Deep Throat Revealed (Again)

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
June 17 1999 6:51 PM

Deep Throat Revealed (Again)

The Watergate break-in was 27 years ago today. Happy Watergate Day! This anniversary is marked by the release of a new book by Bob Woodward about how Watergate (and, by implication, Woodward himself) changed the presidency forever, and by the publication of a 25th-anniversary edition of All the President's Men (click hereto further enrich Woodward and co-author Carl Bernstein). With all these Watergate memories swirling about, it's time to revisit the question: Who was Deep Throat?

Chatterbox is referring to the anonymous Watergate source (played by Hal Holbrook in the movie of All the President's Men) who helped Woodward crack Watergate by famously advising him to "follow the money." Guessing Deep Throat's identity has been Washington's favorite parlor game for nearly three decades. Chatterbox doesn't know who Deep Throat was. However, he is convinced that a large portion of the mystery was solved in May 1992 when the Atlantic Monthly published a piece on this question by James Mann, a former Washington Post reporter who now works for the Los Angeles Times. Mann's article didn't solve the "who" question, but it did pretty persuasively answer the "what" question. That is, Mann identified where Deep Throat worked: at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to Mann, Deep Throat was probably W. Mark Felt, then the No. 3 guy at the FBI, and later famous for approving illegal break-ins to investigate the Weather Underground. (Felt was pardoned by President Reagan.) Or, possibly, Deep Throat was Charles Bates, assistant director of the General Investigative Division. Or--Mann thinks this less likely--Deep Throat was one of the FBI field agents in Washington who were working on Watergate.

Chatterbox will review Mann's evidence in a moment, but pauses first to ponder a deeper mystery: Why, when Mann's superb Atlantic piece was published, did it attract no notice? All Chatterbox turned up in a Nexis search was a debunking column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post Magazine (whose own theory, that it was Secret Service technicians who maintained the White House bugging apparatus, had also attracted little notice when he'd published it some years before in New York magazine). Slate Deputy Editor Jack Shafer gave Mann's theory a sympathetic write-up in City Paper, an alternative weekly in Washington, D.C., that Shafer edited at the time. Otherwise, no one seems to have noticed Mann's piece. It isn't even retrievable on the Atlantic's Web page, which has a pretty extensive archive. Maybe the game of guessing Deep Throat's identity is so much fun that people don't want to consider evidence that risks ending it.

Let's proceed to that evidence. Mann emphasizes in the Atlantic piece that J. Edgar Hoover, who had run the FBI since the 1920s, died one month before the Watergate break-in. For Mann, this is as important as knowing at the beginning of A Christmas Carol that Jacob Marley was as dead as a doornail. Hoover had pretty effectively resisted efforts by the Nixon White House to politicize the FBI. (The FBI had, of course, engaged in many of the same illegal activities that Nixon was trying get it to perform--wiretapping, burglaries, and the like--but it had been Hoover, not Nixon, calling the shots.) In the months before Hoover died, Hoover loyalists at the bureau were fretting that Nixon was plotting to name an outsider to succeed Hoover--Jerry V. Wilson, then police chief for the District of Columbia. Lo and behold, right around that time, the Washington Post started breaking stories about an FBI investigation into corruption in the D.C. police department. While the stories didn't directly involve Wilson, they provoked the White House into publicly opposing FBI control of the investigation. These stories, presumably based on FBI leaks, were written by Bob Woodward.

Then, in mid-May 1972, George Wallace was shot. Mann, citing former Post City Editor Barry Sussman's Watergate book, The Great Cover-Up, says that Woodward told Sussman he had a good source at the FBI who could help get information on Wallace's would-be assassin. Woodward, Mann says, "was able to come up with details about the life and travels of Arthur Bremer ... virtually as soon as FBI investigators uncovered them."

Then, on June 17, came the Watergate break-in. At the time, Mann was a Post metro reporter covering the D.C. federal courthouse, and he often worked closely with Woodward. "[D]uring the summer and early fall," Mann writes, "Woodward spoke to me repeatedly of 'my source at the FBI,' or, alternatively, of 'my friend at the FBI'--each time making it plain that this was a special, and unusually well-placed, source." While Woodward didn't specifically identify the FBI "friend" as the person later known as Deep Throat, Mann points out that many FBI lifers mistrusted L. Patrick Gray, the "outsider" Nixon had by now named to succeed Hoover, and worried that the Nixon White House was trying to restrict its Watergate investigation--just as it had restricted the FBI's investigation of the D.C. police department. Felt,Bates, and Robert Kunkel, special agent in charge of the Washington field office, met with Gray in July 1972 to complain about White House interference in the Watergate investigation. Mightn't one of these people have also fought back by leaking to Woodward? Although Felt wrote in 1979 that he "never leaked information to Woodward and Bernstein or to anyone else," Mann writes in his Atlantic piece that Felt "was known in Washington as a person willing to talk to the press." (Translation for nonjournalists: "Professional ethics prevent me from saying so directly, but Felt leaked like a sieve to me.") Bates had supervised the FBI's investigations into D.C. police corruption and the Wallace shooting, in addition to supervising its Watergate investigation.

What nails the FBI connection for Mann is that the day after the Watergate burglars were indicted in September 1972, he phoned Woodward to say goodbye (Mann had just left the Post and was heading off to Italy for a year). Mann asked Woodward about the indictments, and Woodward said, "I just talked to my friend at the FBI. I think we're on to a whole new level on this thing." Mann pairs this exchange with a passage in All the President's Men in which Woodward and Bernstein report that the "day after the indictments were handed down"--i.e., the same day Woodward and Mann spoke--Woodward phoned Deep Throat and was told to "go much stronger" on the story. Two days later, the Post published its first story linking the Watergate break-in to top Nixon campaign officials.

[Update, 8/4/99: After much pestering online and by phone, Chatterbox has finally gotten The Atlantic to post on its Web site Jim Mann's watershed Deep Throat piece. Click here and wonder no more about Deep Throat's place of employment.]

 

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