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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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Felt continued to assist Woodward during the last three months of 1972; they met four times in the garage in Rosslyn and spoke once on the phone. In those conversations, Felt provided extensive information on Nixon's "dirty tricks" campaign--which went beyond Watergate--and the cover-up, and he urged Woodward on. In early January Gray confronted Felt with the first direct accusation that Felt was the Post's covert source. As Felt wrote in his memoir, Gray warned him that Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, a Nixon loyalist who had replaced John Mitchell, had said to Gray that Felt might have to be fired. The reason, Gray explained, was that Kleindienst "says White House staff members are convinced that you are the FBI source of leaks to Woodward and Bernstein." Felt wrote that he replied, "Pat, I haven't leaked anything to anybody. They are wrong!" Gray responded that he believed Felt, "but the White House doesn't." Gray, according to Felt, stood up for Felt, telling Kleindienst that Felt was "very competent" and "completely loyal," and that he was not going to remove him. A few weeks later Nixon complained to Gray that Felt had to be removed because he was still suspected of leaking. He told Gray to have Felt "take a lie detector test." Gray countered that Felt was the innocent victim of a "gossip mill" at the FBI. Subsequently, Gray never ordered Felt to be polygraphed; he remained loyal to his number two. Felt had dodged a bullet.

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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Meanwhile, in late January, when Felt met Woodward again late at night in the parking garage, he revealed that the FBI had confirmed that Charles Colson, Nixon's special counsel, had played an "active" role in the burglars' illegal activities. "Colson and Mitchell were behind the Watergate operation," Felt said. Afterward, Woodward and Bernstein debated whether to publish a story. Bernstein was eager, but Woodward wanted to wait until they could better document the information.

Then, on February 21, Woodward and Bernstein wrote a page-one story linking Colson to the operations of the so-called "plumbers"--the secret White House/Nixon campaign team specializing in targeting leaks and spying, bugging and break-ins. In that article, Woodward and Bernstein cited "sources close to the Watergate investigation," "Department of Justice sources," "Federal sources," "Republican sources" and Colson's secret testimony given to "federal investigators" (meaning the FBI).

Responding to a request from Attorney General Kleindienst, Gray ordered another investigation to uncover Woodward and Bernstein's sources. And he handed the job to Felt. This was a bizarre decision, given Kleindienst's and Nixon's earlier fears that Felt was leaking. Once more, Felt was on his own trail. He wrote a memo to his subordinate ordering a full and immediate investigation. Given Felt's secret role as Deep Throat, his memorandum was full of irony and dissembling:

As you know, Woodward and Bernstein have written numerous articles about Watergate. While their stories have contained much fiction and half truths, they have frequently set forth information which they attribute to Federal investigators, Department of Justice sources, and FBI sources. We know that they were playing games with the case agent in the Washington Field Office trying to trick him into giving them bits of information. On balance and despite the fiction, there is no question that they have access to sources either in the FBI or in the Department of Justice.

Acting Director Gray, Felt wrote, "has instructed that you immediately institute an analysis of this article to determine those portions which could have come from FBI sources and in such instances to set forth the persons having access to that particular bit of information."

Felt was going through the appropriate motions. Did he wonder if such an analysis would point to him? Was he confident that his underlings wouldn't catch on or that they wouldn't dare suspect--or cast suspicion upon--their boss? Did he have a plan for what to do if the net closed in?

Later that same day, a detailed four-page reply was sent to Felt that reviewed all the Post article's possible sources. It concluded there were alternative sources, besides FBI personnel, for everything reported. The analysis did not mention any FBI sources as potential leakers. Felt routinely forwarded this analysis to Gray. Two days later, Gray sent a memo to Kleindienst suggesting that possible sources for the leak were the US Attorney's office in Washington and a White House official. The inquiry Felt launched ended up leading not to Felt but to possible leakers at the Justice Department and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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