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Watergate-Era Players Weigh In on Felt's Role

Some say the ex-FBI agent erred by helping the news media. Others say there's more to the story, suggesting he had allies.

June 02, 2005|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, a onetime speechwriter for President Nixon, provided the expected thunder on the right Wednesday, characterizing W. Mark Felt as "dishonorable" for leaking information about Watergate to the Washington Post.

Saying "Deep Throat" is "not a hero ... he's a snake," Buchanan compared Felt to Linda Tripp, who helped precipitate President Clinton's impeachment by leaking tapes of her conversations with Monica S. Lewinsky. Buchanan criticized the media for not making Tripp a heroine as well.

"The only reason Mark Felt is a hero now [is because he helped] destroy Richard Milhous Nixon," Buchanan told WABC Radio.

Others from the Watergate era weighed in with similar criticisms. G. Gordon Liddy, the Nixon operative who led the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters that began the scandal, said Felt was obliged as a law enforcement officer to turn over evidence of wrongdoing to authorities, not to the media.

"What he did was wrong," Liddy said.

"The statute of limitation has long since run, but if he gets money for it, the statute starts running again. If you take money for a corrupt act, you have committed a new offense."

Liddy spent about four years in prison for his role in Watergate, contempt of court and other illegal activities involving the Nixon administration.

Beyond the negative reactions from individuals with close ties to Nixon and Watergate, however, there was a lack of heat.

The right-wing blogosphere that took such delight in pounding CBS' Dan Rather for an erroneous account of President Bush's National Guard service or in pillorying Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) during his presidential campaign for supposed exaggerations of his Vietnam service were muted when it came to Deep Throat.

Most bloggers confined themselves to a few rhetorical sniffs at the media for calling Felt a hero.

"Maybe it's a generational thing but this Deep Throat orgy, er, extravaganza is supremely uninteresting. The Washington Post's wall-to-wall treatment smacks of self love and journalistic hero-worship," wrote Gregory Scoblete, at his G-Scobe blog, billed as "heat and light from a dim bulb."

"Maybe they're indulging in this unseemly spectacle because recent developments have been less kindly to the media establishment: Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, Newsweek, et al. This is the perfect chance to relive -- in Al Bundy-like fashion -- the Big One. "

Outside the world of blogs, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as NATO ambassador during the Nixon presidency, said when asked about Felt being Deep Throat that he was not "in any judgmental mood."

President Bush said he was "looking forward to reading about it, reading about his [Felt's] relationship with the news media."

And John W. Dean III, the Nixon White House counsel who spent four months in jail for Watergate and who wrote a book in 2002 called "Unmasking Deep Throat," was dubious that Felt was the one.

"What always struck me, and one of the reasons I took Felt off the list, is because how could Felt, as an FBI man, be telling Woodward things that the FBI didn't know when he, indeed, is the man running the FBI investigation? So this just doesn't work," Dean told Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's "Countdown" on Tuesday night.

"The other issue that comes up is, indeed, has the man obstructed justice? Is that one of the reasons he remained silent?"

In testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee almost 30 years ago, Dean said that Nixon knew about the break-in and had acted to cover it up. His testimony helped tip public opinion about Nixon's involvement.

In an e-mail Wednesday, Dean suggested that the winds of public opinion on Deep Throat could shift -- and quickly -- once more information was revealed about Felt, and perhaps about his allies.

"Too early to tell," Dean wrote in answer to a question about why conservative reaction had so far seemed muted.

"I think this is still an unfolding story, that there is much more to learn about Felt -- and who else was involved with him."


Times researcher Benjamin Weyl contributed to this report.

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