Monday, June 27, 2005

L. Patrick Gray, Mark Felt, and Watergate

L. Patrick Gray was on ABC's This Week this week, speaking publicly about Watergate for the first time in over 30 years.

Gray was Mark Felt's boss at the time, the acting director of the FBI, and was forced to resign because of suspicion he might be involved in the Watergate cover-up. When Jedgar Hoover — the only director the FBI had ever had — died in 1972, Nixon appointed Gray as acting director, hoping that Porter Goss Gray would "clean house" at the FBI, meaning that he would purge anyone not loyal to the President.

Indeed, Gray's own record around the Watergate era was quite mixed. Gray admits freely that, on orders from the White House, he destroyed certain papers and turned over other original files to White House operatives without keeping copies. John Ehrlichman told Gray to stop the pursuit of the money trail in an active investigation until certain aspects could be "clarified" by the FBI. Gray pursued the investigation anyway. On June 28, 1972, John Ehrlichman and John Dean asked Pat Gray to destroy an envelope full of documents from Howard Hunt's safe, including false top-secret cables indicating that the Kennedy administration was involved in the assassination of the Vietnamese president [Ngo Dinh Diem]. Gray eventually complied with the request and burned the documents.

Gray says that he was "operating on the presumption of regularity, that those guys [Ehrlichman, Dean, Hunt, etc.] were not trying to sandbag me, and I didn't have for a moment any feeling that they were setting me up." For a Naval officer, especially a submariner, implicit trust in the integrity of other officers is often a matter of life and death; however, for the director of the FBI, investigating a crime with clear connections to the White House — Gray admits that he knew at the time that Hunt was involved in the Watergate burglary — it is unjustifiable.

Certainly Mark Felt had some personal motives for going to the press instead of to his boss with the evidence he had about Watergate — Felt was angry at being passed over for promotion — but, given the things that Gray has admitted, it would have been a breach of his duty for Mark Felt to trust in Pat Gray, even though Gray came forward and gave direct testimony to the Congressional committee, "telling the truth exactly as I saw it and letting the chips fall where they may." There was simply too much at stake to trust in a man who has admitted to even limited tangential collusion with the cover-up. Indeed, the fact that Gray himself says that he did not even suspect that Mark Felt was Deep Throat, shows the gaps in his perception that diminished his ability to do his job.

I don't fault Pat Gray for feeling personally wounded that Mark Felt did not trust him, but, as Gray himself says, "I think [Mark Felt] was treacherous only to me, a man who trusted him." Gray refused all contact with Nixon after Watergate, because "this man [Nixon] had junked not only his own Presidency, but junked the career of so many other people, many of whom had to go to jail."

A key point in remembering Watergate is that it was crucial to remove Nixon from office not simply because of one cover-up of one illegal deed, but because of the dishonest and illegal way that Nixon ran his administration. A key quote from Nixon to Gray:

I got to have a relationship here where you [Gray] go out and do something and deny on a stack of Bibles. — in the Oval Office, February 16, 1973
Although Pat Gray was an honorable man, the very essence of our democracy was at stake, and it would have been irresponsible and unpatriotic for Mark Felt not to have leaked his information to the Washington Post. The United States of America as we know it, could not have withstood the completion of Nixon's Presidency.

Personal loyalty to the President must never override loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. Without that solid foundation, no structure in our government can stand.

[quotes in this article are mostly drawn from the June 26, 2005, episode of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, used under the Fair Use doctrine.]