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Man Who Defied Nixon During Watergate Dead at 87

Doyle Ruckelshaus famously quit his job in the US Justice Department
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 28, 2019 2:45 AM CST
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In this April 13, 2009, photo, William Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the EPA, poses for photos at his office in Seattle.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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(Newser) – William Doyle Ruckelshaus, who famously quit his job in the US Justice Department rather than carry out President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, has died. He was 87. Ruckelshaus served as the first administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. The lifelong Republican also served as acting director of the FBI. But his moment of fame came on Oct. 20, 1973, when he was a deputy attorney general and joined his boss, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, in resigning rather than carrying out Nixon’s unlawful order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, the AP reports. After the resignations, Solicitor General Robert Bork carried out the firing in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre." Impeachment proceedings against Nixon began 10 days later.

"He was incorruptible," longtime friend Martha Kongsgaard says of Ruckelshaus. "It was very disappointing for him to see this happening again in our country ... Deep decency in the face of corruption is needed now more than ever." Ruckelshaus spent much of his life focused on air and water pollution and other environmental issues. As the first EPA administrator from 1970 to 1973, he won praise for pushing automakers to tighten controls on air pollution. Reagan asked him back to the EPA in 1983 to help restore public trust after the prior administrator—Anne M. Gorsuch, mother of current Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch—was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents about her agency's allegedly lax efforts to clean up toxic waste.

(Read more Watergate stories.)

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