The revelation of Deep Throat's identity and the resurrected interest in Watergate brought back a flood of memories for former Democratic Sen. George McGovern, the 1972 political opponent of all the president's men.
McGovern, who now lives part time on Marco Island, told the Daily News on Thursday that the Watergate story is resounding with the public now because the country is in a time of shaken confidence.
"It was a real trauma for the American people to discover this skullduggery was going on all the way up to the president," McGovern said of Watergate. "They're looking to see if there's some clue of this skullduggery going on today."
He added: "I sometimes wish we had a Deep Throat in the administration today" because such a person might reveal why the nation went to war in Iraq.
"I think there's a lot of concern about what's going on in the White House today centering on the war in Iraq," said McGovern, a decorated World War II bomber pilot who's been outspoken against the war in Iraq, like he was Vietnam before it.
The White House had no response, said a press office spokesman who refused to give his name.
McGovern, who lost to Republican Richard Nixon in a landslide, said he was surprised that W. Mark Felt, then the No. 2 man at the FBI, was Deep Throat.
McGovern said he always believed the source who guided Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in their Watergate coverage was someone on the White House staff.
The revelation of Deep Throat's identity after 33 years "ends one of the longest running public mysteries of history," McGovern said.
McGovern said Felt's disclosures were a service to the country.
Watergate convicted felons who have chastised Felt in recent press interviews because Felt didn't follow proper procedures are hypocrites, McGovern said.
"If there's ever a case of the pot calling the kettle black, that's it," McGovern said.
McGovern didn't point by name to his almost-neighbor, Charles W. Colson, of Naples.
But Colson, Nixon's special counsel who served seven months in prison on a Watergate-related obstruction of justice charge, was one of those critical of Felt in recent interviews with the media. In a statement released Wednesday, Colson said he was disappointed that Felt chose to go to the media as a way to expose corruption.
"No matter how Felt may justify his actions, it is not honorable to leak classified information to the press. Governments cannot function if the chief executive cannot trust people who hold sensitive positions, and there are few positions more sensitive than the deputy director of the FBI," said Colson, an evangelical Christian who has since devoted his life's work to inmates through his Prison Fellowship organization.
McGovern said he wasn't surprised Watergate figures would criticize Felt for going to the media.
"When you have a bunch of crooks cooking up conspiracies against the government, they want everyone to keep the secret," McGovern said.
The gush of recent attention to the Watergate scandal presents a dramatic difference to the times McGovern remembers in the run-up to the 1972 election. McGovern received the Democratic presidential nomination a month after five burglars broke into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office.
He said at the time he couldn't get the Congress or many news outlets to take an interest in Watergate.
"It seemed like only these two cub reporters from The Washington Post were interested," McGovern said.
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