Benjamin Civiletti, President Jimmy Carter’s attorney general in a troubled final 17 months of a Democratic administration besieged by the Iranian hostage crisis and politically damaging scandals, died on Sunday in Lutherville, Md., at 87, reports the New York Times. An outstanding trial lawyer and a former federal prosecutor in Baltimore, Civiletti joined the Justice Department soon after Carter assumed office. He served nearly four years — first in charge of the criminal division (1977-78), then as deputy attorney general, the No. 2 post (1978-79), and finally as the attorney general (1979-81), succeeding Griffin Bell. Civiletti was known for prosecuting racketeers, public corruption, white-collar crime and drug trafficking.
He was an advocate of civil rights enforcement, environmental protections and prison reform. He handled sensitive high-profile investigations into the conduct of Carter’s budget director, Bert Lance; his chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan; and his brother, Billy Carter. Civiletti investigated sensitive cases involving a few men close to the president, starting with Lance, a banker whose friendship predated Carter’s years as governor of Georgia. A key adviser in the Carter campaign for the White House, Lance was named director of the Office of Management and Budget. Within months, questions were raised by the news media and in Congress about corruption when Lance had been chairman of a Georgia bank. Facing possible indictment for trading on his ties with the president, Lance resigned and returned to banking in Georgia. It was the first major scandal of his administration.