Jeb Stuart Magruder, the former White House aide who served seven months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign from the presidency in 1974, died earlier this month, on May 11. He was 79.
Before John Mitchell was scheduled to resign as Attorney General and move to the Committee to Reelect the President, H.R. Haldeman recruited 34-year old Magruder to set up the committee as acting chairman until Mitchell arrived. A cosmetic marketing guy from Southern California, Magruder was impossibly handsome and clean cut, resembling a Ken doll.
The old Nixon hands like Nick Ruwe, Charlie McWhorter, and Ron Walker called Jeb Stuart Magruder “Steve Stunning” for his model looks. Everything about Magruder was too perfect. perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect wife, perfect kids, perfect golf swing, perfect tennis arm, perfect tan, and perfectly polished shoes.
Magruder and his family had all-American good looks and he took brown nosing and social climbing to a whole new level.
Magruder could be obsequious if you were on the political and social scale above him and an utter jerk if you were on the political or social scale below him.
Late one night during the 1972 campaign, I was leaving the CRP headquarters where I worked as the youngest member of the staff, when the elevator stopped on the floor occupied by the senior staff of the 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue building where the campaign was housed and Magruder got on.
We both said hello but then rode to the basement garage in silence. Magruder and I walked towards our cars.
I was driving a red Volkswagen Bug that had a ‘Reelect the President’ bumper sticker as well as one for the reelection of Congressman Joel T. Broyhill of Virginia. “Is this your car?” Magruder asked. I nodded. “What is this?” he asked, pointing to the Broyhill sticker with his highly polished wingtip. “Get it the f*ck off of there.” He turned and proceeded to his car without further comment.
When Watergate came crashing down Magruder would claim that Attorney General John Mitchell approved the Watergate break-in at a meeting in Key Biscayne, Florida. Mitchell and Mitchell Aide Fred LaRue, was was present denied this but that was Magruder's story for thirty years.
Despite LaRue and Mitchell's accounts to the contrary, Watergate prosecutors accepted Magruder's testimony. Then, three decades later Magruder went a step further with his account of the Key Biscayne meeting adding the claim of an overheard phone call between the president and the attorney general.
According to Magruder, Mitchell called Nixon Aides Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman to discuss the DNC/wiretapping enterprise further. Magruder said that sometime during the call he heard the familiar voice of Nixon on the other end personally giving the order for the break-ins.
“John… we need need to get the information on Larry O‘Brien, and the only way we can do that is through Liddy’s plans,” Nixon allegedly told Mitchell.
"And I could hear his voice distinctly indicating that he wanted the Liddy plan to go ahead," Magruder added. "And Mitchell got off the phone and said to me: 'Jeb, tell Maurice Stans to give $250,000 to Gordon Liddy and let's see what happens.'"
According to John Taylor, executive director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda until 2009, Magruder's claim is undoubtedly false. "The White House Daily Diary, which details all the president's meetings and telephone calls, shows that Mr. Ehrlichman did not meet or talk with President Nixon at any time on March 30, 1972," Taylor said.
Even John Dean would contradict Magruder's late claim, telling the Associated Press, "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 reelection committee."
Dean historian Stanley Kutler, an expert on Nixon's White House tapes, called Magruder's allegation "the dubious word of a dubious character."