After working in California Governor Ronald Reagan's cabinet in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Weinberger moved on to Washington, where he was director of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1970, deputy director during 1970–1972, and director during 1972–1973 of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) during 1973–1975.
Weinberger served as an advisor to Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign, and Reagan subsequently appointed him as secretary of defense in 1981. When Reagan nominated Weinberger, many conservative Republicans feared that given his reputation as a budget cutter, Weinberger would not support Reagan's calls for increased military spending. As director of the OMB, Weinberger had earned the nickname "Cap the Knife," and Jesse Helms, a right-wing Republican senator from North Carolina, voted against his confirmation based on those fears. However, Weinberger soon developed a reputation as one of the strongest proponents of Reagan's defense buildup.
Reagan and Weinberger identified several major goals, including nuclear arms reduction. But during Reagan's first term as president, his administration embarked upon a major buildup of nuclear weapons. Weinberger also pushed to deploy more nuclear warheads in Europe and supported Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) for the establishment of a laser-guided defense system in outer space to destroy incoming ballistic missiles aimed at the United States. These and other measures were controversial and costly, but Reagan and Weinberger defended them as necessary to meet the Soviet threat. Weinberger resigned his post in November 1987, citing his wife's poor health.
In November 1992 a grand jury investigating the Iran-Contra Affair indicted Weinberger on four counts of lying to a congressional committee and the independent counsel's office and one count of obstruction of justice. During the mid-1980s the Reagan administration sold weapons to Iran in exchange for the freeing of American hostages being held in the Middle East. Some of the proceeds from the sale were illegally diverted to the Contra rebels who were fighting the communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Once the story became public, Congress created a committee to investigate the affair, and an independent counsel was appointed to probe any criminal wrongdoing. Its office claimed that Weinberger had lied about his knowledge of the sale of arms to Iran. Weinberger declared his innocence and his intention of fighting the charges, but the case never went to trial. On 24 December 1992, President George H. W. Bush issued a full and complete pardon to Weinberger and several other Reagan administration figures. Weinberger died in Bangor, Maine, on 26 March 2006.
Justin P. Coffey
Weinberger, Caspar W. Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon. New York: Warner, 1990.; Weinberger, Caspar W. In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century. Washington DC: Regnery, 1998.