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Watergate Scandal Has Had Lasting Impact

This week's revelation about the identity of the secret source known as Deep Throat has sparked renewed interest in the Watergate scandal, which toppled President Richard Nixon from power in 1974.

Confirmation of former FBI agent Mark Felt as Deep Throat solved one of the enduring mysteries of the Watergate era.

Deep Throat was the anonymous government source cited by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they methodically uncovered a scandal about White House involvement in the 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.

John O'Connor is a lawyer and Felt family friend who wrote the article in Vanity Fair magazine that revealed Mark Felt as Deep Throat.

"He trusted Bob Woodward and he knew that the only way that this investigation was to go on unhindered would be to shine the light of the free press on it," he said.

Reporters Bob Woodward, right, and Carl Bernstein sit in Washington Post newsroom in 1973
Reporters Woodward and Bernstein had kept the identity of their source secret for more than 30 years as part of an agreement to reveal his name only after he died.

Mark Felt's grandson, Nick Jones, said the family had convinced him in recent years that he should go public with his identity.

"Mark had expressed reservations in the past about revealing his identity and about whether his actions were appropriate for an FBI man," he said. "But as he recently told my mother, I guess people used to think Deep Throat was a criminal but now they think he is a hero."

Not everyone sees Mr. Felt as a hero. Some longtime loyalists to former President Richard Nixon have labeled him a traitor for helping the Washington Post uncover the Watergate scandal.

Charles Colson is one of several former Nixon aides who went to prison because of criminal acts committed during the Nixon administration.

"I can understand why someone would look at what was going on and say this must be stopped and I have admitted that I should have done that, but not this way. You do not sneak around in back alleys at night passing documents under potted plants," he said.

Watergate began with a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters in June of 1972. Some of the five burglars arrested had links to the Nixon White House. Eventually, Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein were able to document efforts by President Nixon and his aides to try and cover up White House involvement in the break-in and other political dirty tricks aimed at opposition Democrats.

Mr. Nixon became the first president to resign in August of 1974, but only after waging a two-year battle to remain in office.

"People have got to know whether their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got," he said.

Mr. Nixon was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford who immediately tried to heal the political wounds caused by the Watergate affair.

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule," he said.

The impact of the Watergate scandal was far-reaching. Mark Felt became an early example of what is now called a whistle-blower, someone who attempts to draw attention to improper government conduct. Modern day whistle blowers are now offered protection to tell what they know.

The Watergate burglars were financed by President Nixon's re-election campaign and that had a lot to do with Congress passing a sweeping overhaul of the campaign finance system in the wake of the scandal.

Watergate also seemed to cap a decade of growing public disillusionment with the government that began with the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy and rose to a fever pitch during the unpopular Vietnam War.

Historians say presidents and members of Congress have been working to repair that public trust ever since.