Quantcast

How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI | The Nation

  •  

How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

No sooner was the latest leak investigation finished than Felt was again feeding information to Woodward. On February 25, Felt and Woodward met in a bar. Felt cautioned Woodward to be careful and patient, noting that the White House was now very concerned that the full story would soon come out. Inside the White House, meanwhile, Nixon and his men were indeed worrying that Felt could on his own bring them down. In a taped conversation on February 28, Nixon asked Dean what would happen if "Felt comes out and unwraps the whole thing." Then Nixon answered himself: "Everybody would treat him like a pariah." Dean agreed: "He can't do it."

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...

Also by the Author

How the deal at the Copenhagen climate change summit came about--and why it may not be a real deal.

Four and a half years ago, after reading the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative specializing in counter-proliferation wo...

Woodward and Felt spoke briefly by phone twice in April, with Felt giving advance warning of the bombshell announcement that Dean and Haldeman would soon resign. (Ehrlichman and Kleindienst left with them.) And on April 27 Gray resigned from the FBI after disastrous confirmation hearings (and after the press reported he had burned Hunt's secret office papers at the behest of Ehrlichman and Dean). Nixon quickly named William Ruckelshaus, then head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to be the new acting FBI director.

Ruckelshaus, who wanted to reform the bureau, and Felt, the leader of the pro-Hoover faction at headquarters, clashed immediately. Meanwhile, Nixon was still fretting about Felt. On May 11 Nixon, who was now politically wounded by Watergate, expressed his frustration to his new chief of staff, Alexander Haig. They believed Felt had leaked damaging information, but they could not expose him. "We've got to be careful as to when to cut his nuts off," Haig said. Nixon responded: "He's bad." The next day Nixon told Haig that Felt was a "goddamn traitor." "Just watch him damned carefully," Nixon added. He said that he would let the "new man"--Ruckelshaus--"clean house" at the FBI. Presumably, that would take care of the Felt problem.

On May 16 Felt and Woodward met briefly in the garage; it was the night before the Senate Watergate hearings were to begin. Felt hurriedly delivered an apocalyptic message full of new allegations and warnings: "everyone's life is in danger"; watch out for "electronic surveillance" by the CIA; Nixon had threatened Dean with jail; the list of Mitchell's illegal activities was "longer than anyone could imagine"; Nixon had been blackmailed by Hunt; Nixon ordered the CIA to cover-up Watergate; the cover-up had cost about $1 million; Dean has detailed documents; and much more. Woodward departed stunned.

After further conflict with Ruckelshaus--during which the new director accused Felt of leaking to the press to undermine Ruckelshaus and to position himself to become director--Felt left the bureau on June 22, 1973, ending thirty-two years with the FBI. According to the book FBI by Sanford Ungar, he retired to a home boasting an elaborate collection of Hoover memorabilia, and he went on to lecture at colleges, where he would decry Gray's mishandling of the Watergate investigation. He was also subjected to an FBI investigation looking for inside-the-bureau leakers. But that endeavor did not amount to much; Felt dismissed it as a "tempest in a teapot."

By Woodward's account, Felt met with the reporter only one more time during Watergate, in early November 1973, when Felt told Woodward there were "deliberate erasures" on the White House tapes.

Woodward and Felt kept Felt's identity as Deep Throat a secret for more than three decades. The pre-revelation account of Deep Throat's derring-do (All the President's Men) and the recent stories about Felt's days as Deep Throat do not convey all that Felt had to do to survive during Watergate. He was much more than a secret sharer. He was an operator. Nixon, Dean, Haldeman, Mitchell, Kleindienst and Haig--they were all dead-on correct in suspecting Felt of being a chief source for Woodward and Bernstein. But he actively engaged in bureaucratic ploys so he could come across as the loyal soldier and cover his tracks. His cunning worked. He fooled Pat Gray. Nixon never came after him. And this clever bureaucrat continued to do exactly what Nixon feared: tell Woodward and Bernstein secrets that would help destroy a presidency.

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.