- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2000

To President Clinton he was a man of uncommon integrity, a man who "put the nation's interests first even when the personal cost was very high. He was an unparalleled public servant a lawyer, a diplomat, a soldier and a prosecutor." But Elliot Richardson, who died last week at the age of 79, deserved better than to receive this posthumous gold watch from Mr. Clinton. Mr. Richardson provided a vital service to this country that the nation's leaders, alas, chose to ignore; it could have spared this country a disastrous some would say unconstitutional experiment with something known as the independent counsel.

In 1973, President Nixon named him attorney general in the midst of the Watergate "crisis." Pressured during his confirmation hearings to approve the concept of a prosecutor "independent" of oversight by the attorney general, Mr. Richardson firmly rejected the notion. "I do not think," he said, "that unless you amend the law creating the position of attorney general, there is any way that I could legally give any special prosecutor final authority." Congress gave in to him.

Mr. Nixon subsequently ordered the firing of the special prosecutor he had appointed to oversee the infamous break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate, Archibald Cox. Mr. Cox had demanded the Oval Office tapes Mr. Nixon had made, and the president refused to release them. When Mr. Cox persisted in his demand, the White House ordered Mr. Richardson to fire him. Mr. Richardson declined, as did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, and both resigned. Under public pressure, Mr. Nixon had to appoint a new prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, and ultimately resigned in connection with Watergate. In short, the system worked. But the lesson Congress drew was that the independent prosecutor which Mr. Richardson opposed was necessary. Lawmakers ultimately saw the wisdom of Mr. Richardson's views and have refused to reauthorize the independent counsel act.

Mr. Richardson's greatest public service, however, came when he took part in the D-day invasion on June 6, 1944 and in subsequent combat, for which he received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. May his final, eternal landing be a peaceful one.

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