William Mark Felt, Sr. (August 17, 1913 – December 18, 2008) was a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent who retired as the Bureau's Deputy Director in 1973. After keeping secret for 30 years his involvement with reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Felt admitted on May 31, 2005, to being the Watergate scandal's whistleblower, "Deep Throat."
Felt worked in several FBI field offices prior to his promotion to the Bureau's headquarters in Washington, D.C. During the early investigation of the Watergate scandal (1972–1974), and shortly after the death of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on May 2, 1972, Felt was the Bureau's Associate Director, the second-ranking post in the FBI. While serving as Associate Director, Felt provided The Washington Post with critical information that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. In 1980, Felt was convicted of violating the civil rights of people thought to be associated with members of the Weather Underground Organization, by ordering FBI agents to search their homes as part of an attempt to prevent bombings. He was ordered to pay a fine, but was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan during his appeal. In 2006, he published an update of his 1979 autobiography, The FBI Pyramid. His last book, written with John O'Connor, is titled A G-Man's Life. On June 14, 2012, the FBI released Felt's personnel file at the agency, covering the period from 1941 to 1978. It also released files pertaining to an extortion threat made against Felt in 1956.
Early life and career
Born on August 17, 1913, in Twin Falls, Idaho, Felt was the son of carpenter and building contractor Mark Earl Felt and his wife, the former Rose R. Dygert. His paternal grandfather was a Free Will Baptist minister. His maternal grandparents were born in Canada and Scotland; through his maternal grandfather, Felt was related to Revolutionary War general Nicholas Herkimer. After graduating from Twin Falls High School in 1931, Felt attended the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, and was a member and president of the Gamma Gamma chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He received a BA in 1935.
Felt went to Washington, D.C., to work in the office of Democratic U.S. Senator James P. Pope. In 1938, Felt married Audrey Robinson of Gooding, Idaho, whom he had known when they were undergraduates at UI. She had come to Washington to work at the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and they were wed by the chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, the Rev. Sheara Montgomery. Audrey, who died in 1984, and Felt had two children, Joan and Mark.
Felt stayed on with Pope's successor in the Senate, David Worth Clark (D-Idaho). Felt attended the George Washington University Law School at night, earned his law degree in 1940, and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar in 1941.
Upon graduation, Felt took a position at the Federal Trade Commission but did not enjoy the work. His workload was very light, and he was assigned a case to investigate whether or not a toilet paper brand, called "Red Cross", was misleading consumers into thinking it was endorsed by the American Red Cross. Felt wrote in his memoir:
- My research, which required days of travel and hundreds of interviews, produced two definite conclusions:
- 1. Most people did use toilet tissue.
- 2. Most people did not appreciate being asked about it.
- That was when I started looking for other employment.
He applied for a job with the FBI in November 1941 and was accepted. His first day at the Bureau was January 26, 1942.
Early FBI years
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover often moved Bureau agents around so they would have wide experience. Felt observed that Hoover "wanted every agent to get into any field office at any time. Since he [Hoover] had never been transferred and did not have a family, he had no idea of the financial and personal hardship involved."
After completing sixteen weeks of training at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, and FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC., Felt was first assigned to Texas, working in the field offices in Houston and San Antonio, spending three months in each. He then returned to FBI Headquarters, and was assigned to the Espionage Section of the Domestic Intelligence Division, tracking down spies and saboteurs during World War II, where he worked on the Major Case Desk. His most notable work there was on the "Peasant" case. Helmut Goldschmidt, operating under the codename "Peasant", was a German agent in custody in England. Under Felt's direction, his German masters were informed "Peasant" had made his way to the United States, and were fed disinformation on Allied plans.
The Espionage Section was abolished in May 1945 after V-E Day. After the war, Felt was sent again to a field office, first to Seattle, Washington. After two years of general work, he spent two years as a firearms instructor and was promoted from agent to supervisor. Upon passage of the Atomic Energy Act and the creation of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, the Seattle office became responsible for completing background checks of workers at the Hanford plutonium plant near Richland, Washington. Felt oversaw these checks. In 1954, Felt returned briefly to Washington as an inspector's aide. Two months later, he was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana, as assistant special agent in charge of the field office. When he was transferred to Los Angeles, California, fifteen months later, he held the same rank there.
Investigates organized crime
In 1956, Felt was transferred to Salt Lake City, Utah and promoted to Special Agent in Charge. The Salt Lake Office included Nevada within its purview, and while there, Felt oversaw some of the Bureau's earliest investigations into organized crime with the Mob's operations in the Reno and Las Vegas casinos. (It was Hoover's, and therefore the Bureau's, official position at the time that there was no such thing as the Mob.) In February 1958, Felt went to Kansas City, Missouri, in his memoir dubbed "the Siberia of field offices", where he oversaw additional investigations of organized crime. By this time, Hoover was compelled to change his mind about the existence of organized crime, in the wake of the famous Apalachin, New York, conclave of underworld bosses in November 1957.
Climbing the ladder
Felt returned to Washington, D.C., in September 1962. As assistant to the bureau's assistant director in charge of the Training Division, Felt helped oversee the FBI Academy. In November 1964, he became Assistant Director of the Bureau, as Chief Inspector of the Bureau and Head of the Inspection Division. This division oversaw compliance with Bureau regulations and conducted internal investigations.
On July 1, 1971, Felt was promoted by Hoover to Deputy Associate Director, assisting Associate Director Clyde Tolson. Hoover's right-hand man for decades, Tolson was in failing health and no longer able to attend to his duties. Richard Gid Powers wrote that Hoover installed Felt to rein in William C. Sullivan's domestic spying operations, as Sullivan had been engaged in secret unofficial work for the White House. In his memoir, Felt quoted Hoover as having said, "I need someone who can control Sullivan. I think you know he has been getting out of hand." In his book, The Bureau, Ronald Kessler said that Felt "managed to please Hoover by being tactful with him and tough on agents." Curt Gentry called Felt "the director's latest fair-haired boy", but had "no inherent power" in his new post, the real number three being John P. Mohr.
Weather Underground investigations
Among the criminal groups that the FBI investigated in the early 1970s was the Weather Underground. The case ended up being dismissed because of illegal activities by the FBI, including wiretaps, break-ins and mail interceptions. The lead federal prosecutor on the case, William C. Ibershof, claims that Mark Felt and Attorney General John N. Mitchell initiated these illegal activities that tainted the investigation.
After Hoover's death
Hoover died in his sleep and was found on the morning of May 2, 1972. Tolson was nominally in charge until the next day when Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray III as Acting FBI Director. Tolson submitted his resignation, which Gray accepted. Felt then took Tolson's post as Associate Director, the number-two job in the Bureau. Felt served as an honorary pallbearer at Hoover's funeral. On the day of Hoover's death, Hoover's secretary for five decades, Helen Gandy, began destroying his files. She turned over twelve boxes of the "Official/Confidential" files to Felt on May 4, 1972. This consisted of 167 files and 17,750 pages, many of them containing derogatory information. Felt stored them in his office, and Gray told the press that afternoon that "there are no dossiers or secret files. There are just general files and I took steps to preserve their integrity." Felt earlier that day had told Gray, "Mr. Gray, the Bureau doesn't have any secret files", and later accompanied Gray to Hoover's office. They found Gandy boxing up papers. Felt said Gray "looked casually at an open file drawer and approved her work", though Gray would later deny he looked at anything. Gandy retained Hoover's "Personal File" and destroyed it. When Felt was called to testify in 1975 by the U.S. House about the destruction of Hoover's papers, he said, "There's no serious problems if we lose some papers. I don't see anything wrong and I still don't." At the same hearing, Gandy claimed that she had destroyed Hoover's personal files only after receiving Gray's approval. In a letter submitted to the committee in rebuttal of Gandy's testimony, Gray vehemently denied ever giving such permission. Both Gandy's testimony and Gray's letter were included in the committee's final report.
In his memoir, Felt expressed mixed feelings about Gray. While noting Gray did work hard, Felt was critical of how often he was away from FBI headquarters. Gray lived in Stonington, Connecticut, and commuted to Washington. He also visited all of the Bureau's field offices except Honolulu. His frequent absences led to the nickname "Three-Day Gray". These absences, combined with Gray's hospitalization and recuperation from November 20, 1972, to January 2, 1973, meant that Felt was effectively in charge for much of his final year at the Bureau. Bob Woodward wrote "Gray got to be director of the FBI and Felt did the work." Felt wrote in his memoir:
- The record amply demonstrates that President Nixon made Pat Gray the Acting Director of the FBI because he wanted a politician in J. Edgar Hoover's position who would convert the Bureau into an adjunct of the White House machine.
Gray's defenders would later argue that Gray simply practiced a management style that was different from that of Hoover. Gray's program of field office visits was something that Hoover had not done since his early years as director, and some felt this did much to raise the morale of the agents working in those field offices. Furthermore, Gray's leadership style seemed to mirror what he had learned in the US Navy, in which the executive officer concentrates on the basic operation of the ship, while the captain concentrates on its position and heading. Felt believed Gray's methods were an unnecessary distraction and showed a lack of leadership. He was sure he was not the only one of the FBI leaders who disapproved of Gray's methods, particularly among those who had served under Hoover.
As Associate Director, Felt saw everything compiled on Watergate before it went to Gray. The Agent in Charge, Charles Nuzum, sent his findings to Investigative Division Head Robert Gebhardt, who then passed the information on to Felt. From the day of the break-in, June 17, 1972, until the FBI investigation was mostly completed in June 1973, Felt was the key control point for FBI information. He had been among the first to learn of the investigation, being informed the morning of June 17. Ronald Kessler, who spoke to former Bureau agents, reported that throughout the investigation, they "were amazed to see material in Woodward and Bernstein's stories lifted almost verbatim from their reports of interviews a few days or weeks earlier".
Contact with Woodward
Bob Woodward first describes his source nicknamed Deep Throat in All the President's Men as a "source in the Executive Branch who had access to information at CRP (the Committee to Re-elect the President, Nixon's 1972 campaign organization), as well as at the White House." The book also calls Deep Throat an "incurable gossip" who was "in a unique position to observe the Executive Branch", a man "whose fight had been worn out in too many battles". Woodward had known the source before Watergate and had discussed politics and government with him.
In 2005, Woodward wrote that he first met Felt at the White House in 1969 or 1970 when Woodward was an aide to Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was delivering papers to the White House Situation Room. In his book The Secret Man, Woodward described Felt as a "tall man with perfectly combed gray hair ... distinguished looking" with a "studied air of confidence, even what might be called a command presence". They stayed in touch and spoke on the telephone several times. When Woodward started working at the Washington Post, he phoned Felt on several occasions to ask for information for articles in the paper. Felt's information, taken on a promise that Woodward would never reveal its origin, was a source for a few stories, notably for an article on May 18, 1972, about Arthur H. Bremer, who shot George C. Wallace. When the Watergate story broke, Woodward called on his friend. Felt advised Woodward on June 19 that E. Howard Hunt was involved; the telephone number of his White House office had been listed in the address book of one of the burglars. Initially, Woodward's source was known at the Post as "My Friend", but was tagged "Deep Throat" by Post editor Howard Simons, after the film Deep Throat. Woodward has written that the idea for the nickname first came to Simons because Felt had been providing the information on a deep background basis.
When Felt's name was revealed, it was noted that "My Friend" has the same initial letters as "Mark Felt". Woodward has said this was a coincidence, but in looking back at some of his notes, interviews with Felt during the earliest days of the story were marked with "M.F."
Code for contacting Woodward
Woodward claimed that when he wanted to meet Deep Throat, he would move a flowerpot with a red flag on the balcony of his apartment, number 617, at the Webster House at 1718 P Street, Northwest, and on occasion when Deep Throat wanted a meeting, he would circle the page number on page twenty of Woodward's copy of The New York Times and draw clock hands to signal the hour. Adrian Havill questioned these claims in his 1993 biography of Woodward and Bernstein, stating Woodward's balcony faced an interior courtyard and was not visible from the street, but Woodward responded that it has been bricked in since he lived there. Havill also claimed that copies of The Times were not delivered marked by apartment, but Woodward and a former neighbor disputed this claim. Woodward has stated:
- How [Felt] could have made a daily observation of my balcony is still a mystery to me. At the time, the back of my building was not enclosed so anyone could have driven in the back alley to observe my balcony. In addition, my balcony and the back of the apartment complex faced onto a courtyard or back area that was shared with a number of other apartment or office buildings in the area. My balcony could have been seen from dozens of apartments or offices.
- There were several embassies in the area. The Iraqi embassy was down the street, and I thought it possible that the FBI had surveillance or listening posts nearby. Could Felt have had the counterintelligence agents regularly report on the status of my flag and flowerpot? That seems unlikely, but not impossible.
Haldeman informs Nixon that Felt was leaking information
Days after the break-in, Nixon and White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman talked about putting pressure on the FBI to slow down the investigation. The FBI had been called in by the District of Columbia police because the burglars had been found with wiretapping equipment, and wiretapping is a crime investigated by the FBI. Haldeman told President Nixon on June 23, 1972, that Felt would "want to cooperate because he's ambitious."
Despite initial suspicions that other agents, including Angelo Lano, had been speaking to the Post, in a taped conversation on October 19, 1972, Haldeman told the president that he had sources, which he declined to name, confirming Felt was speaking to the press.
- You can't say anything about this because it will screw up our source and there's a real concern. Mitchell is the only one who knows about this and he feels strongly that we better not do anything because ... if we move on him, he'll go out and unload everything. He knows everything that's to be known in the FBI. He has access to absolutely everything.
Haldeman also reported that he had spoken to White House counsel John W. Dean about punishing Felt, but Dean said Felt had committed no crime and could not be prosecuted.
When Acting FBI Director Gray returned from his sick leave in January 1973, he confronted Felt about being the source for Woodward and Bernstein. Gray said he had defended Felt to Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst: "You know, Mark, Dick Kleindienst told me I ought to get rid of you. He says White House staff members are concerned that you are the FBI source of leaks to Woodward and Bernstein", to which Felt replied, "Pat, I haven't leaked anything to anybody." Gray told Felt,
- I told Kleindienst that you've worked with me in a very competent manner and I'm convinced that you are completely loyal. I told him I was not going to move you out. Kleindienst told me, "Pat, I love you for that."
Nixon passes over Felt again
On February 17, 1973, Nixon nominated Gray as Hoover's permanent replacement as Director. Until then, Gray had been in limbo as Acting Director. In another taped conversation on February 28, Nixon spoke to Dean about Felt's acting as an informant, and mentioned that he had never met him. Gray was forced to resign on April 27, after it was revealed Gray had destroyed a file that had been in the White House safe of E. Howard Hunt. Gray told his superiors that Felt should be named as his successor.
The day Gray resigned, Kleindienst spoke to Nixon, urging him to appoint Felt as Gray's replacement, but Nixon instead appointed William Ruckelshaus. Stanley Kutler reported that Nixon said, "I don't want him. I can't have him. I just talked to Bill Ruckelshaus and Bill is a Mr. Clean and I want a fellow in there that is not part of the old guard and that is not part of that infighting in there." On another White House tape, from May 11, 1973, Nixon and White House Chief of Staff, Alexander M. Haig, spoke of Felt leaking material to The New York Times. Nixon said, "he's a bad guy, you see," and that William Sullivan had told him Felt's ambition was to be Director of the Bureau.
Felt called his relationship with Ruckelshaus "stormy." In his memoir, Felt describes Ruckelshaus as a "security guard sent to see that the FBI did nothing which would displease Mr. Nixon." Felt retired from the Bureau on June 22, 1973, ending a thirty-one year career.
Trial and conviction
In the early 1970s, Felt oversaw operation COINTELPRO during a controversial period in the FBI's history. The FBI was pursuing leftist groups, such as the Weather Underground, which had planted bombs at the Capitol, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Felt, along with Edward S. Miller, authorized FBI agents to break into homes secretly in 1972 and 1973, without a search warrant, on nine separate occasions. These kinds of FBI operations were known as "black bag jobs." The break-ins occurred at five addresses in New York and New Jersey, at the homes of relatives and acquaintances of Weather Underground members, and did not lead to the capture of any fugitives. The use of "black bag jobs" by the FBI was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in the Plamondon case, 407 U.S. 297 (1972).
After revelation by the Church Committee of the FBI's illegal activities, many agents were investigated. Felt, in 1976, publicly stated he had ordered break-ins, and that individual agents were merely obeying orders and should not be punished for it. Felt also stated Gray also authorized the break-ins, but Gray denied this. Felt said on the CBS television program Face the Nation he would probably be a "scapegoat" for the Bureau's work. "I think this is justified and I'd do it again tomorrow," he said on the program. While admitting the break-ins were "extralegal", he justified them as protecting the "greater good." Felt said:
To not take action against these people and know of a bombing in advance would simply be to stick your fingers in your ears and protect your eardrums when the explosion went off and then start the investigation.
The Attorney General in the Carter administration, Griffin B. Bell, investigated, and on April 10, 1978, a federal grand jury charged Felt, Miller, and Gray with conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by searching their homes without warrants. Gray's case did not go to trial and was dropped by the government for lack of evidence, on December 11, 1980. Felt told Ronald Kessler:
I was shocked that I was indicted. You would be too, if you did what you thought was in the best interests of the country and someone on technical grounds indicted you.
The indictment charged violations of Title 18, Section 241 of the United States Code and stated Felt and the others: "Did unlawfully, willfully, and knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with each other to injure and oppress citizens of the United States who were relatives and acquaintances of the Weatherman fugitives, in the free exercise and enjoyments of certain rights and privileges secured to them by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America."
Felt, Gray, and Miller were arraigned in Washington, DC on April 20. Seven hundred current and former FBI agents were outside the courthouse applauding the "Washington Three", as Felt referred to himself and his colleagues in his memoir.
Felt and Miller attempted to plea bargain with the government, willing to agree to a misdemeanor guilty plea to conducting searches without warrants — a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2236 — but the government rejected the offer in 1979. After eight postponements, the case against Felt and Miller went to trial in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on September 18, 1980. On October 29, former President Richard M. Nixon appeared as a rebuttal witness for the defense, and testified that Presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt had authorized the Bureau to engage in break-ins while conducting foreign intelligence and counterespionage investigations. It was Nixon's first courtroom appearance since his resignation in 1974. Nixon also contributed money to Felt's defense fund, since Felt's legal expenses were running over $600,000 by then. Also testifying were former Attorneys General Herbert Brownell Jr., Nicholas Katzenbach, Ramsey Clark, John N. Mitchell, and Richard G. Kleindienst, all of whom said warrantless searches in national security matters were commonplace and understood not to be illegal, but Mitchell and Kleindienst denied they had authorized any of the break-ins at issue in the trial. (The Bureau used a national security justification for the searches because it alleged the Weather Underground was in the employ of Cuba.)
The jury returned guilty verdicts on November 6, 1980. Although the charge carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, Felt was fined $5,000 and Miller was fined $3,500. Writing in The New York Times a week after the conviction, Roy Cohn claimed that Felt and Miller were being used as scapegoats by the Carter administration and it was an unfair prosecution. Cohn wrote it was the "final dirty trick" and that there had been no "personal motive" to their actions. The New York Times saluted the convictions, saying it showed "the case has established that zeal is no excuse for violating the Constitution."
Felt and Miller appealed the verdict.
In a phone call on January 30, 1981, Edwin Meese encouraged President Ronald Reagan to issue a pardon, and, after further encouragement from Felt's former colleagues, President Reagan pardoned Felt. The pardon was signed on March 26, but was not announced to the public until April 15, 1981. (The delay was partly because Reagan was shot on March 30.) In the pardon, Reagan wrote:
- During their long careers, Mark Felt and Edward Miller served the Federal Bureau of Investigation and our nation with great distinction. To punish them further — after 3 years of criminal prosecution proceedings — would not serve the ends of justice.
- Their convictions in the U.S. District Court, on appeal at the time I signed the pardons, grew out of their good-faith belief that their actions were necessary to preserve the security interests of our country. The record demonstrates that they acted not with criminal intent, but in the belief that they had grants of authority reaching to the highest levels of government.
Nixon sent Felt and Miller bottles of champagne with the note "Justice ultimately prevails." The New York Times disapproved, saying that America "deserved better than a gratuitous revision of the record by the President." Felt and Miller said they would seek repayment of their legal fees from the government.
The prosecutor at the trial, John W. Nields Jr., said, "I would warrant that whoever is responsible for the pardons did not read the record of the trial and did not know the facts of the case." Nields also complained that the White House did not consult with the prosecutors in the case, which was the usual practice when a pardon was under consideration.
Felt reacted by saying, "I feel very excited and just so pleased that I can hardly contain myself. I am most grateful to the President. I don't know how I'm ever going to be able to thank him. It's just like having a heavy burden lifted off your back. This case has been dragging on for five years." Miller told a press conference the day of the announcement, "I certainly owe the Gipper one." Their attorney, Thomas Kennelly, said, "We thank God and we thank President Reagan that these two good men have been vindicated at last." Carter Attorney General Griffin Bell said he did not object to the pardons, as the convictions showed that behavior such as Felt and Miller's was no longer tolerated.
Despite their pardons, Felt and Miller won permission from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to appeal the conviction so as to remove it from their record and to prevent it from being used in civil suits by the victims of the break-ins they ordered. Ultimately, Felt's law license was returned by the court in 1982, which cited Reagan's pardon. In June 1982, Felt and Miller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee's security and terrorism subcommittee that the restrictions placed on the FBI by Attorney General Edward H. Levi were threatening the country's safety.
Felt published his memoir The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside in 1979. It was co-written with Hoover biographer Ralph de Toledano, though the latter's name appears only in the copyright notice. Toledano in 2005 wrote that the volume was "largely written by me since his original manuscript read like The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table." Toledano said:
- Felt swore to me that he was not Deep Throat, that he had never leaked information to the Woodward-Bernstein team or anyone else. The book was published and bombed.
Library Journal wrote in its review that "at one time Felt was assumed to be Watergate's 'Deep Throat'; in this interesting but hardly sensational memoir, he makes it clear that that honor, if honor it be, lies elsewhere." The memoir was a strong defense of Hoover and his tenure as Director and condemned the reaction to criticisms of the Bureau made in the 1970s by the Church Committee and civil libertarians. He also denounced the treatment of Bureau agents as criminals and said the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act of 1974 only served to interfere with government work and helped criminals. (The flavor of his criticisms is apparent with the very first words of the book: "The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact", Justice Robert H. Jackson's comment in his dissent to Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949)). The New York Times Book Review was highly critical of the book, saying Felt "seeks to perpetuate a view of Hoover and the FBI that is no longer seriously peddled even on the backs of cereal boxes" and contains "a disturbing number of factual errors", sentiments echoed by Curt Gentry who said Felt was "the keeper of the Hoover flame."
In 1990, Felt moved to Santa Rosa, California, from Alexandria, Virginia, his home since the 1970s. In 1992, he bought a house in Santa Rosa and after that lived with his daughter Joan Felt. He suffered a stroke before 1999, reported Ronald Kessler in his book The Bureau. According to Kessler's book, in the summer of 1999, Woodward showed up unexpectedly at the home of Felt's daughter and took him to lunch. Joan Felt, who was taking care of him at her home, told Kessler her father greeted Woodward like an old friend, and their mysterious meeting appeared to be more of a celebration than an interview.
"Woodward just showed up at the door and said he was in the area," Joan Felt was quoted as saying in Kessler's book, which was published in 2002. "He came in a white limousine, which parked at a schoolyard about ten blocks away. He walked to the house. He asked if it was okay to have a martini with my father at lunch, and I said it would be fine."
After Woodward left the house to get the limousine, which was parked almost three-quarters of a mile east at Comstock Junior High School, Joan Felt caught up with him to give him further instructions about what her father could eat for lunch. They walked together to the limo, and Joan Felt rode back with Woodward to pick up her father.
Kessler said in his book that the measures Woodward took to conceal his meeting with Felt lent "credence" to the notion that Felt was Deep Throat. After Woodward confirmed that Felt was Deep Throat, the New York Post said on June 3, 2005, "There are plenty of people claiming they knew Deep Throat was actually former FBI man Mark Felt ... On May 3, 2002, PAGE SIX reported that Ronald Kessler, author of The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, says that all the evidence points to former top FBI official W. Mark Felt."
Deep Throat speculation
The identity of Deep Throat was debated for more than three decades, and Felt was frequently mentioned as a possibility. An October 1990 Washingtonian magazine article about "Washington secrets" listed the 15 most prominent Deep Throat candidates, and Felt's name was among them.
Jack Limpert published evidence as early as 1974 that Felt was the informant. On June 25 of that year, a few weeks after All the President's Men was published, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial, "If You Drink Scotch, Smoke, Read, Maybe You're Deep Throat." It began "W. Mark Felt says he isn't now, nor has he ever been Deep Throat." The Journal quoted Felt saying the character was a "composite" and "I'm just not that kind of person." In 1975, George V. Higgins wrote: "Mark Felt knows more reporters than most reporters do, and there are some who think he had a Washington Post alias borrowed from a dirty movie." During a grand jury investigation in 1976, Felt was called to testify and the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights J. Stanley Pottinger, discovered that Felt was "Deep Throat", but the secrecy of the proceedings preserved the secrecy of Felt's alter ego from the public.
In 1992, James Mann, who had been a reporter at The Washington Post in 1972 and worked with Woodward, wrote a piece for The Atlantic Monthly saying the source had to have been within the FBI. While he mentioned Felt as a possibility, he said he could not be certain it was him.
Alexander P. Butterfield, the White House aide best known for revealing the existence of Nixon's taping system, told The Hartford Courant in 1995, "I think it was a guy named Mark Felt." In July 1999, Felt was identified as Deep Throat by The Hartford Courant, citing Chase Culeman-Beckman, a nineteen-year-old from Port Chester, New York. Culeman-Beckman said Jacob Bernstein, the son of Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron, had told him the name at summer camp in 1988, and that Jacob claimed he had been told by his father. Felt denied the identification to the Courant saying "No, it's not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn't exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?" Bernstein said his son didn't know. "Bob and I have been wise enough never to tell our wives, and we've certainly never told our children." (Bernstein reiterated on June 2, 2005, on the Today Show that his wife had never known.)
Leonard Garment, President Nixon's former law partner who became White House counsel after John W. Dean's resignation, ruled Felt out as Deep Throat in his 2000 book In Search of Deep Throat. Garment wrote:
- The Felt theory was a strong one ... Felt had a personal motive for acting. After the death of J. Edgar Hoover ... Felt thought he was a leading candidate to succeed Hoover ... The characteristics were a good fit. The trouble with Felt's candidacy was that Deep Throat in All the President's Men simply did not sound to me like a career FBI man.
Garment said the information leaked to Woodward was inside White House information Felt would not have had access to. "Felt did not fit." (Once the secret was revealed, it was noted Felt did have access to such information because the Bureau's agents were interviewing high White House officials.)
In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle profiled Felt. Noting his denial in The FBI Pyramid, the paper wrote:
- Curiously, his son — American Airlines pilot Mark Felt — now says that shouldn't be read as a definitive denial, and that he plans to answer the question once-and-for-all in a second memoir. The excerpt of the working draft obtained by the Chronicle has Felt still denying he's Throat but providing a rationale for why Throat did the right thing.
In February 2005, reports surfaced that Woodward had prepared Deep Throat's obituary because he was near death. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was battling cancer at the time (he would die in September 2005), and the rumors led to speculation that Rehnquist might have been Deep Throat. Rehnquist was a Justice Department official early in the Nixon administration and was an associate justice of the Supreme Court at the time Deep Throat was active.
Deep Throat revealed
Vanity Fair magazine revealed Felt was Deep Throat on May 31, 2005, when it published an article (eventually appearing in the July issue of the magazine) on its website by John D. O'Connor, an attorney acting on Felt's behalf, in which Felt said, "I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat." After the Vanity Fair story broke, Benjamin C. Bradlee, the Editor of the Washington Post during Watergate, confirmed that Felt was Deep Throat. According to the Vanity Fair article, Felt was persuaded to come out by his family, who wanted to capitalize on the book deals and other lucrative opportunities that Felt would inevitably be offered in order, at least in part, to pay off his grandchildren's education.
Public response varied widely. Felt's family called him an "American hero", suggesting that he leaked information for moral or patriotic reasons. G. Gordon Liddy, who was convicted of burglary in the Watergate scandal, said Felt should have gone to the grand jury rather than leak.
Nixon's Chief Counsel Charles Colson, who served prison time for his actions in the Nixon White House, said Felt had violated "his oath to keep this nation's secrets", but a Los Angeles Times editorial argued that this argument was specious, "as if there's no difference between nuclear strategy and rounding up hush money to silence your hired burglars." Ralph de Toledano, who co-wrote Felt's 1979 memoir, said Mark Felt Jr. had approached him in 2004 to buy Toledano's half of the copyright. Toledano agreed to sell but was never paid and attempted to rescind the deal, threatening legal action. A few days before the Vanity Fair article was released, Toledano finally received a check. He later said:
- I had been gloriously and illegally deceived, and Deep Throat was, in characteristic style, back in business — which given his history of betrayal, was par for the course.
Speculation about Felt's motives at the time of the scandal has varied widely as well. Some suggested it was revenge for Nixon's choosing Gray over Felt to replace Hoover as FBI Director. Others suggest Felt acted out of institutional loyalty to the FBI. Political scientist George Friedman argued that: "The Washington Post created a morality play about an out-of-control government brought to heel by two young, enterprising journalists and a courageous newspaper. That simply wasn't what happened. Instead, it was about the FBI using The Washington Post to leak information to destroy the president, and The Washington Post willingly serving as the conduit for that information while withholding an essential dimension of the story by concealing Deep Throat's identity."
Publishers were interested in signing Felt to a book deal after the revelation. Weeks after the Vanity Fair article was released, PublicAffairs Books, whose CEO was a Washington Post reporter and editor during the Watergate era, announced that it signed a deal with Felt. The new book was to include material from his 1979 memoir with an update. The new volume was scheduled for publication in the spring of 2006. Felt sold the movie rights to his story to Universal Pictures for development by Tom Hanks's production company, Playtone. The book and movie deals were valued at US $1 million.
In the summer of 2005, Woodward published his account of his contacts with Felt, The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat (ISBN 0-7432-8715-0).
Felt died at home, in his sleep, on December 18, 2008. According to his daughter, he had been feeling fine, but after a big breakfast, he remarked that he was tired and went back to bed. He was 95 years old. His death was attributed to heart failure.