WASHINGTON (AP) - Caspar W. Weinberger, a conservative Republican and consummate Cold Warrior who served in the Cabinets of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and got ensnared in the Iran-Contra scandal, died Tuesday at 88.
Weinberger had been hospitalized for about a week with a high fever and pneumonia brought on by old age, according to his son, Caspar Weinberger Jr. Weinberger's wife of 63 years, Jane, was by his side when he died in the northeast state of Maine, the son said.
"He gave everything to his country, to public office and to his family," Caspar Weinberger Jr. said.
As Richard Nixon's budget director, Weinberger was such a zealous economizer he earned the nickname "Cap the Knife" for his efforts to slash government spending, largely by cutting or curtailing many of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society social programs.
Later, he became Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense and presided over $2 trillion (euro1.66 trillion) in military spending - the biggest peacetime increase in U.S. history.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement: "He devoted his life to this country and served with dedication in many capacities over the years. ... His legacy is a strong and free America, and for this and for a lifetime of selfless service, a grateful nation thanks him."
"It's a very sad day," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Said former Secretary of State Colin Powell: "Cap Weinberger was an indefatigable fighter for peace through strength." Patrick Buchanan, an aide and speechwriter in the Nixon White House, called him "a good friend."
Weinberger was a lifelong Republican, who called himself a "fiscal Puritan" and believed that 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 Weinberger was recruited to head the Federal Trade Commission, where as chairman he instituted several high-profile reforms. He then moved on to run the president's Office of Management and Budget in 1970.
He 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.
Weinberger was recalled to public service from Bechtel by Reagan.
It was his post as defense secretary that lead to Weinberger's greatest challenge: federal felony charges stemming from his alleged role in the sale of weapons to Iran to finance secret, illegal aid to the Nicaragua Contras. The "arms-for-hostages" affair poisoned the closing years of Reagan's administration, permanently stained the reputations of the insiders involved and cast a cloud over President George H.W. Bush throughout his four-year administration.
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 scandal.
Weinberger, who was 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 to all the charges and considered the indictment a political attack. Friends said he could have never turned on associates he'd known for decades.
After the pardon was announced, Walsh charged that "the Iran-Contra coverup, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed."
In 1989, Weinberger, a self-described "frustrated newspaperman," joined Forbes to become the magazine's fourth publisher. In 1993 he was named chairman of Forbes Inc., filling a position that had been vacant since the 1990 death of Malcolm S. Forbes. He endorsed Steve Forbes for president in 1996.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press
Published in Baltimore Sun from Mar. 28 to Apr. 2, 2006.