updated 6/9/2005 2:30:11 PM ET 2005-06-09T18:30:11

Guest: Timothy Noah, Tony Blankley, Stephen Kohn, Joe diGenova, Lesley Stahl

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Everybody is still talking about Mark Felt, AKA Deep Throat, coming forward as the secret source in the Watergate story.  Tonight, a reporter whose first scoop came when she beat the competition and got the first video of the Watergate burglars on the air.  And she‘s been breaking stories ever since, a gleaming gem in the tiffany network, CBS‘ big-time correspondent Lesley Stahl. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

Deep Throat‘s identity was kept secret by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for a third of a century.  Now that we know who he is, the Republican rear guard is saying Mark Felt was the bad guy.  We‘ll also hear tonight from the ghost writer of Mark Felt‘s memoir and the man he says was Deep Throat‘s source inside the Nixon White House. 

But, first, we turn to the Watergate reporters.  When the story started, it was not a coveted assignment in the country, a local burglary trial that the major news outlets didn‘t even bother considering big news until later.  Two reporters in the courtroom from the start were Bob Woodward, the Watergate sleuth, “The Washington Post” metro reporter, and Lesley Stahl, a new recruit at CBS News. 

Lesley, welcome. 

LESLEY STAHL, “60 MINUTES”:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  What was it like to be out there all alone covering a metro story about a burglary?

STAHL:  Well, I had just been hired. 

And, first of all, it is a measure of how unimportant everybody thought the story was in the beginning.  They really did think it was a local D.C. burglary. 

MATTHEWS:  June of ‘72. 

STAHL:  June of ‘72.  All the other reporters were covering the campaign.  The campaign was under way.  Nixon was running for reelection. 

MATTHEWS:  But you were dispensable. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You were available.

STAHL:  Clearly.  I was brand new.  I was a rookie.  And I went to the arraignments.  And there were unmarked $100 bills that were being revealed in the courtroom.  And I would run outside, get on the pay phone and do a radio spot.  And then we found out they were carrying phony passports.  And then there was a CIA connection.  I kept running out to do these radio spots.  I didn‘t find out for 20 years they never ran them.  They never ran them. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of the—of the cast of characters that broke into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June of 1972, mostly Cuban guys?

STAHL:  Mostly Cuban.  But it began to come out that there must have been some CIA connection.  You‘ve got to feel that this was deeper and deeper.  We just sat in the courtroom. 

But as I—as you said, I was one of the only reporters there. 

Woodward was there.  I was there.  And a guy from “The Washington Times.” 

MATTHEWS:  Not “The Washington Times” at that point.  “The Washington Times” wasn‘t created then.

STAHL:  What was it called? 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, “The Washington Star.” 

STAHL:  “The Washington Star.” 

MATTHEWS:  Right, the previous paper, yes.

STAHL:  “The Washington Star.”  So, there were three of us. 

And a couple of days later, when Woodward got his big story, what—his first big story, that there was a White House connection with E. Howard Hunt, everybody got very interested.  But I was the only television reporter who had ever seen the burglars. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you think was the motive then of these guys breaking into a political headquarters? 

STAHL:  We had no idea, no idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at your real scoop.

STAHL:  This is my big scoop.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the video of the Watergate burglars that your network, CBS, shot because you were there.  And you knew who they were. 

STAHL:  Now, that—there they come. 

MATTHEWS:  Look at them.

(CROSSTALK)

STAHL:  Now, that‘s James McCord. 

MATTHEWS:  Describe them.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  He is not one of the Cubans.  And he was         -- that‘s Frank Sturgis.  He was a CIA guy.  And that is McCord.  But, after that, after the two of them...

MATTHEWS:  Look at that smile. 

(CROSSTALK)

STAHL:  Here they come.  Here comes the Cubans.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s amazing.  They‘re trying to keep cool here.  There he is again in handcuffs.

STAHL:  Oh, you‘re just rerunning it.  But we had all of them coming out.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s amazing.  These guys—what we‘re hearing now is that the people are all telling me the last two or three days that, even if it weren‘t for Woodward and Bernstein, even if it weren‘t for the tapes, that these guys were all getting squeezed hard by the prosecutors.  They were all ready to crack and they were going to talk, all...

(CROSSTALK)

STAHL:  Sirica did it.  Everybody has been talking...

MATTHEWS:  Judge Sirica, the hanging judge. 

STAHL:  Everybody has been talking about who was the hero in all of this.  And they leave out Judge Sirica. 

He squeezed so hard.  And it was appalling.  People in the—lawyers around the courthouse were saying, he can‘t do that.  He can‘t insert himself this hard.  He—he—he basically—I don‘t know.  He bribed them.  He blackmailed them into—into coming forward and confessing. 

And it was—it was a stunning thing to be in the courtroom and see a judge step forward and say, I don‘t believe you.  You‘re lying.  Tell me what you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I love these characters, like the big-city Italian guy.  You just imagine this guy, street corner, tough guy, saying...

(CROSSTALK)

STAHL:  He was a boxer.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You are not going to mess with me. 

Let me ask you about the competition.  You were with CBS back then, competing with the other networks, NBC included, obviously.  But “The Washington Post” kept beating everybody with the story.  Who did you think was feeding them?  Where did you think the sources were coming from with Woodward and Bernstein? 

STAHL:  I was dating Bob Woodward and had no idea.  I knew that—I knew there was a guy in the garage.  So, everybody who always said he made it up afterward, I didn‘t believe, because I knew it. 

MATTHEWS:  So, when you went out with Bob, you would said, I‘ll meet you at the garage?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

STAHL:  Well...

(LAUGHTER)

STAHL:  Bob worked 24 hours a day.  It was really hard to be—to go out with him.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  Because he did a lot of his work at night. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he ever talk about a guy he called my friend and he wasn‘t talking about you? 

STAHL:  Not to me. 

(LAUGHTER)

STAHL:  Not to me.  No one—I had no idea who his sources were.  I had the impression...

MATTHEWS:  But he was a nobody then, right?

STAHL:  Oh, like me. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  We were real newcomers and quite young.  And but I thought—

I thought he had...

MATTHEWS:  Maybe there‘s a movie deal in this, Lesley and Bob back in the old days, you know, starting out as kids. 

STAHL:  Oh, that would be really dull. 

(LAUGHTER)

STAHL:  I thought that he had multiple sources, because he worked so hard.  And he would show up at doorsteps in the middle of the night.  He would go to secretaries‘ houses and—at night, and knock on their door.  And they would answer. 

But he—he worked so hard.  He would make 100 phone calls. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the greatest.

STAHL:  He was a door-kicker, you know, just pounding on the door.

MATTHEWS:  He got me to write “Hardball” about 20-some years ago.  He got me to write it.  He sat down with me.  He said—he—he grilled me.  He grilled me with 1,000 questions and then taped and it said, here‘s your first draft of your book.  That‘s how he got me to write the book. 

STAHL:  Are you serious? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m dead serious, Bob Woodward.  But he‘s a great interviewer, because he would interview and question and question and question and question. 

STAHL:  He was indefatigable. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  He was persistent.  He wouldn‘t let go, tenacious beyond belief.  And so I thought he had many source.  I—I don‘t think I—I don‘t remember that I was aware he had the one golden source.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You thought it was Al Haig. 

STAHL:  I thought it was Al Haig. 

MATTHEWS:  The chief of staff to Richard Nixon. 

STAHL:  I thought it was.  And...

MATTHEWS:  What made you think Haig was the suspect? 

STAHL:  I didn‘t think the FBI could know all of that.  It just was—in my head, it had to be someone in the White House. 

And I knew Al Haig a little bit.  And I just thought that and once said it publicly.  And, my God, he wrote me the nastiest letter you can imagine informing me of how wrong I was. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, would you blame him?  You accused him of being a rat fink on his boss. 

STAHL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not exactly being cheerful and saying...

STAHL:  I didn‘t say it again ever. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, by the way, I think you‘re a traitor. 

(LAUGHTER)

STAHL:  I didn‘t say it—well, I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To the president.

STAHL:  I don‘t think of it as being a traitor. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  But if you‘re a political appointment...

(CROSSTALK)

STAHL:  Well, not if he was Deep Throat, no. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, do you think...

STAHL:  This is what—this is what disturbs me.

MATTHEWS:  Because, when you were covering the White House, when I was working at the Carter White House, you would be always coming at me with, come on, Chris.  Loosen up.  Tell me something.  What‘s the matter with you?  Give me the story. 

So, your view was tough about these guys.  But if you‘re a political appointment at the time, it‘s very tough to rat the boss out. 

(CROSSTALK)

STAHL:  This is what distresses...

MATTHEWS:  The difference is, Mark Felt was an FBI guy.

STAHL:  This is what distresses me about Felt. 

If you do something like this, you embrace it.  And you say, I‘m not a traitor.  I‘m—I‘m—my higher loyal is to the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

STAHL:  My higher loyalty is to the law.  And what I‘m doing is good for the country and good for the future and good for the Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

STAHL:  And you get that in your brain.  And that becomes essentially you. 

And I—I guess I always assumed that Deep Throat would be like that.  So, I‘m a little disappointed that he is so ambivalent about why he did all of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Apparently, not today.  The last couple days, what I‘m getting through the wire stories and everything is that he‘s pretty happy, Mark Felt.  He‘s an old man.  He‘s 60 -- he‘s 91.  He‘s in bad health. 

He‘s—he said he‘s had the best day of his life, that he came clean on this thing.  He feels now proud to be an American. 

STAHL:  But, on all these years, he demanded that Woodward never reveal it.  And I know—I know personally that Bob wanted this out and had conversations with him to reveal it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about his institutional loyal?  Do you think that gave way to his national loyalty?  I mean, being nice about it, do you think he just feels more like, it was an American citizen‘s duty to rat out Watergate, whereas a member to the FBI has a duty to the agency?

STAHL:  Yes, but he knew—and this is so important to remember, that he didn‘t trust his boss, L. Patrick Gray.  He was a political appointment.  His boss was...

MATTHEWS:  Who was in the tank with Nixon, right?

STAHL:  And he felt that he was doing what Nixon wanted him to do. 

MATTHEWS:  He was giving him all the—he was giving him the—the -

·         the—the treatment—the little versions of all the interviews he was giving him. 

STAHL:  He was giving the White House the FBI raw material. 

MATTHEWS:  Raw material.

STAHL:  He was siding with Nixon when Nixon wanted the CIA to do things that Felt felt were wrong. 

And he—who was—who was he going to turn to?  Who—who could he go—where could he go, if not to the press at that point?  That‘s a whistle-blower‘s role.  I look upon him as a big hero.  And I just—I know that he‘s a very old man and he‘s had some strokes.  I hope he really understands...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I agree with you. 

STAHL:  ... what a great service he did. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you. 

STAHL:  And...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because if he hadn‘t done it—I always say, the worst thing about Watergate would have happened if they weren‘t caught, because these people really were overwhelmed with power.

STAHL:  Did you see that in...

MATTHEWS:  And it would have gotten worse. 

STAHL:  Did you see that, in his book—this was something Woodward wrote today in “The Washington Post”—that Mark Felt wrote a book that nobody read, nobody bought.  No one knew who he was. 

And, in it, he used a word that is something like gallatier (ph) or something like that, that meant—that was like an official in the Nazi camp. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  A mayor, basically.

STAHL:  And he thought they were like Nazis.  That was in his own mind.  So, if he knows that he cleaned out that corruption...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  He shouldn‘t be called a traitor by anybody.  And he certainly shouldn‘t be—shouldn‘t feel like one. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to hear in the next couple seconds—you‘re going to stick around for a while.  We‘re also going to hear from Ralph De Toledano, an old-time—I read this guy for years, a conservative writer who was the ghost for Mark Felt‘s original take on what happened.  And he‘s going to tell us who the real source was inside the White House.  I‘m going to give it away, but I‘m not going to try it.  Maybe I‘m pull it off. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back, because I heard what it‘s going to be.  By the way, it is going to be John Erlichman.  We‘ve got to talk about this.

Lesley Stahl is coming back here in a moment.  I couldn‘t keep it to myself.  I‘m no Bob Woodward.

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, Ben Bradlee, the editor of “The Washington Post” during Watergate.  That hero of mine is going to be here as our guest. 

And all next week, HARDBALL is celebrating our eighth anniversary with exclusive access inside that Catholic group Opus Dei.  Remember, “Da Vinci Code”?  And we‘ll be joined by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, also Bill Maher and Darrell Hammond, the guy who does Chris Matthews on “Saturday Night Live.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re coming back with correspondent Lesley Stahl, who covered Watergate for CBS News. 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Lesley Stahl, who covered Watergate for CBS News.  Actually, you were just starting then. 

Let‘s talk about this whole question of the guts of being a reporter and the whole question of unidentified sources.  What‘s your view of...

STAHL:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... of the importance of the Watergate case in that regard? 

STAHL:  You—you cannot cover the United States government in any deep way unless you accept the fact that the only people who are going to tell you what‘s really going on are people who aren‘t going to want their name revealed. 

I mean, come on.  Just think about it.  Think it through. 

MATTHEWS:  Because everyone else is a flack.  They‘re putting out the official statements. 

STAHL:  And they don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  They all justify every action of the government.

STAHL:  And—and their job would be on the line if they contradicted the president and—and the—the orchestrated line of the day. 

Just—was it yesterday or the day before?  The president had a news conference.  Rumsfeld, Cheney and Richard Myers, the general, all were saying the same thing.  That was the point of the day.  You know, Iraq is fine.  That is—that is what happens in the morning.  The line is put out.  Anybody who tries to help a reporter get behind that and find out what it means, whether it is true, whatever is being put out, is never going to do it with his name on it. 

You‘re never going to cleanse out the system.  You‘re never going to figure out who is corrupt and what‘s going on unless you accept you‘re going to have to take anonymous sources. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make...

STAHL:  It‘s just logical.

MATTHEWS:  ... of the last three or four days discussion, where you have people on television, including on this show, who are involved with Watergate or the Nixon White House generally coming on as advocates, more or less defending Nixon implicitly in his behavior and attacking the whistle-blowers?

STAHL:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  The reporters and the people who ratted out what happened? 

STAHL:  After all this time. 

You know, to me—and—and I must say, I was heartened by a poll that showed that Woodward and what he did are viewed by young people as heroes.  You know, other systems have a lot of corruption.  You look at a system that doesn‘t have that kind of penetrating press, free to roam and take anonymous sources and print them, they have a layer of corruption.

This is how we keep our system clean.  This is how the United States,

after all these years, gets to clean itself out, because the press is

allowed to do this and is free to do this.  And if people start—the

public starts clamping down on our ability to ferret around like this, it -

·         it is not healthy for the whole system.

To look back and say it wasn‘t in everybody‘s interest to clean out the corruption doesn‘t make any sense.  And it was corrupt. 

MATTHEWS:  The principle of the United States is limited government. 

Do you think that was endangered by Watergate and what was going on? 

STAHL:  Of course.  Of course.  They were trying to use the CIA to further Nixon‘s White House agenda.  They were doing break-ins.  They were breaking into Daniel Ellsberg‘s psychiatrist office, using—using law enforcement to carry out their political ends.  I mean, this was—this was as bad as we know that it ever got.  Now, maybe it did get as bad as that before.  But we don‘t know it. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever get in the presence of Richard Nixon? 

STAHL:  I did.  I—I went to two mini news conferences with him. 

And the first one, I asked him about executive privilege.

MATTHEWS:  Did he say,Lesley? 

STAHL:  No, he had never seen me before. 

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t know—he didn‘t call on you.

STAHL:  He just saw this young blonde girl over here.  And he pointed to me.  And I was covering Watergate.  He didn‘t know who I was.  And so, I asked him about executive privilege and his allowing his people from the White House to testify on the Hill. 

And he was very snippy and put me down and said something like, well, you‘re obviously a kid.  You don‘t know what executive privilege means and how important it was—it is.  I, strangely enough, was back at the White House.  Dan Rather was the White House correspondent for CBS.  And he had a lunch and I was sitting in.  And they called one of these impromptu news conferences.  The president walked in.  There I was again, one week later. 

And I was too afraid to raise my hand, after being so humiliated the week before.  So, I just sat there.  And he said, Miss, I‘m sorry about last week.  I was probably a little too stern, and went on to talk about executive privilege again, picked me out.  Interesting. 

MATTHEWS:  You softened up Richard Nixon. 

STAHL:  I softened him up. 

MATTHEWS:  God, you did it.

STAHL:  But executive privilege was huge. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STAHL:  It was one of those words we all talked about at the news. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s great.  What a story.  Still the great—the great journalistic achievement of the 20th century, isn‘t it, Watergate, breaking the story?

STAHL:  Well, I want to say again that, as much as I think Woodward and Bernstein were the most important people in breaking the story, because they kept it alive—it kept dying.  It kept going away and reporters would want to drift off the story. 

I remember once, I said, Bob, I have to get off this.  I‘m not getting on the air.  I‘m not doing my work.  He said, don‘t get off it.  And I now find that Felt was telling him not to drop it.  So...

MATTHEWS:  So, are you sad you dropped him socially?  

STAHL:  I wouldn‘t say I dropped him socially.

MATTHEWS:  You were going out with a guy that became a big star and then you dumped him.  And then he gets Watergate.

STAHL:  No, but I—let me finish my point.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You lost this chance for greatness.

(LAUGHTER)

STAHL:  They kept the story alive.  But Judge Sirica, Judge Sirica squeezed those burglary defendants.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The hanging judge did the job.

STAHL:  And Senator Ervin kept pushing the case in the Senate, until it came out that there was a taping system.  So, there were a lot of people pulling on those threads that ended up unraveling. 

MATTHEWS:  There were some good guys and there were some bad guys. 

And I hope we keep it clear who they were. 

Thank you for helping us do that, Lesley Stahl. 

STAHL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  In a moment, Mark Felt‘s identity as Deep Throat was so well hidden, even the co-author of Felt‘s his memoirs didn‘t realize his role in Watergate.  We‘ll hear from the co-author, Ralph de Toledano, when we return.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Mark Felt had always adamantly denied being Deep Throat.  He stated so in public interviews and even in his memoirs.  And Felt‘s insistence had the effect of throwing many people off the trail, including his co-author. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For 30 years, Mark Felt repeatedly denied he was Deep Throat.  And he was never more unequivocal than in his own memoirs.  In “The FBI Pyramid,” published in 1979, Felt declared, “I never leaked information to Woodward and Bernstein or to anyone else.”

Felt‘s co-author was former “Newsweek” editor Ralph de Toledano.

RALPH DE TOLEDANO, FORMER “NEWSWEEK” EDITOR:  Well, it was a flat lie. 

Yes, that‘s what he said to me. 

SHUSTER:  A year and a half ago, de Toledano says he received a call from Mark Felt‘s son. 

DE TOLEDANO:  And he said, you know, we‘re thinking of redoing this book and so on.  And you own 50 percent of the rights.  So, we have to make some kind of arrangement with you. 

SHUSTER:  de Toledano, who is 88 years old, says he didn‘t receive anything from the Felt family for nearly 18 months, despite writing them several letters.  Then, out of the blue:

DE TOLEDANO:  But when they send me check about a month ago, then I said, something is cooking. 

SHUSTER:  Now, of course, the book rights to Mark Felt‘s memoirs are worth millions.  How much, I asked, was De Toledano‘s check? 

DE TOLEDANO:  What they paid me, you know, they paid me $5,000 for my rights. 

SHUSTER:  From the beginning, the relationship between Mark Felt and Ralph de Toledano was strained.  In the late 1970s, Felt had written his memoirs by himself, a draft hated by the publisher. 

DE TOLEDANO:  And he was not very happy about having somebody come in and say, your book stinks.  This guy is going to write it for you. 

SHUSTER:  de Toledano was a close friend of Richard Nixon‘s.  He had written columns supporting Nixon‘s 1950 Senate campaign. 

DE TOLEDANO:  Well, there was a time when I was probably closer to Nixon than any other newspaper man and most of his so-called friends.  Nixon was an odd character.  He had no loyalty to anybody.  And, basically, he had no principles. 

SHUSTER:  It was a sentiment shared and experienced more personally by Mark Felt.  According to de Toledano, Felt experienced a huge letdown after FBI director J. Edgar Hoover died. 

DE TOLEDANO:  And he thought he was going to be director.  And Nixon said, no.  He‘s a bad man and I don‘t like him. 

SHUSTER:  But throughout the process of writing Felt‘s memoirs, de Toledano said Felt was reluctant to talk about it. 

DE TOLEDANO:  Felt was—I had to yank things out.  You know, he was always holding back.  And I think what—he wanted a book that would say, what a great guy he was, but not tell anything, you see.

SHUSTER:  Did de Toledano ever suspect that Felt was Deep Throat? 

DE TOLEDANO:  No.  It never occurred to me.  I had a suspicion that he had done a little bit of leaking.  And the White House had more than that, as we found that they were very sure he was leaking.  But they—they—they didn‘t think that he was the big leaker. 

SHUSTER:  One reason was because many of Woodward and Bernstein‘s Deep Throat stories seemed to be coming from inside the White House.  de Toledano said, in hindsight, they were, indirectly. 

de Toledano says Mark Felt had once been responsible for investigating allegations about Nixon‘s domestic policy adviser, John Erlichman.  Erlichman was cleared and thought he owed Felt.  So, according to de Toledano, Erlichman told Felt everything going on inside the White House.  And Felt, who was in charge of the FBI‘s Watergate investigation, apparently passed it on to Woodward. 

DE TOLEDANO:  So, he was getting it from one guy, but the guy was getting it from a lot of other people. 

SHUSTER:  While Felt was secretly leaking to Woodward, de Toledano was maintaining a friendship with Richard Nixon.  An aide named Patrick Buchanan helped every time he prepared the president‘s daily news digest. 

DE TOLEDANO:  And he always included my columns.  So, Nixon would get my columns. 

SHUSTER:  Nixon thanked de Toledano in letters, notes, and the occasional conversation.  When the Senate Watergate hearings revealed the existence of an Oval Office taping system. 

FRED THOMPSON, WATERGATE COMMITTEE MINORITY COUNSEL:  From 1970, then, until the present time, all of the president‘s conversations in the offices mentioned and on the telephones mentioned were recorded, as far as you know?

ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT NIXON:  That‘s correct, until—until I left. 

SHUSTER:  de Toledano said he told Nixon:

DE TOLEDANO:  Mr. President, just put them all in the White House lawn and burn them.  They haven‘t been subpoenaed, so they can‘t do anything to you, because, otherwise, you‘re going to be dead.  And he said, oh, no, they‘re history and they‘ll never be able to get them.  And that‘s what killed him.  The tapes are what killed him. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Ralph de Toledano says he is not bitter or angry about Mark Felt‘s role in Watergate or that Felt lied to him.  de Toledano is annoyed at himself, however, for not piecing the together the Deep Throat mystery before agreeing to sell his stake in Felt‘s memoirs, now Deep Throat‘s memoirs, for just $5,000. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Was Mark Felt right to unmask the Watergate cover-up?  That‘s next. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

While many are praising Mark Felt as a hero and whistle-blower for a just cause, there are some out there questioning the legality and the ethics of his actions as Deep Throat. 

One of those critics is Joseph diGenova, former prosecuting attorney in the Reagan administration.  We‘re also joined by Stephen Kohn, who is the board chairman of the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C.

I‘m glad there is a National Whistleblower Center. 

I want to start with you, sir, because I like whistle-blowers.  Why is it OK for the number two man at the FBI to blow the whistle on the president of the United States in a cover-up case? 

STEPHEN KOHN, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL WHISTLEBLOWER CENTER:  Well, it is not only OK.  I think it is a moral imperative. 

All government employees have an obligation to expose wrongdoing.  And when the wrongdoer is the president, it‘s generally going to have to be an extremely high government official who has the goodies.  And that‘s protected under the First Amendment. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Joe diGenova.

JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, let me just say, I don‘t disagree with that. 

My disagreement with W. Mark Felt is where he went with this information.  Let‘s remember who he was.  He was third in command at the FBI.  This was not some wimpy little low-level government employee who came across some serious information.  Mr. Felt was a powerful figure in government.  He was well known in the executive branch, in the intelligence community, and on Capitol Hill. 

In my opinion, what he should have done, to be a real whistle-blower, was to go to the Democratically controlled Congress, reported the information to key people and work from there.  Otherwise, the other thing to do was to resign and hold a news conference.  But there‘s nothing about whistle-blowing at that level that gives him the right to go to the press.  I mean, he can certainly do that.  But my view is, this problem would have been solved faster had he gone to Congress, instead of the press. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, watching—watching the—the strength of Richard Nixon‘s convictions in those days, we saw the Saturday night Massacre, where he dumped the prosecutor coming after him and the attorney general, the deputy attorney general.  Nixon was quite willing to fire people. 

Joe, are you saying that Mark Felt, the high-ranking official at the FBI, had come after Nixon with the goods, that he wouldn‘t have sacked him immediately? 

DIGENOVA:  He very well may have.  And that is part of the responsibility that a whistle-blower takes on.  I cannot believe for the life of me that W. Mark Felt, who engaged in some of the most serious and may I say beneficial counterespionage activities on behalf of the United States against communist infiltration of the United States government, was without the wherewithal and the savvy to do what needed to be done. 

He should have gone to Capitol Hill.  He owed that to the members of Congress who had oversight responsibility.  He didn‘t do that.  He went to the press.  By the way, we don‘t know—and, by the way, I am—I‘m not accusing Mr. Felt of illegal activity.  We don‘t know what he leaked to Woodward and Bernstein, whether it was grand jury information, which clearly would have been a crime, whether he did other things. 

But I‘m just saying that, in the scheme of things, a real whistle-blower goes to Congress.  Now, remember, Congress was in the hands of the Democrats here.  This was not an unfriendly Republican Congress. 

KOHN:  Chris, Chris, if I may add, the first Supreme Court case protecting government whistle-blowers upheld their right to go to the press. 

Going to the press is fundamental whistle-blowing.  Also, compare felt to Linda Tripp.  If Felt‘s identify had been released and he wasn‘t confidential, he would have been attacked by a sophisticated public relations campaign.  And it would have been Felt, not Nixon.  Look what they did to Linda Tripp.  If Linda Tripp‘s identity had been kept confidential, if she went completely secret, they wouldn‘t have been able to have a field day deflecting the misconduct in the Clinton administration on to her. 

Felt...

DIGENOVA:  Apples and oranges. 

KOHN:  It‘s not apples and oranges. 

DIGENOVA:  Sure, it is. 

KOHN:  The Supreme Court said going to the press is protected whistle-blowing.  And that is absolutely core. 

(CROSSTALK)

KOHN:  The best whistle-blowers go to the press. 

DIGENOVA:  I do not disagree with you.  I‘m not—I‘m not—I‘m not disagreeing with you.  I know it‘s protected.  I‘m not saying he couldn‘t go to the press.  I‘m saying he shouldn‘t have gone to the press. 

Linda Tripp was a low-level government employee.  Of course, she was

going to be trounced on.  W. Mark Felt was the second highest ranking law

enforcement official in the United States.  If he could not go to Congress

and inform the chairman, two Democrats, of the House and Senate Judiciary -

·         Judiciary Committee, and Mike Mansfield, the majority leader, of a cancer on the presidency and the Justice Department, then he shouldn‘t have been in the FBI.

KOHN:  Yes.  But—but we all know that many whistle-blowers have gone to Congress and the first word out of Congress‘ mouth is, go to the press.  Make me do my job. 

In many of the cases I‘ve done, it‘s the press exposure that forces the government to do the right thing.  Would Congress, without pressure from the press, do the right thing?  That‘s why I‘m—I‘m saying, it is easy to second-guess it, Monday night quarterbacking it.  Who should you have gone to? 

But what Felt did was smart.  He did it in a way he could keep his job.  He did it in a way he could avoid him becoming the issue and make the issue what it was, criminality in the White House.  He did it right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about, Joe...

KOHN:  And that‘s not to say it is the only way, but he did it right. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe and Stephen, we both—we‘re all grownups.  Let‘s talk about the way things actually work. 

You‘re saying, Joe diGenova, and properly so, I suppose, that a real profile in courage would have been if Mark Felt, instead of leaking to a pal he had known for a long time and trusted, he had gone to the Hill and had a—sort of a great show trial.  But it was—certainly was easier for him to call up a guy he trusted and had known for a long time.  Bob Woodward of “The Washington Post,” and share that information with him on deep background. 

I mean, I think—aren‘t you raising a pretty high standard of ethics here to say to a guy, don‘t just give to it a friend you trust on deep background, which will protect you forever under the deal you‘ve got with Bob Woodward and his partner, Carl Bernstein; go out in public and have a big show trial and go against the president of the United States and all his people?

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you setting a pretty high standard here for a guy to break the news? 

DIGENOVA:  I don‘t think it‘s a very high standard at all, actually, actually, Chris. 

But look—look at these facts for a second.  W. Mark Felt, again, let‘s remember, was—was second in command to J. Edgar Hoover.  He had access on Capitol Hill regularly to the most powerful men and women in government who had the power of the purse over—and oversight of the Department of Justice and the FBI.

I‘m not suggesting that there had to be a show trial.  I‘m suggesting that he go to these people in confidence and talk to them, which he did regularly on other matters.  So, I mean, I‘m not suggesting, by the way, that what Bob Woodward or “The Post” did—I think “The Post”‘s reportage was fabulous.  And it is obvious that it was made a lot easier because they had a key government official with access to grand jury information confirming the major parts of their story. 

So, I think “The Post” get an A-plus.  And I‘m—I‘m just saying that, if you look at this from the perspective of good government, what W.  Mark Felt should have done was gone to Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Joe diGenova, an interesting argument, not a popular one today, but an interesting argument. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Stephen Kohn, for coming. 

When we come back, Deep Throat‘s motives.  Did Mark Felt talk to Bob Woodward because he wanted to expose the truth or because he had an axe to grind or both?  Timothy Noah of “Slate” magazine and “The Washington Times”‘ Tony Blankley will be with us.

And next week, it‘s HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary.  For more than a week, we‘ll interview the biggest names in Washington, including the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.  She‘ll be a guest on HARDBALL.  That is HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary next week, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, why did Mark Felt leak information about Watergate to Bob Woodward?  “Slate” magazine‘s Timothy Noah and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times” will be here when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Timothy Noah is a columnist for “Slate” magazine.  And six years ago, he asked Mark Felt if he was Deep Throat.  And Tony Blankley is the editorial page editor of “The Washington Times.” 

Well, what was his answer?  

TIMOTHY NOAH, “SLATE” COLUMNIST:  He said, no, he was not Deep Throat.  And I said, well, do you think Deep Throat was somebody at the FBI?  And he said no.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Was he of sound mind and body at the time? 

NOAH:  Yes, he was. 

MATTHEWS:  Clearly no signs of dementia or whatever? 

NOAH:  I don‘t know...

MATTHEWS:  He knew what he was doing?

NOAH:  I don‘t know precisely when his stroke was, but it must have been pretty soon after I talked with him, because that was 1999. 

MATTHEWS:  Sharp of mind and said, I‘m not Deep Throat?

NOAH:  Said, I‘m not Deep Throat.

And he—I—I—I knew that he didn‘t approve.  I had read that he didn‘t approve of Deep Throat.  So, I said, why would it be so terrible to be Deep Throat?  And I can‘t remember the precise quote, but he—he said it would be a terrible betrayal of the FBI.

MATTHEWS:  So, he was living like a Sybil existence.  He had another personality which was Deep Throat and giving this stuff away, believing it was in the national interests.  Meanwhile, he‘s covering the trail of the guy he is by saying, not only am I not the guy.  I think it is disreputable, what he was doing. 

NOAH:  I think, even now, he thinks it‘s disreputable, what he was doing.  The “Vanity Fair” piece quotes him saying that one of the reasons he didn‘t want to go public was, he thought it was shameful. 

MATTHEWS:  Because of his—of his institutional loyalty to the FBI.

NOAH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go—let me to go Tony Blankley. 

Tony, your assessment of this?  Well, first of all, take a little bigger Chinese box look at it.  Step outside the whole thing and tell me what you think about the importance of the tough Watergate coverage by your competitor there in Washington, “The Washington Post.”  Is it good for the republic that “The Washington Post” cracked the Watergate story? 

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  Well, look, to the extent that criminality was detected and sanctioned, that is, I suppose, always good. 

But it did usher in an age both of journalism which I think has been excessively hostile to government and of politics that has become murderous.  I mean, both “The Washington Post” and this town in the 1970s took it all the way with Nixon.  They killed him politically.  And, since then, the gloves have been off from both parties.  The Republicans, to a substantial extent, attempted to do the same to Clinton. 

The Democrats tried to do it, my old boss Newt.  It has been a much bloodier, to-the-finish fight since—since restraint was lost in the Watergate years. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Our hero, Winston Churchill, said he didn‘t want to be indiscriminate between the fire brigade and the fire.  The fire was the Watergate break-in and cover-up.  “The Washington Post” reported it.  You sound like you‘re saying, Tony, that the people who reported the break-in and the cover-up started the fight. 

BLANKLEY:  No.  There‘s discretion exercised.

I mean, Ben Bradlee knew about various things that Jack Kennedy was doing, didn‘t report it, I think correctly so.  Ben Bradlee 10 years later discovered through his reporters certain things that Nixon was doing and chose to report it.  Now, my only point is, it seems to me the standards shifted.  Traditionally, we had a lot more restraint in how we covered the White House. 

My suspicion is—and it is not to excuse Nixon.  I don‘t want to get into that zone.  What Nixon ended up doing was—should have sanctioned by the law, as it was.  But the fact is that the—he was a victim, if you want to, of selective enforcement, because we—we understand that the history of the American presidency has been a pretty rough business. 

And—and—and what happened was, in Watergate, for a lot of reason, the opportunity presented itself to—to hold the president to a higher standard than we previously had.  I think it is a good standard.  I think we‘re better off for having that higher standard today.  I know, when I was a staffer in the Reagan White House, I had the model of Watergate clearly in my mind, that I didn‘t want to be on the front page of “The Washington Post.” 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Here‘s what Bob Woodward—by the way, here‘s how he explained Mark Felt, Deep Throat‘s motives, for talking—quote—“Felt believed he was protecting the bureau”—that‘s the FBI—“by finding a way, clandestine as it was, to push some of the information from the FBI interviews and files out to the public, to help build public and political pressure to make Nixon and his people answerable.  He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and their efforts to manipulate the bureau for political reasons.

“His reverence for Hoover”—that‘s J. Edgar Hoover—“and strict bureau procedure made Grays‘ appointment as director all the more shocking.”  That‘s L. Patrick Gray, who was Nixon‘s appointee.”  “Felt”—that‘s Mark Felt—“obviously concluded he was Hoover‘s logical successor.  And the former World War II spy hunter liked the game.  I suspect, in his mind, I was his agent.”

What do you make of the relationship between Mark Felt, whistle-blower, and Bob Woodward?  Is that good for the republic, to have people that do that?

NOAH:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  To rat out the top guy?

NOAH:  I think it generally is, and particularly in this case, where you had an FBI that had been thoroughly corrupted by L. Patrick Gray, who was shoveling every scrap of information the FBI knew over to John Dean‘s office.  He was the White House counsel. 

So, I have heard a number of people say, well, he should have worked through the system.  How was he supposed to do that?  His boss was running the FBI and he was in it up to his neck.  There really was no other way.            

MATTHEWS:  Tony, was there any way for Mark Felt to get the—the dirt out on Nixon? 

BLANKLEY:  No.  I—I—I agree that either—I mean, presumably, he broke the law in releasing the information, as did L. Patrick Gray in releasing other information of an ongoing investigation of Nixon, who was presumably the target.

What—I mean, Michael Dobbs in “The Post” this morning I think has a fascinating piece discussing whether we‘re going to relook through a different prism the role of the FBI working both sides for institutional reasons, the top—the number one guy feeding Nixon, the number two guy feeding “The Post,” and, for different reasons, both institution—one institutional, one arguably personally in the person of Gray, that you—the FBI may be seemed to have had a bigger manipulative role in this process than we‘ve come to see, although it is clearly not the whole story at all. 

MATTHEWS:  God, they all learned from J. Edgar Hoover himself, didn‘t they?

We‘ll be right back with Timothy Noah and Tony Blankley.

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Slate” magazine‘s Timothy Noah and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times.”

Here‘s how Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein responded on “The Today Show” this morning to Pat Buchanan‘s charge that they were just stenographers for Mark Felt, Deep Throat.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, “PLAN OF ATTACK”:  Pat is a propagandist. 

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST:  And should know better.

WOODWARD:  And this is the—this is the old crowd kind of relaunching the wars of Watergate and saying, oh, let‘s make the conduct of the sources that we used... 

BERNSTEIN:  Or the press. 

WOODWARD:  Rather than their own. 

BERNSTEIN:  Than the president and his men.

WOODWARD:  And, you know, the record about Watergate crimes is—is staggering, voluminous and irrefutable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tony Blankley, do you sometimes feel like a stenographer for your sources? 

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKLEY:  No, although I—look, it‘s not only one side that is rehearsing all the old battles.  This is a—this is a battle that both sides are coming back to with—with enthusiasm. 

And I think Pat is a lot more than a polemicist, if that is what he

said.  He‘s a darn good historian as well.  So, I mean, this is not exactly

·         I don‘t believe that all the nobility was on one side and all the ignobility was on the other.  I think there were ignoble motives floating around amongst a lot of the players.

MATTHEWS:  How about the press?

BLANKLEY:  Including a mercenary motive, which seems to exist today between the Felts and others. 

MATTHEWS:  what about the press‘ role, “The Washington Post”‘s role in bringing down the Nixon White House through Watergate in their expose?  Do you think they were somehow marred or tainted in their work there? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, they ended up getting the story largely right.  And, so, at—at one level, you can‘t fault any news organization that gets a story right. 

On the other hand, if you go to the motive, I suspect that has something to do with Nixon being the most hated man in Washington after McCarthy.  And—and so, while they did a very professional job, I think the motive might not have been quite as pure as they—they claim. 

MATTHEWS:  You know—you know, Tim, it reminds me of the—Tony, you love this, too, loving history.  You know, this week, they picked up two Japanese imperial fighters on some island in the Philippines.

BLANKLEY:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re still out there duking it out for the emperor, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  For Tojo. 

And I was thinking, this week, we also have this wonderful throwback debate here.  Was Nixon right?  Was Nixon wrong?  Were the Watergate—was the expose as big as it seems?  I‘m sticking to the argument that it was great reporting and that it is one of those anomalies of history, where somebody not as powerful as somebody else wins the fight. 

NOAH:  I agree. 

I think—look, I think Mark Felt actually was a bad man.  Richard Nixon was a bad man, too.  But Mark Felt was not the bad man because he leaked to “The Washington Post.”  He was a bad man because he approved black bag operations that were illegal.  He was a bad man because he was a loyalist to the Hoover FBI, which was sort of marginally criminal. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you take...

NOAH:  Maybe not so marginally. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you take to be his motives, guys?  Both of you take a shot at his motives.  I don‘t mind discussing it.  I don‘t think they‘re fundamental here.  But what—what do you think, Tim, was his motive, Mark Felt, for giving away the biggest story of the century? 

NOAH:  I think it was a combination of motives. 

I think, in part, he was motivated by disgust...

(CROSSTALK)

NOAH:  At what he saw Nixon doing. 

In part, though, there was the institutional imperative that the FBI wanted to maintain its historic independence from the White House.  Now, that—that historic independence was not a laudable thing.  They used that independence to bribe—to blackmail presidents, to tape—to bug people like Martin Luther King.  I mean, the record, the Hoover record at the FBI was disgraceful. 

So, they probably could have used some oversight.  The problem was that the kind of oversight Nixon had in mind was using the FBI to...

MATTHEWS:  Protect his men. 

NOAH:  To protect—exactly, to participate in the Watergate cover-up. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony, on the motive of Mark Felt, Deep Throat, coming out this week, what are—what do you have to say about his motives? 

BLANKLEY:  I mean, I suspect that, at this point in his life, God bless him, he probably doesn‘t have a lot of motives. 

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKLEY:  It sounds like his family has motives. 

But, you know, it‘s—it is an interesting story to tell.  I can‘t really blame his family for—for wanting to get it out while—while the man is still alive.  I have to say, to say Nixon is just a bad man, to have that left, Nixon was flawed.  He committed crimes and he was imperfect in many ways.  He was also...

NOAH:  He committed crimes.  Exactly.

BLANKLEY:  He was also a near great American president as far as foreign policy.  And it doesn‘t excuse any crimes.  But to simply dismiss him as a bad man, when he in fact was much more than that and less than that, I—I...

NOAH:  Well, the fact that he was a criminal I think pretty much decides it, in my...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Well, Bill—Bill Clinton committed perjury, but that‘s not the sole measure of Bill Clinton either. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he also predicted that Khrushchev was wrong, that Khrushchev‘s grandchildren would live in freedom. 

And I just bumped into Khrushchev‘s son the other day up at Brown, and he is living in freedom.  So, Nixon was right about the big stuff. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Timothy Noah.  And I mean it. 

And Tony Blankley, great having you on. 

NOAH:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow on HARDBALL, legendary “Washington Post” editor Ben Bradlee, one of the three men to have kept the secret of Deep Throat for all these years. 

And don‘t forget our eighth anniversary coming up next week, all next week, right here on HARDBALL.

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END

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