Larry King had Bill Clinton on as his guest for last night’s show, and the talk-show host asked Bill Clinton about his assessment of Mark Felt in his role as Deep Throat. Clinton delivered a jaw-dropping response that dripped with irony:
KING: … What do you make of the Mark Felt story? Is he an American hero?
CLINTON: I think he did a good thing. And I think it’s — it was an unusual circumstance. I think Felt believed that there was the chance that this whole thing would be covered up. Ordinarily, I think a law enforcement official shouldn’t be leaking to the press because you should let criminal action take its course.
When he did that, he obviously believed there was a chance that the thing would be covered up. And there was some evidence — we now know that there was also a problem with trying to use the FBI, and the IRS, and other agencies of the federal government for political purposes back then. So there’s some reason to believe he was right.
I don’t think that — he always felt ambivalent about it, apparently. And I think that’s good. Because, on balance, you don’t want law enforcement officials leaking to the press, even the truth, much less some vendetta or something that’s not true. But under these circumstances, I think he did the right thing.
What we know is that Felt took part in those efforts in Hoover’s FBI to use the bureau for political purposes. Felt at one point immediately after Hoover’s death had possession of Hoover’s Official/Confidential files, the supersensitive political dossiers that Hoover used to retain power for almost 50 years. Felt eventually got convicted of illegal break-ins of the same sort as Watergate, receiving a pardon from Ronald Reagan. Pretending that Felt, one of Hoover’s most trusted aides, somehow stood apart from the corruption at the Bureau flies in the face of both history and common sense.
If Felt wanted to act heroically, he could just as easily have retired or quit from the FBI and gone public with the information. Alternately, as the #2 executive of the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency, he could have started his own investigation of Watergate publicly and openly. Instead, he chose to hide in the shadows and dole out only that information that targeted his enemies in the White House who had passed him over (and other Bureau stalwarts) for the top job in order to give it to an outsider. That doesn’t make Felt a traitor, but it certainly doesn’t make him much of a hero. As I wrote yesterday, it provides a microcosm of the corruption in Washington in both the White House and the FBI in which Felt was very much a participant.
But the irony comes from Clinton’s track record with inside sources revealing wrongdoing. Linda Tripp blew the whistle on his tawdry affair with Monica Lewinsky not because she objected to the sex, but because the White House tried to pay off Lewinsky with a job at Revlon the same way they did with Web Hubbell, who mysteriously stopped cooperating with investigators after getting a few hundred thousand dollars in consulting work at Revlon through Clinton crony Vernon Jordan. She had attempted to get law enforcement involved earlier and had been labeled a crank by the White House staff. She saw how Clinton’s staff stalled an ongoing criminal investigation and tried to stop it.
Taping personal conversations between herself and Lewinsky doesn’t make Tripp a hero either. However, she at least came forward publicly and didn’t hide behind a “Deep Throat” persona (which may have been a more appropriate code name for the Lewinsky scandal anyway). Does Clinton now believe that Linda Tripp “did the right thing”? Good Lord.
Nor was that the last of the silliness from Bill Clinton on Mark Felt:
KING: You think it’s good that it came out now?
CLINTON: Yes, sure, while he’s alive. I just think — you know, apparently his family encouraged him to do it. I’m just reading between the lines, but he looked pretty sprightly and pretty spiffy there, you know, at 91.
The sprightly and spiffy Felt has suffered from dementia for years after a stroke and often doesn’t know what year it is. Todd Foster, who had the scoop in 2002, described Felt’s regression in a nursing home where he would knock on doors in the middle of the night, believing that he was still in the FBI doing investigations. Three years ago, he was unable to commit to an admission of being DT because his mind kept playing tricks on him, and he continually made contradictory statements. Felt is alive and ambulatory, but he’s hardly sprightly or spiffy.
Sometimes one has to wonder what color the sky is in Bill Clinton’s world.