Nixon and Felt: the star-crossed haters
For many, Watergate is ancient history. But for younger Americans, the claim by a 91-year-old former number 2 official at the FBI that he was the “deep throat” informer to a couple of rookie reporters at The Washington Post will come as fresh news. But, in the end, history will deal with both President Richard M. Nixon and W. Mark Felt in terms of what motivated them to act as they did.
The burr under Nixon’s saddle was his belief that he won the presidential election of 1960. Clearly, old Joe Kennedy provided the money for Chicago Mayor Richard Daly and his Cook County political machine to enable even deceased Chicago residents to “vote early and often.” Knowing he would get no support for a Cook County recount from the left-leaning and Nixon-hating mainstream media, Nixon accepted what looked like rigged elections in Illinois and Texas that made John F. Kennedy the President of the United States. But Nixon was a person who never forgot and never forgave.
W. Mark Felt spent 30 years climbing the FBI’s promotion ladder to be J. Edgar Hoover’s deputy. In 1972, as Hoover’s health was declining, Felt directed FBI agents to break into private homes without search warrants and Felt authorized illegal wire taps designed to undermine the Weather Underground Organization, a violent, anti-war, anti-establishment terrorist group that was bombing government buildings all across America. Ironically, the FBI operations directed by Felt were strikingly similar to the Watergate burglaries and wire taps.
As a lawyer, Felt had to know he was breaking the law. So, after risking imprisonment on behalf of anti-terrorism, Felt was bitterly disappointed when, on the death of J. Edgar Hoover, President Nixon named L. Patrick Gray to be the Acting Director of the FBI. Shakespeare wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Apparently, hell hath no fury like a FBI deputy director passed over for promotion.
In 1980, Felt was convicted for his Watergate-like crimes; however, during the appeals process, he was pardoned by President Reagan and never jailed. An apparently unwitting Richard Nixon sent Felt a bottle of champagne and a congratulatory note.
For the record, please note that no evidence was ever uncovered that President Nixon conceived or had prior knowledge of the Watergate break-ins. But Nixon was clearly involved in trying to frustrate FBI investigations that might link the break-ins to members of his White House staff or to members of his reelection campaign staff. That was Nixon’s fatal political error.
Ironically, the Nixon-hating Mark Felt saw a sitting President trying to obstruct the FBI’s investigation of the type of break-ins for which Felt himself would be later convicted. But whatever Felt’s motivations, he had a wide array of options:
The most courageous option would have been to go directly to President Nixon and complain. Failing that, he could have gone to the Attorney General. Not as courageous, but legal and honorable, would have been to go, in secret, to the grand jury investigating the break-ins and provided secret testimony. Grand jury testimony and deliberations are secret and sealed. Felt could have continued to work for the FBI without fear of discovery. Almost assuredly, that would have led to the impeachment of President Nixon for obstruction of justice and abuse of power, and justice would have been served.
Instead, Felt met, secretly, illegally and dishonorably, with two, at the time, unknown reporters for The Washington Post in darkened parking garages to feed them bits and pieces of what Nixon was doing to obstruct the FBI from tying the White House to the Watergate break-ins. Felt made the two reporters rich and famous. Now, as Felt approaches death, his family admits pushing him to reveal his role as “deep throat” with a view to making some money for them to inherit after he dies.
So, if President Nixon did not conceive the Watergate break-ins, who did? Next week, you can read it here.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2005. William Hamilton.