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Richard Gordon Kleindienst

Posted 2011-12-25 by Judy Wight Branson
The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona
Friday, February 4, 2000, page A1

Richard G. Kleindienst, Watergate figure, dies at 76

Richard G. Kleindienst, the Arizona native who led the state's Republican Party, rose to become U.S. attorney general and stepped down during the Watergate affair, died early yesterday. He was 76.

Kleindienst, a former Tucson resident, died of lung cancer at his Prescott home after a 4 1/2-year struggle with the disease.

''He fought it with all the optimism that one could possibly imagine. He was upbeat whenever you saw him,'' said U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt, who knew Kleindienst more than 40 years.

Kleindienst, who was born Aug. 5, 1923, in Winslow, helped his friend Barry Goldwater turn the Republican Party into a contender in then-Democratic Arizona.

He was elected to the ArizonaHouse of Representatives in 1952 and later served three terms as state Republican Party chairman.

He was national director of field operations for the presidential campaigns of Goldwater in 1964 and Richard M. Nixon in 1968. After Nixon was elected, Kleindienst became deputy attorney general.

In 1972, he succeeded Attorney General John N. Mitchell when Mitchell resigned to head Nixon's re-election campaign.

Kleindienst took office five days before a team of burglars linked to the re-election effort bungled an attempt to bug the Democratic Party national headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.

The scandal over charges of a cover-up led Nixon to fire aide John Dean and, one day later, accept the resignations of Kleindienst and other administration officials.

Watergate, which forced Nixon to resign and led to Mitchell's imprisonment, eclipsed much of Kleindienst's government service and forever attached his name to the scandal.

''I think that's unfortunate because that was just such a small part of his life,'' Phoenix attorney Ann Kleindienst said yesterday of her father. ''He just found himself caught up in it because of the others around him,'' she said. ''I don't think it stopped him for a second,'' she said of Watergate. ''He continued to be involved with his church and to be involved with his community.''

In 1974, Kleindienst pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge after he was accused by the Watergate special prosecutor of failing to fully testify at his Senate confirmation hearing about an investigation into a case involving International Telephone and Telegraph Corp., or ITT.

''I was wrong in not having been more candid with the committee and I sincerely regret it,'' Kleindienst explained afterward. ''It is my earnest prayer that in due time history will record that in ITT the Department of Justice fulfilled its charge fairly to enforce the laws of the United States without fear, interference or favor.''
He said he pleaded guilty ''out of respect for the criminal justice system of the United States and the indisputable fact that the system must have equal application to all.''

Kleindienst got into more trouble in Tucson. He was accused and acquitted of lying under oath during an investigation by the State Bar of Arizona for his role in a 1976 scam to siphon money from the Teamsters Union Health and Welfare Fund.

The Arizona Supreme Court later suspended him from practicing law for one year.

Kleindienst later held that he would have changed nothing about his life and was especially proud of accomplishments as deputy attorney general, his daughter said.

''He was a lover of the First Amendment,'' she said. ''He was very proud of being part of allowing so many people to come to the Capitol and demonstrate and exercise their First Amendment rights and not have any major problems.''

After the Goldwater campaign, Kleindienst ran for Arizona governor against Democrat San Goddard in 1964. ''He was just a dynamo of an individual, and he was that way when he was a candidate,' recalled Judge Rosenblatt. ''He didn't have the magnetism that, for example, Barry Goldwater had, but he certainly had lots of energy.''

After leaving the Justice Department, Kleindienst practiced law in Tucson.

He defended Oro Valley in 1987 in a lawsuit filed by the county over the annexation of Rancho Vistoso. He was finance chairman of Pima County Supervisor Reg Morrison's re-election campaign in 1988.

In 1992, he and the Tucson Business Coalition called for a federal investigation of Tucson's system of nominating City Council members by ward and electing them in citywide campaigns. The Justice Department declined to investigate.

''Dick had a resume‚ that could be very impressive in terms of meeting presidents and those kinds of things, but as a person he put on no airs, was very down to earth and demonstrated a personal level of compassion that is many times missing in attorneys,'' said Prescott attorney Mark M. Moore, who practiced law with Kleindienst after he moved from Tucson to Prescott in 1994.

Mike Minnaugh, the state Republican chairman, issued a statement yesterday that credited Kleindienst with many of the party's early accomplishments.

''He served his party and his nation with a tireless spirit of self-sacrifice that should serve as an excellent example for future generations,'' Minnaugh said.

Other survivors include his wife, Marnie; sons Alfred, of Scottsdale, and Wallace, an assistant U.S. attorney in Tucson; daughter Carolyn Sherman, of the San Francisco Bay area; and six grandchildren.

Services are set for 1 p.m Monday in Phoenix at All Saints Episcopal Church, 6300 N. Central Avenue.

See Also: Arizona Birth Records

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