Jeb Magruder: Nixon campaign manager who was jailed for his part in the Watergate conspiracy and went on to find God

 

Jeb Magruder's career followed a classic Watergate arc. He was a Republican activist and California businessman who worked on Richard Nixon's successful 1968 campaign and followed him to the White House, only to be jailed for his part in the conspiracy and cover-up that forced the president to resign.

Upon release Magruder reinvented himself as a born-again Christian – like Chuck Colson, Nixon's special counsel – and worked as a Presbyterian minister. But for decades he stayed mostly silent on America's biggest political scandal, ion which he was an important member of the cast.

Then in 2003, Magruder ventured where no Watergate figure had gone before. Not only had Nixon orchestrated the cover-up of the scandal, he alleged, but the president had actually ordered the fateful break-in at Democratic party headquarters on the night of 17 June 1972 that would lead to his downfall.

Magruder had gone to Washington in January 1969 to work under Herbert Klein, Nixon's first director of communications. Three years later he was appointed deputy director of the 1972 re-election campaign, the infamous Committee for the Re-election of the President or CRP, also known as "Creep". Nixon routed his opponent George McGovern that November in the third largest electoral college landslide ever, and in January 1973 Magruder was made director of policy planning at the Commerce department.

In fact, his fate was effectively sealed that same month when his name came up during the trial of the five burglars at the Democratic offices in the Watergate building, as it emerged that the operation had been organised and financed by Creep. Magruder denied involvement under oath. But as the cover-up unravelled it was clear he had lied. His punishment was a four-year jail sentence.

Like Colson, the ruthless operative once known as "Nixon's hatchet man", who also participated in the cover-up and later became an influential evangelical Christian, Magruder ultimately spent seven months behind bars. Upon his release, he too turned to God.

"All the earthly supports I had ever known had given way, and when I saw how flimsy they were I understood why they had never been able to make me happy," he wrote in his 1978 memoir From Power to Peace. "The missing ingredient in my life was Jesus Christ."

After taking a divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary, Magruder was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1981, serving as pastor in churches in California, Kentucky and Columbus, Ohio, where he led a city committee on values and ethics. "I'm aware that there might be some irony associated with that," he told The New York Times. "But this is a natural issue for me. I had one of the great ethical dilemmas of all time."

However he reserved his real bombshell for interviews in 2003 marking the 30th anniversary of the scandal. Hitherto, Magruder had maintained that Nixon had no prior knowledge of the break-in. Now he claimed that he had heard the president ordering the operation on 30 March 1972, two and a half months beforehand, during a telephone conversation with John Mitchell, his close friend and former attorney general who headed the CRP.

The setting, Magruder said, was a meeting between himself and Mitchell in Key Biscayne, Florida, to discuss the Committee's plans ahead of the election, including one to bug the phone of Larry O'Brien, the Democratic chairman. Uneasy at the idea, Mitchell called HR Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, when Nixon himself came on the line.

"His voice is very distinct, you couldn't miss who was on the phone," Magruder said, claiming that the president had said, "John, we need to get that information on Larry O'Brien, you need to go ahead with the plan."

The assertion has been disputed by most Watergate experts, and neither official White House logs nor Nixon's secret tapes contain any evidence of such a conversation that day. But for Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who broke the original story, Magruder's amended version rung true. "I find it more than plausible, I find it compelling," Bernstein said at the time.

RUPERT CORNWELL

Jeb Stuart Magruder, businessman, White House official and Presbyterian minister: born New York 3 November 1934; married 1959 Gail Nicholas (divorced 1986; four children), 1987 Patricia Newton (divorced 2003); died Danbury, Connecticut 11 May 2014.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam