The Final Word on Deep Throat (So Far)

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Aug. 9 1999 5:41 PM

The Final Word on Deep Throat (So Far)

Today is the 25th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation speech. (To watch Nixon saying, "Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow," click here. You can hear it over and over by clicking repeatedly.) Chatterbox decided to celebrate Nixon Resignation Day by phoning W. Mark Felt, the former FBI official whom Richard Nixon and Nora Ephron and various other people believe to have been Deep Throat. Chatterbox, strongly influenced by a 1992 James Mann piece in the Atlantic Monthly (which is finally online; click here to read it) has himself been fairly pro-Felt lately, and subscribes to Mann's thesis that if it wasn't Felt, it was someone else at the FBI. (See "Deep Throat: The Game Is Afoot"; "Another Bulletin From the Deep Throat Desk"; "Deep Throat Revealed (One Last Time)"; and "Deep Throat Revealed (Again).")

Earlier today, when Chatterbox first attempted to phone Felt (now an octogenarian living in California with his daughter Joan), he got an answering machine. "If you'd like to leave a message for Joan, Rob, Nick, or Deep Throat," it said, "you may do so after the beep." Naturally, Chatterbox got a little excited when he heard this. But when Chatterbox phoned back a little later, Joan Felt said it was a gag message that she had put on her phone last night after having a bottle of wine with some friends, and that this morning she'd thought better of it and taken it off. Joan said she really has no idea whether her father is Deep Throat, but that he's told her he isn't. "He hasn't revealed it to anybody if it's true," she said. Hmm, Chatterbox thought. A non-denial denial from the daughter.

Then Mark Felt came on the line. Chatterbox schmoozed Felt a bit. Does he get asked a lot by reporters whether he's Deep Throat?

Yes. A couple of times so far this week.

Are you Deep Throat?

The answer to that is yes and no. I'm the person that they're talking about. [Chatterbox was initially tantalized by this, but quickly realized Felt meant "I'm the Mark Felt who worked at the FBI in 1972."] I was involved very deeply in all that ... went on. But I'm not guilty of disclosure, leaking it to the press, or anything like that.

Did Felt arrange to leak to Woodward through an intermediary? "No." Does Felt agree with Mann that the leaker was someone from the FBI? Felt hasn't read the Mann piece, "but I don't think so. It's just not logical ... The nature of the information that the paper was printing would have to have come from more than one source."

Chatterbox, trying not to plead, asked Felt if there were any other reason, aside from Felt's actually not being Deep Throat, that might impel him to deny he was Deep Throat.

No, Felt said. There wasn't.

The conversation seemed to be winding down. Chatterbox asked Felt whether it was annoying to be asked over and over again by various people whether he was Deep Throat. "It gets to be very provoking," he said. Does he find it irritating? "Yes."

Chatterbox switched to the general topic of tension between the FBI and the White House at the time of J. Edgar Hoover's death, which occurred one month before the Watergate break-in (and, according to Mann, is why the FBI helped Woodward nail Nixon). "I don't think there was any serious tension," Felt said. Did he want the top job? "I certainly wouldn't have objected" to getting the No. 1 position, Felt said. Was he disappointed when he didn't get it? "I can't say that I was." Didn't the White House interfere with the FBI investigation of Watergate? "I don't have any recollection of any specifics like that," he said--perhaps displaying an old man's poor memory (the White House interference is now a matter of public record), or perhaps displaying a George Smiley-like implacability. (Felt is, after all, a former member of the G-man elite.)

Well, what about Nixon's assertions on the White House tapes that Felt was leaking? What about Nixon's anti-Semitic comments about Felt? Felt said he wasn't aware of either. Chatterbox read Felt the exchange in which Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, discussed their belief that Felt was leaking, and in which Nixon said, regarding Felt's high position at the FBI, "Christ, put a Jew in there?" (Click here, and scroll down to the boldface type, to read it.) Chatterbox asked Felt whether he'd like to comment.

"No." Felt indicated he was starting to lose his patience with Chatterbox:

In talking with you and in talking with various people on the press and so forth, it's really very annoying.

Let's just say you were Deep Throat. Would that really be so terrible?

It would be terrible. This would completely undermine the reputation that you might have as a loyal, logical employee of the FBI. It just wouldn't fit at all.

But a lot of people think Deep Throat is a hero for getting the truth out about Nixon and Watergate.

That's not my view at all. It would be contrary to my responsibility as a loyal employee of the FBI to leak information.

In other words, there is a potential reason, other than not being Deep Throat, that might impel Felt to say he wasn't Deep Throat: the perceived dishonor such a revelation might bring Felt as a "loyal employee of the FBI."

A Postscript: On Nov. 1, 1980, Richard Nixon, "after avoiding testifying in twenty other courtrooms over the last six years [writes Robert Sam Anson in Exile: The Unquiet Oblivion of Richard M. Nixon] was on the stand in a criminal case." The defendants were W. Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller, former chief of the FBI's intelligence division, accused of conspiring to violate the civil rights of members of the Weather Underground when they authorized warrantless break-ins of the radicals' homes (the Weatherfolk were suspected of planting bombs in public buildings) in 1972 and 1973.

Nixon thought Felt was Deep Throat. But Nixon was extremely eager to testify on Felt and Miller's behalf, even though he hadn't been subpoenaed. Having successfully and rather strenuously dodged prosecution himself, Nixon had volunteered to walk into a courtroom and testify to help someone he believed had triggered his own downfall. Felt and Miller's lawyers had turned Nixon down because they'd worried that Nixon's reputation would only hurt Felt and Miller with the largely black jury. The prosecution, however, "had been delighted to have him," Anson writes. So Nixon appeared as a prosecution witness. While Nixon took the oath, Black Panthers and former antiwar activists shouted, "Thief!" and "Liar!" called him a "war criminal," and were expelled by federal marshals from the courtroom. (This according to the third volume of Stephen Ambrose's Nixon biography, Nixon: Ruin and Recovery.)

On the stand, Nixon said that he thought the warrantless break-ins were perfectly legal. (Although he wasn't asked under oath whether he'd known of or approved them, he'd said earlier that he hadn't.) The president, Nixon said, had power to authorize such break-ins, and so did the FBI, which was an arm of the executive branch. Nixon said there had been "hard evidence" linking the Weather Underground to foreign governments. Nixon said he himself had approved similar break-ins under the 1970 "Houston Plan," which he said was also legal. Nixon gave an impromptu lecture about a president's heavy burden during wartime. "I hope that neither President Carter or Governor Reagan, if he should be president, has to do what I had to do, what Franklin Roosevelt had to do, [here the judge interrupted and told the prosecutor to ask his next question, but Nixon went on] what President Truman had to do, that is, write letters to people whose sons have been killed in war." Possibly in part because of the jury's distaste for Nixon, Felt, and Miller were found guilty and sentenced to pay $5,000 and $3,500, respectively. After Ronald Reagan, who was elected president a few days later, assumed the presidency, he pardoned the two men.

It is almost too irresistible to wonder: Did Nixon serve up his sympathetic testimony because he knew it would alienate the jury and give Deep Throat what he, Nixon, deemed his just deserts? We know that Nixon was a revenge buff who was capable of extraordinarily Machiavellian behavior. We also know that Nixon sincerely believed that warrantless break-ins of the sort that Felt and Miller (and, under different circumstances, Nixon himself) had authorized were a necessary line of defense against radicals and troublemakers (many of whom did indeed prove to be violent).

Which Nixon testified at Felt's trial--the Nixon wanting to give Deep Throat a little payback or the Nixon who wanted to stand firm against The Punks? Perhaps both.

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