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Howard Henry Baker Jr. dies at 88; key player in Watergate hearings

Howard Henry Baker Jr., a respected Washington insider who played a pivotal role in the Watergate hearings in 1973, has died. He was 88.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the death on the Senate floor.

The former Republican senator from Tennessee had many leading roles in his long career in government, including White House chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan and U.S. ambassador to Japan.

But Baker, who forged a life of consensus in a capital known for contention, is best remembered for the one question he asked of witnesses during the Watergate hearings: "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"

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The answers doomed the presidency of Richard M. Nixon and sealed Baker's reputation as that rare find: a thoughtful politician who, as one reporter suggested, “had nothing at heart but the interests of our country.”

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Baker later revealed that, at first, he believed in Nixon's innocence, but changed his mind as evidence accumulated of White House involvement in the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.

News of Baker's death drew immediate reaction from colleagues, many of whom also knew and served with his wife, a former senator from Kansas.

“It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of one of the Senate’s most towering figures: Senator Howard Baker," McConnell (R-Ky.) said in prepared remarks. “In particular, we wish to pass along our deep sympathies to his wife, Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker. Many of us served alongside Nancy here in the Senate. We know this must be a most difficult moment for her."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a fellow Republican from Tennessee and former legislative assistant to Baker, called him "Tennessee’s favorite son, one of America’s finest leaders." He said his former boss had been an "an indispensable friend" to Alexander and his wife.

For more news, follow @raablauren on Twitter.

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