SANTA ROSA, Calif. – W. Mark Felt, the former FBI second-in-command who revealed himself as “Deep Throat” 30 years after he tipped off reporters to the Watergate scandal that toppled a president, has died. He was 95.
Felt died Thursday of congestive heart failure, said John D. O’Connor, a family friend who wrote the 2005 Vanity Fair article uncovering Felt’s secret.
The shadowy central figure in the one of the most gripping political dramas of the 20th century, Felt insisted his alter ego be kept secret when he leaked damaging information about President Richard Nixon and his aides to the Washington Post.
While some – including Nixon and his aides – speculated that Felt was the source who connected the White House to the June 1972 break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, he steadfastly denied the accusations until finally coming forward in May 2005.
“I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat,” Felt told O’Connor, a San Francisco attorney whose story created a whirlwind of media attention.
The man who had kept his secret for decades, now weakened by a stroke, wasn’t doing much talking – he merely waved to the media from the front door of his daughter’s Santa Rosa home.
Critics, including those who went to prison for the Watergate scandal, called him a traitor for betraying the commander in chief. Supporters hailed him as a hero for blowing the whistle on a corrupt administration trying to cover up attempts to sabotage opponents.
Felt grappled with his place in history, arguing with his children over whether to reveal his identity or to take his secret to the grave, O’Connor said.
He agonized about what revealing his identity would do to his reputation. Would he be seen as a turncoat or a man of honor?
Ultimately, his daughter Joan persuaded him to go public; after all, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was sure to profit by revealing the secret after Felt died.
“We could make at least enough money to pay some bills, like the debt I’ve run up for the kids’ education,” she told her father, according to the Vanity Fair article. “Let’s do it for the family.”
The revelation capped a Washington whodunnit that spanned more than three decades and seven presidents. It was the final mystery of Watergate, the subject of the best-selling book and hit movie “All the President’s Men,” which inspired a generation of college students to pursue journalism.
Revelations about the abuses of presidential power in what became known collectively as Watergate, including illegal wiretapping, burglaries and obstruction of justice, ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation from the presidency in 1974.