The Eternal Question: Who is Deep Throat?

He’s back.

At least his legend is.

Deep Throat, the anonymous, cigarette-smoking scotch drinker who apparently spent an unhealthy amount of time in the early 1970s roaming parking garages in the nation’s capital, is grabbing headlines again.

Speculation about the identity of the man (he was a man, wasn’t he?) who helped bring about the 1974 downfall of President Richard Nixon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal has never dissipated in the intervening 31 years.

But recent events have brought the issue to the fore and commenced a new round in that long-running, who-am-I? guessing game that involves two ex-presidents and a chief justice.

First came news that papers and notes compiled by “Woodstein” _Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the intrepid Washington Post reporters who broke Watergate and clamped down on Nixon’s pants leg like a rottweiler _ were being placed on public display by the University of Texas, which paid the scribes $5 million for the privilege.

It was Woodward who introduced the world to Deep Throat, a key source in the probe who sagely advised the reporter to “follow the money.” Only four people reportedly know Deep Throat’s identity _ Woodward, Bernstein, former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and the man himself. All are sworn to secrecy until Deep Throat gives the go-ahead or dies.

Then there was a column in the Los Angeles Times penned by John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel who helped topple his boss by spilling the beans, who said he has been advised that Deep Throat is ill, raising the possibility that the lifting of the veil is imminent.

So far, no official word. But Watergate, the “third-rate burglary” as described at the time by White House spokesman Ron Zeigler, occurred three decades ago. Most suspects would be in their 70s or even older by now and nature, being what it is, could be running its course sooner rather than later.

Watergate remains a definitive event for many who lived through the time. The short history goes like this:

On June 17, 1972, burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington. Not being very good burglars, they got caught.

It soon came to light, thanks to Woodward and Bernstein, that the Committee to Re-Elect the President, Nixon’s campaign operation, was somehow involved. Investigations ensued, with Deep Throat providing guidance to Woodward. Nixon denied any knowledge of the break-in, but tapes of conversations conducted in the Oval Office established that he was advised and tried to shut down any official probe. Nixon was forced to resign on Aug. 9, 1974.

So the question remains: Who is Deep Throat? Let’s look at the five likeliest possibilities:

Chief Justice William Rehnquist

The flavor of the month among the cognoscenti as a result of his recent battle with throat cancer – fitting Dean’s description of an ailing Deep Throat. He was a smoker, a member of the military, a Republican political operative and an assistant attorney general during the early years of the Nixon administration who, possibly, was aware of some of the more distasteful White House dealings.

But Rehnquist left the Justice Department before Watergate, joining the high court in January 1972. And he didn’t recuse himself when the high court was asked to determine whether Nixon had to release the tapes of Oval Office conversations. Still, an intriguing possibility.

Mark Felt

One of the more anonymous candidates, there nonetheless exists plenty of circumstantial evidence pointing to Felt. He was the No. 2 man at the FBI until June 1973, well after the dam broke. He was privy to investigatory information, and H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, was recorded telling the president in a 1972 Oval Office tape that most of the leaks were coming from Felt. Back in 1999, the Hartford Courant reported that Bernstein’s son, Jacob, was circulating word that Felt was the man. But Bernstein said he never told his son.

Leonard Garment

Always suspected of being an undercover liberal, Garment struck up a friendship with Nixon before he became president and served as a special consultant on domestic policy at the White House starting in 1969. He became White House counsel at the time the presidency began to unravel. Garment actually wrote about Deep Throat several years ago, fingering John Sears, a Nixon campaign worker. But Woodward himself broke his silence to reject that suggestion.

Fred Fielding

Serving as deputy White House counsel under John Dean, Fielding was known to smoke Marlboros and take a drink of scotch every now and again – fitting Woodward’s description. He also was certainly in on conversations regarding Watergate as a result of his position. A University of Illinois journalism class, collecting all available information and driving it through a computer, identified Fielding as Deep Throat. Haldeman, in his book about his White House experiences, also pointed at Fielding.

L. Patrick Gray

A Justice Department official during the early years of the administration, Gray was selected by Nixon to serve as acting FBI director in 1972 upon the death of J. Edgar Hoover. Watergate broke a little more than a month later. A documentary co-produced by CBS News and The Washington Post in 1992, “Watergate: The Secret Story,” identified Gray as the prime suspect, noting that he fits the description of Deep Throat provided by Woodward and Bernstein and was the only one of the possible suspects who could have met with Woodward on several of the pertinent dates. Gray and Woodward lived four blocks from one another during the course of events.

(Reach Bill Straub at straubb(at)