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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bob's Books - In Nixon's Web by L Patrick Gray III with Ed Gray

In Nixon’s Web, by the late L. Patrick Gray III, with Ed Gray (his son), is another memoir by a Watergate Era figure. I hesitate to call Gray (all uses of that name will refer to the elder) a “participant,” as he was never convicted of any wrongdoing. Of course, neither was Nixon..

Many of the major figures in Watergate have written memoirs, including G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, Jeb Magruder, Bob Haldeman, John Erlichman, Maurice Stans, Nixon himself, and quite a few others. And there are plenty of books by journalists, experts, hacks, et al. Gray has come off poorly in most accounts and set out to ‘set the record straight’ (the name of Judge John J. Sirica’s book on Watergate).

To summarize, Gray was a successful naval man, actually commanding a submarine. He went to work for Nixon, was on a successful path at the Department of Justice and was selected by the President as acting director of the FBI upon the death of J. Edgar Hoover in 1972. It did not turn out to be the career move that he hoped for.

Mark Felt (Deep Throat) played
an integral role in Gray's time
at the FBI
It’s no surprise to find that Gray was viewed as an outsider. Several inside the Bureau hoped to take over: especially Mark Felt. Gray relied heavily upon Felt and refused to believe White House accusations that the career FBI man was actually ‘Deep Throat,’ Woodward and Bernstein’s secret informant. In fact, Felt’s revelation that he was Deep Throat came only a few weeks before Gray’s death from pancreatic cancer. The book offers “proof” that Felt could not have been the source, which is worth looking at, but not conclusive.

I believe that Felt quite likely was providing information to Woodward, and that information that the reporter received from other sources was included under the Deep Throat moniker, in addition to Felt’s stuff. Which would address Gray’s objection.

Presidential Counsel John Dean gave two files to Gray, in front of John Erlichman in the latter’s office. The files were from E. Watergate burglar’s E. Howard Hunt’s White House office safe and Dean told Gray that they contained national security information, had nothing to do with Watergate and should “never see the light of day.” Gray kept them for several months and then burned them. He felt that he had been ordered to do so with the President’s tacit approval, via Erlichman’s presence.

Gray also provided FBI files on the Watergate investigation to Dean, which he felt obligated to do since the FBI was an executive office. Dean was “the desk manager” for the cover up. Uh oh.

Unlike many of the memoirs I’ve read, Gray comes across as a man of integrity. Like other Watergate figures, he was used and tossed aside by Nixon. He was under extreme fire during his Senate Confirmation hearings to become permanent FBI director. While being told to his face that the White House supported him, behind the scenes they were stabbing him in the back. Erlichman was speaking of Gray when he said, “Well, I think we ought to let him hang there. Let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind. “ In typical Nixon fashion, one of his people would be sacrificed for the White House’s own purposes.

Gray was an outsider at the FBI, dealing with the after-effects of Hoover’s reign of intimidation. And he was an outsider among Nixon’s Palace Guard, sacrificed for self-preservation. Both the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and the Department of Justice investigated Gray, but all charges were dropped and he was exonerated of any wrongdoing. But Gray’s legacy is tarnished by the accusations of John Dean and Woodward and Bernstein. He did destroy the Hunt files, which certainly appears naïve, if not an obstruction of justice. But I would believe Gray’s account of events before that of just about any other Watergate figure.