Former FBI director L. Patrick Gray felt betrayed, "shocked" and a sense of "deep inner hurt" when he learned last month that his former second in command, W. Mark Felt, was "Deep Throat" -- the famous source who leaked information to The Washington Post on the Watergate investigation.
"He was really a formidable character, and, as it turned out, a formidable foe, as far as I was concerned," Gray told ABC News' "This Week's" George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview broadcast today. The interview was Gray's first public comment in 32 years.
Gray, 88, said he never believed Felt was Deep Throat because he had asked him about it, point blank.
"He told me time and again he was not Deep Throat," Gray said.
Gray claimed he even refused a Nixon administration suggestion that he give Felt a lie-detector test -- and later put Felt in charge of an investigation into possible FBI leaks on Watergate.
"He was under suspicion by everyone but his immediate boss, because I was working with the man on a daily basis, and he presented to me a picture of an honorable individual doing his job," Gray said. "I was not going to subject him to the degradation of a lie-detector test."
In the same interview, Gray said he burned papers purportedly from the safe of E. Howard Hunt, the former CIA spy whose "plumbers" bugged the Democratic Party's Watergate headquarters in 1972, because he had been told by an adviser to President Nixon that they had nothing to do with Watergate and "must not see the light of day."
Gray said he was operating on trust, and, "I didn't have for a moment any feeling that they were setting me up."
Felt, now 91 and ailing, finally revealed his identity as Deep Throat late last month to Vanity Fair magazine. The news prompted Gray to break his 32 years of silence.
"As you can tell, I'm very ill, and Mark Felt, who was my trusted number-two man, has come out identifying himself as Deep Throat," Gray said. "This was a tremendous surprise to me. I could not have been more shocked and more disappointed in a man whom I had trusted. And I felt totally at a loss as to understand why he did not come to me and tell me what his problems were."
But though he feels hurt, Gray said he does not share the opinion of some former Nixon associates who have branded Felt a traitor.
"I think he was treacherous only to me, the man who trusted him," Gray said. "That's all. That's a deep inner hurt."
When J. Edgar Hoover died in May 1972, Nixon passed over Felt and made Gray the FBI director. Gray had served as a naval officer in World War II and Korea, an assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and an assistant attorney general.
Felt joined the FBI in 1942 and worked his way up to become the bureau's acting associate director when Nixon was in the White House. He became the FBI's No. 2 man in the 1970s.
In their book "All the President's Men," reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein described their secret source, Deep Throat, as a man "aware of his own weaknesses." They added that "he readily conceded his flaws. … He could be rowdy, drink too much, overreach. He was not good at concealing his feelings, hardly ideal for a man in his position."
As Watergate unfolded, Nixon and his men pressured Gray to delay the investigation, destroy documents and deliver raw FBI files to the White House. It cost Gray his job.