Dick Thornburgh, ex-governor and US attorney general, dies

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AP1979

FILE - In this March 30, 1979 file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, left, announces the closing of schools in the area around the Three Mile Island PWR in Harrisburg, Pa., after an accident at the nuclear power plant led to the release of radioactive gas from the reactor into the atmosphere. Thornburgh died Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 at a retirement community facility outside Pittsburgh, his son David said. The cause it not yet known. (AP Photo, File)

Dick Thornburgh, who as Pennsylvania governor won plaudits for his cool handling of the 1979 Three Mile Island crisis and as U.S. attorney general restored credibility to a Justice Department hurt by the Iran-Contra scandal, has died. He was 88.

Thornburgh died Thursday morning at a retirement community facility outside Pittsburgh, his son David said. The cause is not yet known. He suffered a mild stroke in June 2014.

Thornburgh built his reputation as a crime-busting federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh and as a moderate Republican governor. As the nation’s top law enforcement official, he prosecuted the savings and loan scandal. He also shepherded the Americans with Disabilities Act; one of his sons had been severely brain damaged in an auto accident.

After leaving public office, Thornburgh became a go-to troubleshooter who helped CBS investigate its news practices, dissected illegalities at telecommunications company WorldCom and tried to improve the United Nations’ efficiency.

“I’ve always had an opportunity to right a vessel that was somewhat listing and taking on water,” he told The Associated Press in 1999. “I wouldn’t object to being characterized as a ‘Mr. Fix It.’ I’ve liked the day-in, day-out challenges of governance.”

President Ronald Reagan appointed Thornburgh attorney general in the waning months of his administration. Thornburgh succeeded the embattled Edwin Meese III, who was investigated by a special prosecutor for possible ethics violations, and his appointment in August 1988 was hailed on Capitol Hill as an opportunity to restore the agency’s morale and image.

He was asked to stay on as attorney general when George H.W. Bush became president in 1989.

Thornburgh ran into trouble with the press and members of Congress who were put off by his imperious manner. He also battled liberals and conservatives in Congress over Justice Department appointments.