Former acting FBI chief L. Patrick Gray III said in a television interview broadcast yesterday that his former deputy, W. Mark Felt, became the mysterious Watergate source known as Deep Throat out of personal revenge and "a desire to get rid of me."
Ending 32 years of silence about his role in the Watergate scandal, Gray told ABC's "This Week" that he had reacted with "total shock, total disbelief" to the revelation that Felt had held a series of secret meetings with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. He said he felt betrayed by Felt, who had repeatedly assured him that he was not Deep Throat.
"He fooled me," said Gray, 88, who was forced to step down as acting FBI chief in April 1973 because of suspicions that he had facilitated the Watergate coverup. "It was like I was hit with a tremendous sledgehammer."
Gray, a former Justice Department official and submarine commander, was appointed acting FBI director in May 1972 by President Richard M. Nixon after the death of the legendary J. Edgar Hoover. Declassified White House tapes show that Nixon hoped Gray would conduct a thorough "housecleaning" of the FBI and bring it under presidential control.
During the interview, Gray acknowledged providing raw FBI investigative files to White House counsel John W. Dean III and destroying several files found in the White House safe of E. Howard Hunt, the organizer of the Watergate break-in. But he denied complicity in the coverup, and said he had opposed White House efforts to stop the investigation on the grounds of a CIA connection.
In nighttime conversations with Woodward in an underground parking garage, Felt depicted Gray as a political hack closely tied to the Nixon White House. By day, Felt presented himself to Gray as a loyal FBI operative, praising him for his efforts to reform the bureau, declassified FBI documents show.
Gray told ABC News that he totally trusted his deputy, despite being told on five occasions to fire him for suspected disloyalty. He said he resisted calls by Nixon for Felt to take a lie detector test because he thought such a step would be "degrading to the second-highest official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and I would not stoop to that."
"When I asked him point-blank, 'Are you leaking, Mark?' he said, 'No,' " Gray recalled. He said that Felt continued to assure him that he was not Deep Throat as late as 1976, three years after both men retired from the FBI.
Asked to describe Felt's motivations, Gray said he now believes he was guided by "a revenge motive and a desire to get rid of me." He said that Felt, who had spent more than three decades at the FBI as a field agent and a close aide to Hoover, was maneuvering for the top job and needed to show that Gray was not performing his duties properly.
In his autobiography, Felt acknowledged his disappointment at being overlooked for the FBI director's job, which, he said, should have gone to a career FBI man. His family has presented his decision to meet with Woodward as a patriotic step motivated by concern over corruption in the Nixon White House and delays in the probe.
Gray described his decision to leave the Navy in 1960 and to work with Nixon as the "greatest mistake" of his life. He said he believed that Nixon had the potential to be "a great president" but was brought down by his "vindictiveness."
During his year-long tenure as acting FBI director, Gray angered some bureau veterans by recruiting the first female agents. Declassified White House tapes show that Nixon and his aides became increasingly disillusioned with Gray's running of the bureau and, in White House aide John D. Ehrlichman's celebrated phrase, decided in March 1973 to let him "twist slowly, slowly in the wind" as a congressional investigation into Watergate reached a peak.
Gray told ABC that he "loved the people in the FBI," and "broke down and cried" in April 1973 when he was forced to withdraw his nomination as director.