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Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, determined to prove to President Nixon that news stories about the secret Cambodian bombings are not being leaked to the press by liberals in the National Security Council offices, urges FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap several of Nixon’s top aides, as well as a selection of reporters. Kissinger will later deny making the request. (Werth 2006, pp. 169) In March 1973, W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” background source, will confirm the wiretappings, saying: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the [Vietnam] antiwar protests. When it got near election time , it was only natural to tap the Democrats (see Late June-July 1971 and May 27-28, 1972). The arrests in the Watergate (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) sent everybody off the edge because the break-in could uncover the whole program.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 271) Felt will tell Woodward that two of the reporters placed under electronic surveillance are Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg will leak the Defense Department documents to Sheehan (see March 1971). Eventually, future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will reveal that at least 17 wiretaps are ordered between 1969 and 1971. The logs of those wiretaps are stored in a safe in White House aide John Ehrlichman’s office. In all, 13 government officials and four reporters are monitored. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313) The FBI will send Kissinger 37 letters reporting on the results of the surveillance between May 16, 1969 and May 11, 1970. When the surveillance is revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee, it will be shown that among those monitored are Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist William Safire; Anthony Lake, a top Kissinger aide who will later resign over the secret bombings of Cambodia; and the military assistant to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, whom Kissinger regards as a political enemy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 21-22)
After President Nixon approves of the so-called “Huston Plan” to implement a sweeping new domestic intelligence and internal security apparatus (see July 14, 1970), FBI director J. Edgar Hoover brings the plan’s author, White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see June 5, 1970), into his office and vents his disapproval. The “old ways” of unfettered wiretaps, political infiltration, and calculated break-ins and burglaries are “too dangerous,” he tells Huston. When, not if, the operations are revealed to the public, they will open up scrutiny of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and possibly reveal other, past illegal domestic surveillance operations that would embarrass the government. Hoover says he will not share FBI intelligence with other agencies, and will not authorize any illegal activities without President Nixon’s personal, written approval. The next day, Nixon orders all copies of the decision memo collected, and withdraws his support for the plan. (Reeves 2001, pp. 236-237) W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI, later calls Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will note that the definition of “gauleiter” is, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “the leader or chief officoal of a political district under Nazi control.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 33-34)
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)
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover promotes W. Mark Felt to be the #3 official in the bureau. Though Hoover’s longtime assistant and confidante Clyde Tolson is putatively the #2 man at the bureau, Tolson is seriously ill and does not often come to work, so Felt essentially becomes the FBI’s deputy director, in charge of day-to-day operations. Felt has access to virtually every piece of information the FBI possesses. Felt will become the celebrated “Deep Throat,” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s inside source for the Watergate investigations (see May 31, 2005). (Woodward 2005, pp. 35)
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)
Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50) Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 326; Reeves 2001, pp. 480)
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that two of the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) have the name “E. Howard Hunt” in their address books, both with notations that indicate Hunt has a post at the White House. Woodward contacts his FBI source, W. Mark Felt—later known as “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005)—and asks Felt the first of many Watergate-related questions. Felt is reticent, merely telling Woodward that the burglary will “heat up” before hanging up on Woodward. Unsure what to do next, Woodward calls the White House and asks for Hunt. When no one answers Hunt’s office phone, the White House operator suggests that Hunt may be in the office of Charles Colson, the special counsel to President Nixon. Colson’s office gives Woodward the number of the Mullen Company, a public relations firm for which Hunt writes (Mullen is a possible CIA front company—see June 17, 1972). Woodward calls Hunt there, and when Hunt answers, asks him why his name is in the address book of two of the Watergate burglars. “Good God!” Hunt shouts, then says he has no comment, and slams down the phone. Within hours, Hunt will go into hiding. White House communications official Ken Clawson tells Woodward that Hunt worked with the White House in declassifying the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971), and, more recently, on a narcotics enforcement project. Clawson then puzzles Woodward by making the following unsolicited statement: “I’ve looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee.” Woodward soon learns that Hunt was a CIA agent between 1949 and 1970. Woodward again calls Felt, who guardedly tells him that Hunt is connected to the burglaries by far more than mere address books. Felt does not tell Woodward that he has already reviewed Hunt’s White House personnel file, and found that Hunt worked over 600 hours for Colson in less than a year. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 24-25; Woodward 2005, pp. 56-58)
Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, makes an unexpected phone call to UPI reporter Helen Thomas. Mrs. Mitchell is initially calm and even a bit sad, but when Thomas brings up the subject of Watergate, Mrs. Mitchell becomes agitated. She is “sick of the whole business,” she says, and adds: “I’ve given John an ultimatum. I’m going to leave him unless he gets out of the campaign. I’m sick and tired of politics. Politics is a dirty business.” (Thomas 1999, pp. 210-211) Suddenly she screams, “You just get away—get away!” and the line goes dead. (Reeves 2001, pp. 508) Three days later she calls Thomas again and asserts that she is a political prisoner in her own home. “I’m not going to stand for all of those dirty things that go on,” she shouts. “If you could see me, you wouldn’t believe it. I’m black and blue.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward believes that Mrs. Mitchell might be an unexpected fount of information about her husband’s inner dealings in the Watergate conspiracy, but when he interviews her in September, she will reveal nothing of import. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 92-95) In October 1972, W. Mark Felt, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s FBI background source (see May 31, 2005), says of Mrs. Mitchell, “She knows nothing, apparently, but that doesn’t mean she won’t talk.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 133)
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 )
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward visits his FBI source, top bureau official W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005), at Felt’s suburban Virginia home. Felt instructs Woodward that if he is to continue funneling information to Woodward as his “deep background” source, ground rules need to be set. Felt brings his early FBI experience as a Nazi tracker to bear. No more phone calls and no more visits, Felt says. Woodward needs an unobtrusive way to contact Felt to arrange a meeting; Felt suggests that Woodward use a flowerpot with a small red flag currently on his apartment balcony. Moving the flowerpot from the front of the balcony to the rear will alert Felt that Woodward wants a meeting. The meetings will take place at 2 a.m. on the bottom level of an underground parking garage in Rosslyn, Virginia. Woodward is to employ countersurveillance techniques for these meetings—taking the stairs instead of the elevators, taking taxicabs instead of his personal car, switching cabs, walking the last few blocks to the garage. If Felt wants a meeting, he will, by methods he never explains, indicate this by marking Woodward’s morning copy of the New York Times. Woodward is never to divulge anything of Felt’s contacts or their relationship to anyone, Felt insists. “I had never heard of such extreme precautions,” Woodward recalls in 2005. “It was extraordinary.” Woodward realizes that Felt is an extraordinary source taking extraordinary risks, and agrees to the procedures. (Woodward 2005, pp. 61-66)
US Attorney Earl Silbert, the chief prosecutor for the Watergate burglary case (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), has the FBI “electronically sweep his office as well as the federal grand jury area” for surveillance devices. Silbert asks for the sweep because of information appearing in the Washington Post’s Watergate reporting that Silbert believes may be coming from inside the courthouse. The sweep, conducted on September 5, finds nothing. FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt—“Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005)—signs off on Silbert’s request. (Woodward 2005, pp. 68)
Disappointed that the Watergate burglary indictments do not extend further than the five burglars and their two handlers (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and September 15, 1972), Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward contacts W. Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005), his FBI source, to ask about a story he and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein have drafted about the indictment. Woodward breaks the rules Felt laid down for contacting him (see August 1972), but Felt does not complain. Instead, Felt tells Woodward that the story is “[t]oo soft.” “You can go much stronger,” he says. Felt tells Woodward to look into “other intelligence gathering activities” beyond Watergate. Felt says that the money for the burglary and other operations is controlled by top assistants to former Attorney General John Mitchell, now chief of the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). In a frantic set of meetings with Judy Hoback, the treasurer of CREEP, Bernstein learns of a secret campaign fund managed by two top campaign aides, Jeb Magruder and Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, as well as White House aide and Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy. Woodward calls Felt for more details, and after Felt abjures Woodward to make this his last phone call, confirms Magruder and Porter’s involvement. In essence, Felt tells Woodward to “follow the money,” though Woodward will not recall Felt using those exact words. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 73; Woodward 2005, pp. 69-71)
Around 2 a.m., Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (popularly called “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005) in the underground parking garage Felt has designated as their rendezvous (see August 1972). Woodward’s partner Carl Bernstein has unearthed fascinating but puzzling information about a Nixon campaign “dirty tricks” squad headed by California lawyer Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond and October 7, 1972). Woodward is desperately searching for a way to pull together the disparate threads of the various Watergate stories. An unusually forthcoming Felt says he will not give Woodward any new names, but directs him to look in “the direction of what was called ‘Offensive Security.’” Things “got all out of hand,” Felt tells Woodward, in “heavy-handed operation[s]” that went farther than perhaps their originators had intended. Felt says bluntly that Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell was involved, and, “Only the president and Mitchell know” how deep Mitchell’s involvement really is. Mitchell “learned some things in those ten days after Watergate,” information that shocked even him. If what Mitchell knows ever comes to light, it could destroy the Nixon administration. Mitchell himself knew he was ruined after Watergate investigation began, and left the administration to try to limit the damage. Felt adds that Nixon aide John Ehrlichman ordered Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt to leave town (see June 18, 1972), a revelation that surprises Woodward, since Ehrlichman’s name has not yet come up in the conspiracy stories.
Four Major Groups - There are four major groups within the Nixon presidential campaign, Felt says. The “November Group” handles campaign advertising. Another group handles political espionage and sabotage for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. A third “primary group” did the same for the campaign primaries (this group not only worked to sabotage Democrats, but Republican primary opponents of Nixon’s as well). And a fourth, the “Howard Hunt group,” is also known as the “Plumbers,” working under Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Felt calls the Plumbers the “really heavy operations team.” Hunt’s group reports directly to Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel. One set of operations by Hunt’s group involved planting items in the press; Felt believes Colson and Hunt leaked stories of former Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton’s drunk driving record to reporters. “Total manipulation—that was their goal, with everyone eating at one time or another out of their hands. Even the press.” The Post is specifically being targeted, Felt warns; the White House plans to use the courts to make Woodward and Bernstein divulge their sources.
Watergate Investigation Deliberately Narrow - Felt says that the Justice Department’s indictments against the seven Watergate burglars (see September 15, 1972) was as narrow as Department officials could make it. Evidence of political espionage or illegal campaign finances that was not directly related to the burglary was not considered. Felt says that the investigation, as narrow as it was, was plagued by witness perjury and evasions.
Everything is Interconnected - Everything—surveillance operations, illegal campaign finances, campaign “dirty tricks”—is interconnected, Felt says. The Segretti story is just the tip of the iceberg: “You could write stories from now until Christmas or well beyond that.” The two men have been alternately standing and sitting in the unlighted parking garage for hours; dawn is approaching, and both are exhausted. Woodward knows he needs specifics, the names of these higher-ups. How is he to know if he is not being railroaded down investigative dead ends by White House media manipulation operations? How about the “Canuck letter” that destroyed the candidacy of Democratic presidential hopeful Edmund Muskie? “It was a White House operation,” Felt replies: “done inside the gates surrounding the White House and the Executive Office Building. Is that enough?” It is not, Woodward retorts. Are there more intelligence and sabotage operations still to come? Woodward angrily says that he is tired of their “chickensh_t games,” with Felt pretending he never provided primary information and Woodward contenting himself with scraps of disconnected information. Felt replies: “Okay. This is very serious. You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and CREEP [the Nixon re-election campaign] to play games and spy and sabotage and gather intelligence. Some of it is beyond belief, kicking at the opposition in every imaginable way. You already know some of it.” Woodward lists the many examples that he and Bernstein have been able to unearth: surveillance, following people, press leaks, fake letters, campaign sabotage, investigations of campaign workers’ private lives, theft, campaign provacateurs. Felt nods. “It’s all in the [FBI] files. Justice and the Bureau know about it, even though it wasn’t followed up.” Woodward, despite himself, is stunned. The White House had implemented a systematic plan to subvert the entire electoral process? Had used fifty people to do it? “You can safely say more than fifty,” Felt says, and walks up the ramp and out of the garage. It was 6 a.m. Woodward uses Felt’s information to help create one of the most devastating stories yet published about Watergate (see October 10, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 130-135; Woodward 2005, pp. 75-79)
'Organizing Principle' of Watergate - Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment will write in his 2000 book In Search of Deep Throat (in which he misidentifies the source as obscure Nixon staffer John Sears) that while Woodward’s source did not deliver “much in the way of specific information, he gave Woodward and Bernstein what they needed: an organizing principle.” It is during this time, Garment will write, that the reporters begin to truly understand the entirety of the Watergate conspiracy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 191-194)
FBI agents are now convinced that the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) is one example of actions conducted by a massive campaign of political espionage and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort, the Washington Post reports. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) The efforts, ongoing since at least 1971, were directed at all of the major Democratic presidential contenders, and represent a fundamental strategy of the Nixon re-election effort. The entire conspiracy is, according to FBI and Justice Department information, directed by officials in the Nixon administration and in the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been set aside to pay for what reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward call “an extensive undercover campaign aimed at discrediting individual Democratic presidential candidates and disrupting their campaigns.” Some of the operations include:
Following members of Democratic candidates’ families and assembling files on their personal lives (former Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie tells reporter Carl Bernstein that his children were followed and that inquiries about them had been made at their school, but cannot be sure that it was Nixon campaign agents doing the surveillance; Bernstein will report this and other Muskie campaign allegations on October 12).
Forging letters and distributing them under the candidates’ letterheads.
Leaking false and fabricated items to the press (Bernstein’s October 12 story includes an item about false allegations of sexual misconduct against Democrats Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson).
Sabotaging Democrats’ campaign schedules with planned disruptions (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond).
Stealing confidential campaign files.
Investigating the lives of dozens of Democratic campaign workers.
Planting “provocateurs” in organizations expected to demonstrate at the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Investigating potential donors to the Nixon campaign before approaching them for money.
A CREEP spokesman calls the allegations “not only fiction but a collection of absurdities,” and notes that “the entire matter is in the hands of the authorities.” Perhaps the best-known example of CREEP political sabotage is the so-called “Canuck letter” (see (February 24-25, 1972). The letter was apparently written by White House official Ken Clawson, who denies writing the letter (see October 10, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 10/10/1972) Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who co-writes the story, uses information from his “Deep Throat” FBI source (see October 9, 1972) to pen what he later recalls as a much more “aggressive, interpretive” story than he and colleague Carl Bernstein have ever written before. White House press secretary Ron Ziegler refuses to answer questions about the story 29 separate times in a press conference held just after the story is published. Woodward later writes that he is astonished the FBI never responded to the story, even though information sourced from the bureau is heavily cited throughout the story. Woodward later learns that the FBI had repeatedly declined to investigate Segretti. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 149-150; Woodward 2005, pp. 75-81)
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)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward runs into difficulty with his FBI source, W. Mark Felt, the infamous “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Woodward wants information connecting Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, to the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970), but Felt, apparently afraid of crossing Haldeman (see October 19, 1972), refuses to provide anything specific.
Origin of Error - Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, attempt to secure confirmation of Haldeman’s role in Watergate through the treasurer of the Nixon campaign’s secret fund (see September 29, 1972), Hugh Sloan. The reporters misinterpret Sloan’s cautious statements as indirect confirmation that Sloan had testified to the FBI of Haldeman’s involvement. Additionally, they misinterpret guarded “confirmations” from two other sources. On October 25, the Post publishes a story about Sloan’s supposed assertions.
'All Hell Broke Lose' - Sloan’s attorney denies that his client ever made such an assertion in his testimony (Sloan will later confirm that Haldeman was indeed in charge of the secret fund, but he never testified to that fact). As Woodward later writes, “All hell broke loose.” Woodward and his partner Carl Bernstein, both clearly upset, offer to resign from the Post, an offer that is refused. The White House celebrates the error, calling into question every story Bernstein and Woodward wrote for the Post; Republican supporters such as Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) join in. Post executive editor Ben Bradlee—who stands by the story—will later say that the erroneous story is his personal low point in the history of the entire Watergate coverage.
Repercussions - Felt is furious with Woodward for the erroneous story. They may have lost Haldeman, Felt says, and worse, have spooked other sources that might otherwise have come forward. “You’ve got people feeling sorry for Haldeman. I didn’t think that was possible.… You put the investigation back months. It puts everyone on the defensive—editors, FBI agents, everybody has to go into a crouch after this.” The reporters write another story admitting the error about Sloan’s testimony, but saying that Haldeman did indeed control the secret campaign fund. Woodward even quotes Felt, identifying him as “one source,” an unprecedented breach of the procedures they have established in using Felt as a “deep background” source. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 173-196; Woodward 2005, pp. 88-92)
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)
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)
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)
After learning that the White House will soon make a dramatic Watergate admission, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets clandestinely with his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). Felt drops a bombshell. “You’d better hang on for this,” he says. “Dean and Haldeman are out—for sure” (see April 30, 1973). John Dean is President Nixon’s White House counsel and one of the key figures in the Watergate conspiracy. H. R. Haldeman is Nixon’s chief of staff and closest confidante. “Out. They’ll resign. There’s no way the president can avoid it.” Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein inform Post editor Ben Bradlee of Felt’s revelation (avoiding any identification of Felt). Bradlee is reluctant to print such an explosive story based on one “deep background” source, no matter how reliable. The story does not go to print. (Woodward 2005, pp. 75-81) Felt’s story is accurate as far as it goes. The day before, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst had informed President Nixon that Dean and former campaign deputy Jeb Magruder testified, and that they named Haldeman, White House aide John Ehrlichman, and former campaign chief John Mitchell as co-conspirators. Dean went even further, demanding complete immunity and threatening to implicate Nixon if he was not given legal protection. Kleindienst says he will have to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation because of his close relationship with Mitchell (see April 19, 1973), but deputy attorney general Henry Peterson will keep Nixon informed of any and all events that transpire. (Reeves 2001, pp. 586-587) It is not clear if Felt knew that Mitchell and Ehrlichman had also been implicated; in any event, he does not inform Woodward. (Woodward 2005, pp. 75-81)
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)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward writes a memo to his editor, Ben Bradlee, largely based on his meetings with his FBI background source, “Deep Throat” (FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt—see May 31, 2005). The memo is full of material that will soon come out in either Senate testimony or the media, but also contains some information that Woodward cannot sufficiently confirm to allow him to write a news report. One of the most explosive items Woodward writes is the line, “Dean talked with Senator Baker after Watergate committee formed and Baker is in the bag completely, reporting back directly to White House.” If this is true, then according to former White House counsel John Dean, now cooperating with the Senate investigation, then the ranking Republican senator on the committee, Howard Baker (R-TN), is a White House “mole,” providing information directly to the White House about the committee’s deliberations, discussions, and future plans. The memo also reports that President Nixon personally threatened Dean and that another White House aide, Jack Caulfield, threatened Watergate burglar James McCord by saying “your life is no good in this country if you don’t cooperate” with the White House efforts to keep the Watergate conspiracy secret. The list of “covert national and international things” done by the Nixon re-election campaign were begun by campaign chief John Mitchell: “The list is longer than anyone could imagine.” According to Felt, “[t]he covert activities involve the whole US intelligence community and are incredible.” Felt refuses to give Woodward “specifics because it is against the law. The cover-up had little to do with the Watergate, but was mainly to protect the covert operations.” Felt has also told Woodward that Nixon himself is being blackmailed by one of the Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt (see June 20-21, 1972), at a total cost of around $1 million; the blackmail scheme involves just about every Watergate-connected figure in the White House. One reason the White House “cut loose” Mitchell was because Mitchell could not raise his portion of the money. Felt also told Woodward that senior CIA officials, including CIA director Richard Helms and deputy director Vernon Walters, are involved to some extent. Dean has explosive information that he is ready to reveal, but “plumber” G. Gordon Liddy is willing to go to jail or even die before revealing anything. Finally, rumors are running through the White House and the law enforcement and intelligence communities that Nixon is having “fits of ‘dangerous’ depression.” Some of this information will later be confirmed and reported, some of it will remain unconfirmed. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 317-321; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) Felt also warns Woodward that he, fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein, and others at the newspaper may be under CIA surveillance and may even be in personal danger. The reporters confirm much of what Felt provided in a discussion with a Dean associate the next day. But both reporters and the Post editors worry that the new information might be part of an elaborate White House scheme to set up the reporters with false, discreditable information. In the following months, information elicted in the Senate committee hearings verifies everything Felt told Woodward, except the warning about being possibly wiretapped by the CIA. That is never verified. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 317-321)
A gap of 18 and ½ minutes is found on the tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his aide, H. R. Haldeman, from June 20, 1972 (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt says he has no explanation for “the phenomenon.” Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies any deliberate erasure. But electronics experts will eventually find that the tape has been deliberately erased at least five separate times. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig will blame “some sinister force” for the erasure.
Watergate Discussed - Former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena of the tape (see July 23-26, 1973) says that “there is every reason to infer that the meeting included discussion of the Watergate incident.” That supposition is bolstered by previous testimony from former White House aide John Ehrlichman (see July 24, 1973). Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski says he is considering having all the remaining Watergate tapes placed under guard to prevent any further tampering. (Lardner 11/22/1973; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
Three Suspects - Evidence later shows that only three people could have made the erasure: Woods; Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; and Nixon himself. (Reston 2007, pp. 33)
Washington Post Learns of Gap - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learned of “deliberate erasures” in the first week of November from his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). White House sources confirmed that the tapes were often of poor quality, and that some inadvertent gaps existed, but, as press secretary Ron Ziegler tells Woodward’s colleague Carl Bernstein, to say that those gaps were deliberate would be “inaccurate.” When the deliberate gap is reported, Ziegler calls Bernstein to say that he did not know about the gap beforehand. Neither Bernstein nor Woodward doubt Ziegler—by this time, it is obvious that Nixon’s paranoia and penchant for secrecy extends even to the most trusted members of his staff. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 333-334)
Symbolic - In 2005, Woodward will write: “The missing 18 1/2-minute gap soon becomes a symbol for Nixon’s entire Watergate problem. The truth had been deleted. The truth was missing.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 103)
FBI official R. E. Lewis writes an internal memo suggesting that the FBI disclose “some information from the Watergate investigation aimed at restoring to the FBI any prestige lost during that investigation. He argues, “Such information could also serve to dispel the false impression left by the book All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974) that its authors, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, not the FBI, solved the Watergate case.”
FBI Ahead of Reporters - “[A] comparison of the chronology of our investigation with the events cited in All the President’s Men will show we were substantially and constantly ahead of these Washington Post investigative reporters,” Lewis writes. “In essence, they were interviewing the same people we had interviewed but subsequent to our interviews and often after the interviewer had testified before the grand jury. The difference, which contributes greatly to the false image, is that the Washington Post blatantly published whatever they learned (or thought they learned) while we reported our findings to the US attorney and the Department [of Justice] solely for prosecutorial consideration.”
Decision Not to Go Public - The FBI will decide not to make any of its information public, citing ongoing prosecutions. In 2005, Woodward will counter: “What Long didn’t say—and what Felt [FBI deputy director Mark Felt, Woodward’s “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005] understood—was that the information wasn’t going anywhere until it was public. The US attorney and the Justice Department failed the FBI, as they folded too often to White House and other political pressure to contain the investigation and prosecution to the Watergate bugging (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). There was also a failure of imagination on the part of lots of experienced prosecutors, including US Attorney Earl Silbert, who could not initially bring himself to believe that the corruption ran to the top of the Justice Department and the White House. Only when an independent special prosecutor was appointed (see May 18, 1973) did the investigation eventually go to the broader sabotage and espionage matters. In other words, during 1972, the cover-up was working exceptionally well.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 120-121)
Former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in his autobiography The Ends of Power, advances his own insider theory of the genesis of the Watergate burglaries (see July 26-27, 1970). Haldeman, currently serving a one-year prison sentence for perjuring himself during his testimony about the Watergate cover-up, became so angered while watching David Frost interview former President Nixon, and particularly Nixon’s attempts to pin the blame for Watergate on Haldeman and fellow aide John Ehrlichman (see April 15, 1977), that he decided to write the book to tell his version of events. Some of his assertions:
Nixon, Colson Behind 'Plumbers;' Watergate Burglary 'Deliberately Sabotaged' - He writes that he believes then-President Nixon ordered the operation that resulted in the burglaries and surveillance of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters because he and Charles Colson, the aide who supervised the so-called “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), were both “infuriated with [DNC chairman Lawrence] O’Brien’s success in using the ITT case against them” (see February 22, 1972). Colson, whom Haldeman paints as Nixon’s “hit man” who was the guiding spirit behind the “Plumbers,” then recruited another White House aide, E. Howard Hunt, who brought in yet another aide, G. Gordon Liddy. Haldeman goes into a more interesting level of speculation: “I believe the Democratic high command knew the break-in was going to take place, and let it happen. They may even have planted the plainclothesman who arrested the burglars. I believe that the CIA monitored the Watergate burglars throughout. And that the overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that the break-in was deliberately sabotaged.” O’Brien calls Haldeman’s version of events “a crock.” As for Haldeman’s insinuations that the CIA might have been involved with the burglaries, former CIA director Richard Helms says, “The agency had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in.” Time magazine’s review of the book says that Haldeman is more believable when he moves from unverifiable speculation into provable fact. One such example is his delineation of the conspiracy to cover up the burglaries and the related actions and incidents. Haldeman writes that the cover-up was not a “conspiracy” in the legal sense, but was “organic,” growing “one step at a time” to limit political damage to the president.
Story of Kennedy Ordering Vietnamese Assassination Actually True - He suggests that the evidence Hunt falsified that tried to blame former president John F. Kennedy of having then-South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem assassination (see Mid-September 1971) may have pointed to the actual truth of that incident, hinting that Kennedy may have ordered the assassination after all.
US Headed Off Two Potentially Catastrophic Nuclear Incidents with USSR, China - He also writes of a previously unsuspected incident where Nixon and other US officials convinced the Soviets not to attack Chinese nuclear sites. And Haldeman tells of a September 1970 incident where the US managed to head off a second Cuban Missile Crisis. Both stories of US intervention with the Soviets are strongly denied by both of Nixon’s Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, and William Rogers.
Duality of Nixon's Nature - Haldeman says that while Nixon carried “greatness in him,” and showed strong “intelligence, analytical ability, judgment, shrewdness, courage, decisiveness and strength,” he was plagued by equally powerful flaws. Haldeman writes that Nixon had a “dirty, mean, base side” and “a terrible temper,” and describes him as “coldly calculating, devious, craftily manipulative… the weirdest man ever to live in the White House.” For himself, Haldeman claims to have always tried to give “active encouragement” to the “good” side of Nixon and treat the “bad” side with “benign neglect.” He often ignored Nixon’s “petty, vindictive” orders, such as giving mass lie detector tests to employees of the State Department as a means of finding security leaks. He writes that while he regrets not challenging Nixon more “frontally” to counter the president’s darker impulses, he notes that other Nixon aides who had done so quickly lost influence in the Oval Office. Colson, on the other hand, rose to a high level of influence by appealing to Nixon’s darker nature. Between the two, Haldeman writes, the criminal conspiracy of Watergate was created. (Colson disputes Haldeman’s depiction of his character as well as the events of the conspiracy.) Haldeman himself never intended to do anything illegal, denies any knowledge of the “Gemstone” conspiracy proposal (see January 29, 1972), and denies ordering his aide Gordon Strachan to destroy evidence (see June 18-19, 1972).
Reconstructing the 18 1/2 Minute Gap - Haldeman also reconstructs the conversation between himself and Nixon that was erased from the White House tapes (see June 23, 1972 and July 13-16, 1973). Time notes that Haldeman reconstructs the conversation seemingly to legally camouflage his own actions and knowledge, “possibly to preclude further legal charges against him…” According to Haldeman’s reconstruction, Nixon said, “I know one thing. I can’t stand an FBI interrogation of Colson… Colson can talk about the president, if he cracks. You know I was on Colson’s tail for months to nail Larry O’Brien on the [Howard] Hughes deal (see April 30 - May 1, 1973; O’Brien had worked for Hughes, and Nixon was sure O’Brien had been involved in illegalities). Colson told me he was going to get the information I wanted one way or the other. And that was O’Brien’s office they were bugging, wasn’t it? And who’s behind it? Colson’s boy Hunt. Christ. Colson called [deputy campaign chief Jeb Magruder] and got the whole operation started. Right from the g_ddamn White House… I just hope the FBI doesn’t check the office log and put it together with that Hunt and Liddy meeting in Colson’s office.” Time writes, “If the quotes are accurate, Nixon is not only divulging his own culpability in initiating the bugging but is also expressing a clear intent to keep the FBI from learning about it. Thus the seeds of an obstruction of justice have been planted even before the celebrated June 23 ‘smoking gun’ conversation, which ultimately triggered Nixon’s resignation from office.” Haldeman says he isn’t sure who erased the tape, but he believes it was Nixon himself. Nixon intended to erase all the damning evidence from the recordings, but since he was, Haldeman writes, “the least dexterous man I have ever known,” he quickly realized that “it would take him ten years” to erase everything.
'Smoking Gun' Allegations - Haldeman also makes what Time calls “spectacular… but unverified” allegations concerning the June 23, 1972 “smoking gun” conversations (see June 23, 1972). The focus of that day’s discussion was how the White House could persuade the CIA to head off the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate burglary. The tape proved that Nixon had indeed attempted to block the criminal investigation into Watergate, and feared that the money found on the burglars would be traced back to his own re-election campaign committee. Haldeman writes that he was confused when Nixon told him to tell the CIA, “Look, the problem is that this will open up the whole Bay of Pigs thing again.” When Haldeman asked Helms to intercede with the FBI, and passed along Nixon’s warning that “the Bay of Pigs may be blown,” Helms’s reaction, Haldeman writes, was electric. “Turmoil in the room, Helms gripping the arms of his chair, leaning forward and shouting, ‘The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.’” Haldeman writes, “I was absolutely shocked by Helms‘[s] violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story?” Haldeman comes to believe that the term “Bay of Pigs” was a reference to the CIA’s secret attempts to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The CIA had withheld this info from the Warren Commission, the body that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, and Haldeman implies that Nixon was using the “Bay of Pigs thing” as some sort of blackmail threat over the CIA. Haldeman also hints, very vaguely, that Nixon, when he was vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a chief instigator of the actual Bay of Pigs invasion. (Time notes that while Vice President Nixon probably knew about the plans, “he certainly had not been their author.”)
Other Tidbits - Haldeman writes that Nixon’s taping system was created to ensure that anyone who misrepresented what Nixon and others said in the Oval Office could be proven wrong, and that Nixon had Kissinger particularly in mind. Nixon kept the tapes because at first he didn’t believe he could be forced to give them up, and later thought he could use them to discredit former White House counsel John Dean. He says Nixon was wrong in asserting that he ordered Haldeman to get rid of the tapes. Haldeman believes the notorious “deep background” source for Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was actually Fred Fielding, Dean’s White House deputy. Interestingly, Haldeman apparently discovered the real identity of “Deep Throat” in 1972 to be senior FBI official W. Mark Felt (see October 19, 1972). It is unclear why Haldeman now writes that Fielding, not Felt, was the Post source.
Not a Reliable Source - Time notes that Haldeman’s book is far from being a reliable source of information, characterizing it as “badly flawed, frustratingly vague and curiously defensive,” and notes that “[m]any key sections were promptly denied; others are clearly erroneous.” Time concludes, “Despite the claim that his aim was finally to ‘tell the truth’ about the scandal, his book is too self-protective for that.” And it is clear that Haldeman, though he writes how the cover-up was “morally and legally the wrong thing to do—so it should have failed,” has little problem being part of such a criminal conspiracy. The biggest problem with Watergate was not that it was illegal, he writes, but that it was handled badly. He writes, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind today that if I were back at the starting point, faced with the decision of whether to join up, even knowing what the ultimate outcome would be, I would unhesitatingly do it.” (Time 2/27/1978; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Former FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt, who served before and during the Watergate era, denounces the attempts by the Nixon administration to control the FBI and the Justice Department. Felt, who unbeknownst to the public was Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s celebrated inside source nicknamed “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), writes scathingly in his memoir The FBI Pyramid of what he calls the “White House-Justice Department cabal” that worked to conceal the Watergate conspiracy. He does not reveal himself to be Woodward’s source. (Woodward 2005, pp. 33)
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)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward gives an interview to NPR’s Terry Gross about the so-called “Plamegate” scandal. Woodward is dismissive of the entire imbroglio. “There was no nothing” to the story, he says. When “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great.” Woodward does not divulge that he was perhaps the first reporter to have Valerie Plame Wilson’s name leaked to him (see June 13, 2003). Woodward’s dismissive attitude towards the affair is addressed by author and media critic Frank Rich, who writes in 2006: “The Wilsons were nobodies—not players, not part of the tight club to which Woodward and his blue-chip sources belonged. Yet, while Woodward was tone-deaf to the Watergate echoes in the Bush White House’s obsessive secrecy, in its detestation of the press, and in its flouting of the law, the parallels were striking to anyone outside the Beltway.” (Gitlin 12/18/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 181-182) In December, American Prospect reporter Todd Gitlin will write that Woodward “publicly and repeatedly sneered” at the Plame Wilson investigation. (Gitlin 12/18/2005) Woodward says much the same things in private. In a conversation with his friend and former colleague Carl Bernstein around the same time as the NPR interview, he asks: “Why do you keep insisting this is important? I know something about this. There’s nothing there.” Woodward is deeply involved in writing his next book, Plan of Attack, and has little time or patience for what he considers a partisan non-scandal. Additionally, he and Bernstein are frequently together, conducting interviews for their recent book about their Watergate source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005), and often find themselves in conversations about confidential sources. Bernstein believes Woodward is ignoring something worth watching. “You don’t have this right,” he tells Woodward. “This thing is going to be huge. It will shine a light on the way Bush’s White House operates. It is going to expose the president and his campaign of disinformation.” (Brenner 4/2006)