Sunday, August 12

My Dinner with “Deep Throat”

The 33rd anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation as President brings to mind my dinner with "Deep Throat."

It's a seminal "Tying My Shoes" moment—one of those times when I brushed up against the famous (infamous?) yet, in my own way, remained clueless.

"Deep Throat" is the nickname Washington Post insiders gave to reporter Bob Woodward's well-placed administration source—the man who kept steering Woodward and Carl Bernstein back on track when their investigation into political subterfuge and illegal acts in the White House and in the 1972 presidential campaign threatened to derail. The pseudonym (lifted from a famous porn film of that era) was bestowed because Deep Throat always operated on "deep background." That is, he couldn't be quoted, even anonymously. His information was to be used only for guidance and for confirmation of what had been learned elsewhere. Woodward and Bernstein, kept on track by Deep Throat, uncovered wrongdoing that would eventually lead to the resignation of President Nixon as well as prison terms for former Attorney General John Mitchell, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, presidential adviser John Ehrlichman, lawyer G. Gordon Liddy and Chief White House Counsel Charles "Chuck" Colson.

After the Watergate expose All the President's Men came out, guessing Deep Throat's identity became a popular parlor game among journalists. For his part, Woodward was sworn to secrecy. Even his higher-ups at the Post professed ignorance of the source's identity.

One candidate frequently named was W. Mark Felt, the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Which brings me to my dinner with Deep Throat. I caution you: don't expect much. This is, after all, a "Tying My Shoes" moment.

In August 1975, a year after the Nixon resignation and more than a year after the "Woodstein" (Woodward and Bernstein) book appeared, my younger brother got married. His fiancĂ© was the daughter of a retired naval officer—known to everyone, family and friends, as "The Captain"—who lived in one of the tonier neighborhoods in Fairfax, Virginia. His neighbor (and good friend) was W. Mark Felt.

At the rehearsal dinner I sat next to Mark Felt.

I made the most of the opportunity—by asking for seconds on the prime rib!

What, you thought I'd start pumping the former deputy director of the FBI at a social occasion on the eve of my brother's wedding? What was I supposed to say: "Hey, I hear Hal Holbrook is going to play you in the movie?"

So my opportunity, such as it was, passed.

Felt himself was swept up in the Watergate-era whirlwind: he was indicted for authorizing a series of FBI break-ins aimed at pursuing violent radicals in the U.S. In 1978, with the Carter administration newly in power, a federal grand jury charged Felt and two others with conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by searching their homes without warrants. Former President Nixon appeared as a defense witness, but in the end W. Mark Felt was found guilty and fined $5,000.

In 1981 President Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt.

And that would have been the last we heard of Mark Felt if he hadn't admitted—in a Vanity Fair article in 2005—that he was/is Deep Throat. Once he had "outed" himself Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stepped forward to confirm the claim. In failing health, W. Mark Felt now lives with his daughter in California.