COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jeb Stuart Magruder, a Watergate conspirator who claimed in later years to have heard U.S. President Richard Nixon order the office break-in that eventually led to his resignation, has died. He was 79.
Magruder died May 11 in Connecticut, Hull Funeral Service director Jeff Hull said Friday.
Magruder spent seven months in prison for lying about the involvement of Nixon’s re-election committee in the 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington’s Watergate complex, which eventually led to the Republican Nixon’s downfall.
In a 2008 interview, Magruder told The Associated Press he had long ago come to peace with his place in history and didn’t let the occasional notoriety over his role in one of the country’s most famous political scandals bother him
“I don’t worry about Watergate, I don’t worry about news articles,” Magruder said. “I go to the court, I’m going to be in the paper — I know that.”
Magruder served as Nixon’s deputy campaign director, an aide to Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, and deputy communications director at the White House.
In 2003, Magruder said he was meeting with John Mitchell, the former attorney general running the Nixon re-election campaign, when he heard the president tell Mitchell over the phone to go ahead with the plan to break into the Democratic Party headquarters.
Magruder previously had gone no further than saying that Mitchell approved the plan to get into the Democrats’ office and bug the telephone of the party chairman, Larry O’Brien.
Magruder made his claims in a PBS documentary and an Associated Press interview.
Magruder told the AP he knew it was Nixon “because his voice is very distinct, and you couldn’t miss who was on the phone.”
Historians dismiss the notion as unlikely.
“There is just no evidence that Richard Nixon directly ordered the Watergate break-in,” legal historian Stanley Kutler told the AP in 2007. “Did Magruder hear otherwise? I doubt it.”
Magruder in the 2008 AP interview said historians had it wrong.
He became a born-again Christian after Watergate. He received a master’s degree in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981, then worked at a Presbyterian church in California.
But he could never fully leave the scandal behind.
In his 1974 book, “An American Life: One Man’s Road to Watergate,” Magruder blamed his role in the scandal on ambition and losing sight of an ethical compass.
“Instead of applying our private morality to public affairs, we accepted the President’s standards of political behavior, and the results were tragic for him and for us,” he wrote.