WASHINGTON – William Saxbe, who served as the fourth and final attorney general under Richard Nixon and resisted the president’s late attempts to derail the Watergate investigation, has died. He was 94.

He died Tuesday at his home in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, the Associated Press reported, citing his son, Charles.

The sharp-tongued Republican senator from Ohio became known for his quotable bluntness during a political career that included five years in the Senate, 13 months leading the Justice Department and two years as U.S. ambassador to India.

He once said Bob Dole, the Kansas senator who rose to Republican leader, had such a rough personality that “he couldn’t sell beer on a troop ship.” As attorney general, he angered the family of Patty Hearst by labeling her “a common criminal” after she participated in bank robberies with the left-wing revolutionary group that had kidnapped her.

Nixon selected Saxbe to be attorney general in December 1973, as the Watergate scandal was nearing its dramatic conclusion. then, the president was widely suspected of covering up the White House’s role in the bungled burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters. Nixon had declared himself “not a crook” and ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor.

When Richardson refused, Nixon forced Richardson to resign, creating an opening at the helm of the Justice Department. Nixon’s selection of Saxbe, a senator with friends in both parties, assured the politically weakened president a smooth confirmation process.

As Saxbe later recounted it, his primary role in Watergate’s final chapter was rejecting Nixon’s pleas for the Justice Department to intervene and rescue him.

Nixon “was getting goofy” and sending unreasonable demands through his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, and counsel, J. Fred Buzhardt, Saxbe wrote in his 2000 autobiography, “I’ve Seen the Elephant.”

“Almost from day one as attorney general, I received calls from Haig or Buzhardt that Nixon wanted me to shut down the Watergate investigations,” Saxbe wrote. “He wanted me to use the FBI to probe the Central Intelligence Agency, which he blamed for all his problems.”

Saxbe said he resisted Nixon’s efforts to sic the FBI on the CIA. On one occasion, he recalled, Haig told him, “Well, we always can get another attorney general.” Saxbe said he replied that the White House would have to fire him: “I am not going to resign and flounce out of here like Richardson did.”

Saxbe outlasted Nixon, remaining attorney general after Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon. Ford named Saxbe ambassador to India.

In later years, Saxbe turned down invitations to attend the opening of Nixon’s presidential library in 1990 and Nixon’s funeral in 1994.

“He had lied to me, as he had lied to everyone else, and he tried to involve me in his lies,” Saxbe wrote. “I never can forgive him for that.”

William Bart Saxbe was born on June 24, 1916, in Mechanicsburg, a rural Ohio town about 30 miles west of Columbus. His father worked as a cattle buyer.


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