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W. Mark Felt Reveals He Was Watergate Source Deep Throat

May 31, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: In a terse two-line statement, the Washington Post late today confirmed that Mark Felt is Deep Throat, the famous anonymous source for the paper’s reporting about Watergate. Earlier today, Felt’s grandson read this statement this afternoon.

NICK JONES: The family believes my grandfather, Mark Felt, Sr., is a great American hero who went well above and beyond the call to duty at much risk to himself to save his country from a horrible injustice. We all sincerely hope the country will see him this way as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mark Felt, 91-years-old, is a former number two at the FBI. Today, his grandson said failing health would prevent Felt from speaking to the press, but his story, as presented in July’s Vanity Fair Magazine, is bringing to a close one of recent history’s great mysteries.

KURT BARNARD: As the Watergate story played out in the early 1970s, the coverage was led by two young Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The scandal and cover-up resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

“All the President’s Men,” a book and later a movie, popularized the role of the two reporters, and their key source, nicknamed Deep Throat, a government insider who would meet Woodward in secret and pass along information.

DEEP THROAT, movie excerpt: Where are you?

WOODWARD, movie excerpt: Stuck. The story has stalled on us.

DEEP THROAT, movie excerpt: And you thought I’d help?

JEFFREY BROWN: Today’s revelation brings to an end several decades’ worth of theories as to the identity of Deep Throat.

JEFFREY BROWN: The author of the Vanity Fair article joins us now. John D. O’Connor is a lawyer in California, who was asked by Mark Felt’s family to tell his story.

Also with us is Michael Putzel, a former correspondent for the Associated Press. He covered Watergate in the mid-1970s, and was later a White House and foreign correspondent. And David Gergen, who has advised four presidents, including President Nixon. He is the editor-at-large at U.S. News & World Report and a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Welcome to all of you. Starting with you, Mr. O’Connor, you wrote that Mark Felt was an FBI agent — official who “came to believe that he was fighting an all-out war for the soul of the FBI.” Tell us a little bit about what led him to become Deep Throat.

JOHN D. O’CONNOR: Well, I think it probably starts with the famous Dita Beard, ITT scandal back in early ’72 when he was pressured by the White House to declare a forgery, a memo implicating the Republican Party in what was claimed to be by Brit Hume a rigged antitrust case.

And I think that and several other incidents led him to conclude that the White House was not above putting serious political pressure on the FBI to compromise itself. I think Felt saw himself after J. Edgar Hoover’s death, which happened right before Watergate, he saw himself as the guardian of the FBI and its incorruptible image.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. O’Connor, he himself has denied in the past that he was Deep Throat. Why did he reveal it now?

JOHN D. O’CONNOR: Well, he’s getting very old; he’s been able to talk to his family for three years now about this. And over time he has realized that Deep Throat was a true American hero. His family has talked to him about this and they have convinced him through their communication, their love, that Deep Throat is nothing to be ashamed of.

And I think Mark has gradually over time come to that view, so now he embraces it and sees this as an opportunity to honor the Bureau, which he loved so much. And he sees this as a way to honor all the people below him who served in the Bureau and were incorruptible through a very, very tough time in our nation’s history.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Putzel, take us back to that time. What was the key information that Deep Throat provided?

MICHAEL PUTZEL: Well, there were several occasions when he played a critical role. We didn’t as readers, even reporters, we didn’t know what role he was playing at the time. But according to Bob Woodward’s account and the Woodward and Bernstein book, he played a critical role by confirming information they got elsewhere.

They were under — the Post was under tremendous pressure at the time, basically to give up on the Watergate story. Other people weren’t pursuing it that much and the White House was trying very hard to confine it just to the burglars.

And the Post was trying to prove that there were people from the committee to reelect the president and perhaps the White House who had financed the burglary and were involved. And he was, that is Deep Throat, was instrumental in encouraging them to keep after that line, as if they were on the right course.

JEFFREY BROWN: And David Gergen, does knowing who Deep Throat is now help us in some way understand that era?

DAVID GERGEN: I think it does. It certainly helps us unravel that one of the greatest mysteries that we’ve had in our political life over the last 30 years. So it’s good to know. And Mr. O’Connor deserves credit for having brought this to light and finally unraveling it.

I think that while we’ve unraveled the great mystery, it does open some additional doors. As much as I want to believe the story that Mr. O’Connor has printed about why he did it, I’m not sure that we have all the facts yet. Mark Felt is a more complex man than he may seem on the surface.

He may well have been doing this out of conscience. And he may well have been a force for right and good. But it’s worth remembering that he was also pardoned by Ronald Reagan in 1981 for his participation in burglaries by the FBI against the Weathermen and others.

This man was participating on the rough side of the FBI, and I think that to this day we don’t know whether there were those in the FBI who may have had reasons to want to bring down the president or bring down the White House. I don’t think we yet know all the facts on this.

I think we know the most important fact and that is who was Deep Throat, and that’s been very helpful, and there’s no question, to go to Mike Putzel’s point, that Deep Throat was extraordinarily important, not just to corroborating but also to giving tips and guides to Bob Woodward in particular that did help with him his reporting and that reporting of course was a critical part of the whole Watergate saga.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, David, can you say how Mr. Felt will be seen now? You heard Mr. O’Connor say that the family wanted him seen as a hero.

DAVID GERGEN: I think there are many Americans who will believe he is a hero. And there are families and certainly one would want their family, the daughter and the grandchildren and others to believe that.

I just would caution that this was very much a cloak and dagger era in our political history, in which there were a lot of rough things going on, not only in the White House, as they were, but they were going on elsewhere in Washington and other agencies including J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

And we know that from a lot of records, a lot of things, weird things were happening, things that we find, that we object to today in the light of history, the bugging of Martin Luther King and that sort of thing went on at the FBI.

So I just think we ought to be cautious as to whether we know all the facts. I think it’s helpful that we do know this particular fact, because this has certainly been a long-standing mystery, and I think it adds to our knowledge of our public life, which is a positive thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. O’Connor, can you shed some light on this? I mean, do you feel like you know him enough to understand some of the motives behind what was going on at the time?

JOHN D. O’CONNOR: Well, I’ve read many, many pages of documents about Mark Felt and about his wars within the Bureau. And, you know, David is a brilliant guy and I’m a big fan of his. I think he might be a tad off on this.

For years, Mark Felt led the forces in the Bureau that were against incursions on civil liberties, the wiretapping done by what they call the Sullivan Faction, Mark Felt led the good guys in trying to keep civil liberties protected within the Bureau. What happened was, these so-called burglaries, let me give you what David is talking about with the burglary.

If Osama bin Laden, one of his twenty-seven wives, was living in Brooklyn Heights, and is a hairdresser, according to David, it’s a burglary if you go open her mail to find out where the next attack is coming from.

It was always thought that the FBI through the attorney general had inherent authority in times of national security to do things like mail openings, to go into an apartment and look for writings or mails, not to convict anybody, but to get intelligence on a foreign power.

The Weather Underground had bombed 52 buildings between 1970 and 1972, and there were five of these so-called, there may have been nine of these so-called “black bag” jobs where someone went in from the FBI to look at mail to see where the next bombing was coming from, and tried to save lives.

It’s one of the debates that’s still raging in this country. But to say that somebody doing something like that is a criminal, Ronald Reagan pardoned him the second he got into office. The man was railroaded, it makes for a very heart rending story for everyone who believes that we should protect against terrorism.

You should read what Mark Felt writes about terrorism; he predicted what would happen with al-Qaida. And so he’s very prescient in that regard and really he is quite a hero for all seasons: protecting civil liberties on one hand and protecting against terrorism on the other. So his legacy is really heroic. The more one understands that the more one will understand that Mark Felt is a hero.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Let me ask – because there are also some journalism issues here, Mr. Putzel, what’s the significance for journalism even today, because it strikes me that this question of anonymous sources is still very much with us?

MICHAEL PUTZEL: I think it’s very important from that point of view. I think that Woodward and Bernstein were vindicated a long time ago in terms of the quality of their reporting. And there are still some tantalizing elements of this mystery that we have not learned. Good as Mr. O’Connor’s story was, he didn’t get into some of the details that Felt apparently did disclose to Woodward.

But in the bigger picture, the importance of this man’s role as a confidential source and Woodward’s role in protecting his identity and the Post backing him up is critical today as it was then because this is still a fundamental function of the press in this country as a watchdog of government, and it needs the cooperation, sometimes of very high government officials who cannot risk being identified.

JEFFREY BROWN: David, what do you think about the journalistic effects of this?

DAVID GERGEN: I think the journalistic effects were to, that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein deserve all tell awards they’ve received over the years; they were fabulous reporters on this. There were some elements that I think in retrospect that people questioned, particularly when they went to a number of grand juries and got some information from them.

But I think if you look at the whole record, I think Mike Putzel is absolutely right; they’ve been vindicated on this, they were vindicated today in an important way because their critics have said for a long time they doubted there was a Deep Throat, that it must have been a composite.

And today I think they lo and behold, we now know through Mr. O’Connor’s story and their own confirmation that there was a single individual. So I think as a journalistic matter, the Washington Post really made its modern reputation on this story and they’ve been vindicated.

I think the question remains about what the role of government official with, in terms of blowing whistles, should be. I think this is a really hard one. We need to know more about this.

JEFFREY BROWN: Alright, David, we’re going to have to leave that for another time, one mystery solved and many new questions. David Gergen, Mike Putzel and John O’Connor, thanks very much.