Top Line Power Players
Why did FBI official Mark Felt become Deep Throat?
The popular narrative is that Felt leaked details of the Watergate scandal to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward out of an altruistic motive to expose Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency.
But Watergate expert Max Holland has a different take.
“Top Line” caught up with Holland in the same spot where Felt and Woodward once met in secret – parking spot 32D of an unassuming garage in Arlington, Va., that is expected to be demolished soon.
“He thought he was the natural heir because effectively [J. Edgar] Hoover was suffering from old age, and Felt, in the last year of Hoover's life, was running the bureau,” said Holland, who details what he believes were Felt’s motives in the book “Leak: Why Felt Became Deep Throat.”
When Hoover died, Nixon named L. Patrick Gray acting director of the FBI instead of Felt. In an attempt to make Nixon lose faith in Gray as director, Holland contends that Felt began leaking the details of the Watergate break-in.
The plan worked initially, Holland said.
“A month or two after the break-in, he [Nixon] decided that Gray wasn't up to the job, and indeed, he thought Felt should be the man,” he said. “Felt didn't know this, so he kept on leaking.”
But then, Holland said, Felt’s plan backfired on Oct. 9, 1972, when he leaked information that linked the Nixon re-election campaign directly to the Watergate break-in, and it became the centerpiece discovery of the Washington Post’s investigation.
“The leak … so infuriated the White House that they found out who was doing the leaking, and they found out it was Mark Felt,” he said. “But they felt, no pun intended, that they couldn't fire him, because he knew too much.
To hear more about Holland’s perspective on the Watergate scandal leaks, and the details of Woodward and Felt’s meetings in the Arlington garage, check out this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC News’ Kyle Blaine, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Brian Haefeli and Ed Jennings contributed to this episode.