May 16 (Bloomberg) -- Jeb Stuart Magruder, a former aide in President Richard Nixon’s administration who was imprisoned for his role in the Watergate scandal before becoming a Presbyterian minister, has died. He was 79.
He died on May 11 in Danbury, Connecticut, of complications from a stroke, according to an e-mailed notice from Hull Funeral Service in Danbury.
As Nixon’s deputy campaign director and a deputy communications director at the White House, Magruder was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice in the coverup that followed the 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate building. He spent seven months in prison before his release in 1975. Nixon, who denied prior knowledge of the planned break-in, resigned under threat of impeachment on Aug. 9, 1974.
In 2003, Magruder said, for the first time, that he had heard Nixon tell John Mitchell, the former attorney general who was head of the president’s re-election campaign, over the telephone on March 30, 1972, to proceed with the plan to break into the Democratic Party headquarters.
“His voice is very distinct, and you couldn’t miss who was on the phone,” Magruder said of Nixon’s telephone instructions in a 2003 interview with the Associated Press.
Magruder worked with White House counsel John Dean and G. Gordon Liddy, a member of Nixon’s special-investigations unit known as “the plumbers,” to carry out the plan. Both Dean and Liddy went to prison for their roles in the Watergate affair.
“Jeb Magruder, de facto deputy to John Mitchell at the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP), asked me whether I could make a second, unscheduled entry into the Watergate,” Liddy, wrote in “When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country,” his 2002 book. “I told him I could, and received orders to do so on Monday, 12 June.”
Magruder -- along with about 40 other government officials indicted for their roles in the affair -- became embroiled in the scandal after five men broke into the Watergate complex on the night of June 16 to repair eavesdropping devices in the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters. The burglars were arrested at 2:30 a.m. on June 17 by police, who were notified by security guard Frank Wills.
The break-in aroused suspicion when the name of E. Howard Hunt, who had worked for the White House, appeared in the notebook of one of the burglars, James McCord, a security chief on the Committee to Re-elect the President and a former Central Intelligence Agency employee.
Nixon’s fate was sealed by a taped conversation of him and H.R. “Bob” Haldeman -- the chief of staff at the White House who also went to prison for his role in the affair -- talking about how to foil the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. The discussion on June 23, 1972, later became known as the “smoking gun” that fast-tracked Nixon’s resignation. Nixon was later pardoned by President Gerald Ford.
President Ronald Reagan denied Magruder a pardon in 1983 before Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones restored his right to vote and run for office in 1995, according to a Washington Post profile. Magruder had worked with Jones’s wife, Libby Jones, on the Habitat for Humanity project.
After his release from prison, Magruder completed a master’s degree in divinity at the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1984 before becoming executive minister at First Community Church in Columbus, Ohio, from 1984 to 1990. He was senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, from 1990 to 1998.
“We were extremely impressed with him and his faith and gave him the job,” Cecil F. Dunn, the chairman of the Lexington’s church’s nominating committee that selected Magruder as senior pastor, said in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper.
Jeb Stuart Magruder was born on Nov. 5, 1934, on Staten Island, New York, to parents Donald and Edith Magruder. He attended Curtis High School on Staten Island before studying political science at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he excelled at swimming.
After serving in South Korea as a private in the U.S. Army and completing his studies at Williams College in 1958, Magruder worked for International Business Machines Corp. and for Crown Zellerbach Corp., a paper manufacturer, in San Francisco. In 1963, he earned a master’s in business administration at the University of Chicago before working for consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton.
Magruder also became involved in political campaigning, helping Donald Rumsfeld gain the Republican nomination for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962. He then worked for Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1963 and on Nixon’s run for the White House in 1968. Magruder joined Nixon’s staff in 1969 as a special assistant to the president.
He wrote two books, “An American Life: One Man’s Road to Watergate” (1974) and “From Power to Peace” (1978).
Magruder was married twice. With his first wife, the former Gail Nicholas, he had four children: Whitney, Justin, Tracy and Stuart. His 1987 marriage to the former Patricia Newton, with whom he helped raise her two children, Jennifer and Joseph, ended in divorce.
“I lost my ethical compass,” he said before sentencing in 1974. “My ambition obscured my judgment.”
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