• U.S.

WATERGATE: Deep Throat’: Narrowing the Field

5 minute read
TIME

Nowhere do secrets have a higher mortality rate than in Washington, D.C. The capital swarms with leaking bureaucrats and a prying press corps. Incurable gossips are wall to wall. Yet one mystery has proved as snoop-resistant as it is tantalizing: the identity of “Deep Throat,” the shadowy underground-garage habitué who is currently providing the same suspense in the film version of All the President’s Men that he brought to the bestselling Watergate book by the Washington Post’s reporting duo.

The movie and the new Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein book, The Final Days (TIME, March 29), have combined to revive the search for the tattler-patriot who served the Nixon Administration while helping to bring it down. In surreptitious pre-dawn meetings during the unraveling of Watergate, as Woodward tells it, Deep Throat often confirmed and occasionally volunteered devastating information learned in his “sensitive” Government post.

There is no shortage of suspects in the guessing game of who Deep Throat was—or of skeptics. “I would expect it was a composite,” muses former Nixon Attorney James St. Clair. Onetime Nixon Aide John Ehrlichman grouses: “It would be a great day for America to finally know the identity of one of Woodward and Bernstein’s sources.” Reviewing The Final Days, Political Writer Richard Reeves argues in the New York Times: “I have never been convinced that Deep Throat existed. The whole thing was too much like an old newspaper tactic that I have used myself: inventing a secret source … If there is a Deep Throat, he’s worth $10 million on the hoof.” Woodward declares that there is a Deep Throat who will be known some day (see box). Says Post Executive Editor Benjamin Bradlee: “I know he exists.” But not even Bradlee knows who he is.

Assuming Deep Throat does exist, one way to play the guessing game is to narrow the field by identifying men with access to the kind of information that Deep Throat provided Woodward. Such information ranges from Deep Throat’s June 1972 tip that E. Howard Hunt Jr. was involved in the Watergate breakin, to his November 1973 disclosure that there were erasures on the White House tapes. Woodward’s source also knew who controlled a special fund at the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (C.R.P.); that White House intelligence-gathering activities involved at least 50 people; that John Mitchell feared he was “ruined” ten days after the Watergate breakin; and that witnesses had perjured themselves before the Watergate grand jury.

That litany strongly suggests that Deep Throat operated in the White House, which knew about Hunt before the FBI did and about the tape erasures before the Justice Department, the courts and the special prosecutor did. Some at the White House also knew about the special $350,000 secret fund at C.R.P. eventually used as hush money for the Watergate burglars long before investigators did.

One White House official who appears to have been a generous source for The Final Days is former Counsel J. Fred Buzhardt, who emerges as a hero in the book after criticism elsewhere for hangdog loyalty long after he was aware of Nixon’s involvement.

Other sources who could have been Deep Throat by the White House test include Counsel Leonard Garment; Chief of Staff Alexander Haig Jr. or, more likely, someone close to him; Speech Writers Raymond Price, Patrick Buchanan, Benjamin Stein, Franklin Gannon and David Gergen; Haldeman Aide Lawrence Higby; Telecommunications Director Clay Whitehead; National Security Aide Brent Scowcroft; and Domestic Adviser Kenneth Cole Jr. An outside possibility is John Sears, who retained excellent White House sources after his departure as a Nixon counsel in 1969, and whose cigarette-smoking and Scotch-drinking habits, while common enough, correspond to those attributed to Deep Throat.

But if Woodward’s story on the tape gaps indeed came from Deep Throat —as he has written it did—then that narrows the circle further. Awareness of the erasures was limited at first to Nixon, Rose Mary Woods, Stephen Bull, Haig—and three men then serving as Nixon’s lawyers: Samuel Powers, Garment and Buzhardt. Though he was long gone from the White House, Charles Colson is also known to have learned of the tape gaps soon after their discovery by Buzhardt.

Nixon and Woods are nonstarters. Powers’ service in the White House was too brief for him to have been Deep Throat. Bull, though a possibility, was much younger and much less cynical than the source Woodward describes. That leaves Buzhardt, Haig, Garment and Colson. Yet all seem too well known to roam the streets of Washington at odd hours, and it is difficult to imagine, say, the dignified Haig lurking in a garage at 3 a.m. or furtively filching Woodward’s New York Times by 7 a.m. to draw a clock face on page 20 indicating the hour they would meet. If Deep Throat was a single person and not a composite, therefore, he most likely was someone with intimate ties to one or possibly more of the above four men.

Whoever he is, for 46 months he has been living with a secret as intriguing as any he revealed to help drive Richard Nixon from office.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com