- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

With the dramatic revelation W. Mark Felt was The Washington Post’s Deep Throat informant for its Watergate stories, now we know the scandal was just another bureaucratic power play. It was more dramatic because it took down a president; yet, it was not primarily about Richard M. Nixon but inside Washington bureaucratic politics.

It was first about Bob Woodward, who in 1971 was seeking a career, and met senior FBI bureaucrat Mark Felt, cultivating his advice on his future.

Mr. Woodward won the coveted job of city investigative reporter at one of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers, undoubtedly selling The Post on his ?contacts,? Washington’s currency. Mr. Woodward at once put Mr. Felt to use in an investigation of the District of Columbia police force and immediately thereafter the attempted assassination of George Wallace. Mr. Woodward had secret FBI information within hours in both cases, winning high praise and future chits from his bosses. Two weeks later, on June 17, 1972, the Watergate apartment break-in took place and in less than a year Mr. Woodward (and to a lesser extent Carl Bernstein) was off to stardom, including a motion picture, and top billing at mover-and-shaker dinners.

What did Mr. Felt get? When the legendary J. Edgar Hoover was nearing the end of his life as head of the FBI, Mr. Felt was third in line. According to his 1979 memoir, Mr. Felt believed he had ?an excellent chance? to succeed Hoover, especially as he expected a careerist to be chosen. It would certainly not hurt to have a friend at the town’s top media outlet.

When Hoover died May 2, 1972, Mr. Felt was devastated to learn the next day that Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray III, a senior Justice Department political appointee, as acting director. Mr. Gray immediately took control of an agency that had denied him access before his appointment. Mr. Felt became second in command and plotted revenge.

Watergate soon provided the opportunity. Long before the White House could have obstructed justice, the reason for Deep Throat’s and his media supporters ?patriotic? justification of his actions, Mr. Felt gave Mr. Woodward FBI proof of the involvement of White House associate E. Howard Hunt just one day after the break-in. And the leaking from confidential investigation sources never stopped until another political director was appointed in 1973 and Mr. Felt retired.

Was Mr. Felt concerned about using illegal means to gain information or suppress evidence?

In 1980, Mr. Felt was convicted by federal officials of taking part in unlawful break-ins prior to Watergate. These were well-worn methods in Hoover’s FBI as were bugging and disrupting political activity on the right and left — in the most famous instance against Martin Luther King.

Mr. Felt was Hoover’s man in all these bureaucratic machinations, so why would he object to them in principle? He only objected to ?political interference? from the public officials to whom he was legally responsible.

The Post has long claimed the moral high ground in pursuing Nixon and prided itself on keeping its pledge not to reveal Deep Throat’s identity. But it could keep the secret only by misdirection, clearly contrary to journalistic ethics.

Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein claimed in ?All the President’s Men? that a November 1973 story was from Deep Throat but also said it was based on a White House source. It was this and related untruths that kept the secret so long, though former Post reporter James Mann had pierced the lie by 1992.

Perhaps it was not so unethical to protect a source afterward, but implying the source was near the president was mainly very useful to provide the story enough credibility to be effective. Now we know the great inside spy story was not true but was purloined by a bureaucrat from FBI files.

Civil service professional associations always lecture political appointees to trust the professionals. They decry the secrecy of political officials in not keeping bureaucrats in the loop and not relying on them. The John Bolton nomination is the latest episode in this Beltway morality play.

But here is the stated view of career professionalism from the FBI’s highest career official at the FBI, when Mr. Felt denied being Deep Throat in 1979: ?It would have be contrary to my responsibility as a loyal employee of the FBI to leak information? in the way Deep Throat had done, he responded.

Exactly. The bureaucrats and the media brought down a president but lost the war. The whole progressive welfare state mythology relies upon the professionalism of a bureaucracy that is to be given the job of running the government instead of the ignorant elected politicians.

After Mr. Felt, who could trust top bureaucrats, even at the most professional agencies like the FBI? Mr. Felt may have done us a favor by destroying once and for all this dangerous myth.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a professor at Bellevue University and a columnist and editor of ConservativeBattleline.com.


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