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.
He should have made these claims years ago ..
So the 'fact is'. . .that Magruder's conclusions, taken and now reported, as fact. . .are based on Magruder's overhearing a conversation in which he is sure the voice on the other end was Nixon's. . .
a 'fact'; in fact, that he can not really know, unequivocally.
Agree. . .save for the Dems, who consumed with Nixon hate, are still determined to remove any redemptive nails from the historical image of Richard Nixon. . .
. . .there are probably several motovations for this by PBS et al. . .so maybe they are trying to clean up the Clinton image, so Hillary can campaign a little easier.
Of course, they can only 'clean up' Clinton and his history, by making Nixon and any other Republican look worse. . .<P
. . .for sure. . .
Yeah, I miss Liddy too.
Especially the way he always corrected his callers' grammar.
And how he would brag about how big his member was.
I loved how he would rationalize about cheating on his wife because he was a "real man" and it would be a crime to not spread his "seed."
Why has Magruder taken this long to go public with this? That certainly makes his motives questionable.
It would be interesting to know who is producing this, and who is financing it.
And commonsense tells you the story he's telling is unlikely. The Big Boss doesn't give orders for dicey operations within earshot of anyone except the top lieutenant to whom he's tasking the mission. Just like no orders for the Final Solution can be traced to Hitler, so also Richard Nixon would not have allowed orders for the Watergate break-in to be traced to him.
Jennifer C. Kerr, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (July 27) - Coming forward three decades after Watergate, a former top aide to President Nixon now contends that Nixon ordered the break-in that would lead to his resignation.
Jeb Stuart Magruder previously had gone no further than saying that John Mitchell, the former attorney general who was running the Nixon re-election campaign in 1972, approved the plan to break into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building near the White House and bug the telephone of the party chairman, Larry O'Brien.
Magruder, in a PBS documentary airing Wednesday and in an Associated Press interview last week, says he was meeting with Mitchell on March 30, 1972, when he heard Nixon tell Mitchell over the phone to go ahead with the plan.
The break-in occurred 2 1/2 months later, on June 17, 1972.
Whether Nixon had advance knowledge has gone unanswered for three decades since former Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee first asked, at hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee, ``What did the president know, and when did he know it?''
Magruder, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and perjury charges stemming from the break-in and spent seven months in prison, explained his three decades of silence on Nixon's culpability by telling the AP on Friday: ``Nobody ever asked me a question about that.''
Some historians doubt the allegation by Magruder, who was Nixon's deputy campaign director, an aide to Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, and deputy communications director at the White House. Stanley Kutler, an expert on Nixon's White House tapes, called it ``the dubious word of a dubious character.''
Magruder made the assertion on a PBS documentary, ``Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History.'' He elaborated in the AP interview.
The way Magruder tells the story, Nixon knew everything from the beginning.
Magruder says that on March 30, 1972, he met with Mitchell and discussed a plan by G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent, to break into the Democratic Party headquarters to bug O'Brien's phone.
Magruder said Mitchell asked him to call Haldeman to see ``if this is really necessary.'' Haldeman told him ``yes,'' Magruder said, and then asked to speak to Mitchell. Mitchell and Haldeman talked, and then ``the president gets on the line,'' Magruder said.
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.''
Magruder said he could hear Nixon tell Mitchell, ``John, ... we need to get the information on Larry O'Brien, and the only way we can do that is through Liddy's plan. And you need to do that.''
Mitchell got off the phone, Magruder said, and told him: ``Jeb, tell Maury Stans to give Liddy $250,000 and let's see what happens.'' Maurice Stans was Nixon's commerce secretary and later was chief fund-raiser for the re-election campaign as head of the finance committee.
Magruder concedes that he did not hear every single word while Nixon was on the phone with Mitchell, but ``I heard the import,'' he said.
Mitchell, Haldeman, Stans and Nixon are all dead.
Magruder insisted in the AP interview that he was not asked previously whether Nixon personally authorized the break-in.
Referring to the Senate Watergate hearings, he said, ``If you look at the testimony, you won't find anything.'' Magruder said he testified truthfully, and had he been specifically asked if the president had been involved, ``I would have told the truth.''
Former White House counsel John Dean said he was surprised when Magruder recently told him that Nixon gave advance encouragement to the break-in.
``I have no reason to doubt that it happened as he describes it, but I have never seen a scintilla of evidence that Nixon knew about the plans for the Watergate break-in or that the likes of Gordon Liddy were operating at the re-election committee,'' Dean said.
Historian Kutler, author of ``The Wars of Watergate'' and several other books, said he is skeptical. He is an expert on Nixon's White House tapes, crucial evidence in the 1974 vote by the House Judiciary Committee to recommend Nixon's impeachment. Nixon resigned within days of that vote.
``You've got the dubious word of a dubious character,'' Kutler said.
If there had been such a phone conversation between Nixon and Mitchell, Kutler said, there should be a White House tape recording of it.
``There are any number of tapes in which Nixon is pounding the table and imploring his aides, `I want more. I want more. I want more intelligence.' We have never found a tape where he says, `Go into the Watergate and get it.'''
John Taylor, executive director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, said there is no evidence that Nixon ever gave such an order.
``Indeed, all existing evidence demonstrates that he was shocked and surprised that it had occurred and spent weeks, if not months, attempting to find out why,'' Taylor said.
After Magruder's prison time, he became a Presbyterian minister. Dean went to prison for four months for his role in the scandal. Haldeman and Mitchell also served prison terms.
Liddy served more than four years, then became a radio talk-show host and made speeches fingering Dean as the project's mastermind. Dean has called the allegation ``baloney.''
In all, 25 people went to jail for their roles in the break-in or the attempt to cover it up.
The book "Silent Coup", by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, details the story and Liddy has said that they got closer to the truth than anyone.
According to Silent Coup (Book 2 - Golden Boy), Dean's wife Mo was associated with a madam who provided prostitutes to the DNC, for visiting big shots. The burglery was an attempt to get the "little black book", which was in the desk of a secretary, Ida Wells (who unsuccessfully sued Liddy). The burglers had the key to her desk.
This little black book was supposed to contain the names of the prostitutes and the Johns. The burglers were also to tap Ms. Wells' phone, since she was the one who made the "contacts".
I doubt it.
Nixon was trying to uncover illegal contributions to the DNC. That's not as sexy of a story as Mo Dean being a hooker, but commonsense says it's more plausible.
Check out his websites.
Follow the "Listen Live" link on the upper right to a list of links to stations with the show on the 'net.
Also follw the "Show/station list" links from the menu bar to a list of all the stations which carry the show. One of them may have "popped up" in your area, to replace the station which dropped the show. Or they may have merely shifted the time. ( I can't look at the list at the momemt as my browser seems to be flash deficient.)
The O'Brien story still makes no sense when, according to the book Silent Coup, which G. Gordon Liddy says is the closest to the truth that he knows, states that the "plumbers" had no eavesdropping equipment with them according to Metropolitan P.D. evidence records. Liddy forced John Dean to admit under oath that Blind Ambition was written by a ghost writer and not necessarily accurate. Liddy is about the only one left who's word I would trust.
Besides, after 30+ years, does anyone really think Magruder would all of a sudden come clean with what he knows after never saying anything to Congressional investigators, journalists, etc.? "Gee, no one asked me so I never said anything!" Sounds Clintonian to me...
Exactly. And if you'll remember during the Clinton impeachment this little nugget was raised: The chief counsel for the Democrats prosecuting team during the attempted Nixon impeachment publicly chastised the young feminist lawyer Ms. Rodham, for willfully misrepresenting the history of impeachment and other aspects of it, in a report that she prepared for the prosecutors. She has always been lying scum!