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Watergate still ticks

Washington, July 28 (Reuters): Thirty years after it happened, a former top aide to Richard Nixon says the former President personally ordered the 1972 burglary of the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel.

Jeb Stuart Magruder, the deputy director of Nixon’s 1972 campaign, revealed in a PBS documentary to air on Wednesday that Nixon personally ordered the bungled break-in at the luxury Watergate Hotel complex. The incident began a series of events that led to impeachment hearings. He became the only US President to resign in 1974.

In the PBS interview, Magruder said he overheard Nixon tell John Mitchell to go forward with the break-in on June 17, 1972. “John... you need to do that,” Magruder said he overheard Nixon say in a telephone exchange with Mitchell on March 30, 1972.

Mitchell resigned as Nixon’s attorney general on March 1, 1972, to head Nixon’s re-election campaign.

John Dean, the White House counsel under Nixon, said during a CNN interview yesterday that he had no evidence to prove or disprove the exchange.

If true, the allegations could significantly sharpen history’s answer to one of the major questions in modern US politics: What did Nixon know and when did he know it'

Watergate experts have widely accepted that Nixon knew of the attempt to break into the office of then Democratic party chairman Larry ’Brien at Washington’s Watergate complex and conspired to cover up White House involvement.

However, G. Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent who spent nearly five years in prison for refusing to testify, has been painted as the mastermind who ordered it. “I must say I did suspect it,” Dean said about Nixon’s personal link to the order, pointing to reported Nixon links to other break-in orders.“It’s not something that strikes me as something Nixon would never do.”

Magruder was charged with perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice for his role in the Watergate cover-up. He spent seven months in prison.

Dean said there was“a little shred of evidence out there” that Nixon ordered the break-in, pointing to a March 1973 audio tape in which then-White House Chief of Staff H.R.“Bob” Haldeman said an unnamed lawyer on Nixon's re-election committee said Magruder had confirmed Nixon's approval of the Watergate break-in.

Dean said he had no reason to doubt Magruder's story.“I can't imagine why Jeb would have any motive to lie at this point. I understand why he delayed,” he said, pointing out that congressional Watergate investigators never asked Magruder about the incident.

”I wish (Magruder) had done it 30 years ago when it wasn't just a bit of historical minutia,” Dean said. After his time in prison, Magruder began a career as a Presbyterian minister.

Substantiating the story will be difficult: Many of the cast of characters including Nixon, Haldeman and Mitchell are deceased.

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