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How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI | The Nation

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How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI

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From June to early September, Woodward and Bernstein produced more than twenty Watergate-related stories based on interviews with a variety of confidential sources. In All the President's Men Woodward and Bernstein are vague about Woodward's meetings with Felt that summer. The two rendezvoused at a parking garage in Rosslyn, Virginia. Felt's guidance was fairly general. At one meeting he said that "the FBI badly wanted to know where the Post was getting its information." He warned Woodward and Bernstein "to take care when using their telephones" and to be aware that they "might be followed." He advised that the White House was very worried.

Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

About the Author

Jeff Goldberg
Jeff Goldberg is an author and independent television producer of documentaries for PBS, BBC and the Discovery Channel.
David Corn
David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. Until 2007, he was Washington editor of The Nation. He has written...

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But in the summer of 1972, the White House already suspected that someone in the bureau was leaking to the Post (though it's unclear whether Felt was providing Woodward the information causing this suspicion). Woodward and Bernstein often cited "sources close to the investigation" or "federal sources" in their stories. White House officials presumed this mainly meant FBI officials, who were the primary investigators. FBI Acting Director L. Patrick Gray--who had been appointed by Nixon immediately after J. Edgar Hoover's sudden death in May--was cooperating with the White House to thwart a full FBI investigation, and the White House was pressuring him to shut off the various leaks to the media. According to FBI records, Gray held a meeting to chastise angrily all of the twenty-seven FBI field agents working on Watergate and told them not to talk to the press.

The Post's stories continued, and Gray, responding to White House pressure, assembled an intimidating FBI inspection team to question these same agents. Felt later wrote: "When that did not stop the leaks, he [Gray] ordered Assistant Director Charles Bates [head of the FBI's criminal division] to personally grill the men under oath." And when Gray was out of town, White House counsel John Dean would call Felt and demand that he stop the leaks. In one instance in late June, Felt, already helping the Post, ordered an investigation of whether any FBI official had leaked information to the Washington Daily News, but that inquiry produced nothing.

Through the summer of 1972, no one at the White House yet suspected Felt, according to the public record; but it was reasonable for him to fear the Nixon team was focusing on him, Bates, their underlings and the agents working on the Watergate case--the people with direct knowledge of the investigation.

On Saturday, September 9, the Post ran a major page-one story by Woodward and Bernstein reporting that federal sources were indicating that the Watergate criminal investigation was now "completed"--"without implicating any present officials of either the White House or the Committee to Re-elect President Nixon." FBI agents, the story added, were not being allowed to investigate allegations involving illegal campaign contributions to Nixon. (In All the President's Men there is no indication that Woodward spoke to Felt while preparing this story.) Two days later, in response to that article, Felt wrote a one-page memo to Assistant Director Bates that had at least two purposes. One was to make sure that senior officials inside the bureau understood that the FBI's investigation, despite the Post's claim, was not finished. The other was to suggest that Woodward and Bernstein might have been receiving secret FBI information from someone outside the FBI. Deep Throat was shrewdly taking this opportunity to direct suspicion toward another Woodward and Bernstein leaker.

In the September 11, 1972, memo, Felt noted that the county prosecutor in Miami, Richard Gerstein, might be the Post's main source. Gerstein was investigating how a $25,000 check from Nixon's campaign had ended up in the account of a Watergate burglar. Felt wrote: "It appears that much of the information which has been leaked to the press may have come from [Dade] County Prosecutor Gerstein in Florida." To search for the Post's leaker(s), Felt instructed the FBI's Special Agent-in-Charge (SAC) in Miami to interview every FBI official who had been in contact with Gerstein. Felt also expressed concern in the memo that the Post reporters had obtained information directly from an FBI report (called a "302") based on an official interview with a Watergate conspirator. Felt wrote, "I personally contacted [Washington] SAC [Robert] Kunkel [who was supervising the agents probing Watergate] to point out that it appeared the Washington Post or at least a reporter had access to the...302. I told him he should forcibly remind all agents of the need to be most circumspect in talking about this case with anyone outside the Bureau."

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