W. Mark Felt? What a disappointment.
If you were of a certain age (and a certain political persuasion), you might have spent hours trying to figure out just who was Deep Throat, Bob Woodward’s secret source during the investigation of the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration. The existence of DT came out in Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s best-selling book “All The President’s Men.” In the hit movie based on the book, Hal Holbrook played the mysterious character.
Felt, who was second-in-command at the FBI in the early 1970s, was on the shortlist of most Watergate observers. According to a Vanity Fair article, Felt felt that disclosures about his past somehow dishonorable, but at the age of 91 found it desirable to clear the air, if only for his family’s sake. Conversely, his family believes he should receive praise for his role in exposing the Watergate scandal before he dies.
There were always a number of people suspected of being the background informant for the reporter: Assistant Attorney General Henry Peterson, deputy White House counsel Fred Fielding, White House press officer Diane Sawyer (yes, the one now on ABC News), Nixon press secretary Ron Zeigler, White House aide Steven Bull, speechwriters Ray Price and Pat Buchanan, White House counsel John Dean, FBI director L. Patrick Gray, Nixon advisor Alexander Haig, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and even former U.N. ambassador (and later president) George H. W. Bush.
I never believed it was Zeigler (too loyal), Buchanan (too verbose) or Dean (too obvious). Haig, Kissinger, and Bush weren’t on my consideration list, either. Gray probably had the most to gain, being squeezed out of power by Nixon’s loyalists. My pick, though, was none of these. It was current Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The increased recent interest in Deep Throat, Woodward’s renewed promise to reveal the source only after DT’s death, and Rehnquist’s failing health obviously led me in the wrong direction. Glad I didn’t have money on it.
But pardon my political naivete: I had no idea that there would be a debate 30 years after the fact over the propriety of the leaks – “Was it criminal?” I read recently. Clearly, Felt was a reluctant hero, but a hero nonetheless. What were his options? Tell Attorney General John Mitchell? A criminal. How about White House Chief of Staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman? Also, a criminal. So the chief law enforcement person for the country, and the head political operative, not to mention their many minions, could not be trusted. And President Nixon himself? My favorite Watergate term: “unindicted co-conspirator.” I believe Mark Felt did the right thing, and I hope he lives out his remaining years in peace.