Did Nixon know?

The world just learned that "Deep Throat" was W. Mark Felt. Richard Nixon, John Dean and H.R. Haldeman had their suspicions long ago.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 1, 2005 12:38PM (EDT)

We can add a few more names to the list of those who guessed right -- at least at one time or another -- about the identity of "Deep Throat." There's Chase Culeman-Beckman, Jack Limpert, James Mann, Ronald Kessler and Slate's Timothy Noah, but there are also a few more famous names in the group. Among them, at least for a time: Richard Nixon, H.R. Haldeman and John Dean.

According to this morning's Washington Post, Nixon, Haldeman and Dean started speculating that Felt might be Woodward and Bernstein's confidential source as early as 1972. On a tape recording made on Feb. 28, 1973, Dean can be heard telling Nixon that Felt was "the only person that knows" details that had been leaked to the Post. Dean later rejected the notion; in an electronic book published by Salon in 2002, he said he didn't think there was "any way Felt could have been Deep Throat." Nixon seemed skeptical from the beginning; according to the Post's account, Nixon thought that someone in Felt's position would never take the risk of becoming an informant: "You know, suppose that Felt comes out and unwraps the whole thing? What does that do to him?" Nixon asked in the 1973 conversation. "He's in a very dangerous situation. . . . The informer is not wanted in our society. Either way, that's the one thing people do sort of line up against. They . . . say, 'Well, that [expletive] informed. I don't want him around.'"

In the end, of course, it was Nixon -- not Felt -- that the American people didn't want around anymore. But Nixon wasn't the only one who misjudged how Felt's role would play in the public eye. Woodward tells the Post that Felt himself knew that he was taking a "monumental risk" by leaking information, and John D. O'Connor says in his Vanity Fair piece that Felt's concern about how he would be viewed apparently drove his desire to keep his role secret for so long.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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