Clark M. Clifford, the consummate Washington insider and a top adviser to four Democratic presidents, died early Saturday morning. Clifford, who was 91, had been in ill health in recent years a period that saw his once distinguished reputation tarnished by an international banking scandal.
No one in Washington, no one in the country, operated so close to power for so long. Clifford, a defense secretary in the Johnson administration, was a powerful attorney and an adviser who whispered into the ears of Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter.
They were long gone from the scene when Clifford became embroiled in a scandal that dragged his name into headlines again from mid-1991 until late 1993 in the BCCI banking case. Criminal charges against him were dropped in 1993 because of his age and ill health, and the last of several civil suits prompted by the case were settled last month.
His health had been deteriorating for some time, and he died at 2 a.m. this morning at his home in Bethesda, Md., just outside the capital, his daughter, Randall Wight, said. He had been bedridden for nearly three years but was mentally fit until his death, she said. The exact cause of death was not immediately known, but he suffered from heart trouble and respiratory difficulties. He had a heart attack in 1993.
Clifford played a role in 11 presidential campaigns. He was the genius behind Truman's startling victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948 when no one gave the president a chance.
Clifford was an advisor to four presidents, including John F. Kennedy
He never ran for office and was on the government payroll only five of his 46 years in the capital: four years on Truman's staff and 10 months as Johnson's secretary of defense during the Vietnam War.
In his law practice, Clifford drew the biggest clients with the biggest problems because he could get things done. His billing sheet included General Electric, Standard Oil, DuPont, Phillips Petroleum and the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes.
Clark McAdams Clifford, born in Fort Scott, Kan., on Christmas Day 1906, got his law degree from Washington University in St. Louis and practiced law in that city for 15 years. In World War II, he joined the Navy, coming to Washington as assistant to Truman's naval aide, a St. Louis friend. One of his jobs was to help unescorted women to their seats at ceremonial occasions; another was redesigning the presidential seal.
In his last few public appearances, at federal court hearings on his case, Clifford's frailty was evident. He walked slowly but with dignity, and he still wore his trademark fedora.
Clifford leaves his wife, the former Margery (Marny) Pepperell, their three daughters, 12 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. Funeraarrangements were pending.
Written by Marcy Gordon