'Deep Throat' Mark Felt Had an Ulterior Motive for Leaking Watergate's Secrets

Mark Felt, the associate director of the FBI who became known as “Deep Throat” during the Watergate scandal, has recaptured the country's imagination as President Donald Trump’s Russia scandal continues to unfold. But a new report suggests that Felt was not the noble public official we have understood him to be.


Famed Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein painted Felt as “an honorable, selfless whistleblower” seeking to expose “lawlessness rampant in the [Richard] Nixon White House.” But as Max Holland reveals in Politico, Felt was more interested in a promotion than preserving our democracy. Nixon’s resignation wasn’t part of Felt’s plan; he assumed Nixon would remain in office, and Felt hoped to become director of the FBI.

Using documents, government records and Nixon’s recordings from the early days of the Watergate investigation, Holland concludes Felt’s motives were more duplicitous than heroic.

By May 1972, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, 77, was celebrating 48 years leading the bureau. The FBI was rife with agents seeking the kind of profile Hoover had enjoyed, and behind closed doors, many were furious with him for not stepping down when he turned 70. Two previous presidents had feared the FBI director too much to make waves. But William C. Sullivan seemed to have the inside track at the time and Hoover treated him like the heir to the throne. Sullivan’s biggest flaw, however, was his impatience.

It wasn’t long before Sullivan was leaking insider information about Hoover to journalists. When Hoover found out, he changed the locks on Sullivan’s office door while he was away on leave. When Sullivan returned, he was so furious he challenged Felt to a fight. Felt became the new heir apparent, despite his lack of popularity in the bureau. His colleagues frequently referred to him as the “White Rat.”

Others suggest Felt's only concern was preventing Hoover from discovering his true ambitions.

“If you wanted to ruin somebody’s career in the FBI, all you had to do [was] leak it to somebody in the press that so-and-so [was] being groomed as Hoover’s successor,” a former FBI agent recalled.

When Hoover finally died, mourners were shocked to see a frail old man, the dye washed from his hair and eyebrows. But Nixon didn’t appoint Felt; he was far too concerned about Senate confirmation and his upcoming election. He appointed Assistant Attorney General L. Patrick Gray to serve as acting FBI director while he searched for the correct replacement. If Gray did well, he was told the job would be his. The FBI got wind of the fact that Nixon was looking for someone outside the bureau to fill the post. Frustrated, many executives retired, and Felt had to find a way to convince Nixon to choose an insider.

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