The Watergate break-in fifty years ago was a turning point in Jeb Stuart Magruder’s life in more ways than one. It set in motion a chain of events that sent him to prison, but it also made him realize that something was missing from his life: trust in Jesus.
Early in the morning of June 17, 1972, police arrested five burglars trying to plant bugging devices in the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in Washington.
At the time, Magruder served as deputy director of President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign. Almost immediately, Magruder began to work with other officials to cover up the involvement of the campaign and the White House in the break-in. Twice, he perjured himself before a grand jury.
Magruder explained how he justified his actions in his book From Power to Peace: “I considered a crime to be an act of violence against another person—a rape, a murder, an assault, or a robbery. I knew that what I had done was unethical, in some areas illegal, but like most white-collar lawbreakers, I felt that I was acting against something or someone faceless. ‘They’ were out to get us, so we made sure they didn’t, or at least we tried.”
He had attended church all his life, but it didn’t affect the way he behaved the rest of the week. As the coverup began to collapse like a house of cards, he felt a sense of shame.
“I found it hard to go to church at all,” he wrote. “I was becoming too well known in a negative way, and being in any kind of group was uncomfortable. Even in church, I had a feeling that people were looking, pointing, wondering. I also had the idea that God might be looking down at me with distaste and thought it better to keep my distance from him.”
“The missing ingredient in my life”
Yet he did attend the first service conducted by a new pastor at National Presbyterian Church, Dr. Louis “Louie” Evans. After seeing Magruder testify on TV before a Senate committee, Evans and his wife sent him a note of encouragement, inviting him to drop by their home. That proved to be another turning point, with Evans eventually leading him to Christ.
He had long felt something was missing in his life, but he didn’t take the time to find out what it was until Watergate.
“All the earthly supports I had ever known had given way, and when I saw how flimsy they were I understood why they had never been able to make me happy,” he wrote. “The missing ingredient in my life was Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with him. Anything else was a great big if, and only he was constant. Whatever I had lost I could do without. With him I could survive.”
Shortly after spending seven months in prison for perjury, Magruder began working for Young Life, and then he attended seminary. He served as a minister at churches in California, Kentucky, and Ohio.
Magruder didn’t live a perfect life after becoming a Christian—he was divorced twice and appeared to have a drinking problem. But before his death in 2014 following a stroke, he was a living testimony to Jesus’ ability to transform lives.