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Deep Throat's Deep Throat

One of the characteristics of Deep Throat that made him so elusive to those of us who obsessed about his identity was that he seemed to know a lot about two worlds:  The criminal investigation into Watergate and the Nixon White House.  As a result, many believed -- and continue to believe -- that no one man could have known everything Deep Throat seemed to know.  The skeptics generally argued that Deep Throat was a fiction or a composite of multiple sources. 

Now that Deep Throat has been identified as Former Deputy FBI director Mark Felt that argument appears to be continuing, as David Greenberg anticipated yesterday on Slate.  One such skeptic, Edward Jay Epstein, wrote yesterday:

Consider, for example, Woodward and Bernstein explosive Washington Post story on November 8, 1973 about "deliberate erasures" on one of the White House tapes. In his book All The President's Men, Woodward says that in the first week of November he "moved the flower pot" on his sixth floor balcony (a signal to Deep Throat), then met Deep Throat that night in an underground garage. Deep Throat then told him that the tapes contained "gaps" that indicated it had been tampered with. So that story is sourced to Deep Throat in November 1973.

But the person who provided that information that night could not have been Felt according to records examined by Nixon's biographer Jonathan Aitken. In November 1973, only six people knew about the gaps in the tape-- Richard Nixon; Rose Mary Woods (Nixon's personal secretary); Alexander Haig (The White House chief of staff); Haig's deputy, Major General John C Bennett and two trusted Nixon White House aides, Fred Buzhardt and Steve Bull. Not only was Felt not privy to that White House secret, but he was no longer even in the FBI, having left that October.

So how could Felt have known?  Hopefully, we'll get some answers in the book Woodward promises in July.  For now, a pretty good hint comes from the Post's David Von Drehle, who wrote the lead article confirming Felt as Deep Throat on Tuesday.  His answer on an online chat yesterday: 

Even after his retirement, Felt remained one of the best-connected men in Washington and routinely learned sensitive information from his longtime friends, colleagues and sources.

Over the last few years, I have been doing my own research on Deep Throat.  I had a different (and, as it turns out, very wrong) theory about his identity (I thought he could have been Pat Buchanan - more on that later).  But in the process I did stumble on some dots I have not yet seen connected in the media.  One concerns one possible source for Felt's information about the White House.  Perhaps Deep Throat's Deep Throat on this question was none other than Rose Mary Woods.

Nixon's long-time secretary Rose Mary Woods had been with him since 1952, when he became Vice President.  By the time they reached the White House, she had become more than a secretary. "Always on duty, single minded in her devotion to Nixon and his family, of the campaign," wrote Nixon aide Len Garment, "Rose held the [campaign] organization together from the first days....If you crossed Rose there was no court of appeal."[1]  Her obituary in the Post recalled:

Long before Haldeman and domestic aide John Ehrlichman joined the presidential campaign, Miss Woods was Nixon's gatekeeper. Reporters said she controlled who could see her boss -- and punished those she deemed critical.

But once Nixon reached the White House, she came into conflict with Haldeman.  Nixon wanted his new chief of staff to be his sole "sole doorkeeper," so he ordered Haldeman to move Woods to a remote office assign her exclusively to telephone and letter writing duties and limit her direct contact with Nixon.  Woods, who assumed Haldeman had instigated the change, reacted with what speechwriter William Safire remembered as, "grief stricken fury."[2]  She maintained what Len Garment described as "a cordial and lasting dislike of Haldeman."[3] 

On October 25, 1972, the Post had published an account by Woodward and Bernstein that linked chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to the secret slush fund that financed the Watergate break-in.  The story deeply disturbed Haldeman.  The night the story broke, according to Nixon's diary, his chief of staff "spoke rather darkly of the fact that there was a clique in the White House that were out to get him."[4]   

The next day, a taped conversation between Nixon and Haldeman captures who Haldeman had in mind (this is my transcription taken directly from the Nixon tapes):

NIXON:  You spoke about the fact, the other thing, you spoke about the fact that there were people on the White House staff who were out to try to do you in.  Who would that be? HALDEMAN:   It's...you want to know? 

NIXON: Yea

HALDEMAN:   I..It's not the tale I think we can run around talking about. 

NIXON: Yea.

HALDEMAN. Rose, primarily.[5]

As the conversation continued, both Nixon and Haldeman agreed that Woods herself could not possibly be leaking, but they suspected that someone close to her as the culprit. 

What makes this all relevant to Mark Felt is that Rose Woods also had remarkably strong connections to Hoover loyalists at the FBI.  Her brother Ed Woods had been an FBI special agent and maintained a close friendship with J. Edgar Hoover and his deputies.[6]  Rose Woods and Hoover had been on a first name basis since the 1950s and she had served over the years as Nixon's informal conduit to Hoover.[7]  Haldeman designated Ehrlichman as conduit to the FBI "because Rose Mary Woods had become too close to Hoover and, particularly, to [his secretary] Helen Gandy."[8] Yet according to telephone logs in the National Archives, Woods remained in contact with at least one Hoover loyalist, retired deputy director Louis Nichols, as late as May 1973.[9] 

Woods was certainly in a position to know about the tape gap.  In October of 1973, she had confided to Nixon's lawyers that she had erased a portion of the 18 1/2 minute gap, but was unsure who erased the rest. At first the lawyers did not believe the tape in question had been subpoenaed by the prosecutors, so they were not concerned.  But in late October they realized that they had been wrong.  On November 6, 1973, three days before the Washington Post story about deliberate erasures appeared, Rose Woods learned that she would be called to testify about the missing conversation that we now know included the 18 1/2 minute gap.  That day, according to John Dean's account, efforts were made to get her an outside lawyer.[10]  It certainly seems possible that in this moment of great personal turmoil, she may have turned to one of her FBI friends for advice, someone who passed a tip on to Felt. 

This theoretical Woods-Felt connection is entirely speculative, of course.  Whether Rose Woods passed information that made its way to Mark Felt or not, the connections point up the weakness in an argument that Mark Felt could only have known information that left a paper trail to his office.  People talk to each other in Washington.  Friendships and relationships reach across workplaces, and much information gets passed back and forth through informal contacts.  That's how Washington worked - then and now.

Footnotes (after the jump)

[1] Leonard Garment, Crazy Rhythm (1997), p. 101

[2] William Safire, Before the Fall (1975), p. 113

[3] Leonard Garment, In Search of Deep Throat (2000), p. 41

[4] Richard Nixon, RN:The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978), p 711.

[5] Transcript by the author, White House Oval Office Conversation, Richard Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, October 25, 1972, 11:18 am - 12:00 p.m., Conversation #372-4.

[6] Interview with Ed Woods, Senate Watergate Committee Records, Box B107

[7] John Ehrlichman, The Ends of Power, pp. 156-157.

[8] Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets (1991),

[9] Stanley Kutler, Wars of Watergate, p. 318 - citing telephone summary conversation, Louis Nichols to Rose Mary Woods, May 8, 1973

[10] Dean, John, Unmasking Deep Throat, p. 98

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on June 3, 2005 at 01:24 AM | Permalink

Comments

Fascinating article.

Posted by: Gregory | Jun 3, 2005 6:49:39 AM

Great post! I wonder also if there is any connection to the timing of Mr. Felt revealing himself and the fact that Ms. Woods passed away this past January. Perhaps while Woodward/Bernstein had committed to hide his identity until the day he died, perhaps Felt had committed instead to wait until Ms. Woods passed away before revealing himself, as a means of protecting her from people coming to the same conclusion you did.

Posted by: Mark | Jun 3, 2005 9:59:03 AM

Mark - That may have been part of it, although I think Felt was probably more concerned about what people would think about him.

Posted by: Mark Blumenthal | Jun 3, 2005 10:20:50 AM

Won't matter a damn bit to Epstein. Like many people, he will hold on to his pet theory no matter how untenable it becomes; since we are relying on the word of a reporter and an old man who is apparently not all there, doubt is easy to sustain.

I'm not saying I think Woodward's lying. (The cloak-and-dagger stuff with the flowerpot and the Times is too silly *not* to be real.) But one person's word is hardly iron-clad proof.

Posted by: Janice | Jun 3, 2005 1:09:19 PM

I believe the name of Rosemary Woods brother was Joseph. During the 1960's while in college I would go on double dates with his daughter Terry Woods a student at St. Teresa's College in Winona Minn. My wife and Terry were class mates and friends during college years. "Former F.B.I. Agent Joseph Woods, best known as the brother of President Richard Nixon's personal secretary Rosemary Woods, was picked by and succeeded Ogilvie in 1966. Woods, who was often spotted around town wearing some of Nixon's discarded suits, had toiled as the chief investigator for the Better Government Association (BGA). "Sheriff Joe" was a throw-back to the "rootin-tootin" flamboyance of John Babb in the early 1950s, but like the lamented Babb, very little of substance was accomplished during the four years of the Woods regime except a highly publicized and stormy battle with the County Board over manpower appropriations. Political overtones began to permeate decision making."

Posted by: Jim Heilgeist | Jun 11, 2005 12:57:10 PM

jim heilgiest's post really brings back the memories.
...but wait a minute. whoever erased the tape has to be #1 candidate for throat- and its certain it wasnt anyone pro-nixon, as the tape wasnt really erased, just overlayed with a loud tone and haig eventually sneaked a look at haldemans notes and the 18 minute section was nothing special as could be shown by extractable portions of "erased" tape(which still exists)
ergo: innocuous , pre subpoenaed segment erased to sink nixon, which it did. woods 4 minute section REALLY IS erased. the rest is overlayed with interfering tones--which can be done by rewinding and cramming down on record at same time on some old recorders, resulting in audible tone derived from forward and reverse ultrasonic bias tones heterodyning...
throat's throat obviously knew his stuff, which he had to because he was j edgar hoover's and kissingers #1 wiretapper; WILLIAM C SULLIVAN, haig's trusted friend and former neighbor.
i've been waiting 30 years to say this. thank you.

kenneth b thomas
hanover park, illinois

Posted by: ken thomas | Jun 16, 2005 2:35:05 PM

jim heilgiest's post really brings back the memories.
...but wait a minute. whoever erased the tape has to be #1 candidate for throat- and its certain it wasnt anyone pro-nixon, as the tape wasnt really erased, just overlayed with a loud tone and haig eventually sneaked a look at haldemans notes and the 18 minute section was nothing special as could be shown by extractable portions of "erased" tape(which still exists)
ergo: innocuous , pre subpoenaed segment erased to sink nixon, which it did. woods 4 minute section REALLY IS erased. the rest is overlayed with interfering tones--which can be done by rewinding and cramming down on record at same time on some old recorders, resulting in audible tone derived from forward and reverse ultrasonic bias tones heterodyning...
throat's throat obviously knew his stuff, which he had to because he was j edgar hoover's and kissingers #1 wiretapper; WILLIAM C SULLIVAN, haig's trusted friend and former neighbor.
i've been waiting 30 years to say this. thank you.

kenneth b thomas
hanover park, illinois

Posted by: ken thomas | Jun 16, 2005 2:35:05 PM

ps there are two other E-Z semi-erasure methods. one is to flip over the reel on left and record then flip back. i'd rather not talk about the other (yet)
kthomas

Posted by: ken thomas | Jun 16, 2005 2:50:53 PM

ps there are two other E-Z semi-erasure methods. one is to flip over the reel on left and record then flip back. i'd rather not talk about the other (yet)
kthomas

Posted by: ken thomas | Jun 16, 2005 2:51:16 PM

One might wonder just what impact or dealings Joe Woods had on the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. He was the Sherrif of Cook County, Illinois in 1968. This is the Greater Chicago area.

What is past is prolog to the events of this current administration. A lot of the same players with the same script and another manufactured war.

Posted by: Jim Heilgeist | Jun 18, 2005 1:15:38 PM

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