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Context of 'January 24, 1973: ’Deep Throat’ Confirms FBI’s Investigation Deliberately Short-Sighted; Evidence Lacking to Prove Deeper Conspiracy'

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President Nixon authorizes the creation of a “special investigations unit,” later nicknamed the “Plumbers,” to root out and seal media leaks. The first target is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (see June 13, 1971); the team will burglarize the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in hopes of securing information that the White House can use to smear Ellsberg’s character and undermine his credibility (see September 9, 1971). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, who supervises the “Plumbers,” will later say that the Ellsberg burglary is “the seminal Watergate episode.” Author Barry Werth will later write, “[L]ike all original sins, it held the complete DNA of subsequent misdeeds.” During the upcoming court battle over the documents, Nixon tells his aide Charles Colson: “We’ve got a countergovernment here and we’ve got to fight it. I don’t give a damn how it’s done. Do whatever has to be done to stop those leaks.… I don’t want to be told why it can’t be done.” Whatever damaging information the “Plumbers” can find on Ellsberg will be itself leaked to the press, Nixon says. “Don’t worry about his trial [referring to Ellsberg’s arrest on conspiracy and espionage charges (see June 28, 1971) ]. Just get everything out. Try him in the press… leak it out.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] As he is wont to do, Nixon refers to his own success in convicting suspected Communist spy Alger Hiss in 1950. “We won the Hiss case in the papers,” he says. “We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it.… It was won in the papers…. I leaked out the papers. I leaked everything.… I leaked out the testimony. I had Hiss convicted before he ever got to the grand jury.” [Kutler, 1997, pp. 10; Reeves, 2001, pp. 337-338] In July 1973, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt, the notorious “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005) will tell reporter Bob Woodward that Nixon created the Plumbers because the FBI would not do his bidding in regards to Ellsberg. Had the FBI agreed to investigate Ellsberg to the extent Nixon wanted, he would not have created the “Plumbers.” “The problem was that we [the FBI] wouldn’t burglarize” (see June 30-July 1, 1971), Felt will say. Ehrlichman will later testify, “Those fellows were going out as substitutes for the FBI.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 107]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, ’Plumbers’, Alger Hiss, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Lewis Fielding, Bob Woodward, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

A confident G. Gordon Liddy leaves the courtroom.A confident G. Gordon Liddy leaves the courtroom. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The trial of the seven men accusing of breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) begins. Defendant G. Gordon Liddy is confident to the point of exuberance, waving triumphantly to the jurors; the other defendants are more subdued. Prosecutor Earl Silbert’s opening argument presents a scenario in which Liddy had been given money for legitimate political intelligence-gathering purposes, and on his own decided to mount illegal operations. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, observing in the courtroom, is dismayed; Silbert is giving the jury the “Liddy-as-fall-guy” tale Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein had learned of months before, and which Nixon and his aides had discussed in June (see June 21, 1972). After Silbert’s opening argument, Hunt abruptly changes his plea to guilty; the four Miami-based burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—soon follow suit (see January 10, 1973). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 229-231; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Eugenio Martinez, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Earl Silbert, Virgilio Gonzalez, G. Gordon Liddy, Frank Sturgis

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

During the Watergate trial of G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord (see January 30, 1973), Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward begin poring over the exhibits and papers filed as evidence with the court. Woodward begins calling the phone numbers listed in the address books of the burglars (see June 18, 1972). He is told by one of the first people he calls: “The FBI? They never, never contacted me. I never talked to them.” Woodward is appalled that the FBI has made such a fundamental investigative failure of not calling all of the people listed in the books. (An FBI internal report will later attempt to explain the lapse—see July 5, 1974.)
Woodward Calls Witnesses - When the court releases the names of upcoming witnesses, Woodward begins calling them, too. He asks one witness, who knows burglar E. Howard Hunt (see January 8-9, 1973) very well, what he will testify to. “I’ll tell you what I could testify to, but [prosecutor Earl] Silbert won’t ask,” the witness replies. “If the judge does or any of the attorneys, I’ll say it.” The witness has already told everything he knows to Silbert and FBI investigators.
Ehrlichman Allegedly Ran Plumbers - He says that if asked, he would tell the court that, according to Hunt, White House aide John Ehrlichman was in charge of the Plumbers (see December 7, 1972). Hunt would have rather dealt with another White House aide, Charles Colson, “because Colson understood that such [secret intelligence gathering operations against political opponents] are necessary.” Ehrlichman was reluctant to implement some of Hunt’s schemes, the witness says, but Colson pushed them through. Former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell received typed logs and reports of the wiretaps on the Democrats, the witness says.
Conspiracy Linked to Dean - Most surprisingly for Woodward, the witness says that when Hunt was in hiding from investigators (see June 18, 1972) and demanding a lawyer, he insisted that White House counsel John Dean find him one. This is the first time anyone has publicly connected Dean to the Watergate conspiracy.
Not Asked - As the witness predicts, he will not be asked any of this when he testifies. Woodward and Bernstein write a long analysis of the trial, headlined “Still Secret: Who Hired Spies and Why,” observing that the Liddy/McCord trial is notable for “questions that were not asked, answers that were not given, witnesses who were not called to testify, and some lapses of memory by those who were.” At the bond hearing for Liddy and McCord after the trial, Judge John Sirica will say that he hopes the proposed Senate investigation (see February 7, 1973) can find out what the trials did not. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 237-241]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, Charles Colson, Earl Silbert, John Dean, John Mitchell, James McCord, G. Gordon Liddy, John Sirica, E. Howard Hunt, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward once again meets with his FBI background source, W. Mark Felt—known around the Post offices as “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Felt says that everyone in the FBI knows, or is convinced, that former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell and White House aide Charles Colson were the driving forces behind the “Plumbers,” the “special investigative unit” that carried out illegal surveillance and burglaries for the Nixon re-election campaign (see Late June-July 1971). “Colson’s role was active,” Felt says. “Mitchell’s position was more ‘amoral’ and less active—giving the nod but not conceiving the scheme.” While no one at the bureau doubts this, Felt says, there is only “the weakest circumstantial evidence” to prove it. “‘Insulation’ is the key word to understand why the evidence can’t be developed.” He adds, perhaps challengingly, “If the FBI couldn’t prove it, I don’t think the Washington Post can.” Mitchell and Colson sponsored convicted Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Felt says. “And if you’ll check, you’ll find that Liddy and Hunt had reputations that are the lowest. The absolute lowest. Hiring these two was immoral. They got exactly what they wanted. Liddy wanted to tap the New York Times and everybody knew it. And not everybody was laughing about it. Mitchell, among others, liked the idea.” (The scheme to wiretap the Times was never carried out.) With the convictions of the burglars (see January 8-11, 1973 and January 30, 1973), the White House’s plan now is to contain the damage and prevent any congressional hearings from finding out anything further. The key to the damage-control plan, Felt says, is the broad claim of presidential “executive privilege” to keep investigators from subpoenaing White House records. Someone from inside the conspiracy is going to have to crack, Felt says, or there will never be more than rumor and circumstantial evidence that will prove nothing. Felt is disgusted with the FBI investigation’s deliberate narrowness (see Mid-January, 1973), saying that it could have gone far deeper and farther afield than it did. “The efforts to separate the Watergate and the espionage-sabotage operations are a lot of bullsh_t,” he says. After heated discussions over Felt’s latest revelations, Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein decide there is not enough concrete evidence for a new story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 243-246]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Nixon administration, New York Times, John Mitchell, W. Mark Felt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

G. Gordon Liddy.G. Gordon Liddy. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]Following on the five guilty pleas of their fellow defendants (see January 8-11, 1973), the final two Watergate defendants, G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, are found guilty of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping Democratic headquarters. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] During the trial, the court hears damning testimony from confessed Watergate accomplice Alfred Baldwin (see Mid-January 1973) and former Nixon campaign treasurer Hugh Sloan (see January 23, 1973). As the trial progressed, the stolid solidarity of the defendants began to crack, with Liddy’s lawyer attempting to shift the blame for criminal actions onto E. Howard Hunt, who pled guilty three weeks before. McCord’s lawyer won little sympathy from the jury by attacking Judge John Sirica’s impartiality and competence during the trial. Prosecutor Earl Silbert, calling Liddy “the leader of the conspiracy, the moneyman, the boss,” told the jury in his final statement, “[W]hen people cannot get together for political purposes without fear that their premises will be burglarized, their conversations bugged, their phones tapped… you breed distrust, you breed suspicion, you lost confidence, faith and credibility.” He asked for “a verdict that will help restore the faith in the democratic system that has been so damaged by the conduct of these two defendants and their coconspirators.” The jury takes a mere 90 minutes to return its verdict. Sirica orders the two immediately jailed while he considers bail. [Washington Post, 1/31/1973; Reeves, 2001, pp. 567]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, Alfred Baldwin, James McCord, Earl Silbert, E. Howard Hunt, Hugh Sloan, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 232]
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 146-147] At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 153-156; Washington Post, 6/1/2005] In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 158-159]
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 167-215; Washington Post, 6/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, W. Mark Felt, Vanity Fair, Ronald Reagan, Carl Bernstein, Weather Underground, Winston Lord, Chase Coleman-Beckman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Washington Post, Laurence Lynn, Fred F. Fielding, Hartford Courant, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Mann, J. Edgar Hoover, John D. O’Connor, Joan Felt, Josh Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray, Leonard Garment, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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