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Senators George McGovern and Mike Gravel Reflect on How Deep Throat Helped Bring Down the Nixon Presidency by Exposing the Watergate Scandal

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We look back at President Nixon’s political dirty tricks and intelligence-gathering operations that had helped Nixon win re-election over McGovern in 1972. [includes rush transcript]

One of the great mysteries of American politics appears to have been solved: the identity of Deep Throat — the secret source that helped the Washington Post unravel the Watergate scandal.

The June 1972 break-in at the Democrats’ national headquarters in the Watergate office building eventually forced President Nixon to resign in order to avoid impeachment. In addition more than 30 government and Republican campaign officials were convicted of charges including perjury, burglary, wiretapping and obstruction of justice.

For over 30 years the Washington Post reporters who broke the story — Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — refused to identify their source. They had vowed they would keep it secret until the source’s death.

But on Tuesday the secret came out — not in the pages of the Washington Post but the monthly magazine Vanity Fair. Deep Throat was Mark Felt — the number two man in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

He is 91 years old and living in California. His family had asked an attorney by the name of John D. O’Connor to share his story that appeared in Vanity Fair.

In today’s Washington Post, Woodward reveals that he first met Felt in 1970, by chance, at the White House. At the time, the 27-year-old Woodward was still serving in the Navy and had yet decided to pursue a career in journalism. Felt, he said, became a friend and a mentor. He also became Woodward’s most important source for his biggest story ever.

Today we will look at the impact of Watergate 30 years later as well as the man who turned out to be Deep Throat. Later in the program we will examine Mark Felt’s connection to the FBI’s counter intelligence campaign known as COINTELPRO and the hunt for the Weather Undergound.

But first we will look at the break-in of the Watergate hotel and how Mark Felt became Deep Throat.

Most Americans only know Deep Throat from the 1976 Oscar-winning movie, All the President’s Men starring Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein. In the film, Deep Throat is portrayed by Hal Holbrook. This is a pivotal scene from the movie where Deep Throat is helping Woodward understand that the Watergate scandal extends all the way into the Oval Office. He also tells Woodward that Nixon’s goal was to sabotage viable Democratic candidates.

  • All The President’s Men

We are joined now by former Senator George McGovern. He ran against Richard Nixon for president in 1972. He joins us on the phone from his home in South Dakota. We are also joined by former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska. He was also serving in the Senate at the time of the Watergate break-in. He joins us in our Washington studio.

  • Sen. George McGovern, served as a Democratic Senator from South Dakota from 1963 to 1981. In 1972 he ran for president on the Democatic ticket ahead against Richard Nixon.
  • Sen. Mike Gravel, represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate from 1969-1981.

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Web ExclusiveDec 31, 2013Top 20 Democracy Now! Segments of 2013
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: This is a pivotal scene from the movie where Deep Throat is helping Woodward understand the Watergate scandal extends all the way into the Oval Office. He also tells Woodward that Nixon’s goal was to sabotage viable democratic candidates.

DEEP THROAT: Can’t you understand what you’re onto?

BOB WOODWARD: Mitchell knew?

DEEP THROAT: Of course, Mitchell knew. Do you think something this size just happens?

BOB WOODWARD: Haldeman had to know, too.

DEEP THROAT: You ain’t getting nothing from me about Haldeman.

BOB WOODWARD: Segretti said…

DEEP THROAT: Don’t concentrate on Segretti. You’ll miss the overall.

BOB WOODWARD: The letter — the letter that destroyed the Muskie candidacy, the Canuck letter, did that come from inside the White House?

DEEP THROAT: You’re missing the overall.

BOB WOODWARD: But what overall?

DEEP THROAT: They were frightened of Muskie and look who got destroyed. They wanted to run against McGovern. Look who they are running against. They bugged. They followed people. False press leaks, fake letters. They canceled democratic campaign rallies. They investigated democratic private lives. They planted spies, stole documents, and on and on. Don’t tell me you think this is all the work of little Don Segretti.

AMY GOODMAN: A scene from the 1976 film, All the President’s Men, Deep Throat speaking to Bob Woodward. We’re joined now by former senator, George McGovern. He ran against Richard Nixon for president in 1972, joins us on the phone. We’re also joined by former senator, Mike Gravel of Alaska, who was also serving in the Senate at the time of the Watergate break-in, who joins us in our Washington studio. Senator George McGovern, let’s begin with you. Especially for the younger generation who is listening and watching right now, can you explain what Watergate was all about, the significance, and your response to the fact that it is Mark Felt, Deep Throat?

SEN. GEORGE McGOVERN: Well, Watergate really began, as far as the public is concerned, with the first news report that on June 19, 1972, seven men were caught in the middle of the night in Democratic headquarters, rifling our files. They came in equipped with burglar tools, with rubber gloves, all the stealth of a professional break-in. They had taped open the doors of the Democratic National Committee so they could move in silently and move out silently. But they were caught by an alert guard who noticed the taping on the doors, and the next morning, the story broke that seven people, apparently from the Nixon White House or the Nixon campaign command, had executed this deal. I remember vividly the story. It was a small, single column story on the front page of The Washington Post, maybe five or six inches long, not much in the way of detail. And that started off a revelation that eventually was to lead about a year-and-a-half after the election to the expulsion of Mr. Nixon from the White House. But it was a highly secretive operation, carried out by a crew of men, one of whom was found carrying a White House pass. Right from the beginning, I assumed that it was ordered from the top of the Nixon campaign, or the Nixon White House.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And can you talk, sir, about the — what it was like in Congress at the time, as the story was evolving, and many people looking back now assumed that everyone united against Nixon in terms of his involvement in this, but what was it like for you as a senator trying to unearth what was going on?

SEN. GEORGE McGOVERN: Well, of course, I was an announced candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. I had already won a series of primary elections. This was almost exactly one month before our Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida, where I actually officially won the Democratic nomination. So, obviously, I had a special interest in this because there appeared to be a conspiracy here. We didn’t know why they broke into our headquarters. There were various explanations gave. I always had a hunch — and it’s nothing more than a hunch, because we don’t really have clear evidence of what they were after at our headquarters — that Nixon thought we must have had some information on him that we would use at a strategic point during the campaign, and probably had his people trying to find out what it was. It may be that they thought there was information that would be embarrassing to us. We don’t really know that answer. There may be some people who know specifically what they were doing in our headquarters that night, but I have never known for sure what their motive was.

One of the interesting things about it is that the story had a splash for a few days, and then it seemed to kind of die out. The national media really didn’t pick up on it all that much. I remember wondering at the time why that was not a major investigative story for the networks, for the metropolitan newspapers, for the national press as a whole, but it never got the attention at the time that I thought it deserved, nor did it get that attention during the forthcoming campaign. I used to talk about it in virtually every speech, but I must say, outside of these two cub reporters at The Washington Post who were working on the municipal desk, not on the national desk, the national media never really got into that story until after the 1972 election, five months later.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Senator George McGovern, who ran against Richard Nixon. Again, the Watergate break-in, a month before he was nominated to be the Democratic candidate. In the excerpt we just heard from All the President’s Men, the conversation between Deep Throat and Bob Woodward, Woodward is raising the issue of Don Segretti, who was involved in these dirty tricks during the various democratic primaries, and Deep Throat saying to him that it was about bringing down Muskie so that Nixon could run for you — Nixon could run against you, McGovern.

SEN. GEORGE McGOVERN: That may have been one of their motives. I don’t know. By that stage I had defeated Muskie in a whole series of primaries, including the two biggest ones, New York and California, and other significant primaries, such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Oregon. We had won some 11 primaries by that stage. So, it was quite clear, at least among voters who were participating in those large primaries, and that totaled up to millions of people, that I was the strongest candidate. When the campaign began months before, it looked like Hubert Humphrey or Ed Muskie would be the stronger contenders. They had been our nominees for president and vice president in 1968. They were older than I. They had been in politics longer. They were on the national scene longer. So, I suppose it might be concluded by some of the insiders of the Nixon campaign, that one of them would be the stronger of our candidates. That may have been one of their motives. I never really saw much evidence that — in that on campaign trail, but it’s one theory that was promulgated, to beat Muskie and Humphrey so we can get at McGovern, who will be a less powerful candidate in the general election.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator McGovern, we have to break for stations to identify themselves, then we’ll be back. And then we will turn to our exclusive interview here at Democracy Now! With Jennifer Dohrn. She was the target of many break-ins that were authorized by Mark Felt, Deep Throat, as number two man in the F.B.I. He ultimately was convicted for authorizing those break-ins and pardoned by President Reagan in the first months of his presidency.


AMY GOODMAN: On the line with us, Senator George McGovern and Senator Mike Gravel in our Washington studio, Alaska senator from 1969 to 1981. He was the senator who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record. Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Senator Gravel. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you, one of the revelations that Woodward and Bernstein came up with as a result of some of their contact with Mr. Felt was that Nixon’s top aide, John Ehrlichman, oversaw a special covert unit known as the “Plumbers” that burglarized the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers. You are the senator who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record. Your reaction to the revelations of the last few days?

SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: Surprise, like everybody else, and delighted that he has come forward in his lifetime, because he’s really shown us what a whistleblower, a great whistleblower, can do for the benefit of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Senator Gravel, about the significance of Watergate, and also what it means for government then and today?

SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: Secrecy is endemic to government activities, tragically so. It’s part of human nature. And there’s only one antidote to it, and that is for occasionally a courageous person will step forward and put his career and life at risk to tell the truth to the American people, tell the truth via the media, obviously. And that’s what Mr. Felt did, was to recognize that in his capacity — and this is where a lot of the charges right now are: 'well, he should have stayed within the law and performed his duties.' Well, who was he reporting to? He was reporting to Gray, the head of the F.B.I., who was nothing but a Nixon hack. He was reporting to the Attorney General, who later — John Mitchell — who later went to jail for conspiring with Richard Nixon, or to the President himself. So he was boxed in and had no alternative, if he was going to out this criminality of the White House but to then use a friend of long standing that he could trust to pay out the information to keep the investigation alive and let these reporters do their job.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But isn’t it in a sense ironic that the man who was a whistleblower over burglaries conducted by the White House was himself later convicted for burglaries that he supervised against anti-war and other activists in the — among the American people?

SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: There’s no question that he probably broke the law, but keep in mind, they’re tagging him. Hoover was alive then when this happened, and he was the number two man. So, obviously, he was following the orders of Hoover, and Hoover was now dead, and so he was the next person in line to go ahead and convict. They thought at the time, accurately or not, that the Weathermen, who had owned up to committing some acts of terrorism on our soil, they thought that there was some foreign influence. And therefore, they thought they had legality on their side to go ahead and do these surreptitious entries into the homes of some of these Weather people. Now, that they were convicted and pardoned —- keep in mind, they were pardoned with a great deal of outpouring of support from agents of the F.B.I. Apparently Felt was very popular among the rank and file of the F.B.I., which says something about the man. But keep in mind, he was a protege of Herbert Hoover, who I think in many respects was very dastardly, but by the same token -—

AMY GOODMAN: J. Edgar Hoover.

SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover, who did want to protect the integrity of the F.B.I. from invasion by the hacks of the Nixon White House.

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Next story from this daily show

EXCLUSIVE… Jennifer Dohrn: I Was The Target Of Illegal FBI Break-Ins Ordered by Mark Felt aka “Deep Throat”

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