William Rehnquist wasn't Deep Throat.

William Rehnquist wasn't Deep Throat.

William Rehnquist wasn't Deep Throat.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Feb. 14 2005 6:12 PM

Rehnquist Wasn't Deep Throat

The latest wild theory about Woodstein's blind source.

A "name Deep Throat" poll conducted by Editor & Publisher has selected Chief Justice William Rehnquist as the likeliest person to be the Watergate leaker described by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their book All The President's Men. The main reason to suspect Rehnquist is that he's dying. In a Feb. 6 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, John Dean, former White House counsel to Richard Nixon (and tireless Deep Throat sleuth) writes,

Bob Woodward, a reporter on the team that covered the Watergate story, has advised his executive editor at the Washington Post that Throat is ill. And Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Post and one of the few people to whom Woodward confided his source's identity, has publicly acknowledged that he has written Throat's obituary.


The main problem with this theory is that the Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie, advises Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post that Woodward told him no such thing. I can't locate any public forum in which Bradlee acknowledged having written Deep Throat's obituary (Dean told me he got this secondhand from somebody who said he heard Bradlee say so on National Public Radio). But if Bradlee has written that obit, that hardly establishes that Deep Throat is dying. It's common practice for newspapers to write obituaries well in advance of the subject's death, especially if the subject is elderly, as Deep Throat surely is by now. (These leaks took place more than 30 years ago.)

[Update, Feb. 15: Dean today provided me with a Web link to an Oct. 20 broadcast  of The Connection, an NPR show produced by Boston's WBUR. On the program, Bradlee said,

I didn't promise Deep Throat that I wouldn't reveal his name. Bob Woodward did. And he's going to reveal his name. It is a he. He's still alive. The story revealing him is written. I helped edit it about a year ago. And it will be in the paper. I'm not so sure you will be as fascinated as you think you might be.

Dean, then, got a couple of details wrong. Bradlee didn't "write" the story; he "helped edit" it. And Bradlee didn't describe the piece as an obituary, but as a story revealing Deep Throat's identity. Practically speaking, of course, the story can run only after Deep Throat dies, because that's Woodward's pledge. But there remains no evidence that the impetus behind preparing the story (sometime late in 2003, if Bradlee's got his chronology right) was that Deep Throat was close to death.  Indeed, a year and a half later, Deep Throat is still alive.The timing might just as easily have been dictated by Woodward's wanting to make sure Bradlee was around to edit it, since Bradlee, though an amazingly vigorous and youthful octagenarian, is nonetheless getting on in years. (Woodward can't have anyone else at the Post edit the piece without revealing his Deep Throat secret to one more person.) In saying "helped edit it" rather than "edited it," Bradlee may be alluding to a likely role played by Carl Bernstein, or he may be alluding to Downie and any other Post editors likely to give it a quick once-over after Deep Throat dies.]

In sum, the fact that Rehnquist is dying of cancer bears no relevance to this discussion at all. Even Dean burst out laughing when I mentioned the Rehnquist theory to him. "It's just not even conceivable," he said. Rehnquist did serve as an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's office of legal counsel during the early part of the Nixon administration. That raises a few eyebrows, because Deep Throat was almost certainly located inside either the Justice Department (most likely, the FBI) or the White House counsel's office. But Rehnquist was sworn in as Supreme Court justice fully five months before the Watergate break-in. By the time the crucial events took place, he would have been out of the loop. I see no reason to revise my current thinking, which is that Deep Throat was either Deputy White House Counsel Fred Fielding or W. Mark Felt, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.