Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Cut throat, Deep Throat, full throat

Availing myself of the modern miracle of the Washington Post message board, where you can commune with fellow connoisseurs of the news by posting your very own comments, I jotted a line of thanks to Deep Throat.

Right on schedule, I got the following energetic response:
Thank Mark Felt for what? For betraying the President of the United States? For betraying his oath to uphold the Constitution and instead breaking the law and giving classified documents and tapes in the dark of night to a bunch of beat reporters? [Note from Newsosaur: To the best of my knowledge, he gave advice and confirmation but did not provide documents or tapes.] For being a coward and a traitor instead of giving what he knew to the proper authorities? For keeping his identity secret long enough, so that the statue of limitations would pass, and he would avoid prosecution for obstructing justice, tampering w/ evidence and treason? Mark Felt doesn't deserve to be thanked; he deserved to be hung.
Although W. Mark Felt, the celebrated Watergate snitch, may have been motivated in part by his pique at not being chosen by President Richard M. Nixon to head the FBI, I believe he also was sincerely alarmed by the willingness of the White House to bend every rule, if not break a few laws, to preserve a presidency infused with Nixon’s dark paranoia.

Proof of Nixon’s tragic disconnection from reality came when he fired Archibald Cox, the special Watergate prosecutor, in what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Because half of the American population today was not alive on this chilling night in 1973 when the Constitution was suspended by presidential fiat, it is worth reviewing briefly the significance of this event.

The special prosecutor was appointed by Congress to investigate the Watergate break-in and cover-up so as to remove the inquiry from the control of the Justice Department, which was (and is) under the direct legal and political control of the White House. When Nixon fired Cox and abolished the office of the special prosecutor, he sought to regain control of the investigation. As Nixon and his advisers knew, the inquiry, if pursued unchecked, would lead directly to the Oval Office.

Nixon’s decision to abort the independent investigation was so odious to Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus that both refused to carry out the order and were summarily fired. The heretofore-loyal Nixon appointees were locked out of their offices on a Saturday night.

Ironically, this gross abuse of authority sealed Nixon’s fate. Outrage and embarrassment led to the intensive investigations in Congress that brought Nixon to the brink of impeachment in the summer of 1974 for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Rather than facing the music, he resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.

It is hard to say what Mark Felt knew and when he knew it, but he was right to be offended by the break-in and the elaborate cover-up that attempted to use the FBI, CIA and other federal agencies to shield the guilty and mislead the public. The Saturday Night Massacre may have been Nixon’s most egregious abuse of authority, but the ample record illustrates that it was not unprecedented.

Whatever the full extent of Deep Throat’s motivations, he ranks among the few public officials who, as an act of conscience, make the difficult, yet righteous, decision to break the rules. Raoul Wallenberg most certainly abused his authority as a Swedish diplomat in Hungary to save as many as 100,000 Jews from the Holocaust, but he did the right thing. Deep Throat may not be another Raoul Wallenberg, but Felt was in the zone when he decided to betray his sworn duty by assisting the reporters exposing the Watergate scandal.

Felt notably crossed the line again when he helped to direct illegal FBI break-ins in the late 1970s at the homes of members of the Weathermen underground organization and their families and friends. He was convicted in 1980 of conspiracy to violate civil rights, but later was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan for acting “on high principle to bring an end to the terrorism that was threatening our nation."

Such is the line between duty and conscience. How might modern history have changed if FBI agents had leaked to the press their mounting concerns over Arab men asking flight schools to teach them how to fly jumbo jets without learning how to land them? What carnage could have been avoided if CIA agents alerted the media to the fabricated “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

In both the Watergate and the Weathermen cases, Mark Felt stuck out his neck in defense of what he believed to be the highest principles. When was the last time someone did something like that? Thanks again, Deep Throat.

1 Comments:

Blogger Sal Manfredi said...

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6:02 AM  

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