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Rabbi Baruch Korff; Nixon Confidant

July 28, 1995|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rabbi Baruch Korff, ardent defender and confidant of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal and after Nixon's resignation, is dead at 81.

Korff died Wednesday at his home in Providence, R.I., of pancreatic cancer, a family member said.

In 1975, months after Nixon had resigned and gone into what his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, called "exile" at his San Clemente estate, Korff emerged as one of the few people to see the former President regularly and talk publicly about what he was saying. Korff persistently declared that Nixon would return to the public limelight, as he later did.

On Oct. 21, 1975, Korff, staging a dinner to honor Nixon at Knott's Berry Farm, told 140 loyalists: "It is imperative that Richard Nixon be allowed to live out his years in tranquillity. It is imperative that his talents, his genius, his obsession for peace be allowed to work for this nation."

Nixon later sold his San Clemente home and returned to the East Coast, traveled widely and wrote several respected books and many columns on foreign affairs.

Nixon wrote that during Watergate, Korff had spoken to him in support "with the fire of an Old Testament prophet." The rabbi, born in the Ukraine and a witness to his own mother's death in anti-Jewish attacks, was a strong champion of Zionist causes. He attributed his friendship with Nixon to the President's support of Israel.

On Feb. 9, 1975, when Korff held a news conference in San Clemente to report that Nixon had expressed contrition to him for acting wrongfully in the Watergate matter, a Times reporter asked the rabbi about a 1947 clipping saying that Korff had been arrested in London for attempting to bomb Buckingham Palace on behalf of the Stern gang, a Jewish terrorist group.

"I was found innocent," Korff answered.

Later, at a dinner at the reporter's home, Korff said, "I was found innocent. But I was guilty." He asked that the comment not be reported until after his death.

The rabbi always believed strongly in the concept of friends and enemies. At the Knott's Berry Farm dinner honoring Nixon, he reported with gusto that Nixon's wife, Pat, had asked him to convey her sentiments. "Please, rabbi, tell our friends we are faring well and, please, rabbi, tell our enemies we are faring very well," he quoted her as saying.

Last month, Korff was in the news again when he declared that television network news star Diane Sawyer, while a Nixon press aide in the White House, had been the informer "Deep Throat." Sawyer called the allegation ridiculous.

Korff, born in 1914, was ordained a rabbi in Poland in 1936. He helped rescue Jews from Nazis during World War II and engaged in pro-Zionist activities. Later, he served a congregation in Taunton, Mass., from 1953 until his retirement in 1971.

Married and divorced twice, he is survived by three daughters and one grandson.

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