“This was a tremendous surprise to me,” Mr. Gray told George Stephanopoulos on June 26 on ABC’s “This Week” program. “I could not have been more shocked and more disappointed in a man whom I had trusted. . . . It was like I was hit with a tremendous sledgehammer.”
Mr. Gray’s tumultuous 11 months at the FBI began weeks before the June 17, 1972, break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. His government career froze after his revelation during congressional confirmation hearings in March 1973 that he had been passing files from the agency’s Watergate investigation to White House counsel John W. Dean III.
White House officials were so enraged that Mr. Gray revealed their roles that domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman suggested to President Nixon that rather than withdraw Mr. Gray’s nomination as FBI chief, he should be left to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind.”
Mr. Gray, a Nixon loyalist often described as a political naif, finally was forced to resign April 27, 1973, after the disclosure that he destroyed papers from the White House safe of E. Howard Hunt, the former CIA operative who organized the Watergate break-in.
Ehrlichman and Dean ordered the papers’ destruction. Dean told Mr. Gray that they “must not see the light of day.” Ehrlichman suggested to Dean that the papers be dropped in the Potomac River, but Mr. Gray said he burned them in the fireplace of his Connecticut home.
Mr. Gray said the papers had nothing to do with Watergate. He asserted until his death that he destroyed the files only after the FBI’s attorney approved it.
“My father understood exactly what his role and responsibility was,” said Edward Emmet Gray of Lyme, N.H. “He had participated at that level of security, this extremely sensitive level, for years. . . . He was operating on the presumption of regularity, those were his words, and he was taken advantage of by John Dean and John Ehrlichman. Those two criminals set him up.”
Mr. Gray, who had a 20-year career as a submariner and saw battle in two wars, reflected during the Senate Watergate hearings in August 1973: “In the service of my country, I withstood hours and hours of depth-charging, shelling, bombing, but I never expected to run into a Watergate in the service of a president of the United States. And I ran into a buzz saw, obviously.”
Ehrlichman, with Nixon’s agreement, ordered Mr. Gray to stop the FBI investigation into Watergate almost from its outset, claiming that the CIA was handling the case. The FBI probe continued, although Mr. Gray provided reports to Dean.