The son of the acting director of the FBI during the Watergate scandal said claims being made about his father are "categorically false" and that L. Patrick Gray does not belong on the long list of Watergate criminals and miscreants from the Nixon White House.
Ed Gray said he would be contacting high-profile figures from the Watergate era whom he felt had defamed his father. The comments were made during television interviews following the May 31 revelation by his father's former assistant, W. Mark Felt, that he was "Deep Throat," the anonymous source for The Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal.
Gray specifically singled out a few offending quotes, including one from reporter Carl Bernstein, who said on CNN that Felt "was disappointed that the FBI that he loved and revered was being misused as part of a criminal conspiracy by J. Edgar Hoover's successor, Patrick Gray III."
Another was by Terry Lenzner, former chief investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, who told ABC News' "Nightline" that Felt's "motive was that he thought that Gray was cooperating with the cover-up. And Gray, himself, took investigative files out of the bureau, involving the Watergate investigation, and threw them in the Potomac River."
Former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, who was also singled out by Ed Gray for telling ABC News' "Nightline" that Patrick Gray threw documents into the Potomac, was eager to correct the record. "I made a mistake about him throwing things into the river," Bradlee said. "He did burn two envelopes, I'm told, but he did not throw documents into the river, though God knows I've heard the story over the years."
Bernstein could not be reached for comment but Lenzner insisted that, in the course of his interview of Gray for the committee, "he told me that he had taken files of the Watergate investigation and had driven them out to a bridge and had thrown them in a river."
Lenzner said he recalls the interview vividly since, as supporting evidence, Gray "showed me a little book in which he kept a record of everywhere he drove in his government car, including the time and the mileage. He was keeping that as a record so the government would reimburse him for the travel or the gas." Lenzner said he contacted Mark Lackritz, his former deputy on the Senate Watergate Committee, who shared his recollection. Lackritz could not be reached for comment.
But Gray's attorney during Watergate, Stephen H. Sachs, vehemently disputed Lenzner's recollection. "It didn't happen; it's inconceivable," said Sachs, "and I was with him at every single interview he had." Sachs said for decades he has heard his former client described as having dumped Watergate evidence in the Potomac, but it's simply not true. "If he had destroyed Watergate evidence, he would have been indicted along with everyone else," Sachs said.
Lenzner told ABC News he would look for back-up materials.
"If he has notes that say that, they were doodles," Sachs said, "because it never happened."
ABC News was not able to find any references to Gray throwing documents into a river in the committee's final report or anywhere else as Lenzner, Bradlee and Bernstein claimed. Ed Gray acknowledged that his father destroyed "Watergate-related evidence" -- since "anything in Howard Hunt's safe" at the White House would fit that definition -- but insists his father did not destroy investigative files from the FBI or anywhere else, as Lenzner claimed. And as Patrick Gray has acknowledged publicly, his method of destroying potential evidence was burning, not drowning.
Gray's son argued that the files his father destroyed were not legally relevant to any of the Watergate crimes and notes that his father was never indicted or convicted of any criminal wrongdoing in the Watergate investigation.
There seems an easy explanation for any possible confusion as to whether Gray dropped evidence into the Potomac River. On June 28, 1972, Nixon's assistant for domestic affairs, John Ehrlichman, told White House counsel John W. Dean III, to "deep six" certain politically damaging files from the White House, according to Dean. These specifically belonged to former CIA operative E. Howard Hunt, who was using the White House as a base to investigate Nixon's enemies.
In "All the President's Men," the book written by Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the reporter who actually met with Deep Throat, Ehrlichman says to Dean, "you go across the river every day, John, why don't you drop the goddamn f---ing things in the river?"
That same day, Ehrlichman and Dean gave two files to Gray. As Gray recalled during his ill-fated April 1973 Senate confirmation hearings to become permanent FBI director, Dean told him the files were "political dynamite" and "not to see the light of day." Told they were unrelated to Watergate, Gray burned two envelopes in the fireplace of his Connecticut home.
"He was operating on the presumption of regularity," Ed Gray says about his father, who has since maintained his silence about Watergate other than testimony. "That was the only way government can function." Ehrlichman and Dean "used his willingness to preserve regularity and got him to destroy" the documents, he says. "He freely admits he was set up."
Ed Gray says his father never opened the envelopes before burning them. But Sachs remembers his client confiding to him that "he peeked ... and they were these bull---- cables and a dossier on Teddy Kennedy. It corroborated for me that whatever it was he destroyed, it was not Watergate-burglary related." Dean testified the envelopes contained copies of a fake State Department cable Hunt made implicating President Kennedy in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and a dossier with bogus information about Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
"We don't want to be litigious," Ed Gray said of any misstatements about his father. "We're not argumentative; we just want to get it right. We think the world needs to have a bigger picture about what happens to a wholly honorable person like my father."
Gray said that "the bottom line -- that we want everybody to know -- is, had my father tampered with or destroyed any evidence he certainly would have been indicted. If there even were grounds for suspicion that he tampered with or destroyed any evidence, he would have been indicted." But he wasn't.
Gray was indicted in 1978 for authorizing illegal break-ins related to the investigation of the Weather Underground -- as was Felt -- but the charges against Gray were dropped. Felt was convicted and later pardoned by President Reagan.
Hunt was convicted of conspiracy, wiretapping and burglary and served 33 months in prison. Dean, charged with obstruction of justice, spent four months in prison. Ehrlichman was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and perjury in the Watergate case as well as conspiracy in the plot to steal files from the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. He served 18 months in prison.
Gray says he recalls "on the original dust jacket for 'All the President's Men,' there are 14 faces" of Nixon aides, and "every single one of them was convicted or pleaded guilty in one shape or another -- except for my father."
Before the Senate Watergate hearings in August 1973, Gray -- a Navy veteran who served in two wars -- testified that "in the service of my country I withstood hours and hours of depth-charging, shelling, bombing, but I never expected to run into a Watergate in the service of a president of the United States. And I ran into a buzz saw, obviously."
Gray says his father "detests all of those people, all of the people who were criminally involved. It altered his world view in a way from which he's never recovered."
Not that Patrick Gray is any fan of Felt, whose recent unmasking "is terribly distressing to my father," Ed Gray said. This is not just because Felt was a source for the Post, but that "he was having clandestine meetings ... [and] passing information to Woodward long before the Watergate break-in occurred," as Woodward recently noted. "So he was violating his oath and trust long before" Watergate began.
"There was nothing right about what Mark Felt did," Ed Gray said. "His options were real simple. Everything he felt needed to be pursued he needed to come to my father and tell him."
But what of the fact that his father had destroyed evidence on behalf of the White House? Couldn't that have shaken Felt's ability to trust his boss? "Nobody knew that until April of 1973," Ed Gray said.