Chuck Colson, Nixon 'Hatchet Man' Turned Preacher, Dead at 80

Nixon 'hatchet man' turned jailhouse preacher dies at age 80.

ByABC News
April 4, 2012, 4:22 PM

April 21, 2012 — -- Chuck Colson, a self-described "hatchet man" for the Nixon administration, who served seven months in prison for Watergate-related crimes before starting a Christian prison ministry, has died. He was 80 years old.

Colson died Saturday afternoon from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage at the Fairfax Inova Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, according to his website. His wife, Patty, and other family members were with Colson when he died.

On March 31, 2012 Colson received emergency surgery for a blood clot on his brain after becoming sick at a speaking engagement the day before. Colson had been in critical condition since the surgery, and was kept in intensive care.

Indicted in 1974 for his role in attempting to cover up the Watergate burglary, Colson arranged a plea deal in which he confessed to his role in obstructing justice in another investigation. Colson admitted to organizing a break in at the psychiatrist office of Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who brought to light the Nixon's administrations Vietnam War strategy with what would come to be called the Pentagon Papers.

Colson served as President Nixon's special counsel from 1969 to 1973, and became the first of the so-called Watergate Seven to serve a prison time for their roles in a series of crimes including the break-in and cover up at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC.

Colson had a reputation for ruthlessness in the administration. Associated with Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President, or CREEP, Colson put together a list informally known as Nixon's Enemies List, comprised of political opponents. He was widely quoted in the media for saying he would drive over his own grandmother to keep Nixon in the White House.

Soon after his arrest, Colson became a born-again Christian. Derided at the time for his courthouse conversion, conservative commenter William Buckley called it a "huge joke."

In 1974, Colson served seven months of a three-year sentence for obstruction of justice related to the Ellsberg case.

Not long after his release from prison, in 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, which eventually became the world's largest prison ministry, operating in detention facilities in 113 countries.

"I've worked with, quite literally, thousands of men and women in hundreds of prisons all over the world and I have seen countless conversions," Colson told ABC News in 2007. "Prison is a tough environment with few distractions, there is ample time to take a hard look at yourself."

Colson's own conversion made him a darling of the religious right. GOP presidential contender and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum routinely invokes Colson's story on the stump.

"I love him and pray for him and his family," Santorum told ABC News through his spokeswoman.

ABC News' Olivia Katrandjian contributed to this report.