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Watergate's 'Deep Throat' Is Revealed

The source who covertly gave reporters details about the scandal that ended Richard Nixon's presidency was the FBI's second in command.

June 01, 2005|Richard B. Schmitt and T. Christian Miller | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — W. Mark Felt, a former No. 2 man at the FBI, has revealed that he was the legendary source known as "Deep Throat" who helped two Washington Post reporters expose details in the Watergate scandal that forced President Nixon to give up the White House.

Bob Woodward, who along with Carl Bernstein led the Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, confirmed Felt's identity as the source, ending one of Washington's most tantalizing mysteries.

Watergate, which brought about the only presidential resignation in U.S. history, centered on Nixon's efforts to cover up an array of illegal and unethical activities against political opponents leading up to his reelection in 1972.

Although other newspapers and journalists contributed important reporting, it was Woodward and Bernstein and the Post who pushed the story the hardest and became most closely identified with the Watergate scandal. Woodward told the Post's website Tuesday that Felt had helped the paper at a time of tense relations between the White House and the FBI.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 03, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
"Deep Throat" -- An article in Wednesday's Section A about the disclosure that Watergate source Deep Throat was retired FBI official W. Mark Felt said Felt was later involved in illegal activities. The article should have specified that the illegal activities occurred during the Watergate era of 1972 to 1973 and that Felt was convicted in 1980 of authorizing break-ins without warrants in investigations of a radical antiwar group. President Reagan pardoned Felt.

Having a source as highly placed as Felt buttressed the newspaper's confidence in pursuing the story, even though he was never quoted by name. The reporters said Deep Throat provided important inside information early in the Watergate scandal, which helped keep the story alive until televised congressional hearings rocked the country.

The stories Woodward and Bernstein wrote about Watergate also have been credited with helping launch an era of investigative journalism -- and with encouraging the use of anonymous sources in stories dealing with controversial subjects.

Trying to figure out the identity of Deep Throat became a cottage industry for journalists and historians in the decades after Nixon's resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.

Now, in an article in the July issue of Vanity Fair magazine, the 91-year-old Felt is described as having confided to family and friends that he was the source.

"I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat," author John O'Connor said Felt told him on several occasions. O'Connor, a San Francisco lawyer and former federal prosecutor, wrote the article with the cooperation of the Felt family, who he said had grown concerned that the former FBI official's role in history might pass unnoticed.

Felt, who suffered a stroke in 2001, had been a prime candidate in the 30-year guessing game about the identity of Deep Throat. Nixon once voiced suspicion that Felt might be the Post's secret source.

On Tuesday, at the two-story home in Santa Rosa, Calif., that he shares with his daughter, Felt appeared briefly before reporters and camera crews but took no questions. He stood with his walker at the front door for a minute or two, smiling and waving to the crowd.

"We appreciate you coming out like this. Nice to see you," he said in a clear, strong voice. "Thanks for coming."

Neighbor Nan Bardes said that in addition to Felt's daughter, Joan, who is a Spanish teacher, a live-in couple cares for him. She described Felt as "very pleasant [and] alert."

In his No. 2 position at the FBI, Felt headed an agency investigation into the Watergate break-in and was in a position to know details that formed the basis of stories the Post team broke.

Why he decided to leak confidential information and why he and his family decided to reveal his role in the saga remain unclear.

Relatives are portraying Felt as a silent hero who took action against a powerful but corrupt president.

"Mark Felt Sr. is a great American hero who went well above and beyond the call of duty at much risk to himself to save his country from a horrible injustice," a statement released by the family said. "We all sincerely hope the country will see him this way as well."

Watergate-era journalists suggested Tuesday that Felt might have had other motives as well.

The break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate apartment and office complex occurred shortly after the death of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Felt's decision to become a source for Woodward and Bernstein coincided with his efforts -- as well as attempts by other FBI officials -- to become Hoover's successor, journalists said.

Felt and others wanted to see an agency veteran succeed Hoover, but Nixon nominated an administration insider, then-Assistant Atty. Gen. L. Patrick Gray, to take over.

Gray served as acting director, but the White House pulled his nomination after he acknowledged sharing information about the FBI's investigation with White House Counsel John W. Dean III and destroying Watergate-related evidence in a fireplace at his Connecticut home.

By helping to propel the Watergate investigation, Felt undercut Nixon and Gray, journalists said.

Felt was also later involved in illegal activities.

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