This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=l__patrick_gray_1
W. Mark Felt, the number three official at the FBI, is given the memo allegedly written by ITT lobbyist Dita Beard (see February 22, 1972) by Assistant Attorney General L. Patrick Gray to have it forensically analyzed. However, Gray soon demands the memo’s return. Felt has the memo analyzed, but no solid conclusions as to its validity can be initially determined. Shortly after returning the memo to Gray, Felt receives a phone call from White House counsel John Dean; Dean tells Felt that ITT experts had determined that the Beard memo was a forgery. On March 17, as Beard is denying writing the memo, FBI analysts report to Felt that the memo is likely authentic. Before the FBI can release its findings to the public, Dean presses Felt to change the letter; both Felt and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refuse, and Hoover releases the finding on March 23. Hoover even refuses a direct request from President Nixon to back off on the finding of authenticity. Felt feels that the request is nothing less than pressure from the White House to cover up the ITT-GOP connection, pressure which Felt will later characterize as “in some ways a prelude to Watergate.” (Gentry 2001, pp. 716-717; Woodward 2005, pp. 37-39)
L. Patrick Gray, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, is named the acting director of the FBI by President Nixon. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2007) Gray, a Navy veteran and a “straight arrow” who neither smokes nor drinks, hires the first female FBI agents and relaxes the rigid agency dress code. He has a long relationship with Nixon, and worked on Nixon’s staff in the late 1950s when Nixon was vice president. Considered an outsider by many FBI officials, his naming to the post particularly infuriates deputy director W. Mark Felt, who believes he should have been given the post. Felt, who becomes the celebrated Watergate source “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), may have decided to leak Watergate-related information in part because of his dislike for Gray and his resentment at not becoming director. (Purdom 7/7/2005)
White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). (Time 4/2/1973) Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol; the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister; CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971); pages from the Pentagon Papers; memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson; two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh; and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. (Reeves 2001, pp. 501-502) Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 30-31)
The FBI’s acting director, L. Patrick Gray, authorizes White House counsel John Dean to sit in on the FBI’s interview of White House special counsel Charles Colson—in fact, the interview is conducted in Dean’s office. The order apparently originates with President Nixon, or Nixon’s senior aide John Ehrlichman, and not Gray. Dean is thus able to monitor and supervise everything that Colson says, and report his findings to the White House. Dean will be allowed to sit in on many subsequent FBI interviews of White House personnel; furthermore, all such requests for interviews will go through Dean, and Gray will even give Dean the FBI investigative reports. In its internal review of the FBI’s investigation two years later, the Office of Planning and Evaluation will call this Gray’s most “serious blunder from an investigative standpoint… obviously the furnishing to Dean by Mr. Gray of our reports allowed Dean the total opportunity to plan a course of action to thwart the FBI’s investigation and grand jury inquiry.” It is clear, the report will find, that Dean had ample opportunity to prepare White House officials as to what to say and what to conceal, and gave Dean “time to set the stage in order that the results of that investigation would be more favorable to Dean’s ultimate ends.” (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ; Woodward 2005, pp. 2)
With the FBI tracing the Watergate burglars’ $100 bills to GOP fundraiser Kenneth Dahlberg (see August 1-2, 1972), President Nixon orders the CIA to attempt to stop the FBI from investigating the Watergate conspiracy, using the justification of “national security.” One of the areas Nixon specifically does not want investigated is the $89,000 in Mexican checks found in the account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker (see April-June 1972). (Reeves 2001, pp. 508-510; Woodward 2005, pp. 59-60) Author James Reston Jr. will write in 2007: “The strategy for the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation of the Mexican checks… was devised by Haldeman and Nixon. This was a clear obstruction of justice.” (Reston 2007, pp. 33-34) The plan, concocted by Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell, is to have deputy CIA director Vernon Walters tell the new FBI Director, L. Patrick Gray, to, in the words of Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, “stay the hell out of this… this is, ah, business we don’t want you to go any further on it.” Nixon approves the plan. White House aide John Ehrlichman will later testify that he is the one tasked with carrying out Nixon’s command; Nixon tells Ehrlichman and Haldeman to have the CIA “curb the FBI probe.” (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Nixon: FBI, CIA Should Back out of Investigation - In his discussion with Nixon, Haldeman says that “the FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them, and they have, their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money… and it goes in some directions we don’t want it to go.” Haldeman also says that the FBI has a witness in Miami who saw film developed from one of the Watergate burglaries (see Mid-June 1972). He tells Nixon that the FBI is not aware yet that the money for the burglars can be traced to Dahlberg, who wrote a $25,000 check that went directly to one of the Watergate burglars. That check is “directly traceable” to the Mexican bank used by the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). Haldeman says that he and Ehrlichman should call in both Gray and CIA Director Richard Helms and tell both of them to have their agencies back out of any investigation. Nixon agrees, saying that considering Hunt’s involvement: “that will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab there’s a hell of a lot of things and that we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves.” Haldeman says he believes that Mitchell knew about the burglary as well, but did not know the operational details. “[W]ho was the assh_le who did?” Nixon asks. “Is it [G. Gordon] Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be nuts.” Haldeman says Mitchell pressured Liddy “to get more information, and as [Liddy] got more pressure, he pushed the people harder to move harder on.…” Both Nixon and Haldeman think that the FBI may believe the CIA, not the White House, is responsible for the burglary; Nixon says: “… when I saw that news summary item, I of course knew it was a bunch of crap, but I thought ah, well it’s good to have them off on this wild hair thing because when they start bugging us, which they have, we’ll know our little boys will not know how to handle it. I hope they will though. You never know. Maybe, you think about it. Good!” A short time later in the conversation, Nixon instructs Haldeman to tell his staffers not to directly lie under oath about their knowledge of the burglary, but to characterize it as “sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre,” and warn the FBI that to continue investigating the burglary would “open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah, because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case.… That’s the way to put it, do it straight.” (AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History 6/1993) Later in the day, both Walters and CIA Director Richard Helms visit Haldeman to discuss the situation. Helms says that he has already heard from Gray, who had said, “I think we’ve run right into the middle of a CIA covert operation.” Helms and Walters both agree to pressure Gray to abandon the investigation, but their efforts are ineffective; the assistant US attorney in Washington, Earl Silbert, is driving the investigation, not the FBI. (Reeves 2001, pp. 508-510)
Gray: Improper Use of FBI - Soon after Nixon’s order, acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray tells Nixon that his administration is improperly using the CIA to interfere in the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. Gray warns Nixon “that people on your staff are trying to mortally wound you.” Gray is himself sharing Watergate investigation files with the White House, but will claim that he is doing so with the approval of the FBI’s general counsel. (Purdom 7/7/2005) It is unclear whether Gray knows that Nixon personally issued the order to the CIA. Soon after the order is issued, a number of the FBI agents on the case—15 to 20 in all—threaten to resign en masse if the order is carried out. One of the agents, Bob Lill, will later recall: “There was certainly a unanimity among us that we can’t back off. This is ridiculous. This smacks of a cover-up in itself, and we’ve got to pursue this. Let them know in no uncertain terms we’re all together on this. [T]his request from CIA is hollow.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 189-191) No such mass resignation will take place. Because of evidence being classified and redacted (see July 5, 1974), it will remain unclear as to exactly if and how much the CIA may have interfered in the FBI’s investigation.
'Smoking Gun' - The secret recording of this meeting (see July 13-16, 1973), when revealed in the subsequent Watergate investigation, will become known as the “smoking gun” tape—clear evidence that Nixon knew of and participated in the Watergate cover-up. (Washington Post 2008)
FBI Director L. Patrick Gray meets with White House aides John Ehrlichman and John Dean in Ehrlichman’s White House office. Dean gives Gray two files that he says came from Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s office safe (see June 22-26, 1972). Gray should keep the files, Dean says; they are “political dynamite” that “should never see the light of day.” Gray will later burn the files rather than turn them over to the FBI (see April 27-30, 1973). (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) According to Dean’s later testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), among the contents is a briefcase containing “loose wires, Chap Sticks with wires coming out of them, and instruction sheets for walkie-talkies.” (Time 7/9/1973) According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s FBI source W. Mark Felt, Ehrlichman tells Dean, “You go across the [Potomac] river every day, John. Why don’t you drop the g_ddamn f_cking things in the river?” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 305-306) Dean tells Ehrlichman “in a joking manner that I would bring the materials over to him and he could take care of them because he also crossed the river on his way home. He said no thank you.” It was after that discussion that the decision was made to give the evidence to Gray. (Time 7/9/1973) Gray keeps the files for about a week, then puts them in an FBI “burn bag.” A Dean associate later tells Post reporter Carl Bernstein, “You ever heard the expression ‘deep six’? That’s what Ehrlichman said he wanted done with those files.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 305-306)
CIA Director Richard Helms confers with FBI Director L. Patrick Gray over the FBI’s investigation into the Mexican bank account apparently used to launder illegal campaign contributions (see Before April 7, 1972). Helms tells Gray that the Midwest finance chairman of the Nixon campaign, Kenneth Dahlberg, last had contact with the CIA in 1961. The FBI is not sure what the nature of this contact between Dahlberg and the CIA is. The next day, Gray tells his deputy, Mark Felt, that neither Dahlberg nor Mexican lawyer Manuel Ogarrio Daguerre (see Before April 7, 1972) are to be interviewed because of “national security considerations.” The CIA’s deputy director, Vernon Walters, will tell Gray on June 27 and 28 that neither Dahlberg nor Ogarrio have any connection with the agency, and the CIA has no reason to object to their being interviewed. Gray will give belated permission for the FBI to interview the two on July 6, 1972. Dahlberg will initially lie to the FBI about some of the money he collected that found its way into the account of one of the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ogarrio will also be interviewed, but only after Dean reverses his initial decision not to allow the FBI to talk with him. (Note on source: This information comes from a 1974 FBI report about the efficacy of the investigation; much of the information in these sections concerning the CIA is redacted. Also, another section of the FBI report says that Gray canceled the meeting with Helms at the request of Nixon aide John Ehrlichman.) (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray refuses to allow FBI investigators to interview Kathleen Chenow, a former secretary to David Young. Young, a former aide to White House special counsel John Ehrlichman, is one of the lawyers tasked with coordinating the activities of the “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971). Gray says that he cannot allow the agents to interview Chenow because of “national security” concerns. Gray will later tell investigators that Chenow has returned to the US in a military helicopter, in the company of Fred Fielding, the assistant to White House counsel John Dean (see June 22, 1972). Fielding was ordered by Dean to find Chenow and bring her in to speak to the FBI. Gray then permits the FBI to interview Chenow, in Dean’s presence. Chenow is not forthcoming. The FBI will later note, “It appears likely the reason we had to wait to interview Chenow was because Dean wanted to brief her beforehand.” Similarly, Gray will delay FBI interviews with Young until Dean has a chance to confer with the former White House aide. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray calls President Nixon to warn him that some of his White House aides are trying to “mortally wound” him by interfering with the FBI and the CIA in the Watergate investigation (see June 23, 1972). Nixon merely replies, “Pat, you just continue to conduct your aggressive and thorough investigation.” Gray later testifies (see August 1973), “I expected the president to ask me some questions.” When Gray hears nothing for two weeks from Nixon, he concludes that he is just being “alarmist” about the situation. (Time 8/20/1973)
FBI Director L. Patrick Gray begins sending FBI investigation files, including classified 302 files (raw interview materials), to White House counsel John Dean (see June 22, 1972). Gray does not clear the reports through the office of the attorney general, as he is mandated by law to do. Gray has no authority under the law to transfer the files to anyone, particularly those who are connected to the subjects of FBI investigations. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
President Nixon meets in his hideaway office in the Executive Office Building with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman. Their conversation is captured on Nixon’s secret taping system (see July 13-16, 1973). Haldeman reports that he has learned from his own secret source that there is a leak in the highest echelons of the FBI, a source apparently funnelling information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: “Mark Felt.” Felt, the deputy director of the bureau, is Woodward’s clandestine background source “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Haldeman warns Nixon not to say anything because it would reveal Haldeman’s source, apparently some “legal guy” at the Post. Besides, “[I]f we move on [Felt], he’ll go out and unload everything. He knows everything that’s to be known in the FBI.” According to White House counsel John Dean, there are no legal sanctions that can be taken against Felt, because Felt has broken no laws. Dean is worried that if the White House takes any action, Felt will “go out and get himself on network television.” Nixon snarls: “You know what I’ll do with him, the little b_stard. Well, that’s all I want to hear about it.” Haldeman tells Nixon that Felt wants to be director of the FBI. Nixon’s first question: “Is he Catholic?” “No sir, he’s Jewish,” Haldeman replies. “Christ, put a Jew in there?” Nixon asks. “Well, that could explain it too,” Haldeman observes. (Woodward 2005, pp. 85-86) Acting director L. Patrick Gray will inform Felt of the White House’s suspicions in early 1973, leading Felt to strenuously deny the charge, but Gray will refuse White House demands to fire Felt. (Woodward 2005, pp. 139)
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray burns key documents in the Watergate case. He has had the documents, originally kept in the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, in his possession for about five months. The two Nixon aides who gave him the documents, John Ehrlichman and John Dean, warned Gray that they were “political dynamite” and should never see the light of day. Gray dithers over what to do with the documents for that entire time period before finally burning them with his Christmas trash. The documents include falsified diplomatic cables that implicated former President John F. Kennedy in the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and a dossier on Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy’s troubled personal life. Gray will later tell investigators that he destroyed the papers because they had no relation to Watergate, and in 2005 will admit that he destroyed them on direct orders from White House officials. He will say that he had no idea “that these guys are trying to sandbag me,” and will add, “I know it’s hard for people to think somebody could be so stupid, but I believed them.” (Purdom 7/7/2005) Gray will reveal his destruction of evidence during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973).
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets with W. Mark Felt, his secretive “Deep Throat” FBI source (see May 31, 2005), at an out-of-the-way bar in Maryland. During the meeting, Felt warns Woodward that the FBI is up in arms about finding the source, or sources, of news leaks about Watergate. The Nixon campaign lawsuit and subpoenas to Woodward and other reporters (see February 26, 1973) are “only the first step” in an all-out White House campaign against the press in general and the Post in particular. Felt says that Nixon has “told the appropriate people, ‘Go to any length’ to stop them. When he says that, he really means business.” There is about $5 million left in the Nixon campaign fund from the 1972 elections, and Nixon intends to use that money to, as Felt says, “take the Washington Post down a notch.” A full-blown grand jury investigation of the Watergate leaks is being planned, Felt says. Felt describes Nixon as “wild” and “shouting” about the idea. “He thinks the press is out to get him and therefore is disloyal; people who talk to the press are even worse—the enemies within, or something like that.” Felt seems surprisingly unconcerned, and explains that he feels the Nixon administration is, in Woodward’s words, “on the ropes.” “It can’t work. They’ll never get anyone. They never have. They’re hiding things that will come out and even discredit their war against leaks. They can’t stop the real story from coming out. That’s why they’re so desperate.… The flood is coming, I’m telling you.” Felt says that all of this is why L. Patrick Gray pressured the White House into naming him as permanent FBI director (see February 17, 1973), so he could help contain the leaks and ensure that the press never learns the true extent of Watergate. Felt also strongly implies that the Gray nomination is the result of implicit blackmail on Gray’s part—name him FBI director or, as Felt puts it, “all hell could break loose.” Gray and White House counsel John Dean will later deny this. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 268-270; Woodward 2005, pp. 12-13)
President Nixon formally nominates acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray to permanently head the agency. His nomination is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for action. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) Many political observers find the nomination inexplicable. It is virtually certain that Gray’s confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973) will turn into a Congressional inquiry into the FBI’s reluctance to investigate the broader aspects of the Watergate conspiracy. Administration officials confirm that the decision to nominate Gray was the result of a contentious debate, with President Nixon personally overruling the strenuous objections of his top aide, John Ehrlichman. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 267-268)
An internal FBI memo shows that the bureau suspects one of its own as being a source for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for Watergate-related information. The memo reads in part: “As you know, Woodward and Bernstein have written numerous articles about Watergate [in which] they have frequently set forth information which they attribute to Federal investigators, Department of Justice sources and FBI sources.… [T]here is no question but that they have access to sources either in the FBI or the Department of Justice.” The memo says that the FBI’s acting director, L. Patrick Gray, has ordered an analysis of the reporters’ most recent article to determine its source and to locate the FBI leaker. The memo is signed by W. Mark Felt, the FBI’s deputy director and Woodward’s infamous source, nicknamed in the Post newsroom “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Woodward, who will read the memo for the first time in 1992, will realize as he pores over the document that Felt used the memo to cover his own tracks, not only by initiating the leak inquiry but by casting suspicion, however briefly, on US Attorney Donald Campbell. (Woodward 2005, pp. 7-11)
Tom Hart, an aide to Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), is preparing a card index of all the news and media reports on Watergate in preparation for the confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 28-29, 1973). Hart has a binder filled with lists of contradictions and unanswered questions that Byrd and other Democratic senators intend to bring up during the hearings. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 271-272)
The Senate confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 17, 1973) begin. (Woodward 2005, pp. 13-14) As predicted (see February 27, 1973), they are an opportunity for angry Democrats to grill Gray about the FBI’s failure to expand their investigation of the Watergate conspiracy beyond the burglary itself (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Gray launches his testimony by insisting that the FBI conducted a “massive special” investigation, a “full-court press” with “no holds barred.” But on the first day of testimony, without even being asked, Gray volunteers that he had given White House Council John Dean some of the raw FBI files of the investigation (see June 28, 1972), and offers the senators the files to peruse for themselves. (Time 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) Gray admits to turning over at least 82 FBI documents on the investigation to Dean, even though the FBI’s general counsel had ordered that no documents be turned over without the approval of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In doing so, not only did Gray circumvent Kleindienst, whose Justice Department would have to prosecute anyone violating federal laws in the Watergate conspiracy, but gave information to White House officials bent on concealing evidence of their own involvement. Gray turns over a document showing that he spoke with Dean at least 33 times about the Watergate investigation between June and September 1972. (Time 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) After the second day of testimony, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein learns from Gray’s lawyer, William Bittman, that Dean had never given the FBI two notebooks from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 19, 1972). Bittman believes the notebooks contained information about who was involved in the Watergate conspiracy. Bittman, clearly disturbed by the missing documents, notes that they were “[v]aluable enough for someone to want them to disappear.” The Gray hearings will bring John Dean’s involvement in Watergate to the fore, and reveal that Gray took possession of the notebooks. (Time 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 272-273; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
President Nixon says he will invoke “executive privilege” to prevent White House counsel John Dean from testifying at the confirmation hearings of FBI director L. Patrick Gray (see February 28-29, 1973). “No president could ever agree to allow the counsel to the president to go down and testify before a committee,” Nixon says. “I stand on the same position there that every president has stood on.” The Washington Post reports Nixon’s claim along with the news that Dean has apparently made two critical sets of Watergate documents disappear (see June 28, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 273; Reeves 2001, pp. 574)
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, mired in contentious Senate hearings about his nomination to permanently take the position (see February 28-29, 1973), says that contrary to media reports, White House counsel John Dean took nothing from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. The White House issues a statement making the same claim. But Gray’s claims are critically undermined by another revelation. In FBI documents released to the Senate by Gray as part of his testimony, and subsequently made available to the public, one document catches the eye of reporters: a memo titled “Interview with Herbert W. Kalmbach.” Kalmbach, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, said in the interview that in August or September 1971, he had obeyed instructions from Nixon aide Dwight Chapin to hire Nixon campaign operator Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and pay Segretti for his services. The interview guts the White House’s claim that it never hired any such agents provacateurs as Segretti, destroys Gray’s (and the FBI’s) credibility with many senators, and vindicates the media’s reporting on the broader Watergate conspiracy. The atmosphere at the Washington Post is jubilant. Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward put together a scathing news analysis based on the discovery, using quote after quote from administration sources and pairing each quote with information disproving the administration claims. Unfortunately, the reporters later write, the article is unintentionally “packaged like an ax murder,” with a row of pictures of Nixon officials that resemble a lineup of mug shots. White House officials later tell the reporters that this single story garners a tremendous amount of hatred and resentment among Nixon officials. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 273-274; Woodward 2005, pp. 13-14)
The Senate hearings for L. Patrick Gray’s nomination as FBI director (see February 28-29, 1973) become ever more contentious after revelations that the White House lied about its employment of campaign operatives like Donald Segretti (see March 6-7, 1973). Gray testifies that White House counsel John Dean “probably” lied when he told FBI investigators he did not know Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt worked in the White House (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), even though the FBI’s investigation showed that Dean originally hired another of the burglary plotters, G. Gordon Liddy. (Time 4/2/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 274; Woodward 2005, pp. 13-14)
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, writhing under harsh questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973), has displayed a candor and a willingness to reveal information that the White House has found disturbing. But that comes to an end; after Gray’s early offer to let senators examine the FBI’s files on the Watergate investigations, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst overrules that offer. Kleindienst insists that Gray has no authority to make such an offer, and instead proposes that only the chairman of the Judiciary Commiteee, James Eastland (D-MS), and its ranking member Roman Hruska (R-NE), be allowed to view the files. Gray is privately ordered by Kleindienst to stop talking about the FBI investigation. Gray reluctantly obeys, and begins responding to questions about the investigation by saying, “I respectfully decline to answer that question.” Towards the end of the hearings, Gray will inform the committee about Kleindienst’s “gag order.” Kleindienst may have issued the order because of Gray’s testimony that he was pressured by White House aides John Dean and John Ehrlichman to find and close media leaks they believed were coming from within the FBI, requests that Gray resented “because I don’t think there were those leaks within the FBI.” (Time 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Gray's Partisanship Questioned - Committee members also question Gray’s open advocacy of the Nixon administration, a position they find unbecoming in a supposedly nonpartisan FBI director. They want to know why in September 1972 he abandoned the agency’s nonpartisan tradition and ordered 21 field offices to file expert advice on how best Nixon and his aides could handle campaign issues related to criminal justice. And they are disturbed that during the 1972 campaign, Gray himself stumped for Nixon in three separate speeches, in what Time magazine calls “blatantly political activity his predecessor [J. Edgar Hoover] would never have undertaken.” Committee member Robert Byrd (D-WV) said before the hearings: “In the nine months that Mr. Gray has held the post of acting director, there has been increasing criticism of that bureau as becoming more and more a political arm of the administration. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had always been a nonpolitical bureau, and Mr. Hoover meticulously avoided partisanship in campaigns.” Confirmation of Gray, Byrd continued, “would be damaging to the proficiency and morale of the agency.” Many senators also question Gray’s lack of law enforcement experience. (Time 3/5/1973)
'Twist[ing] in the Wind' - During the hearings, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman privately proposes that the White House not support Gray, and instead leave him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” until he resigns (see April 5, 1973). Shortly before his death in 2005, Gray will say, “I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years” in going to work for Nixon. “I put the rudder in the wrong direction.” (Purdom 7/7/2005)
L. Patrick Gray, the acting director of the FBI, withdraws his name from consideration to become the full-fledged director after a bruising month of Senate hearings (see February 28-29, 1973). (Time 4/16/1973) Gray resigns from the FBI shortly thereafter (see April 27-30, 1973). (Purdom 7/7/2005) (Gray and the White House made some fruitless attempts to skew the hearings in Gray’s favor. According to the FBI’s 1974 internal Watergate report, “It is noted that in connection with his confirmation hearings, Mr. Gray on occasion instructed that proposed questions and answers about various matters be prepared which could be furnished to friendly Republican Senators.” One such set of “friendly” questions was indeed asked by Senator Edward Gurney (R-FL) about the ongoing FBI investigation of Donald Segretti—see June 27, 1971, and Beyond.) (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) The Senate Judiciary Committee was sharply divided over Gray’s nomination, with many senators viewing Gray as little more than a White House operative due to his admitted improper cooperation with White House aides in the FBI’s Watergate investigation, and his admitted destruction of potentially incriminating evidence. Many in the Nixon White House had privately withdrawn their support for Gray. Committee chairman James Eastland (D-MS) told Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that it was unlikely the committee will approve Gray’s ascension to the post. The committee’s ranking minority member, Roman Hruska (R-NE), a Nixon loyalist, proposed that the commitee delay any decision until after the Senate Watergate Committee completes its investigation, giving Gray time to quietly resign, but Gray’s most powerful opponent on the committee, Robert Byrd (D-WV) headed off that proposal. After the session, Gray asked President Nixon to withdraw his name from consideration. Nixon says that Gray is a victim of “totally unfair innuendo and suspicion,” and defends his administration’s access to the FBI files as “completely proper and necessary.” Byrd proposes that the FBI become an independent agency not answerable to the attorney general, as does another lawmaker, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). The proposal will not gain much traction. (Time 4/16/1973)
Attorney General Richard Kleindienst meets with President Nixon to tell him that White House counsel John Dean has testified about the White House’s ordering of the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971). The biggest problem is not the ties to the Watergate burglary, Kleindienst says, but the trial of Daniel Ellsberg now going on in Santa Monica, California (see May 11, 1973). The prosecution must inform the trial judge about the new information, and the judge must decide whether to inform Ellsberg’s lawyers. Nixon tries to claim that the break-in is a matter of national security and must not be divulged, but Kleindienst says it is too late for that, the information will “be out in the street tomorrow or two days from now, a week, and the law clearly dictates that we have to do—it could be another g_ddamn cover-up, you know.… We can’t have another cover-up, Mr. President.” Nixon says, “I don’t want any cover-ups of anything.”
Motive - Dean’s primary motive for divulging this information is his desire for immunity from prosecution, Kleindienst believes. He adds that Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson has asked about granting Dean immunity: “and he even comes up to the point where a trump card of Dean would be that I’m going to implicate the president—and I told Henry at that point you have to tell Dean to go f_ck himself. You’re not going to blackmail the government of the United States and implicate the president in the Ellsberg matter.” Nixon, depressed and reckless, says that maybe he should just be impeached and removed from office, letting Vice President Spiro Agnew have the presidency. “There’s not going to be anything like that,” Kleindienst assures Nixon.
Details of Testimony - Nixon also grills Peterson about Dean’s testimony, and learns that Dean has divulged his knowledge of the destruction of key evidence by FBI chief L. Patrick Gray (see Late December 1972 and April 27-30, 1973)—Gray denies destroying the evidence, claiming Dean is lying. Nixon says Gray has to resign. Peterson says he will not give in to Dean on any attempt to blackmail his way into an immunity agreement; Nixon agrees, comparing it to the stories of paying Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt “hush money” (see June 20-21, 1972)—“I would never approve the payoff of Hunt,” Nixon assures Peterson. Nixon ends the conversation by asking Peterson for the details of any upcoming case against chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. Peterson agrees to give him that information. (Reeves 2001, pp. 595-598)
The New York Daily News reports that acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray destroyed potentially incriminating evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see Late December 1972). Gray, who testified to this days before to the Watergate grand jury, said that he received the material from White House counsel John Dean. “I said early in the game,” Gray testifies, “that Watergate would be a spreading stain that would tarnish everyone with whom it came in contact—and I’m no exception.” Shortly afterwards, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns from his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005), that the story is true. Felt informs Woodward that Gray was told by Nixon aides Dean and John Ehrlichman that the files were “political dynamite” that could do more damage to the Nixon administration than Watergate (see June 28, 1972). Woodward realizes that the story means Gray’s career at the FBI is finished. Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein write their own report for April 30; the same day, Gray resigns from the FBI (see April 5, 1973). Instead of Felt being named FBI director, as he had hoped, Nixon appoints the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, to head the bureau. Felt is keenly disappointed. (Time 8/20/1973; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ; Woodward 2005, pp. 96-98) When he learns of Gray’s actions, Post editor Howard Simons muses: “A director of the FBI destroying evidence? I never thought it could happen.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 306-307) The FBI’s 1974 report on its Watergate investigation dates Gray’s resignation as April 27, not April 29 (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) , a date supported by reports from Time. (Time 8/20/1973)
Former White House counsel John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) between January and April of 1973, according to sources quoted by the Washington Post. Dean plans on testifying to his assertions in the Senate Watergate hearings (see May 17-18, 1973), whether or not he is granted immunity from prosecution. He will also allege that Nixon himself is deeply involved with the Watergate cover-up. Nixon had prior knowledge of payments used to buy the silence of various Watergate conspirators, and knew of offers of executive clemency for the conspirators issued in his name. Dean has little solid evidence besides his own personal knowledge of events inside the White House.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Nixon Central Figures in Cover-Up - Dean will testify that two of Nixon’s closest aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973), were also present at many of the meetings where the cover-up was discussed in Nixon’s presence. The White House, and Haldeman and Ehrlichman, have tried to portray Dean as the central figure in the Watergate conspiracy, and the Justice Department says there is ample evidence to indict Dean for a number of crimes related to the cover-up. Dean and his supporters paint Dean as a White House loyalist who merely did what he was told, until he began agonizing over the effect Watergate was having on Nixon. Dean alleges that Nixon asked him how much the seven Watergate defendants (see June 17, 1972) would have to be paid to ensure their silence, aside from the $460,000 already paid out; when Dean replied that the cost would be around $1 million, Nixon allegedly replied that such a payoff would be no problem. Dean has told investigators that later Nixon insisted he had been merely “joking” about the payoff. Dean says by that time—March 26—Nixon knew that Dean would be cooperating with the Watergate investigation, and that he believes Nixon was trying to retract the statement for his own legal well-being.
Pressured to Confess - Dean has also testified that Nixon tried to force him to sign a letter of resignation that would have amounted to a confession that Dean had directed the Watergate cover-up without the knowledge of Nixon, Haldeman, or Ehrlichman. When Dean refused to sign, he says, Nixon warned him “in the strongest terms” never to reveal the Nixon administration’s covert activities and plans. Dean also says that Nixon personally directed the White House’s efforts to counterattack the press over Watergate (see October 16-November, 1972). Until January 1, Dean has told investigators, he usually reported to Haldeman and Ehrlichman regarding his Watergate-related activities, but after that date Nixon began taking more of an active role in dealing with Dean, and gave Dean direct orders on handling the cover-up.
Reliable Witness - Dean has so far met eight times with the Watergate prosecutors, and twice with the chief legal counsel of the Senate Watergate committee, Samuel Dash. Dash and the prosecutors find Dean a compelling and believable witness. “[E]verything we have gotten from Dean that we were able to check out has turned out to be accurate,” says one Justice Department source. Dean says he tried without success to obtain records that would support his allegations in his final days in the White House, and believes that many of those records may have been destroyed by now. Dean did manage to remove some secret documents before his firing, documents that prompted Nixon to recently admit to “covert activities” surrounding Watergate. Dean’s information has already led to the revelation of the burglary of the office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and to the resignation of FBI director L. Patrick Gray after Gray was found to have destroyed evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 6/3/1973)
Three government sources say that former White House aide John Ehrlichman and former White House counsel John Dean secretly recorded telephone and face-to-face conversations with other Watergate conspirators, beginning in January 1973. Ehrlichman taped a conversation with former FBI director L. Patrick Gray concerning incriminating files removed from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972), and another conversation with Dean about the same documents. In January, Dean taped several conversations with political operative Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond). (Woodward and Bernstein 6/13/1973)
Former acting director of the FBI L. Patrick Gray testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. He admits to destroying potentially incriminating evidence (see Late December 1972), and testifies that although he improperly cooperated with the White House in providing Nixon aides with FBI files on its Watergate investigation, he never considered himself part of the Watergate conspiracy: “At no time did I feel I was dealing with individuals who were trying to sweep me into the very conspiracy that I was charged with investigating. That’s a madman’s horror.” Gray, a Navy veteran, adds: “In the service of my country, I withstood hours and hours of depth charging, shelling, bombing, but I never expected to run into a Watergate in the service of a president of the United States. And I ran into a buzz saw, obviously.” (Purdom 7/7/2005)
The Justice Department’s Office of Planning and Evaluation (OPE) submits a report on the role and actions of the FBI in the Watergate investigations. The report finds that, even with the attempts of former Attorneys General John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst, White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and others to “mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry,” and the “contrived covers” used to direct attention away from the White House, the FBI investigation was “the ultimate key to the solution of not only the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) but the cover itself.” The report continues: “There can be no question that the actions of former Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst served to thwart and/or impede the Bureau’s investigative effort. The actions of John W. Dean at the White House and Jeb S. Magruder at the Committee to Re-elect the President were purposefully designed to mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry. At every stage of the investigation there were contrived covers placed in order to mislead the investigators.” The OPE notes the following problems in the investigation, and provides explanations of some:
Providing information concerning ongoing investigations to the White House, and allowing Dean to actually sit in on interviews of White House personnel (see June 22, 1972).
Failing to interview key members of CREEP, the Nixon re-election campaign organization, as well as allowing CREEP attorneys to sit in on interviews of CREEP employees and allowing those attorneys access to FBI investigative materials. The report says that the investigation initially focused on James McCord and E. Howard Hunt, and interviewed CREEP officials tied directly to them. The net was widened later on. However, the report acknowledges that many CREEP employees undoubtedly lied to FBI investigators, “most notably John Mitchell, Jeb Magruder, Bart Porter, Sally Harmony, and Maurice Stans.” Porter and Magruder in particular “lied most convincingly.” Another CREEP employee, Robert Reisner (Magruder’s assistant), was not interviewed because Reisner successfully hid from FBI investigators. The FBI believes it was Reisner who cleaned out the “Operation Gemstone” files from Magruder’s office (see January 29, 1972 and September 29, 1972). Numerous other financial and other files were also destroyed after being requested by the FBI, most notably Alfred Baldwin’s surveillance tapes and logs from the Democratic offices in the Watergate (see May 29, 1972). Many of these files were destroyed by G. Gordon Liddy. “It is apparent that most [CREEP] people in the summer of 1972 were quite willing to lie and/or tell us considerably less than the full truth,” the report notes.
An untenable delay in searching and securing Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s desk in the White House, putting the contents of that desk at risk of being removed, and the “[a]lleged activities by former Acting Director [L. Patrick] Gray to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation of Watergate” (see June 22, 1972). Gray is known to have destroyed materials from Hunt’s desk given to him by Dean, and is known to have extensively interfered with the FBI’s investigation (see June 28-29, 1972 and Late December 1972). The report notes that while it cannot find specific evidence that Gray broke any laws in his attempts to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, it is clear that Gray cooperated with the White House, specifically through Dean, to ensure that the White House was always aware of what avenues of investigation were being pursued. The OPE says that Gray’s destruction of files from Hunt’s safe did not necessarily impede the FBI’s investigation, because it has no way of knowing what was in those files. The report says that it is unfortunate that “many people make no distinction between the FBI’s actions and Mr. Gray’s actions.”
Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
Failing to secure and execute search warrants for the burglars’ homes, automobiles, and offices. The OPE says that many of those issuing this criticism “should know better,” and claims that the FBI agents involved did their level best to obtain search warrants within the bounds of the law. The report notes that after the burglary, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, Earl Silbert, did not believe there was probable cause to search burglar James McCord’s home or office until after July 10, 1972, when Baldwin told the FBI that he had taken surveillance equipment to McCord’s home (see June 17, 1972). Even then, Silbert decided that because of the amount of time—23 days—that had expired, a search warrant would have been pointless.
Failing to identify and interview a number of people listed in the burglars’ address books. The OPE report notes that the decision to interview far less than half of the names in the books was made by FBI agents in the Miami field office, and due to the “fast moving extensive investigation which was then being conducted,” the decision to only track down a selected few from the books was right and proper. The report notes that subsequent interviews by reporters of some of the people in the address books elicited no new information. The report also notes that Gray refused to countenance interviews of the remaining subjects in the address book while the trial of the seven burglars (see January 8-11, 1973) was underway.
Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
Failure to thoroughly investigate CREEP agent Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and other CREEP operatives. The OPE finds that because Segretti was initially uncooperative with FBI investigators, and because an “extensive investigation” turned up nothing to connect Segretti with the Watergate conspiracy, the agents chose not to continue looking into Segretti’s actions. Only after press reports named Segretti as part of a massive, White House-directed attempt to subvert the elections process (see October 7, 1972) did the FBI discuss reopening its investigation into Segretti. After reviewing its information, the FBI decided again not to bother with Segretti. The OPE finds that the decision was valid, because Segretti had not apparently broken any federal laws, and the FBI does not conduct violations of election laws unless specifically requested to do so by the Justice Department. The report also says that politics were a concern: by opening a large, extensive investigation into the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks,” that investigation might have impacted the upcoming presidential elections.
Media leaks from within the FBI concerning key details about the investigation (see May 31, 2005). The report finds no evidence to pin the blame for the leaks on any particular individual. The report notes that New York Times reporter John Crewdson seemed to have unwarranted access to FBI documents and files, but says it has turned that matter over to another agency inside the bureau.
Failing to interview, or adequately interview, key White House officials such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, and others. The report justifies the decision not to interview Haldeman because the FBI had no information that Haldeman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the burglary itself.
“Alleged attempt on part of Department of Justice officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation.” The report is particularly critical of Kleindienst’s concealment of his contact with Liddy about the burglary (see June 17, 1972).
“Alleged attempt by CIA officials to interfere, contain, or impede FBI Watergate investigation.” The report notes that during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Republican co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) tried repeatedly to assert that the CIA was behind the burglary. The report calls Baker’s theory “intriguing” but says no evidence of CIA involvement on any operational level was ever found. The report notes that there is still no explanation for the discussions regarding the CIA paying the burglars (see June 26-29, 1972), or the CIA’s involvement with Hunt before the burglary—loaning him cameras, providing him with materials for a disguise, and helping Hunt get film from the first burglary developed. According to the report, Gray stopped the FBI from pursuing these leads. The FBI report says that the CIA involvement apparently had nothing to do with the Watergate burglary, but was more in support of Hunt’s activities with the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971).
“Alleged activities on part of White House officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI Watergate investigation (Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et cetera).” The report notes, “There is absolutely no question but that the president’s most senior associates at the White House conspired with great success for nine months to obstruct our investigation.” The report says it was “common knowledge” throughout the investigation that the White House was paying only “lip service” to investigators’ requests for honest, complete answers; the report cites Dean as a specific offender. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost moves from the erased Watergate tape (see November 21, 1973) to Nixon’s damning conversation with Charles Colson about “stonewalling” the Watergate investigation. This time around, Frost is far more prepared and ready to deal with Nixon’s tactics of obfuscation and misdirection than in earlier interviews (see April 6, 1977).
Surprise Information - Nixon is unaware that Frost knows about his conversation that same day with Colson (see June 20, 1972). Along with what is known about his conversation with Haldeman, the Colson conversation puts Nixon squarely in the midst of the conspiracy at its outset. More important than Frost’s command of the facts is Frost’s springing of a “surprise card” (Frost researcher James Reston Jr.‘s words) on Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate sessions. Nixon obviously must contend with the questions of what else Frost knows, and how he would ask about it. As Frost details excerpts from the Colson conversation, about “stonewalling” and “hav[ing] our people delay, avoiding depositions,” Reston watches Nixon on the monitor. Reston will later recall: “His jawline seemed to elongate. The corners of his mouth turned down. His eyes seemed more liquid. One could almost see the complicated dials in his head turning feverishly. It was a marvelously expressive face. The range of movement both within the contours of the visage and with the hands was enormous.” Frost concludes with the question, “Now, somewhere you were pretty well informed by this conversation, weren’t you?” After some fumbling and half-hearted admissions of some knowledge, Nixon begins justifying his actions in the conspiracy: “My motive was not to cover up a criminal action, but to be sure that as any slip over—or should I say slop over, a better word—any slop over in a way that would damage innocent people or blow it into political proportions.” (Reston 2007, pp. 124-126)
Pinning Nixon down on CIA Interference - Frost asks about the conversations of June 23 (see June 23, 1972), when Nixon told his aides to have the CIA interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the burglary. Nixon tries dodging the point, emphasizing how busy he was with other matters that day and quibbling about the definition of the phrase “cover-up,” but finally says that he had no criminal motive in ordering the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating the matter of the Mexican checks found in Watergate burglar Bernard Barker’s bank accounts. He was merely engaged in political containment, he says, and besides, two weeks later, the FBI traced the checks to a Mexican bank anyway (see Before April 7, 1972 and August 1-2, 1972). Nixon emphasizes his instructions to then-FBI director L. Patrick Gray to move forward on the investigation (see July 6, 1972). (Later, Nixon staff member Jack Brennan will admit that they had almost convinced Nixon to admit to the illegality of the June 23 orders, but Nixon had demurred.)
'You Joined a Conspiracy that You Never Left' - It now falls to Frost to confront Nixon with the strictures of the law and the evidence that he had broken those laws. Frost says, “But surely, in all you’ve just said, you have proved exactly that that was the case, that there was a cover-up of criminal activity because you’ve already said, and the record shows you knew, that Hunt and Liddy [E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, the leaders of Nixon’s “Plumbers”] were involved… you knew that, in fact, criminals would be protected.” Nixon protests, “Now just a moment,” but Frost says, “Period.” Frost lectures Nixon on obstruction of justice, saying: “The law states that when intent and foreseeable consequences are sufficient, motive is completely irrelevant.… If I try to rob a bank and fail, that’s no defense. I still tried to rob a bank. I would say you tried to obstruct justice and succeeded in that period” between June 23 and July 6. Nixon retorts that he does not believe Frost knows much about the details of the obstruction of justice statutes, but fails to move Frost, who has been carefully instructed in the obstruction statutes all week. Frost eventually says: “Now, after the Gray conversation, the cover-up went on. You would say that you were not aware of it. I was arguing that you were part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation.” Nixon repeats, “You’re gonna say that I was a part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation?” Reston later writes, “It was a crucial moment, a moment that took considerable courage for David Frost.” Frost replies: “Yes.… I would have said that you joined a conspiracy that you never left.” “Then we totally disagree on that,” Nixon retorts. Reston later writes: “No journalist in America, I concluded, would have had the courage of Frost in that vital moment. But therein lay the failing of American journalism. For Frost here was an advocate. He was far beyond the narrow American definition of ‘objective journalism.’” (Time 5/9/1977; Reston 2007, pp. 124-126)
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. (Drehle 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.” (Drehle 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. (Drehle 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; Drehle 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; Drehle 6/1/2005)
Former FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, who resigned under fire during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973), appears on ABC’s This Week to respond to the recent revelation that his then-deputy, W. Mark Felt, was the notorious informant “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Thirty years before, Felt had lied to Gray when asked if he had leaked information to the press (see October 19, 1972). Gray, whose health is in serious decline, airs decades’ worth of pent-up grievances against both Felt and the Nixon administration, which he says left him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s words—see Late March, 1973) after he admitted giving information about the Watergate investigation to White House staffers (see June 28, 1972 and July 21, 1972). He felt “anger, anger of the fiercest sort” after hearing Ehrlichman’s words, and adds, “I could not believe that those guys were as rotten as they were turning out to be.” He was justified in burning key White House documents instead of turning them over to the FBI (see Late December 1972), he says, because the documents were unrelated to the Watergate investigation. Learning that Felt, his trusted deputy, was “Deep Throat” was, Gray says, “like [being] hit with a tremendous sledgehammer.” Gray says that if he could, he would ask Felt: “Mark, why? Why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t we work it out together?” Gray says he now realizes that he could not stop the FBI from leaking information to the press because Felt was in charge of stopping the leaks. “I think he fooled me… by being the perfect example of the FBI agent that he was.… He did his job well, he did it thoroughly, and I trusted him all along, and I was, I can’t begin to tell you how deep was my shock and my grief when I found that it was Mark Felt.” Two weeks after the interview, Gray will die of cancer. (Johnston 6/26/2005; Roberts 2008, pp. 151) After Gray’s death, his son Ed Gray will call his father “the only wholly honest” man involved in Watergate. (Associated Press 7/6/2005)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike