Richard Gordon Kleindienst
Richard Gordon Kleindienst, a prominent Arizona lawyer and REPUBLICAN PARTY leader, served as U.S. attorney general from 1972 to 1973. He was charged in the WATERGATE scandals and ultimately pleaded guilty to a perjury charge in 1974.
Kleindienst was born August 5, 1923, in Winslow, Arizona. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 and then attended college. He graduated from Harvard University in 1947 and received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1950. He was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1950 and entered practice with a law firm in Phoenix.
Politics soon became a dominant part of Kleindienst's life. He was elected as a Republican to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1953, where he served one term. During the 1950s, the western conservative wing of the Republican Party started to grow. Senator Barry M. Goldwater, of Arizona, became the standard-bearer of conservatism, and Kleindienst devoted himself to this cause. He led the Young Republicans and served on the state and national Republican committees. He also took on the role of political mentor to WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST, a young Arizona attorney who later would become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Kleindienst's political activities climaxed in 1964, when he served as director of field operations for Goldwater's unsuccessful presidential campaign against incumbent LYNDON B. JOHNSON.
Kleindienst became an ally of RICHARD M. NIXON. He worked on Nixon's successful 1968 presidential campaign and served as general counsel of the Republican National Committee. As a reward for Kleindienst's campaign work, Nixon appointed him deputy attorney general in January 1969. Kleindienst brought to Washington, D.C., his protégé Rehnquist to serve as counsel to Attorney General JOHN N. MITCHELL.
In 1972, Mitchell agreed to resign as attorney general and to become the head of President Nixon's re-election committee. Kleindienst was appointed attorney general on June 12. At his confirmation hearings, Democratic senators raised questions about an antitrust settlement that Kleindienst had negotiated between the federal government and International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT). Rumors suggested that the White House had pressured Kleindienst to drop the antitrust suit. The senators also alleged that ITT had received a favorable disposition of the lawsuit in return for a large contribution to Nixon's re-election campaign. At his hearings, Kleindienst denied that anyone had pressured him.
On June 17, five days after Kleindienst was sworn in as attorney general, persons working for the Nixon re-election committee broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office building complex in Washington, D.C. The burglars planted electronic eavesdropping devices in hopes of gaining intelligence on the Democrats' strategy to defeat Nixon. The burglars were arrested.
On January 20, 1973, Kleindienst met with Mitchell and White House advisers to discuss handling the public-relations problems that were mounting in the wake of the break-in. As events unfolded, prosecutors began to tie the burglars to the White House and the re-election committee leadership. On April 30, Kleindienst and top White House aides H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman, and John W. Dean III resigned, amid charges of White House efforts to obstruct justice in the Watergate case.
In 1974, Kleindienst pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge for failing to testify fully at his Senate confirmation hearings concerning the ITT lawsuit. The charge against him revealed that Nixon had called him in 1971 and told him to drop the case. Kleindienst later claimed that he was innocent of the charge and that he had not been swayed by Nixon's directive. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 30 days in jail, but the judge suspended the sentence. Prosecutors also discovered that ITT had contributed $400,000 to the Nixon campaign following the resolution of the lawsuit, but Kleindienst was never implicated in that matter.
Kleindienst returned to Arizona, where he resumed his law practice. In 1985, he published Justice, his account of his time in Washington, D.C. He died at his home in Prescott, Arizona, on February 3, 2000.
Kleindienst, Richard G. 1985. Justice: The Memoirs of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. Ottawa, Ill: Jameson Books.
Kutler, Stanley I. 1990. The Wars of Watergate. New York: Knopf.