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."
'Tremendous Surprise to Me'
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."
'I Ran Into a Buzzsaw'
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.
"In the service of my country, I withstood hours and hours of depth-charging, shelling, bombing," Gray said. "But I never expected to run into a Watergate in the service of a president of the United States -- and I ran into a buzzsaw, obviously."
All the while, Felt was leaking information gathered by Gray's FBI to Woodward and Bernstein.
Gray still wonders how Felt grew to distrust him, though he suspects it stemmed from knowledge of an attempt by Nixon aides to get Gray to delay an FBI investigation.
The plot was captured on the now-infamous "smoking gun" tape, on which White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, with Nixon expressing agreement, planned to block Gray's FBI investigation by calling in the CIA.
"The way to handle this now," Haldeman said on the tape, "is for us to have Walters call Pat Gray and just say, 'Stay the hell out of this. This is, uh, business here, and we don't want you to go any further on it.' That's not an unusual development. … And that would take care of it."
Gray said the order came directly from White House adviser John Ehrlichman, "and it was blunt, too."
"He said, 'I want you to stop the exercise on that money trail until we can sort out the facts, and the CIA will be in touch with you,' " Gray said. "And the CIA was indeed in touch with me."
Nevertheless, with Felt's urging, "We continued on, and we penetrated it," Gray said, adding, "I didn't need Mark Felt to tell me that I had to press on. I knew what was at stake here."
Howard Hunt's Safe
Gray also was starting to get phone calls from the White House. After a call on June 28, 1972, Gray ended up meeting with Ehrlichman and White House counsel John Dean about the contents of Hunt's safe.
"I was presented an envelope; I think it was about 8½ by 11," Gray said. "Dean told me that this envelope contained papers that were removed from Howard Hunt's safe, they had nothing to do with the Watergate investigation, but they must not see the light of day."
Gray said he didn't look at the papers at the time, instead putting them in a locked, "heavily secured" FBI storage unit.
"I was not really interested in what was involved there," Gray said. "They told me it didn't involve Watergate."
Though he believed Hunt was involved in the Watergate break-in, he took Nixon's advisers at their word because, "I'm operating there on this presumption of regularity that these guys are not trying to sandbag me, and I didn't have for a moment any feeling that they were setting me up."
Several months later, Gray said he finally looked at the papers as he burned them in a Connecticut fireplace.
"The first set of papers in there were false top-secret cables indicating that the Kennedy administration had much to do with the assassination of the Vietnamese president," Gray said. "The second set of papers in there were letters purportedly written by Senator Kennedy involving some of his peccadilloes, if you will."
Gray said the stack of papers he destroyed was a thin one.
"All of the world thinks that I had buckets of files destroyed," he said. "I didn't."
Dean, Nixon Dealings
Gray once again acknowledged that he also turned over to Dean raw FBI files. But, he said, he did so only after the FBI's general counsel told him, " 'As a routine matter, we do not do this -- but when you receive a direct request from the president, you do,' and that's why I did."
Gray disclosed in Congressional testimony that he had turned over files to Dean, he said, because he feared he could be accused of not testifying truthfully if he had not done so. He believes his testimony got Dean to cooperate with prosecutors.
"I was up there … bent on telling the truth exactly as I saw it and letting the chips fall where they may," Gray said. "I knew what was going to happen -- that Dean was going to get very, very nervous. And I think it was Dean who brought down Richard Milhaus Nixon, not W. Mark Felt."
Gray believes Nixon eventually would have been implicated, anyway.
"I think that the FBI investigation itself was heading down that track, and they were proceeding at mach speed," Gray said. "And I think, yes, he would have been impeached as soon as that information started coming out, as it would have come out. And then as the grand jury made their various reports, I think it would have come out. And I think he would have been impeached."
Gray said "the gravest mistake of my 88 years" was getting involved with Nixon, and that he "refused all contact" with the former president after Watergate, though Nixon "sent me book after book after book" with personalized inscriptions.
"If you could have known what was in my heart and mind then, you would have thought I was a vigilante," Gray said. "I was so hurt and so angry at this man, who had not only junked his own presidency, but junked the career of so many other people, many of whom had to go to jail."