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William Saxbe dies at 94; former senator was attorney general under Nixon

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William Saxbe, a former U.S. senator who became the last attorney general to serve under President Richard M. Nixon and presided during the Watergate investigation, has died. He was 94.

Saxbe died Tuesday at his home in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, said his son Charles "Rocky" Saxbe. No cause was given.

Nixon nominated Saxbe as attorney general in 1973 after Elliot L. Richardson resigned to protest Nixon's efforts to limit the investigation into the Watergate break-in and cover-up attempts.

Nixon was searching for a nominee who would be easily confirmed. Saxbe, a lame-duck one-term senator, had once labeled the Nixon administration "one of the most inept" in history.

Saxbe took office in 1974 and served for just over a year. He resigned on Feb. 1, 1975, six months after President Gerald Ford took office, to become ambassador to India, a post he held until January 1977.

His first mission as attorney general was to convince the public and the White House that he would brook no interference with the operations of the independent Watergate prosecutor. Those involved said he made good on the promise.

The Watergate scandal, which involved a 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee offices later traced to the Committee to Re-elect the President, led to the resignation of several in the Nixon administration as well as criminal convictions related to cover-up efforts. Nixon's first two attorneys general, John N. Mitchell and Richard G. Kleindienst, were implicated in Watergate-related crimes.

Nixon resigned in August 1974.

By midsummer of 1974, Saxbe was convinced that Nixon had lied to him and to the American people, Saxbe wrote in his 2000 autobiography, "I've Seen the Elephant." He said Nixon "wrecked the Republican Party" and he didn't go to Nixon's funeral in 1994.

"He had lied to me … and he tried to involve me in his lies. I never can forgive him for that," Saxbe wrote.

William Bart Saxbe was born June 24, 1916, in Mechanicsburg. He graduated from Ohio State University in 1940 and served in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

He started his political career while in law school at Ohio State, winning election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1946. He was reelected three times. After a short time in private practice, Saxbe was elected Ohio's attorney general in 1956 and reelected in 1962 and '66 before reaching the U.S. Senate in 1968.

Saxbe was known for strong opinions and blunt comments. In 1971, he referred to Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman as "a couple of Nazis."

And his comment about the resumption of bombing of North Vietnam in 1972 was widely reported: "I have followed President Nixon through all his convulsions and specious arguments, but he appears to have lost his senses on this."

Early in Saxbe's tenure, Patty Hearst, who had been kidnapped two months earlier by the Symbionese Liberation Army, was photographed as a participant when SLA members robbed a bank.

Saxbe called the SLA a band of "common criminals" and said Hearst, the daughter of a San Francisco newspaper publisher, was "part of it."

In saying that, Saxbe was publicly expressing his opinion of the guilt of a woman who had not been charged with a crime. He went into seclusion for weeks and emerged with a new speechwriter. He continued to take strong positions but was more conscientious about expressing the Justice Department's official view.

After Ford became president, Saxbe ordered an antitrust lawsuit in 1974 that eventually led to the breakup of AT&T into seven companies.

In addition to his son Charles, Saxbe is survived by his wife, Ardath "Dolly" Saxbe; daughter, Juli Spitzer of Jackson Hole, Wyo.; son William Bart Saxbe Jr. of Williamstown, Mass.; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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