IMAGE: L. Patrick Gray
AP file
L. Patrick Gray is seen in this March 1973 photo when he was acting FBI director.
updated 7/6/2005 12:52:01 PM ET 2005-07-06T16:52:01

L. Patrick Gray, whose yearlong stint as acting FBI director was marked by the Watergate break-in and the ensuing scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation, has died. He was 88.

Gray died at his home in Atlantic Beach from complications from pancreatic cancer, said his son, Ed Gray, of Lyme, N.H.

Just last month, Gray ended 32 years of silence about his role in the Watergate scandal, telling ABC’s “This Week” that he had reacted with “total shock, total disbelief” to the revelation that his former deputy, W. Mark Felt, was the secret Watergate source known as Deep Throat.

“He fooled me,” said Gray. “It was like I was hit with a tremendous sledgehammer.”

Nixon appointed Gray, a former Justice Department official and submarine commander, acting FBI director in May 1972 — just weeks before the Watergate break-in — after the death of J. Edgar Hoover. Gray was forced to step down in April 1973.

Said Felt had 'revenge in his heart'
Critics alleged he tried to thwart the Watergate investigation — a charge he denied — even as Felt was secretly feeding information to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

When Felt was unmasked as Woodward’s source more than 30 years later, Gray said he believed the trusted deputy had been unhappy at being passed over for the top job and had talked to the Post in order to sabotage him.

“I think there was a sense of revenge in his heart, and a sense of dumping my candidacy, if you will,” he told ABC.

Gray was never indicted for any Watergate-related misdeeds, but descriptions of him as a Nixon loyalist who helped thwart the investigation and as someone the White House thought could be pushed around dogged him in the years following the scandal. He vigorously disputed the depiction.

Gray resigned amid allegations he had destroyed documents in the scandal. During a confirmation hearing, he disclosed that he had handed over FBI files to the Nixon White House.

That disclosure provoked Nixon domestic policy adviser John D. Ehrlichman to utter his famous phrase that Gray would be left to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind.”

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Son: 'Not in cahoots with Nixon'
In the ABC interview, Gray defended his cooperation with the White House. He said he burned files from the safe of E. Howard Hunt, a member of the White House “plumbers,” in his home fireplace because he had been ordered to do so and the files were unrelated to Watergate.

He said he provided internal FBI files to the White House only after he had been cleared to do so by the bureau’s general counsel.

Gray also said he refused White House demands to fire Felt or order a lie-detector test because he trusted the man so completely that he put him in charge of investigating FBI leaks.

Ed Gray said his father “certainly was not in cahoots with Nixon. His entire purpose all the time was to get to the bottom of it.”

Gray was working on compiling his files from Watergate when he died, and his son said the family plans to release a book that will “counter many of the flat falsehoods” made against him.

“There aren’t any heroes in Watergate. But I think what you’ll find as you learn about my father is that apart from the outside investigators and independent prosecutors, he was the only wholly honest one,” his son said.

Navy, legal careers
Born in St. Louis in 1916, Gray left Rice University in 1936 to enter the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated from the academy in 1940 and was commissioned as a line officer.

Gray served aboard submarines in World War II and the Korean War during a 20-year career in the Navy. He earned a law degree in 1949 from George Washington University.

He retired from the Navy in 1960 with the rank of captain. Before entering private practice in Connecticut, he worked for then-Vice President Nixon in his failed bid for president in 1960.

Gray returned to government service after Nixon was elected president in 1968, serving as executive assistant to the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and on the president’s Cabinet committee on desegregation. In 1970 he was appointed assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division.

After he left the FBI, Gray returned to private law practice in New London and Groton, Conn.

He is survived by his wife, Beatrice Kirk Gray, and four sons.

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