I want vigorous antitrust enforcement to reduce the attitude that big corporations can get special favors. I want a strong fight against organized crime, ... a campaign against drug traffic, and real reform in our prisons.″

But five days after he was sworn in came the break-in of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, a botched bugging attempt that sent some top Nixon aides to prison. Nixon eventually resigned over the scandal.

Kleindienst remained an avid supporter of Nixon, but said in a 1994 interview with The Arizona Republic that the president’s feelings of bitterness might have contributed to the scandal.

``His desire for revenge and retribution was his great limitation,″ Kleindienst said.

Watergate changed Kleindienst’s life. Amid allegations that White House staffers were trying to obstruct justice, he stepped down in April 1973 along with aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman and White House counsel John Dean. Kleindienst never spoke to Nixon again. He had served less than a year in office.

Kleindienst pleaded guilty in 1974 to a misdemeanor charge for failing to fully testify at his Senate confirmation hearing about the so-called ITT affair, a major scandal that came shortly before the Watergate break-in.

The Justice Department had filed an antitrust suit against the International Telephone and Telegraph Co. in 1971. It was settled out of court, and columnist Jack Anderson charged the settlement was linked to an ITT pledge to the Republican Party.

Kleindienst was sentenced to 30 days and a $100 fine, and both were suspended.

He then relocated to Tucson to continue his law practice and eventually moved to Prescott in 1994.

Kleindienst was born on Aug. 5, 1923, near Winslow. He attended the University of Arizona until his sophomore year when he was sent to Italy to serve in World War II. He finished at Harvard College, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1947.

In 1953, Kleindienst became the youngest member of the Arizona state House of Representatives. A member of a group of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater’s supporters known as the ``Arizona Mafia,″ Kleindienst became national director of field operations of the Goldwater for President Committee.

After helping win Goldwater’s nomination in 1964, Kleindienst resigned from the senator’s staff to mount his own campaign for the governorship of Arizona but was defeated by Democrat Sam Goddard. He resumed his political activities in 1966, when he directed John R. Williams’ successful bid for the governorship.

Besides his widow, Kleindienst is survived by two sons and two daughters.

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