A Question Answered: Who Was Deep Throat? NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin offers thoughts on the revelation about the identity of "Deep Throat," then takes on questions about the filibuster compromise, Sen. George Allen's resume and Ronald Reagan's military record. He also amends his earlier comments about the presidential aspirations of elected vice presidents.
NPR logo A Question Answered: Who Was Deep Throat?

A Question Answered: Who Was Deep Throat?

Their Watergate source is finally revealed. hide caption

toggle caption

Two unelected vice presidents who DID run for president. hide caption

toggle caption

Thirteen years ago today, DiFi and Boxer are nominated for Senate seats they ultimately win. hide caption

toggle caption

How many times have I asked, or been asked, that question over the past three decades? Granted, it may not have been the sort of question that kept me up late at night. But as one who breathlessly watched the entire unraveling of the Nixon presidency, from break-in and Sirica to Ervin and Rodino, it would be fair to say that guessing the identity of the most famous anonymous source in the history of political journalism was something I dabbled in now and then. And so, when the news hit late Tuesday morning, that the identity of "Deep Throat" was finally revealed, the resulting feeling was a confluence of emotions.

It was a time like no other. A president who, within just months of a smashing 49-state election landslide, found his administration falling apart, one indictment and one resignation at a time. Bumper stickers everywhere that read, "Honk If You Think He's Guilty." Or sentiments from the Nixon defenders: "Nobody Drowned in Watergate." Ultimately, after disclosures about cover-ups and secret tape recordings and damaging testimony, it seemed clear that it was time for him to go. No one talked about "Deep Throat" -– at least in political terms -– back then. In fact, no one knew of him until Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote All the President's Men in 1974, though it wasn’t until the release of the movie in 1976 whereby he grew to mythical proportions.

And then came his unmasking this week, after nearly 33 years. Along with it came a feeling of disbelief. Not because no one suspected it could be Mark Felt; truth be told, he was a prime suspect on nearly everyone's list of potential Throats. I guess it was just hard to fathom that after all this time, the answer to the question was at hand. It seemed like it would be the kind of question that would remain unanswered forever.

If it was disbelief for some of us, it was no doubt a relief for others... especially those who, like Felt, were long suspected to be the Woodward/Bernstein source: Fred Fielding, L. Patrick Gray, Al Haig, Leonard Garment, Henry Peterson, David Gergen -– the list is endless. (Full disclosure: for the longest time, until his death in 1987, I thought Mr. Throat was Bryce Harlow, the former Eisenhower and Nixon aide who I suspected did not look kindly at the Watergate shenanigans.)

It was remarkable that a secret could be held for so long in Washington, where secrets are routinely spilled, and ironic that The Washington Post, which protected the secret, was scooped on the story. And I guess it should be expected that the new parlor game in town is deciding Mark Felt's motives. Revenge for being passed over when J. Edgar Hoover died? Was it anger over the Nixon administration's attempts to keep the FBI in the dark about its illegal activities? I'll let others decide that. And I'll pass, for now, on whether Felt's actions –- feeding information to Woodward and Bernstein on what the FBI knew about the Watergate break-in and cover-up -– make him a hero or a villain.

Okay, time for other questions.

Q: I don't know if I am just looking in the wrong places, but I can't find a full list of names, parties, and states of the brave Gang of 14 -- those moderate senators who came up with a compromise on the Nuclear Option. I'd like to send a "thank you!" to them all. -– Roy Adams, Salt Lake City, Utah

A: Here's the list. Senators followed by an asterisk are up for re-election in 2006.

REPUBLICANS: John McCain (AZ), John Warner (VA), Mike DeWine (OH)*, Olympia Snowe (ME)*, Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Lincoln Chafee (RI)*.

DEMOCRATS: Ben Nelson (NE)*, Mark Pryor (AR), Robert Byrd (WV)*, Joe Lieberman (CT)*, Mary Landrieu (LA), Ken Salazar (CO), Dan Inouye (HI).

While activists on both ends of the spectrum have decried the compromise, most of the rancor has come from the right. Many pro-family conservatives have vowed to remember John McCain's "apostasy" in the event the Arizona senator seeks the 2008 presidential nomination. Kim Lehman, president of the Iowa Right to Life Committee, called him "John Jeffords McCain": "McCain's a traitor to the Republican Party now, just like Jim Jeffords was."

Still, while it's fair to say that McCain (unlike Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist) got what he wanted -– the compromise in the Senate, as well as more favorable media coverage -– I'm not convinced that the presidential aspirations of either McCain or Frist were especially helped by the news out of Capitol Hill last week. (For more on McCain and 2008, see May 18 "Political Junkie.")

As for the Republicans up for re-election, there have been suggestions that a conservative take on Mike DeWine in next year's Ohio primary. Short of that, some on the right are hinting that they take out their ire on DeWine by actively opposing his son Pat, a favorite in the special June 14 GOP primary to succeed former Rep. Rob Portman in Ohio's 2nd congressional district. A more serious dilemma for Republicans is in Rhode Island, where conservatives are pushing Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey to challenge Sen. Lincoln Chafee in the primary. Chafee, probably the most endangered Senate Republican up for re-election next year, might not be able to survive a primary challenge from the right. He may also be the party’s best chance of holding the seat in November.

Q: Sen. George Allen of Virginia is rumored to be a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. If elected, would Allen be the first president to have previously served as congressman, governor and senator? -– Gus Sperrazza, Silver Spring, Md.

A: No, but he would be the first since Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, who was governor of, and senator and congressman from, Tennessee. Also on the list: John Tyler, the 10th president, who held those posts in Virginia. Two differences, however: Allen was elected to the Senate by popular vote, unlike Johnson and Tyler. Here's another one: neither Johnson nor Tyler was elected president in his own right. Johnson took over following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and Tyler became president after the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841. Neither won election to a subsequent term.

Q: Do you know why the "Wright is Wrong" button in your May 18 column featured a map of Central America so prominently in the background? As I recall, the ethics charges made against then-House Speaker Jim Wright had nothing to do with Central America; they were about speaking fees and book deals and his wife's employment. –- David Kirchner, Department of Political Science, Hamline University, St. Paul, Minn.

A: Busted! You are correct. The button has nothing to do with why Wright resigned from Congress in 1989; it was the only anti-Wright button I could find. Wright was one of the leading opponents in Congress to the Contra rebels fighting a civil war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and he worked hard to mediate a peace agreement in Central America. (President Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was a strong supporter of the Contras.) A conservative group opposed to Wright's views on Central America was responsible for the button I used in my column.

FILIBUSTER THIS: The May 18 column was filled with comments from readers who said I missed the point about the importance of who invented the "nuclear option" phrase. Since then, a lot of mail came in from the opposing point of view. "Hells bells," writes Peter Junker of Atlanta, Ga. "Neither you nor [NPR correspondent David] Welna has anything to atone for regarding the nuclear option thing. His report was solid and, to me, your response to the bloggers understandable. I may not be the political junkie you are, but even I saw the coverage that Sen. Lott received when he originated this particular sound bite. And anyway, it's clever and uncommonly apt, as it describes the state of minds of BOTH sides of the aisle."

Jon Yuengling of West Norton, Pa., adds that he heard Welna's original piece and read the comments made in the previous Junkie column: "All I want to say is thank you both for a great job you are doing. I am sure you are taking heat from the 'right wing conspiracy' with the new leadership at the CPB. In general, though, I find the programs on NPR, both online and on the radio, are fairer than most news outlets."

Bill Lawrence of Villa Hills, Ky., was more amused than anything else. "I had a smile on my face when I saw the comments that listeners/readers considered you NPR folks to be pawns of the White House or working for Karl Rove," Lawrence writes. "I always considered you all to be the liberals or the intellectual snobs that Mr. Agnew referred to. I guess it is just a question of perception."

Finally, Leah Johnson of Jackson, Miss., could care less of the origin of "nuclear option:" "If the Democrats respond by threatening to greatly slow down the business of the Senate, it would be as a last ditch effort to prevent the administration from totally controlling the other arms of the government. Who cares if it was Lott or a Democrat who came up with the term? The name was not something to scare me. What was being done to our democracy by the right-wing’s effort to control our country for a vast indefinite period is what was scary!"

Ultimately, the goal of this column is not to inflame passions but get our facts right. And it appears I misconstrued the history of the filibuster in the May 18 column. Norm Ornstein, the congressional expert from the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., points out that the filibuster rule prior to 1975 was not 67 senators. It was two-thirds of those present and voting. Currently, the rule on filibusters is 60, period... not a three-fifths majority.

You're In the Army Now: That same column, in listing presidents with no military experience, included Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both Maureen Keating Tsuchiya of Chappaqua, N.Y. and the aforementioned Jon Yuengling suggest that FDR get at least an asterisk, as he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I. And Rob Lorei of Tampa, Fla., wanted to know how long Ronald Reagan served, in which branch, and whether or not he saw combat.

Reagan joined the Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1937 as a private, getting upped to second lieutenant in the Officers' Reserve Corps a month later. Reagan's poor eyesight kept him from serving overseas. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Reagan was assigned to the San Francisco Port of Embarkation in Fort Mason, Calif. He served as a public relations officer in Burbank, Calif., and was later assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City. In 1943, he was promoted to captain and was involved in the 4th War Loan Drive. By the end of the war, Reagan's military units had produced 400 training films.

In the April 28 column, I listed all the elected vice presidents since 1928 and whether or not they ran for president after serving as VP. I didn't include either Gerald Ford or Nelson Rockefeller -– in answer to queries from Will Gorenfeld and Donald Tyne -- because neither had been elected vice president. But yes, both Ford (1976) and Rocky (1960, '64 and '68) ran for president.

What About Spiro? I also wrote that "the last elected vice president not to run for president" was Republican Charles Curtis. Amy Ressler of Brooklyn, N.Y. wrote that Spiro Agnew, elected VP in 1968 and re-elected in '72, never ran for president. I did mention in the column that Agnew was "considered a leading Republican contender for 1976," and that his suspected ambition was derailed when he "resigned the vice presidency in the wake of a scandal in '73." I think what I meant to say was that Curtis showed no interest in running for president, unlike Agnew, who most people assumed was plotting out a run in 1976. But nonetheless I inexplicably said that Curtis was the last elected VP to eschew seeking the presidency, when clearly it was Agnew. For that I plead nolo contendere.

This Day in Campaign History: For the first time ever, two women from the same state –- former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Barbara Boxer -– win their primaries for the U.S. Senate. The two California Democrats will go on to win their races in November: Feinstein in the special election to replace Pete Wilson (who had been elected governor), and Boxer to succeed retiring Sen. Alan Cranston. Never before had a state sent two women to the Senate at the same time. In the primaries, Feinstein defeats state Controller Gray Davis (later to become governor), while Boxer beats Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy and Rep. Mel Levine (June 2, 1992).