Watergate

Chuck Colson’s Memorial Steeped in Prison Themes

The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Prison Fellowship founder and former Nixon aide Chuck Colson was memorialized Wednesday (May 16) at Washington National Cathedral in a service steeped in Scripture and prayers about prison and redemption.

Colson, who died April 21 at the age of 80 after a brief illness, was known as Nixon's "hatchet man" and served seven months in prison on Watergate-related charges. But at the 90-minute service, he was recalled as a transformed "friend of sinners."

“Chuck was not perfect, but he was forgiven,” said the Rev. Timothy George, the homilist and dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School.

Chuck Colson to Be Buried at Quantico

The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Prison Fellowship founder and Watergate figure Chuck Colson will be buried privately with full military honors at Quantico National Cemetery, with a public memorial service expected later at Washington National Cathedral.

Colson, who died Saturday (April 21) at age 80 after a brief illness, served as a captain in the Marines.

Michelle Farmer, a spokeswoman for Prison Fellowship, said Tuesday the family graveside service at the Virginia cemetery will occur “in the coming days.”

Remembering Charles Colson

The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Charles Colson, former aide to President Richard Nixon and founder of Prison Fellowship, passed away Saturday at the age of 80. His death came as a result of complications of a brain hemorrhage. 

Many news stories this weekend emphasized Colson’s role in the Watergate scandal of the mid-1970s, in which he led Nixon’s efforts to discredit Daniel Ellsberg following the release of the Pentagon Papers on U.S. decision making during the Vietnam war. As a result of those activities, he pled guilty to obstruction of justice and served seven months in prison. Shortly before going to prison, Colson had a religious conversion to Christianity. And that led to the more important part of his life.

The Man Who Would Be King

There are few times as deeply etched in my memory as July 24, 1974, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that President Richard Nixon had to surrender the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor. Those tapes offered indisputable proof that Nixon had played a key role in covering up the Watergate break-in and other illegal activities.

I remember thinking, What would Nixon do? Surrendering the tapes would mean political ruin and personal disgrace. Would he obey the court or call out the National Guard? Mercifully, eight hours after the court decision, the White House announced it would comply.

I felt that same chill down my spine listening to President George W. Bush on Dec. 17, 2005, as he attempted to explain the revelations in The New York Times concerning him ordering the National Security Agency to engage in extensive eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without the court order required by the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Not even mentioning FISA, the president stated proudly, “I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups.”

By what authority did Bush ignore the FISA requirement? Bush claimed he was using “...authority vested in me by Congress, including the Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force...[and] constitutional authority vested in me as commander-in-chief.” Most legal scholars agree that these arguments are quite a stretch. A group of distinguished lawyers, several of whom worked in senior positions in administrations of both parties, sent members of Congress an extensive legal analysis of Bush’s domestic spying, concluding, “The program appears on its face to violate existing law.”

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Sojourners Magazine March 2006
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Life During Wartime, Again

I'm reluctant to mouth off about something like the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and all that followed. It makes me feel old. I never tell children how much they've grown, and I never say that their music is a bunch of noise. And I don't like to tell young people how things were back in my day. In fact, I like to think that my day is still going on. But then I heard of a public opinion poll showing that most people thought Nixon's trip to China was a more important historical event than Watergate. That, of course, is exactly what Nixon wanted, and the thought of his posthumous victory was too much to bear. I started to think, "Maybe this is what old guys are for." So here are some lessons of history, including a few we seem condemned to repeat.

In post-literate America, the version of Watergate that survives is the one embodied in the film All the President's Men. Two ambitious and unrelenting young reporters (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein) take on a band of conniving old fuddy-duddies (Nixon, Mitchell, et al.) and win. One of the reporters is short, smart, nervous, and Jewish; the other is handsome, WASP, and well-connected. Nixon, their nemesis, is driven by egomania, paranoia, and other psychological disorders. The country is saved by Redford-Woodward's buddy, a shadowy insider code-named Deep Throat.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2002
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