WASHINGTON — William Pierce Rogers, the secretary of state who was eclipsed, and eventually replaced, by Henry A. Kissinger during Richard Nixon's presidency, died Tuesday night. He was 87.
Rogers died at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. The cause of death was congestive heart failure, said Tom Mariam, the communications director of Rogers' law firm, Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells.
With the exception of Watergate, Rogers' imprint can be seen at nearly each key turn in Nixon's political life, from the anti-communist blacklisting in the late 1940s through the diplomacy of the Middle East, and the prosecution of the Vietnam War, in the 1970s.
Rogers' public humiliation by Kissinger and Nixon near the end of his government service is what many remember. But in a public career that stretched over five decades, his impact was greatest in the formation of Middle East policy during the Nixon years, and least known in the advocacy of civil rights during the Dwight D. Eisenhower era.
His proposal in 1970, although spurned at the time by Israel and Egypt, called for the exchange of land for peace--and the sharing of authority over Jerusalem--that forms the heart of the drawn-out efforts still being negotiated by Palestinians and Israel under the guidance of the White House.
As attorney general in the late 1950s, he focused largely on promoting a greater federal role in enforcing civil rights laws. Out of office, he represented the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before the U.S. Supreme Court in a libel case that broke new ground.
Rogers had already served in the Cabinet, as attorney general during the second administration of Eisenhower, from 1957 to 1961, when Nixon chose him to be secretary of state in 1969. The two had known each other for 20 years. As counsel to the Senate investigations subcommittee, Rogers became friendly with Nixon, then a freshman member of Congress from California.
The two met in 1948, when Nixon asked Rogers to look into Whittaker Chambers' allegation that Alger Hiss, a senior State Department official, was a member of a Communist group. Rogers encouraged Nixon to pursue Hiss, who was eventually convicted of lying. The investigation put the young Nixon on the national stage.
Nixon turned again to Rogers in 1952, when, as the Republican vice presidential candidate, he came under attack over allegations that he had maintained a secret political slush fund established by California supporters to pay his office expenses.
Rogers' advice that he present his case to the American public led to Nixon's "Checkers" speech. The speech secured Nixon's place on the Republican ticket. In it, the nominee gave a personal account that became known for his reference to his family's cocker spaniel, Checkers, a gift from a supporter in Texas.
Three years later, when Eisenhower suffered his first heart attack, Nixon again turned to Rogers, who cautioned him to avoid appearing to be the acting president.
When he became president in 1969, Nixon sought out Rogers. But even as he gave his longtime friend the most senior position in American diplomacy, he handed the reigns to Kissinger, his national security advisor.
Nixon sent Kissinger to China in 1971, a diplomatic opening that turned more than two decades of foreign policy on its heels; Rogers was kept ignorant of the trip until the national security advisor was en route. Nixon went to China in 1972; Rogers stayed home. Kissinger conducted secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese; Rogers was again in the dark. Nixon met with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Union's ambassador to Washington; Rogers was kept out.
Kissinger, in his book "The White House Years," said that Rogers' unfamiliarity with foreign policy was an asset because it meant Kissinger could direct policy from the White House.
"Rogers was far abler than he was pictured; he had a shrewd analytical mind and outstanding common sense. But his perspective was tactical; as a lawyer, he was trained to deal with issues as they arose 'on their merits.' My approach was strategic and geopolitical. . . ."
In August 1973, Nixon fired Rogers and replaced him with Kissinger.
In a 1997 interview with Associated Press, Rogers said of Nixon's handling of the move: "I never before had a friend who turned out to be not quite a friend."
"He didn't lie; he just didn't tell me the truth," Rogers said.
Months after he was fired, Rogers found Nixon seeking his help in firing H.R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, and John Ehrlichman, the president's domestic policy advisor, as the Watergate scandal grew to devour his administration.
"He said, 'Will you be with me when I do it?' I said, 'No, Mr. President. . . . They're your people,' " Rogers recalled.
Rogers was born June 23, 1913, in Norfolk, N.Y. The son of an insurance agent, Rogers graduated from Colgate University in 1934. Three years later, he was fifth in his graduating class at Cornell University law school.