Another Bulletin From the Deep Throat Desk

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
July 26 1999 11:32 AM

Another Bulletin From the Deep Throat Desk

Chatterbox just received via snail mail an intriguing bundle of news clippings from Jack Limpert, editor of the Washingtonian magazine, and a believer, along with James Mann of the Los Angeles Times and the late Richard Nixon, that Deep Throat--the mysterious Watergate source whom Bob Woodward has never identified--was probably W. Mark Felt, the No. 2 man at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (See "Deep Throat Revealed [Again]" and "Deep Throat Revealed [One Last Time].") To recap: Chatterbox last month celebrated the 27th anniversary of the Watergate break-in by reminding readers that much of the mystery appeared to have been solved by James Mann in a little-noticed article published in the Atlantic Monthly seven years earlier. (The damn thing still can't be found in the Atlantic's Web archive.) Mann established, mainly by passing along private conversations he'd had with Bob Woodward when the two worked together at the Washington Post, that Woodward had all but announced Deep Throat worked at the FBI. (Incidentally, Howard Kurtz of the Post recently informed this column that Chatterbox's earlier Nexis search should have turned up an item he, Kurtz, wrote in 1992 about Mann's Atlantic piece that questioned Mann's ethics in ratting out Woodward.)

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Mann was more sure that Deep Throat was a G-man than he was that the G-man in question was Felt. When Chatterbox last examined this question, he considered the theory put forth by CBS News, in its 20th-anniversary Watergate documentary, that Deep Throat was L. Patrick Gray, who briefly ran the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover died. While Chatterbox found the CBS News theory provocative and intelligent, he didn't find it wholly persuasive. Now Limpert's care package has Chatterbox thinking about Felt again.

Limpert was a Felt man long before James Mann wrote his Atlantic article (which, nonetheless, offered up a lot of hard evidence that Limpert wouldn't have been privy to). Two of the clippings Limpert this week sent Chatterbox are "Capital Comment" columns he wrote for the June and August 1974 issues of the Washingtonian that finger Felt as the likely Deep Throat. Limpert doesn't say in the clippings how he arrived at his hypothesis, but in his cover note to Chatterbox, Limpert explained, "the source for the pieces was Frank Waldrop, who was absolutely wired to the FBI." Waldrop, the former editor of the Washington Times-Herald, which was folded into the Washington Post in 1954, died two years ago at age 92. During Waldrop's last years, he remained a very knowledgeable observer of the Washington scene; indeed, Chatterbox himself used Waldrop as a source from time to time, and always found his memory and powers of analysis razor-sharp. As someone who was basically put out of business by the Washington Post, Waldrop would certainly have had the motive to demystify its greatest journalistic coup. If Waldrop thought Mark Felt was Deep Throat, Chatterbox thinks that hypothesis is worth very serious consideration.

A difficulty with the Felt Hypothesis is that Woodward identified Deep Throat as a heavy smoker. Felt gave up smoking in 1943. In an earlier dispatch, Chatterbox said it was "possible the heavy-smoker bit was a phony novelistic detail that Woodward got wrong or invented." Apparently this thought has also occurred to at least one editor at the Washington Post. Here's Limpert in the August 1974 Washingtonian:

An editor at the Post told us: "Woodward disguised Deep Throat. Woodward tried not to lie, but he tried to keep people off the track as much as possible. For instance, Woodward made a lot of Deep Throat smoking cigarettes, but I had the feeling that Deep Throat doesn't smoke."

Not knowing who the Post editor in question was, it's hard to assess whether that editor's "feeling" that Deep Throat didn't smoke was based on inside knowledge of the Post's Watergate reporting. Still, it's interesting.

An especially gripping part of Limpert's August 1974 Washingtonian piece is a reprinted snippet from the transcripts of the White House tapes dated Feb. 28, 1973. It's an exchange between Nixon and John Dean focusing on the possibility that Mark Felt is squealing:

Dean: Now, about White House staff and reporters and the like, and, now, the only, the only person that knows--is aware of it--is Mark Felt, and we've talked about Mark Felt, and uh--I guess, uh--

Nixon: What does it do to him, though? Let's face it. You know, suppose that Felt comes out and unwraps the whole thing. What does it do to him?

Dean: He can't do it. It just--

Nixon: But my point is: Who's going to hire him?

Dean: That's right.

Nixon: Let's face it.

Dean: He can't. He's--

Nixon: If he--the guy that does that can go out and, uh, you mean he's a--of course, he couldn't do it unless he had a guarantee from somebody like Time magazine saying, "Look, we'll give you a job for life." Then what do they do? They put him in a job for life, and everybody would treat him like a pariah. He's in a very dangerous situation. These guys you know--the informers, look what it did to [Whittaker] Chambers. ... They finished him.

Dean: Uh huh. Well, I think I, there's no--

Nixon: Either way, either way, the, the, the informer is not wanted in our society. Either way, that's the one thing people do sort of line up against. They--

Dean: That's right.

Nixon: They say, "Well, that son-of-a-bitch informed. I don't want him around." We wouldn't want him around, would we?

There's a lot going on in this exchange. As we now know, before the year was out Dean would do precisely what Nixon said Felt would never dare do--inform on Nixon--and so on one level Nixon was clearly trying to persuade Dean to keep mum. (That "We wouldn't want him around, would we?" is vintage Nixon, and it must have chilled Dean to the bone.) On a more elementary level, though, Nixon is trying to persuade both Dean and himself that Felt would never commit career suicide by blowing the whistle. That Nixon himself isn't entirely convinced is suggested by the fact that Nixon makes the point over and over, even dragging in Chambers and all but saying the man was a fool to turn in Alger Hiss. Nixon never entertains the possibility that Felt would do precisely what Limpert and Mann (and, subsequently, Nixon himself) believed Felt to have done: be an informer, but a secret informer, exacting the promise not of lifetime employment but of lifetime confidentiality that he was indeed Woodward's source.

Of course, Felt has always denied it.

I can tell you that it was not I and it is not I.

Felt told Limpert in 1974. Felt also said:

I don't think it will ever be resolved whether it was an actual person or a composite ... Very few people had access to all this information--some of it was available only at the FBI, some only at very high levels in the White House. ... I don't see that even the White House had all that information. Though possibly an Attorney General, possibly [Richard] Kleindienst.

It's very tempting to read this comment as deliberate misdirection on Felt's part. Chatterbox wonders what Felt would say now.

Do any readers happen to know where to find him?

[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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