Ex-Secretary of Defense Weinberger Dies

03/28/2006 at 01:00 PM EST

Ex-Secretary of Defense Weinberger Dies
Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty
Caspar Weinberger, defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan, died Tuesday in a hospital near his home in Maine. He was 88.

Weinberger, who also served as Richard Nixon's budget director, 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.

"He was just a worn-out guy," Weinberger Jr., told Reuters. "He should be remembered as a world statesman, a great American patriot," his son went on to say. "What he did with Reagan really brought down the Soviet Union. They stuck to their plan and simply outspent the Soviets despite all sorts of doubts here."

Patrick Buchanan, an aide and speechwriter in the Nixon White House, called Weinberger "a good friend."

"I think he was just about one of the best Cabinet officers that I've known in a lifetime," Buchanan told the Associated Press.

Weinberger began his political career in 1952 in the California Legislature where he helped clean up a corrupt state liquor commission. Before moving to Washington, Weinberger, who called himself a "fiscal Puritan," demonstrated his budget-trimming talents in the late 1960s when he helped solve California's budget problems as then-Gov. Reagan's finance director.

As Nixon's budget director, Weinberger earned the nickname "Cap the Knife" for his efforts to slash government spending.

Still, under Reagan he presided over $2 trillion in military spending – the biggest peacetime increase in U.S. history

Later in his career, Weinberger's involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal lead to federal felony charges stemming from his alleged role in the sale of weapons to Iran to finance secret, illegal aid to the Nicaragua Contras. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, two weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial.

Weinberger's wife of 63 years, Jane, was by his side when he died on Tuesday. Besides his wife, he is survived by his son and a daughter, Arlin Weinberger.

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