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California Lieutenant Governor Tied To Watergate Probe Dies

Gov. Ronald Reagan with Lt. Gov. Ed Reinecke, right, at a news conference in Sacramento, California Tuesday, March 11, 1970.
Associated Press
Gov. Ronald Reagan with Lt. Gov. Ed Reinecke, right, at a news conference in Sacramento, California Tuesday, March 11, 1970.

Ed Reinecke, who was lieutenant governor of California under Gov. Ronald Reagan but resigned after a perjury conviction tied to the investigation of the Watergate scandal, has died at age 92.

Reinecke, who also served in Congress and ran to succeed Reagan as governor in 1974, died of natural causes Saturday in Laguna Hills, son Mark Reinecke told the Los Angeles Times.

Reinecke was a protege of Reagan, who appointed him as his second-in-command in 1969. Reinecke was running for governor when he became ensnared in the wide-ranging Watergate investigation of the Nixon administration.

He was indicted for lying about a 1972 phone call with John Mitchell, President Richard Nixon's attorney general and a key figure in the scandal. The perjury charge stemmed from conversations between Reinecke and Mitchell about telecommunication company ITT's offer to underwrite the 1972 Republican Convention.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was investigating whether Mitchell knew about a $400,000 pledge from the company before Mitchell's Justice Department settled antitrust disputes with ITT.

Prosecutors suggested that in exchange for Reinecke lying to investigators, Mitchell would help Reinecke in his bid for governor.

Between the indictment and his 1974 conviction, Reinecke lost the Republican primary to Houston Flournoy, who would go on to lose the governor's race to Democrat Jerry Brown.

Reinecke received an 18-month suspended sentence from a federal judge, who called him a victim of his own "selfish ambition."

Reagan stood by his friend and protege, seeking to get donors to pay his legal bills.

"I'm sure, like most of us, you agree that Ed was — and is — a victim of circumstances and Watergate," Reagan said in his appeal to donors at the time. "This year it's our turn to help a man we all know to be a fine Christian and loyal husband."

The conviction would later be overturned on a technicality. It could not be proved there were enough senators present at Reinecke's Judiciary Committee hearing to make its decision legal.

Reinecke was born in Medford, Oregon, and raised in Beverly Hills. He served as a Navy radioman during World War II then got an engineering degree from the California Institute of Technology.

He operated an irrigation manufacturing company with his family until 1966, when he successfully ran for Congress at age 40 despite no political experience. He told the Times that he won because of "old-fashioned, handshaking, razzle-dazzle campaigning."

After his conviction in 1974, Reinecke moved to a Sacramento-area cattle ranch and worked in real estate.

His political power would later re-emerge when he was elected chairman of the California Republican Party in 1983.

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