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Elliot Lee Richardson

Elliot Lee Richardson

Richardson, Elliot Lee, 1920-99, U.S. government official, b. Boston. Admitted to the bar in 1949, he was (1957-59) assistant secretary of health, education and welfare under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Richardson was later active as a Republican in Massachusetts state politics, serving as lieutenant governor (1965-67) and attorney general (1967-69). He became (1970) secretary of health, education, and welfare under President Richard M. Nixon and supported the administration's cutbacks in social welfare programs and its conservative approach to school desegregation. After serving briefly (1973) as secretary of defense, Richardson was appointed attorney general, but he resigned on Oct. 20, 1973, rather than carry out President Nixon's order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox (see Watergate affair). He was also U.S. ambassador to Great Britain (1975-76) and secretary of commerce (1976-77) under President Gerald Ford, making him the first person to hold four different cabinet posts; and U.S. ambassador-at-large (1977-80) under President Jimmy Carter. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

See his Reflections of a Radical Moderate (1996).

Elliot Lee Richardson (July 20, 1920December 31, 1999) was an American lawyer and politician who was a member of the cabinet of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He was a prominent figure in the Watergate Scandal, having refused an order from Nixon to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

As of 2008, Richardson is the only individual to serve in four Cabinet-level positions within the United States government: Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1970 to 1973, Secretary of Defense from January to May 1973, Attorney General from May 24 to October 1973, and Secretary of Commerce from 1976 to 1977.

Early life and military service

Richardson was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, where he resided in Winthrop House, and graduated cum laude in 1941.

In 1942, following America's entry into World War II, Richardson entered the combat medical corps in the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. He participated in the June 6, 1944 Normandy Invasion, where he carried a legless man to safety under enemy fire.

He was among the first troops of the "Big Ivy" to come up Causeway No. 2 from Utah Beach which had been under fire from German artillery at Brécourt Manor. He was among the many that noticed the guns ceasing their firing after (unbeknown to him), paratroopers of the 101st under Dick Winters had knocked them out. After Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers was published, he wrote to Winters and thanked him.

He continued on in the war in Europe with the 4th Infantry Division and received numerous decorations, including the Purple Heart medal. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of first lieutenant.

In 1947, he graduated with a law degree from Harvard Law School. He also became editor and president of the Harvard Law Review..

After his graduation from Law School, Richardson clerked for Appeals Court Judge Learned Hand, and then for Justice Felix Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court. Richardson then served as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts from 1959 to 1961, and was later elected the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and Attorney General of Massachusetts.

Richardson's son, Henry S. Richardson, is a professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, where he focuses in moral and political philosophy.

Cabinet career

Richardson had the nearly-unique distinction of serving in three high-level Executive Branch posts in a single year --the tumultuous year of 1973 -- as the Watergate Scandal came to dominate the attention of official Washington, and the American public at large.

Having served three relatively uneventful years as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for a popular sitting President, few would suspect the pivotal role Richardson would play in the chaos that would soon ensue.

Richardson was appointed United States Secretary of Defense on January 30, 1973. When President Nixon selected Richardson as Secretary, the press described him as an excellent manager and administrator, perhaps the best in the cabinet. In his confirmation hearing, Richardson expressed agreement with Nixon's policies on such issues as the adequacy of U.S. strategic forces, NATO and relationships with other allies, and Vietnam.

Although he promised to examine the budget carefully to identify areas for savings, and in fact later ordered the closing of some military installations, he cautioned against precipitate cuts. As he told a Senate committee, "Significant cuts in the Defense Budget now would seriously weaken the U.S. position on international negotiations—in which U.S. military capabilities, in both real and symbolic terms, are an important factor." Similarly, he strongly supported continued military assistance at current levels. During his short tenure, Richardson spent much time testifying before congressional committees on the proposed FY 1974 budget and other Defense matters.

Richardson would serve as Secretary of Defense for only a few short months, before becoming Nixon's Attorney General, a move that would soon put him in the Watergate spotlight.

In October 1973, after just five months as Attorney General, President Nixon ordered Richardson to fire the top lawyer investigating the Watergate scandal, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused the order and resigned from the Nixon administration. President Nixon subsequently asked Richardson's second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to carry out the order. But he also refused and tendered his resignation. The third in command, Solicitor General Robert Bork, also planned to resign but Richardson persuaded him not to in order to ensure proper leadership at the Department of Justice during the crisis. Bork carried out the President's order, thus completing the events generally referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre.

Just prior to the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, Richardson was portrayed as a cartoon figure with Agnew and Nixon on the cover of Time Magazine dated October 8, 1973. Agnew was quoted as saying: "I am innocent of the charges against me. I will not resign if indicted!

During the Administration of President Gerald Ford, Richardson served as United States Secretary of Commerce from 1976 to 1977, and as ambassador to the United Kingdom.

From 1977 to 1980, he served as an Ambassador at Large and Special Representative of President Jimmy Carter for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and head of the U.S. delegation to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas.

Later life and death

In 1980 Richardson received a L.H.D. from Bates College. In 1984, he ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul Tsongas. He was defeated in the GOP primary by Ray Shamie, who lost the general election to John F. Kerry. Richardson was a moderate-liberal Republican, and his defeat at the hands of the very conservative Shamie was seen as symbolizing the decline of the moderate wing of the GOP, even in a section of the country where it was historically strong.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Richardson was associated with the Washington, D.C. office of the New York City law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, of which John J. McCloy was a founding partner. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Richardson was the attorney for Inslaw, Inc., an American software company which alleged that their software had been pirated by the U.S. Justice Department.

In 1994 Richardson backed President Bill Clinton during his struggle against Paula Jones' charge of sexual harassment. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

On December 31, 1999, Richardson died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 79. Major media outlets, such as CNN, recognized him as the "Watergate martyr" for refusing an order from President Nixon to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

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