Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland dead at 87

Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland dead at 87

December 7, 2020

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) – Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who represented Maryland for 30 years in the Senate and helped write a landmark anti-fraud legislation and draft the first article of impeachment against Republican President Richard Nixon as a congressman, has died, his son said. He was 87.

The Democrat "passed away peacefully this evening in Baltimore," said a Sunday statement by Rep. John Sarbanes, who represents Maryland's 3rd Congressional District.

"Our family is grateful to know that we have the support of Marylanders who meant so much to him and whom he was honored to serve," the congressman said. 

His statement did not reveal the cause of Paul Sarbanes' death. His office did not immediately reply to questions from The Baltimore Sun.

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Sarbanes got into politics in 1966 with a successful run for Maryland's House of Delegates, then won a seat in Congress four years later. He earned a spot on the House Judiciary Committee, where he drafted the first article of impeachment against Republican President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, The Washington Post reported.

FILE – In this Nov. 1, 2005 file photo, retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes speaks to a crowd during a reception in his honor in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby, File)

After three terms in the House, he unseated Republican Sen. J. Glenn Beall, and would be reelected four times in a Senate career notable for his lack of flash.

Republicans called him a "stealth senator," a label Sarbanes embraced. 

Stealth, he said, was "one of the most important weapons in our military arsenal," the former senator told The Baltimore Sun in 2005. "If you let somebody else take the credit, you can get the result," he said.

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As chairman of the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs,

Sarbanes did take credit for co-writing the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The law reshaped corporate oversight after accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other major corporations exposed inadequate internal controls and auditors who had become too cozy with the companies whose books they examined. 

Those corporate scandals and others wiped out retirement accounts, cost investors billions and pushed people out of work. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 agreed that the law violated the Constitution's separation of powers mandate, but its decision required only a slight change, allowing the removal of members of the oversight board.

Sarbanes did not seek reelection to a sixth term in the Senate in 2006.

The son of Greek immigrants, he attended Princeton University, Harvard Law school and studied in England as a Rhodes scholar before starting his career in politics.

He became a mentor to another Democrat, former Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who said Sarbanes helped her design a strategy for landing a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Sarbanes' wife, Christine Sarbanes, died in 2009. Their survivors include their children John, Michael and Janet, and seven grandchildren, the newspapers reported. A private service is planned.

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"Following state, local and public health guidance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, our family will hold a private service in the coming days," John Sarbanes' statement said.

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