Monday, July 28, 2008

Watergate Curiosity Shop (I)

Of all the abuses he suffered at the hands of prosecutors, L. Patrick Gray was most outraged by his indictment for the illegal break-ins conducted in pursuit of the Weather Underground fugitives.

He had a right to be angry. It was a pathetically weak case that depended solely on the word of Mark Felt and Ed Miller-- two high level FBI executives who admitted they had ordered agents to conduct the black bag jobs.

The prosecutors found no documents that tied Gray to the break-ins. Felt and Miller claimed that Gray had approved them verbally but were vague and inconsistent on when Gray did this.

Unfortunately for Felt he claimed that Gray announced that the FBI would go back into the burglary business at a meeting of FBI supervisors. When those supervisors were questioned, they denied that Gray ever said any such thing.

This is where the plot thickens. Prosecutors had not spoken to most of the FBI agents before they indicted Gray. They let the indictment hang over his head for three years and then dismissed it after Felt was found guilty.

Not only did the government finally drop its case against me, but it also issued an open-court public exoneration. This was no small white flag, this was unconditional surrender. I would have thanked them for it three years earlier. Now it just made me angrier. They had known the truth for three years and had refused to drop the case until Felt and Miller were convicted. By keeping me under indictment they had prevented me from testifying against my accusers at their own trials. Of all the prosecutorial outrages I endured in the seven-year war, this was by far the most egregious.
Maybe prosecutors were blinded by their eagerness to “get” one of The President’s Men. Nonetheless, their sloppy investigation and reckless indictment was a terrible injustice to Gray. Moreover, it actually hurt their case against Felt and Miller. They lost the chance to show that Felt’s word could not be trusted

The mind boggles at the thought of Deep Throat in the dock and L. Patrick Gray as a prosecution witness-- all thanks to Jimmy Carter’s Justice Department.

Bob Woodward recognized the danger that the trial presented to Deep Throat’s historical reputation. Deep Throat was a sincere public servant driven by extreme circumstances to take drastic actions. Mark Felt looked like “he was out of control, a free lancer inclined to take things into his own hands for larger purposes that he, and he alone defined.”

In The Secret Man Woodward tells how Felt was asked by a grand juror if he was Deep Throat. Felt denied it but his startled reaction was noted by the prosecutor, Stanley Pottinger. Pottinger reminded Felt he was under oath, noted that the question was not germane to matters at hand, and asked if Felt wanted to withdraw the question. Felt quickly agreed, the question was withdrawn, and Pottinger never revealed his secret except to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.

Woodward was grateful that Pottinger kept Felt’s secret and he reports that Pottingger believed that Felt was justified in leaking to the Post. What we don’t know is what Pottinger thought about his investigation after that revelation. Here was the great hero of Watergate and Pottinger was leading the effort to send him to jail. That’s one of the sidelights that make history so interesting.

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