L. Patrick Gray, FBI chief during Watergate, dies

He served for one year before Nixon White House asked him to step down

July 07, 2005|By Richard A. Serrano | Richard A. Serrano,LOS ANGELES TIMES

L. Patrick Gray III, acting director of the FBI during the Watergate crisis who surfaced publicly last month for the first time in three decades to decry the revelation that his top assistant was the Deep Throat character who leaked information about the scandal, died yesterday.

Mr. Gray, 88, died shortly after midnight at his home in Atlantic Beach, Fla., of complications from pancreatic cancer.

A former Navy submariner and lawyer who later met then-Rep. Richard M. Nixon and eventually found himself at the helm of the federal law enforcement agency, Mr. Gray was denounced by critics who believed he tried to deep-six the Watergate scandal by keeping the Nixon White House apprised of the FBI's investigation into the matter.

Mr. Gray, who served as acting FBI director for just one year until he was forced to step down in April 1973, maintained that he refused to cooperate with the White House. He also said that had W. Mark Felt, his top deputy at the FBI, not become The Washington Post's Deep Throat source, the FBI investigation into Watergate would have resulted in President Nixon's impeachment.

Instead, the president resigned under political pressure from Capitol Hill brought to bear in part by the stories fueled by Deep Throat's revelations to The Post.

"The FBI investigation itself was heading down that track and ... proceeding at max speed and I think, yes, he would have been impeached," Gray said recently on the ABC Sunday program, This Week. The June 26 interview was his first in 32 years.

Mr. Gray also said he rued the fact that he ever became involved with Rep. Nixon of California after meeting him at a cocktail party in 1947.

"I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years in making that decision [to work for President Nixon]," Gray said. " ... I was so hurt and so angry that this man had not only junked his own presidency but junked the career of so many other people, many of whom had to go to jail."

Mr. Gray was never indicted in the Watergate scandal, although a dozen of President Nixon's top lieutenants were charged, jailed or forced out. Yet because he was a longtime associate of the president, allegations of cronyism and obstruction continued to dog him after he left public service.

His son, Edward Emmet Gray of Lyme, N.H., said yesterday that his father never fretted over how history would record his conduct during Watergate. But, he said, he grew increasingly bitter about President Nixon.

"He really, really hated him," the son said. "He hated what he did to the presidency. My father was one of the true great patriots, and he was just beside himself with what Nixon did."

Over the years, Edward Gray added, his father occasionally would receive a book or a note, once even a phone call, from President Nixon, but he would never respond. "Tell [him] that ... I will not talk to him," Edward Gray recalled his father saying when President Nixon phoned him at the family home in Connecticut.

Louis Patrick Gray III was born in St. Louis. He was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy but his family could not afford to get him to Annapolis, so he hitchhiked and worked on a freighter.

At the academy, he played lacrosse, boxed and was a halfback on the football team. He graduated in 1940 and spent World War II as a Navy submariner in the Pacific.

He later got a degree from George Washington University Law School, and in 1960 became an aide in then-Vice President Nixon's unsuccessful campaign for the White House.

Eight years later, when Mr. Nixon did win the presidency, Mr. Gray was appointed an executive assistant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1970 he was confirmed as an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department.

When longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, Gray was named by Nixon to replace him as acting director.

For years after Watergate, many people speculated in Washington that Mr. Gray was Post reporter Bob Woodward's secret source on the Watergate story - until Memorial Day weekend when Mr. Felt admitted that it was he who was Deep Throat.

"This was a tremendous surprise to me," Mr. Gray said on This Week. He added, "I could not have been more shocked and more disappointed in a man whom I had trusted."

Survivors include his wife, Beatrice Kirk Gray, and three other sons, Alan Kirk Gray of City Island, N.Y., Patrick Erwin Gray, of Alpharetta, Ga., and Stephen Douglas Gray of Grantham, N.H.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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