Mark Felt appears on "Face the Nation" on Aug. 30, 1976. Felt, the former FBI second-in-command, denied on the CBS show — and to anyone else who asked, over the course of three decades — that he was "Deep Throat," the anonymous source who tipped off reporters to the Watergate scandal that toppled a president. (AP)

Washington was abuzz.

A seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial with deep knowl­edge a­bout the in­ner work­ings of the White House had sur­faced in the news media with bomb­shell dis­clos­ures a­bout a scan­dal that en­cir­cled the president. And af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of a work that de­tailed inter­ac­tions with him, ev­er­y­one want­ed to know who he was.

It was 1974, days af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of “All the President’s Men” by The Washington Post's Bob Wood­ward and Carl Bernstein, whose steady stream of re­port­ing would lead to President Rich­ard M. Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion just months later.

But Mark Felt, the high-rank­ing FBI of­fi­cial who later ad­mit­ted that he was the an­ony­mous source known as “Deep Throat,” wasn’t giv­ing any­thing away — de­spite be­ing named in the guess­ing game going on around him.

A Wall Street Journal re­port not­ed that Felt “says he isn’t now, nor has he ever been, Deep Throat.”

“Of course, says the former acting as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of the FBI, if he re­al­ly were Deep Throat, you’d hard­ly ex­pect him to ad­mit it, now would you?” the Journal piece asked.

The wry head­lines of that front-page piece:

“If You Drink Scotch, Smoke & Read, May­be You're ‘Deep Throat’ "

“Al­most Anyone Can Qual­i­fy As Cap­i­tal Tries to Guess Wa­ter­gate-Sto­ry Source”

That Journal ar­ti­cle cir­cu­lat­ed wide­ly on so­cial media Wednes­day and Thurs­day amid the de­ni­als is­sued by more than a doz­en Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, who in­sist­ed that no, they were most def­i­nite­ly not in­volved with the an­ony­mous New York Times op-ed that raised ques­tions a­bout the president’s fit­ness for of­fice.

Amid this back­drop, Felt’s false as­ser­tions that he was not Deep Throat, which were is­sued reg­u­lar­ly and re­peat­ed­ly for more than 30 years, are a re­mind­er of how of­fi­cials’ de­ni­als may not be all that they seem.

With­in them is a re­flec­tion of the lim­it­ed choi­ces these an­ony­mous sources face: ad­mit to their decision when con­fronted by it, though they have already opt­ed for se­cre­cy, or con­tin­ue the cha­rade at the ex­pense of hon­es­ty.

The similarities be­tween the two situa­tions might end there; Felt com­mit­ted a re­bel­lion at con­sid­er­a­ble per­son­al risk that cul­mi­nat­ed with dis­clos­ures sig­nifi­cant en­ough that they top­pled the Nixon presi­den­cy.

The mo­tives of this week's an­ony­mous writ­er, whose op-ed dis­closed less new in­for­ma­tion but con­firmed the reams of re­port­ing showcasing the cha­os in­side the White House, are less clear. So are the piece's effects, be­yond aggravating the president.

Many believe that the writ­er's decision was not one driv­en by her­o­ism or pa­tri­ot­ism but in­stead by a de­sire to save his or her par­ty’s rep­u­ta­tion. And many say it seems un­like­ly that this an­ony­mous source’s i­den­ti­ty will stay hid­den long.

Felt, on the oth­er hand, main­tained his cov­er for de­cades, de­spite be­ing asked a­bout it re­peat­ed­ly, even as Nixon and oth­ers sus­pect­ed him.

“It was not I and it is not I,” he told Wash­ing­to­ni­an mag­a­zine in 1974.

Dur­ing an inter­view on “Face the Nation” in 1976, in which CBS host Ron­ald J. Ostrow asked him if “you want to take cred­it at this time for help­ing un­mask any of the Wa­ter­gate coverup,” Felt was a­gain un­e­quiv­o­cal.

“I am not Deep Throat, and the only thing I can say is that I wouldn’t be asham­ed to be,” he said.

Felt co-wrote a mem­oir in 1979, “The FBI Pyr­a­mid,” that delved heav­i­ly into the in­ves­ti­gat­ions into Wa­ter­gate but still in­clud­ed a cate­gori­cal de­ni­al that he was Deep Throat.

In the mem­oir, The Post not­ed years later, “Felt ac­know­ledged speak­ing once to Wood­ward, but in that book and when­ev­er else he was asked, he de­nied be­ing Deep Throat. In 1999, Felt de­nied it a­gain to the Hart­ford Courant af­ter there was another sug­ges­tion that he was Deep Throat.

“ 'I would have done bet­ter,' he told the pa­per. 'I would have been more ef­fec­tive.' That same sum­mer, Felt told Slate's Tim Noah that it would have been con­trar­y to his re­spon­si­bili­ties at the FBI to leak in­for­ma­tion."

Then, in mid-2005, Felt fi­nal­ly came clean in the pag­es of Van­i­ty Fair.

“Deep Throat, the secret source whose in­sid­er guid­ance was vi­tal to The Washington Post’s ground­break­ing cov­er­age of the Wa­ter­gate scan­dal, was a pil­lar of the FBI named W. Mark Felt, The Post con­firmed yesterday,” David Von Drehle wrote on the front page on June 1, 2005.

“Felt’s i­den­ti­ty as Washington’s most cele­brat­ed secret source had been an ob­ject of spec­u­la­tion for more than 30 years until yesterday, when his role was re­vealed by his fam­i­ly in a Van­i­ty Fair mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle. Even Nixon was caught on tape specu­lat­ing that Felt was 'an informer' as early as Feb­rua­ry 1973, at a time when Deep Throat was sup­ply­ing con­fir­ma­tion and con­text for some of The Post’s most ex­plo­sive Wa­ter­gate stor­ies."


The Washington Post's front page from June 1, 2005

Von Drehle con­tinued: “But Felt’s re­peat­ed de­ni­als, and the stal­wart si­lence of the re­port­ers he aid­ed — Bob Wood­ward and Carl Bernstein — kept the cloak of mys­tery drawn up around Deep Throat. In place of a name and a face, the source ac­quired a mag­ic and a mys­tique.

"He was the ro­man­tic truth tell­er half hid­den in the shad­ows of a Washington area park­ing gar­age. This image was ren­dered in­del­i­bly by the dra­mat­ic best-sell­ing mem­oir Wood­ward and Bernstein pub­lished in 1974, 'All the President’s Men.' Two years later, in a block­bust­er mov­ie of the same name, ac­tor Hal Hol­brook breathed whispery ur­gen­cy into the sus­pense­ful late-night en­count­ers be­tween Wood­ward and his source."

In their book, Wood­ward and Bernstein de­scribed Deep Throat as “a source in the Executive Branch who had ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion at [the Nixon ef­fort] . . . as well as at the White House. He could be con­tacted only on very im­port­ant oc­ca­sions” and asked to con­firm in­for­ma­tion learn­ed else­where and pro­vide “per­spec­tive."

In their news­paper cov­er­age, The Post later re­count­ed, the re­port­ers at­trib­ut­ed their in­for­ma­tion only to “sources close to the Wa­ter­gate in­ves­ti­ga­tion."

John D. O’Connor, a lawyer who wrote the Van­i­ty Fair sto­ry in 2005, three years be­fore Felt's death, de­scribed the former FBI of­fi­cial's deep am­biva­lence a­bout his role as Deep Throat.

“On that Sun­day in May when I first met Mark Felt, he was par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cerned a­bout how bu­reau personnel, then and now, had come to re­gard Deep Throat,” O’Connor wrote. “He seemed to be strug­gling in­side with whether he would be seen as a de­cent man or a turn­coat. I stressed that FBI agents and pros­ecu­tors now thought Deep Throat a pa­tri­ot, not a rogue.”

If any source proved most elu­sive a­bout con­firm­ing Felt’s i­den­ti­ty, it was the re­port­ers who broke the sto­ry. Felt’s daugh­ter, Joan, de­scribed to Van­i­ty Fair her at­tempts to get Wood­ward to con­firm that her fa­ther was Deep Throat.

“At one point I said, ‘Bob, just be­tween you and me, off the record, I want you to con­firm: Was Deep Throat my dad?’ He wouldn’t do that. I said, ‘If he’s not, you can at least tell me that. We could put this to rest.’ And he said, ‘I can’t do that,’ ” she said.

In “How Mark Felt Be­came ‘Deep Throat’ " — an es­say pub­lished days af­ter his secret source's i­den­ti­ty was pub­lic­ly con­firmed — Wood­ward wrote: “I suspect in his mind I was his a­gent. He beat it into my head: se­cre­cy at all cost, no loose talk, no talk about him at all, no in­di­ca­tion to anyone that such a secret source ex­ist­ed."

Wood­ward add­ed that in their book, he and Bernstein “de­scribed how we had specu­lated a­bout Deep Throat and his piece­meal ap­proach to pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion. May­be it was to min­i­mize his risk. Or be­cause one or two big stor­ies, no mat­ter how deva­stat­ing, could be blunt­ed by the White House. May­be it was sim­ply to make the game more in­ter­est­ing. More likely, we con­clud­ed, 'Deep Throat was try­ing to pro­tect the of­fice, to effect a change in its con­duct be­fore all was lost.'

"Each time I raised the ques­tion with Felt, he had the same an­swer: 'I have to do this my way.' ”

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