WASHINGTON D.C. — The biggest mystery in American politics and journalism has now been solved. “Deep Throat,” the anonymous source in the Watergate scandal, has stepped forward, identified himself as the source, and been confirmed by the Washington Post. He is Mark Felt, the number two man at the FBI in the early 1970s. He is arguably the most significant whistleblower in American history.
It was the first and only time in U.S. history that a president, in the middle of his term, has stepped down.
But the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon actually began to unfold more than two years earlier.
On June 17, 1972, police arrested five men trying to break in and bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee. At the Washington Post, Editor Ben Bradlee assigned the story to two young reporters on the metro desk: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Woodward and Bernstein were relentless. Their reporting led to stories linking Nixon re-election operatives to the burglary and to a massive campaign of political sabotage and dirty tricks.
Along the way, Woodward and Bernstein got some crucial guidance and help from, “a high ranking official in the executive branch of government.” The source insisted on total anonymity and would only talk to the reporters on “Deep background.” A Washington Post editor, referring to the title of an X-rated movie at the time, gave the source the nickname “Deep Throat.”
As the scandal deepened in President Nixon’s second term, Congress began its own investigation. There were hearings, and then blockbuster testimony about an Oval Office taping system. The tapes later established that President Nixon approved giving hush money to the Watergate burglars. The tapes also revealed the president tried to thwart the FBI by instructing H.R. Haldman, Nixon’s chief of staff, to claim the break-in was a CIA matter.
After Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president, “Deep Throat” still insisted on retaining his anonymity. And Woodward, Bernstein, and Bradlee said they would only identify him after he died.
Now, however, W. Mark Felt... number two at the FBI in the early 1970s... has given an interview to Vanity Fair magazine in which he declares, "I’m the guy they used to call 'Deep Throat.'"
Felt is 91 years old and living in California. His family tells Vanity Fair they began to have suspicions a few years ago following conversations with Felt’s closest friend. And when family members confronted Felt, he confirmed that he was indeed the Washington Post’s most famous source.
His son told Vanity Fair, “He would not have done it (speak to the Post during Watergate) if he didn’t feel it was the only way to get around the corruption in the White House and Justice Department. He was tortured inside, but never would show it.”
Late Tuesday, Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein issued a statement formally declaring that Mark felt was "Deep Throat" and that he helped the Washington Post immeasurably. Ben Bradlee, who was the paper’s executive editor during Watergate added, he was stunned "the damn secret lasted this long."
David Shuster reports for Hardball, which airs weeknights, 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.