Skip to comments.Nixon ordered Watergate break-in, aide says now [Magruder]
Posted on 07/26/2003 9:05:58 PM PDT by HAL9000
President Richard Nixon personally ordered the "third-rate burglary" at the Watergate Hotel in June 1972, a trusted aide has now revealed, resurrecting the scandal that led to Nixon's political ruin and forced him from the nation's highest office.
Jeb Stuart Magruder, who was Nixon's assistant communications director before moving to the re-election committee, said he was privy to a telephone conversation between Nixon and John Mitchell, the campaign chairman, in which the president urged Mitchell to proceed with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate.
The revelation, if true, places the Watergate burglary in a new historical light. Though never concretely established, it generally was felt that Nixon was not involved in the break-in itself, only in the cover-up that occurred after the fact - an involvement that forced him to resign from office on Aug. 9, 1974.
Nixon subsequently was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, on Sept. 8, 1974, and the complete story of Watergate never came to light.
Magruder, a minister now semi-retired and living in Columbus, Ohio, said in a telephone interview that he met with Mitchell in Key Biscayne, Fla., on the afternoon of March 30, 1972, along with another aide, Fred Larue, to review about 20 issues that required the campaign's attention.
Included on the agenda, Magruder said, was "the Liddy plan," a reference to former CIA agent G. Gordon Liddy, now a radio talk show host, who proposed the break-in to tap the phones of Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O'Brien.
Liddy, Magruder said, had approached the campaign on several occasions with expensive covert schemes, all of which had been rejected by Mitchell. On this day, the Liddy plan, also known as "Gemstone," was the final item on the agenda.
"He (Mitchell) and I didn't think it was necessary," Magruder said. "He asked me to call (Chief of Staff Bob) Haldeman and I handed him the phone. He spoke with Bob first and then he talked to (domestic affairs adviser) John (Ehrlichman).
"And then the president got on the line," Magruder said. "I could hear him. His voice was very distinctive. The gist of it was we needed to get the information on O'Brien. The only way, or the best way, was Liddy's plan."
Mitchell hung up the phone, Magruder said, and instructed him to tell Maurice Stans, the campaign's chief fundraiser, to send Liddy a check for $250,000.
Although he was a key participant, eventually serving seven months in prison for conspiracy to obstruct justice, Magruder said he still isn't sure why Nixon was obsessed with tapping O'Brien's phone.
One story that made the rounds, not original to him, Magruder said, and unproven, had it that industrialist Howard Hughes made a $100,000 contribution to the Committee to Re-Elect the President through Nixon's close personal friend Bebe Rebozo. Instead of depositing the check in his campaign coffers, the story goes, Nixon used the money to meet personal needs.
O'Brien was a consultant to Hughes, the reclusive billionaire, and there was some concern he knew Nixon stuck the money in his pocket and might blow the whistle. Nothing was ever proved.
Magruder said it's just as likely that Nixon okayed the operation because that's the way he played the game.
"The president, as we found out later, desired just to gather intelligence and gather the goods on anyone who was against him," Magruder said. "That led to Larry O'Brien.
"He was a person who did not want his opponents to survive," Magruder said. "Obviously, he was willing to do anything to achieve that goal."
At the time, Nixon called the break-in "a third-rate burglary."
It would be difficult to corroborate Magruder's story. All of the major participants - Nixon, Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and O'Brien - are dead. Fred Larue, who may or may not have been in earshot of the conversation, could not be reached. If Larue overhead Nixon give Mitchell the go-ahead, he has never divulged the information.
In fact, in an interview with a documentary filmmaker a few years ago, Larue chided himself for failing to intercede and hinted that Mitchell was behind the ultimate decision.
"Had I gone to Mitchell and said, 'John, this is crazy, let's put a stop to it,' had I done that, and done it forcefully, John would have listened to me," Larue said. "And this whole mess could have been avoided."
John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel who is credited with blowing the lid off the Watergate scandal, said via e-mail that he was unaware of the Nixon-Mitchell conversation until Magruder advised him about it a few weeks ago.
"I have never seen or heard a scintilla of evidence that Nixon was aware of these plans at the re-election committee," Dean said. "As best I know, based on both what I was told at the time, and subsequent information, Nixon learned of the break-in after the arrests at the Watergate. I have never had any evidence, either at the time or since, that anyone at the White House had advance knowledge of the Watergate break-in."
At the same time, Dean said, he can't dispute Magruder's characterization of the Nixon-Mitchell conversation because he wasn't present.
"I cannot imagine Jeb would lie about it," Dean said. "Nonetheless, I am very surprised he never provided this information when it could have been more critically tested. And I am also surprised that there is absolutely nothing on any of the Nixon tapes that might corroborate his statement."
Dean said that Mitchell told him personally in March 1973 that he, Mitchell, was the one who approved the plan.
Magruder said his three-decade delay in stepping forward is attributable to several factors. Originally, he didn't want to divulge too much information about Nixon because he was depending on the president to provide him with a pardon in the face of criminal charges. That fell through after Nixon resigned.
Thereafter, none of the investigators asked him what he knew about Nixon's participation. Later on, after becoming a minister, the 68-year-old Magruder chose to remain silent to save the congregations he was serving from unwanted publicity.
He is revealing the information now only because he was approached by the makers of a new documentary on the scandal, "Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History," scheduled to air on many PBS stations Wednesday, July 30 at 8 p.m.
Magruder said he was contacted by the people making the documentary last spring and determined that "they had done a good job talking about things." So he decided to cooperate.
Because O'Brien was taking briefcases full of illegal cash contributions for the DNC.
Oops, forgot, those phrases only apply to Dem presidents.
PBS dredging this up 30 years later, our taxdollars paying for what will doubtless be total smear job. The guy's been dead for 10 years, and still the left needs their pound of flesh.
It's too bad our local talk radio station dropped G. Gordon Liddy's show awhile back, because I'd love to hear his take on this.
It's funny that the media will run stories about GOP politicians without any additional sources but hold back on revealing things about 'rats unless the story checks out from all angles. The reason that most of the media gave for not paying attention to Juanita Broaddrick's charges is that it happened so long ago and they couldn't find corroborating evidence and testimonials.
Media bias? No, of course not. :^)
Fair's Fair. We need to have a 5th anniverary bash for Monica Gate!
Ever notice how little creativity exists in the media today. Everything's a *****gate! I'm surprised that the Microsoft litigation was named "GATESGATE!"
I guess it beats the other story going around, that Dean's wife was a hooker and...
What can you expect, or believe, from a writer that can't get the basic facts correct. Liddy was never a CIA agent. He was an Army Officer, FBI agent, a federal prosecuter and a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, all before he got involved in the Watergate mess. Afterwards, before he became a talk show host, he was an actor
Magruder heard the distinctive voice of Nixon.... which, in this case, was basically a buzzing sound eminating from the earpiece of a 1970ish telephone which was being held to the ear of another person.
Okay. Let's include this completely unverifiable morsel in our "documentary". Yeah.
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