Caspar Weinberger, Cabinet officer for Nixon, Reagan, dead at 88
WASHINGTON – Caspar W. Weinberger, who oversaw the Pentagon’s biggest peacetime spending increase as President Reagan’s defense secretary and later was indicted for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, died Tuesday. He was 88.Weinberger had been hospitalized in Bangor, Maine, with a high fever and pneumonia brought on by his age, according to his son, Caspar Weinberger Jr.President Bush called him “an American statesman and a dedicated public servant” who strengthened the military and helped end the Cold War. “This good man made many contributions to our nation,” the president said in a statement.Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, “He left the U.S. armed forces stronger, our country safer and the world more free.”Weinberger served as President Nixon’s budget director and was given the nickname “Cap the Knife” for his efforts to slash government spending. Yet Weinberger’s best-known role may have been as Reagan’s defense secretary, when the classic cold warrior presided over a cumulative $2 trillion in military spending.Determined to ensure U.S. strategic strength to counter the Soviet Union, Weinberger pushed Congress to fund such programs as the Strategic Defense Initiative, Midgetman and MX missiles, B-1B bombers and stealth aircraft.But it was also during this time that reports surfaced of excesses at the Pentagon, from $600 toilet seats to $400 hammers. Cartoonists had a field day portraying Weinberger with toilet seats around his neck.In a Feb. 10, 1986, interview with The Washington Post, Reagan defended his defense secretary. “That’s the same price that TWA and Delta and United pay. It is a molded cover for the entire toilet system. And, yes, it does cost about that much.”Supporters contended the defense buildup helped cause the collapse of the Soviet Union.”His legacy is a strong and free America, and for this and for a lifetime of selfless service, a grateful nation thanks him,” former first lady Nancy Reagan said Tuesday.A lifelong Republican, Weinberger’s early interest in politics and government – sparked by his father, a lawyer – led him to the Pentagon and White House.But his work also led to a trouble – federal felony charges stemming from his alleged role in the sale of weapons to Iran to finance secret, illegal aid to the Nicaraguan Contras.The “arms-for-hostages” affair poisoned the closing years of Reagan’s administration and permanently stained the reputations of the insiders involved.In one of the first President Bush’s final official acts after his 1992 loss to Bill Clinton, he granted Christmas Eve pardons to Weinberger and five others accused in the affair. Bush was Reagan’s vice president.Weinberger, 75 at the time, had been scheduled to stand trial in less than two weeks on charges that he concealed thousands of pages of his handwritten notes from congressional investigators and prosecutors.He’d earlier rejected independent counsel Lawrence Walsh’s plea-bargain offer to testify against his longtime friends and colleagues – including Reagan – and plead guilty to a misdemeanor.Weinberger had said he was innocent of all the charges and considered the indictment a political attack.After the pardon was announced, Walsh alleged that “the Iran-Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.”Weinberger’s son said Tuesday, “My father was just a world diplomat, a No. 1 great American patriot. He always stayed the course. He always had beliefs, he held to those beliefs.”In 1989, Weinberger, a self-described “frustrated newspaperman” – he was president of the Harvard Crimson – joined Forbes to become the magazine’s fourth publisher. In 1993 he was named chairman of Forbes Inc.Weinberger occasionally spoke out on current affairs in recent years. In 1996, he criticized then-Defense Secretary William J. Perry for refusing to announce publicly that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China fired missiles at the island.He told a Nebraska group in 1999 that despite victories in the Cold War and Gulf War, the United States still faced threats”Peace alone is not enough. Peace can even mean slavery sometimes. Peace and freedom is what we have to have,” Weinberger said.In 1983, he argued that a force of U.S. Marines stationed at Beirut’s airport was too small and lightly armed, calling them a “disaster waiting to happen.” On Oct. 22, 1983, 241 Marines and sailors were killed in attacks on the barracks.In an interview with PBS’ “Frontline” in late September 2001, Weinberger said, “The fact that I had been warning against this very thing didn’t give me any slight satisfaction, I can assure of that. It was terrible to be proven right under such horrible circumstances.”Born Aug. 18, 1917, in San Francisco, Weinberger attended Harvard, graduating in 1938 and getting his law degree from Harvard in 1941. He served in the infantry in the Pacific in World War II.He began his political career in 1952 in the California Legislature, where he took on and cleaned up a corrupt state liquor commission.Weinberger, who called himself a “fiscal Puritan” and believed budgets should always be balanced, first demonstrated his budget-trimming talents in the late 1960s when he helped solve California’s budget problems as then-Gov. Reagan’s finance director.His tireless pursuit of Reagan’s fiscal policies drew the attention of the Nixon White House and in 1969 he was recruited to head the Federal Trade Commission, where as chairman he instituted several high-profile reforms. He moved on to run the president’s Office of Management and Budget in 1970.Weinberger also served as Nixon’s secretary of health, education and welfare before returning to San Francisco in 1975 as special counsel to the Bechtel Corp., the huge worldwide construction company.His death came a day after the passing of another Reagan administration official, press secretary and political adviser Franklyn “Lyn” Nofziger.Besides his son, Weinberger is survived by a daughter, Arlin Weinberger, and his wife of 63 years, Jane. All three were at his bedside when he died.A statement from Weinberger’s family said funeral arrangements at Arlington National Cemetery are pending.Vail, Colorado
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