May 31

This Day in History

Crime

May 31, 2005:

Deep Throat is revealed

W. Mark Felt’s family ends 30 years of speculation, identifying Felt, the former FBI assistant director, as “Deep Throat,” the secret source who helped unravel the Watergate scandal. The Felt family’s admission, made in an article in Vanity Fair magazine, took legendary reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who had promised to keep their source’s identity a secret until his death, by surprise. Tapes show that Nixon himself had speculated that Felt was the secret informant as early as 1973.

The question “Who was Deep Throat?” had been investigated relentlessly in the ensuing years since Watergate in movies, books, televisions shows, and on the Internet. America was obsessed with the shadowy figure who went to great lengths to conceal his involvement with the Washington Post reporters. Although his name was often mentioned as a possibility, Felt consistently denied being Deep Throat, even writing in his 1979 memoir, “I never leaked information to Woodward and Bernstein or to anyone else!” Even as recently as six years before the admission, he was quoted as saying, “It would be contrary to my responsibility as a loyal employee of the FBI to leak information.”

After the death of J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the FBI, Felt, who was serving as the bureau’s assistant director, wanted the job and was angry over Nixon’s failure to appoint him. He was also upset over Nixon’s attempts to stall the bureau’s investigation into the Watergate break-ins. So, when Bob Woodward called the veteran FBI employee to request information about the bureau’s Watergate investigation, Felt agreed to talk. But his cooperation came with strict restrictions. Felt refused to be quoted, even anonymously, and agreed only to confirm information already obtained, refusing to provide new information. And, of course, the reporters had to promise to keep his identity a secret. Felt was only contacted on matters of great importance.

Although the two initially talked by phone, Felt soon began to worry that his phones could be tapped. So, he and Woodward devised a set of signals and began to meet in the middle of the night in a parking garage. Over the ensuing months, Felt corroborated stories linking Nixon’s reelection committee to the Watergate break-ins and illegal investigations of the Democratic Party. He also alerted Woodward to the far-reaching nature of the scandal, indicating that it could be traced back to government higher-ups, including President Nixon himself.

In the aftermath of Felt’s admission, both Woodward and Bernstein expressed worries that, due to the intense interest in the Deep Throat mystery over the years, Felt’s role in unraveling the complicated web of lies and deceit that was Watergate may be overstated. They reminded Americans that other sources, Nixon’s secret White House tape recordings, the Senate’s Watergate hearings, and the historic action of the U.S. Supreme Court all played an important role in bringing the truth to light.

In 1973, the Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize in public service for its coverage of the Watergate scandal.

W. Mark Felt died on December 18, 2008, at the age of 95.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date

Shop HISTORY