Charles "Chuck" Colson, known as Richard Nixon's "hatchet man," died on Saturday. He was 80 years old. Colson served as one of Nixon's aides during his reelection campaign, where he was responsible for some of the dirty tricks that led to the president's eventual fall. Colson died of complications from a brain hemorrhage. He had surgery for a clot in his brain on March 30.
Colson served seven months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. While he wasn't convicted for breaking into the Democratic National Convention, he was charged for his role in trying to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, the man suspected of leaking the famous Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war.
During Colson's time with Nixon, he became known of one of the most ruthless aides in the White House. Colson might be most famous for saying he'd "walk over my own grandmother" to get Nixon a second term. The New York Times' Tim Weiner tells this story of Colson's early style of political hardball:
Few played political hardball more fiercely than Mr. Colson. When a deluded janitor from Milwaukee shot Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama on the presidential campaign trail in Maryland in May 1972, Nixon asked about the suspect’s politics. Mr. Colson replied, “Well, he’s going to be a left-winger by the time we get through.” He proposed a political frame-up: planting leftist pamphlets in the would-be killer’s apartment. “Good,” the president said, as recorded on a White House tape. “Keep at that.”
The Washington Post's eulogy for Colson has an even longer history of his unique brand of "dirty tricks" politics. It tracks his rise from college all the way to working with Nixon, and then his eventual stint in jail.
While serving his time in prison, Colson became "born again" and devoted his life to Christianity. He dedicated himself to working with prisoners through his non-profit organization, Prison Fellowship Ministries, which attempts to help reform prisoners through Christianity. Colson was praised for his work to help rehabilitate prisoners, and in 1993 was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Colson's work with in the 1990s made him a leading voice of conservative evangelicals. His work with Rev. Richard John Neuhaus to write a manifest uniting evangelical Christians and Catholics on a political front was initially controversial, and lost his Prison Fellowship Minitstries millions in donations. But, as time went on, the book, "cleared the path for a political and cultural alliance that has reshaped the political debate in America, adding fuel to a rightward turn in the Republican Party and a rising conservative grass-roots movement," writes the Times.
Coulson went to the White House in the early part of George W. Bush's presidency to give a presentation on faith as a basis for foreign and domestic policies, and found he shared a lot of the same ideals as Bush Jr. President Bush awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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