(Recasts with details, background)
WASHINGTON Dec 19 Mark Felt, the mysterious
"Deep Throat" source who helped Washington Post reporters Bob
Woodward and Carl Bernstein crack the Watergate scandal that
brought down President Richard Nixon, has died at age 95.
Felt suffered from congestive heart failure but the exact
cause of his death at home on Thursday was not immediately
known, said the Press Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa,
California, 55 miles (90 km) north of San Francisco.
In its report on Felt's death, the New York Times called
him "the most famous anonymous source in American history."
Felt, the No. 2 official at the FBI when the Watergate case
broke, kept his role in the story a secret for 30 years. Only
in 2005, at age 91, was his part made public in an article in
Vanity Fair magazine written by Felt's family lawyer.
"I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat," Felt told
attorney John O'Connor.
For years, people had speculated and argued about the
identity of "Deep Throat," whose name was derived from the
title of a popular pornographic movie.
Vanity Fair scooped Woodward and Bernstein, who had
promised not to reveal the name of the star source of their
1974 stories until after his death. But within a day of Felt's
unveiling, Woodward wrote of his relationship with Felt.
Woodward said he turned to Felt after he and Bernstein
wrote about the break-in at the offices of the Democratic
National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington.
"This was the moment when a source or friend in the
investigative agencies of government is invaluable," Woodward
wrote in the Post. "I called Felt at the FBI ... It would be
our first talk about Watergate."
Woodward said Felt told him the Watergate case was going to
"heat up." He abruptly hung up but then started to provide
guidance on the story, Woodward said.
Following a complicated routine, Felt and Woodward would
arrange to meet in an underground garage, with "Deep Throat"
corroborating information the Post reporters had gleaned from
other sources and outlining a government conspiracy.
"Felt believed he was protecting the bureau by finding a
way, clandestine as it was, to push some of the information
from the FBI interviews and files out to the public, to help
build public and political pressure to make Nixon and his
people answerable," Woodward wrote.
"He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and
their efforts to manipulate the bureau for political reasons."
Reporting by the Post and other news organizations on the
White House's involvement in the Watergate break-in and other
political "dirty tricks" forced Nixon's resignation in 1974.
More than 30 officials would ultimately plead guilty or be
convicted, including Attorney General John Mitchell, who served
19 months for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury.
Felt repeatedly denied he was "Deep Throat," even though
his position at the FBI made him an obvious candidate, and
Nixon himself suspected Felt of leaking to the media.
A character patterned on Felt showed up in the book and
movie "All The President's Men," an account by Bernstein and
Woodward of their Watergate reporting. Played by Hal Holbrooke,
the "Deep Throat" character was seen in the shadows.
This portrayal was true to life, Woodward wrote, because
Felt insisted on anonymity and was concerned that phone calls
might be tapped.
Last month, Woodward and Bernstein visited Felt in Santa
Rosa. It was Bernstein's first meeting with the famous source,
who dealt only with Woodward during the Watergate days.
Born on Aug. 17, 1913 in Twin Falls, Idaho, Felt came to
Washington as a Capitol Hill staff member and later worked at
the Federal Trade Commission before joining the FBI in 1942.
He served in the bureau's espionage section during World
War Two and later worked in various field offices and oversaw
some of the FBI's early investigations into organized crime.
Felt was appointed deputy associate director, the No. 3 job
at the FBI, in 1971, and was disappointed when Nixon named L.
Patrick Gray to head the agency after the death of its longtime
chief, J. Edgar Hoover, in 1972.
Felt was convicted in 1980 of authorizing illegal break-ins
at five homes in New York and New Jersey as part of the FBI's
pursuit of the radical Weather Underground group. He was fined
$5,000 and then pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Felt and his wife Audrey, who died in 1984, had two
(Writing by Deborah Zabarenko; Additional reporting by Dean
Goodman in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Callaghan)