Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Twist Slowly, Slowly in the Wind

L. Patrick Gray, III, acting director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (1972-3), was born on this day in 1916 in St. Louis, Missouri.

A Navy submarine captain and lawyer, Pat Gray served briefly as military assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before working on Richard Nixon's 1960 presidential campaign. In 1970, Nixon pulled Gray away from his quiet Connecticut law practice and appointed him assistant U.S. attorney general. After the death of the seemingly indestructible FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, Nixon seized the opportunity to try and re-make the FBI as an instrument of the White House by installing his loyal friend Pat Gray as acting director pending confirmation by the Senate.

Faced with the resentment of Hoover loyalists such as Associate Director Mark Felt, Gray nonetheless relied heavily upon the old guard to help him chart his course, even during the FBI's investigation of the Watergate break-in in 1972 that would ultimately be linked to the White House. When leaks about the investigation began showing up in the Washington Post, Nixon asked Gray to fire Mark Felt or at least submit him to a lie-detector test, but Gray refused to do so, failing to believe that Felt would be capable of destroying the FBI's credibility.

At Gray's Senate confirmation hearings, which were the first opportunity the Senate had to question an administration official about Watergate, Gray was candid; he revealed that he had disclosed information about the Watergate investigation to White House counsel John Dean after consulting with the FBI's general counsel, and that in turn Dean had provided him with files from Howard Hunt's White House safe (mainly relating to Hunt's covert investigations on the activities of the Kennedy family) that, in Dean's words, "should never see the light of day," with the request that Gray take charge of destroying them. The White House had denied for months that it had been attempting to interfere with the investigation, but Gray's revelations called the denials into question, escalating the Senate's interest in Watergate; the White House was so angry about Gray's admissions that John Ehrlichman famously remarked, in a taped conversation with Nixon that would be revealed later, that Gray ought to be left to "twist slowly, slowly in the wind." Shortly thereafter, Gray withdrew his name from consideration for the FBI directorate and resigned from the FBI, returning to private practice and maintaining his silence about Nixon and Watergate for more than 30 years.

In 1980, Gray was indicted for having approved illegal break-ins while serving in the Nixon administration, but the charges were dropped and he was given a full pardon by President Reagan (only after Gray had to sell his house to pay for his legal bills); it was brief moment of renewed notoriety for a man who wanted to be left alone.

When Mark Felt revealed that he was "Deep Throat," the source of FBI leaks in the Washington Post's coverage of Watergate, in a 2005 Vanity Fair article, however, Gray decided he could not remain silent any longer. Appearing in an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired only 12 days before his death, Gray -- terminally ill with pancreatic cancer -- said he felt betrayed by Mark Felt ("I could not be more shocked and disappointed in a man whom I trusted," he said), and that he had no reason at the time to feel that the White House was trying to sandbag him. All told, he said, "the gravest mistake of my 88 years" was getting involved with Nixon at all, and that for years afterward Gray refused all contact with him. Gray said: "If you could have known what was in my heart and mind then, you would have thought I was a vigilante. 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."

Gray died on July 6, 2005 in Miami, Florida.

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