"De mortuis nil nisi bonum." Of the dead, nothing but good.
So said Dean Acheson of Sen. Joe McCarthy on his death in 1957. "Tailgunner Joe" had bedeviled the secretary of state for his lassitude toward communist penetration of State in President Truman's time.
But the passing of Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI in the later Nixon years, lately exposed as "Deep Throat," the source for the Woodward-Bernstein stories, calls forth some rebuttal to the tributes lavished upon Felt as the honest lawman who saved our republic.
When the Watergate break-in was traced to the Committee to Reelect the President, Felt was put in charge of the FBI investigation. Almost immediately, he began to leak to Woodward.
Felt, it is said, was justified, as the White House was interfering with his investigation. False. This is a moral cloak belatedly cast over more base motives.
The truth: Felt was a bitter man. Having risen through the ranks under J. Edgar Hoover, whose black-bag jobs he had overseen, Felt expected to be rewarded by being named director on Hoover's death. Nixon had passed him over for an outsider, L. Patrick Grey.
By secretly colluding with the Post, Felt was ingratiating himself with an establishment that loathed Nixon, even as he exacted revenge for having being denied by Nixon the post he had coveted.
Had Nixon or aides restricted Felt, the Post would have had an explosive story. But the Post never charged the White House with interfering with the FBI investigation that summer or fall, because it was not interfering.
What Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein ran with were such shockers as that Nixon's men had hired a trickster to ape the Democrats' Dick Tuck, and said trickster had sent dozens of pizzas to a Muskie rally.
The FBI had ferreted out the Artful Dodger, and the Post led with the atrocity. "FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats," screamed the four-column headline at the top of page one.
Indeed, if what Felt did was honorable, why did he lie and deny it repeatedly when asked if he was leaking to the Post? Why did he lie in his memoir in 1979, when, well into retirement, he emphatically denied he was Deep Throat? Was Felt so noble he could save our republic, yet refuse, to the point of lying in his memoirs, to take any credit?
Answer: Felt knew what he did was dishonorable, corrupt—and unnecessary. For honest FBI agents were steadily making progress toward proving that higher-ups at CREEP were involved in aiding those caught in the Watergate break-in.
Felt had another reason for lying about his role as snitch for the Post. Former colleagues would be disgusted, for his was not only a breach of law, but of faith and trust, a dishonoring of his oath as an FBI agent.
One wonders what went through the mind of Felt, when, on trial in Manhattan in 1980 for those FBI black-bag jobs against the Weather Underground that had bombed the Pentagon and Capitol, ex-President Nixon walked into the courtroom to testify in Felt's defense?
When Felt was convicted, Ronald Reagan pardoned him, declaring that if the Carter amnesty was proper for those who had defected to Canada rather than serve in Vietnam, it was right to pardon those who risked their careers to protect the nation.
After exposure as Deep Throat, Felt wrote in a 2006 memoir, "The bottom line is that we did get the whole truth out, but isn't that what the FBI is suppose to do?" No, Mr. Felt, that is not what the FBI is supposed to do.
Do we really want, here in America, our premier investigative and police agency to get the truth out that it decides to get out?
Would it have been right for Hoover to get the "whole truth out"on JFK's liaisons with suspected German spies, Mafia molls and Marilyn Monroe, and destroy his presidency? Would it have been right for the FBI to get the "whole truth out"of Hoover's secret files, and ruin all the public careers the FBI could have destroyed?
Isn't that what the old KGB did to its enemies? In the early ‘60s, Robert Kennedy authorized Hoover to bug and tap Dr. Martin Luther King. When the FBI turned up film of King with loose women, LBJ's White House moved the photos to the Washington press.
Felt knew of this. The Post knew of this. The Washington press corps knew of this. Why didn't Felt and the Post blow the whistle on this squalid deed? Was it not so egregious as sending pizzas to Muskie's rally?
In that Scoundrel Time, the liberal establishment—the press, the politicians and the police bureaucrats—colluded to destroy Nixon, even as they covered for JFK and LBJ. Nixon, you see, was not one of them. Is it not always thus?