Nixon aide labeled `Deep Throat'

Student researchers say lawyer Fielding revealed key Watergate details

April 23, 2003|By William Neikirk | William Neikirk,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Attempting to solve one of America's greatest political mysteries, student investigators at the University of Illinois have concluded that former White House lawyer Fred F. Fielding is the "Deep Throat" who broke the Watergate scandal wide open.

Some of the students and their teacher, Bill Gaines, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for the Chicago Tribune, named Fielding as their choice for Deep Throat in a news conference at the Watergate Hotel, site of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee nearly 31 years ago.

Deep Throat was the nickname that Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward gave to his anonymous source, who provided damaging details of the break-in and Nixon administration efforts to cover it up, along with its campaign of "dirty tricks" against political opponents.

The scandal touched off investigations that led to President Richard M. Nixon's resignation in 1974 and became the subject of the book and movie All the President's Men.

Deep Throat's identity has been the subject of a political guessing game that has lasted since then. Woodward has said that he will identify his source only when Deep Throat dies.

Using 16,000 pages of FBI documents and other Watergate records, Gaines and his students said Fielding knew about or probably would have known about many of the key Watergate revelations that Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, made in their news stories that won the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.

They ruled out six other possible candidates for Deep Throat, saying the others could not have known everything that Fielding did as first assistant to John Dean, then White House counsel.

"If it wasn't Fielding, I don't see how it could have been anybody else," Gaines said.

In their project, the students and Gaines noted six instances of closely held inside information that Fielding knew and Deep Throat provided. These included the involvement of Watergate burglar Howard Hunt and former White House aide John Ehrlichman's instructions to Dean to throw a briefcase containing incriminating information about political tricks into the Potomac River.

They also said Fielding was in a position to provide eight other revelations, including phone taps on reporters, Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy's burning of his hand with a candle and problems with Nixon's White House tapes.

Fielding and Woodward did not respond to telephone inquiries. In the past, said Gaines, Fielding has denied being Deep Throat.

Fielding, who was chief counsel to President Ronald Reagan, was provided with a detailed package listing the evidence that the journalism project had gathered naming him as Deep Throat. He has not responded, Gaines said.

Gaines said he is certain that Fielding was Deep Throat. A year ago, some of the students speculated on NBC's Dateline that former White House speechwriter Pat Buchanan was Deep Throat,based on preliminary evidence. Gaines said he had never come to that conclusion and has ruled out Buchanan.

Calling Fielding a hero, Gaines said the lawyer's apparent motive in leaking information would have been to protect Nixon from "incompetent" aides who had ill served him and because he feared the scandal's possible effects on the executive branch and "the future of democracy."

William Neikirk is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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