Mark Felt, the former FBI official who helped bring down a president, took criticism and praise from all sides on Wednesday after he was unmasked as the legendary “Deep Throat” from the Watergate scandal.
Revealed after 30 years of secrecy to be the instrumental source in the groundbreaking stories of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Felt was slammed by President Richard Nixon’s most hard-line supporters as a “snake” and a snitch.
But Felt’s admirers said he was a hero for blowing the whistle on the corruption and abuse of office that ultimately led to Nixon’s August 1974 resignation — the only resignation of a U.S. president in history.
The former FBI deputy director, now a 91-year-old retiree in declining health in California, was at the center of a storm of reaction and speculation about his motivations one day after the surprise revelation.
“I think that Mark Felt was ashamed at what he did, that’s why he lied about it for 30 years — and he ought to have been,” former Nixon speech writer and Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, now a conservative commentator, told MSNBC. He called “Deep Throat” “a snake.”
“He’s an FBI agent for heaven’s sakes, the top man in the bureau except for one, and he’s sneaking around garages leaking the results of an investigation to a Nixon-hating newspaper,” Buchanan said.
But former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, whose 1971 move to publish the Pentagon Papers on U.S. involvement in Vietnam landed him in the middle of a famous Supreme Court case, said Felt deserved the American Medal of Freedom.
“He’s a whistleblower and he’s a hero,” Gravel told Reuters. “Nixon was committing a crime and this guy blew the whistle on him. It drove Richard Nixon from office and he deserved to be driven from office.”
Gravel said whistleblowers were a crucial check on governments dedicated to secrecy and said the White House of President Bush was in sore need of a whistleblower.
“Secrecy is endemic to government officialdom,” Gravel said. “All I can say is ‘thank God for the whistleblowers.”‘
Felt ended three decades of mystery and speculation by revealing to Vanity Fair magazine that he was the famous “Deep Throat.”
Woodward and Bernstein, who along with Post editor Ben Bradlee kept Felt’s identity secret, confirmed Felt was the man who secretly met Woodward in Washington parking garages and guided the pair’s crucial reporting throughout the Watergate scandal.
Bush, asked by reporters whether Felt was a hero, said “it’s hard for me to judge (until) learning more about the situation. All I can tell you is that it was a revelation that caught me by surprise.”
The Vanity Fair article said Felt kept quiet because he felt his actions had been in some way dishonorable, but his family pushed him to come forward because they thought he was admirable and might profit from it.
“The children wanted the money and they pushed him into it,” said G. Gordon Liddy, who helped plan the original Watergate break-in and spent more than four years in prison for his role in that and other Nixon administration scandals.
“He’s certainly no hero,” Liddy, now the host of a conservative radio talk show, told Reuters. He said Felt, as a law enforcement official, should have taken his concerns up the legal chain.
Former Nixon special counsel Charles Colson, who served seven months in prison on a Watergate-related obstruction charge, told MSNBC that he viewed the entire episode “as kind of a tragedy. This is one more Watergate tragedy.”
“I think it’s unfortunate at this age in his life, I believe he’s being exploited. I really feel sorry for him because I think he goes out on a very sour note … not as a hero,” Colson said.