WASHINGTON – "FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: It was one of the few mysteries that survived in these tell-all times: Who was Deep Throat? Well, now we know that former FBI official W. Mark Felt (search) was the secret source of The Washington Post during Watergate (search). But the debate still rages about why he did it, and whether he is to be praised or condemned.
For two perspectives, we turn now to Richard Ben-Veniste, who was chief of the special prosecutor's Watergate task force, and G. Gordon Liddy, who served almost five years in prison for his role in the Watergate burglary.
Well, let me ask -- let me bring in Mr. Ben-Veniste, because it has been suggested, this is protected information, we're talking about FBI investigative files, grand jury testimony, that he could have gone to the grand jury himself, he could have gone to the Democratic Congress, he could have resigned and gone public. Why not?
WATERGATE PROSECUTOR RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Well, quite clearly, we're looking at the sheer audacity of a group of convicted felons and Watergate revisionists whining about the fact that Mark Felt went outside the system and hurt them; when, in fact, all they wanted was Mark Felt to agree to their trashing of the constitution and to shut up, salute and follow orders.
Now, that is astounding at this date.
Felt could have been more honorable by coming forward. He would have ended his career at the FBI, no question about it. I'm not proposing he get the freedom medal, but it was a good thing that he came forward with important information.
WALLACE: Let me ask you both a question, an intriguing idea that's come forward this week.
And, Mr. Liddy, I'll start with you. What if Felt and other FBI officials -- remember, the context we're talking about is just before the 1972 presidential election -- had gone into the Oval Office to see Richard Nixon, said, "We know what you did, come clean," could we have avoided the national nightmare of Watergate?
G. GORDON LIDDY: Well, because Richard Nixon had nothing to do with Watergate, what got Mr. Nixon in trouble was the cover-up. I don't think that would have avoided it.
And before we get too excited about Mr. Felt, let's remember that eight years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the break-in, Barry Sussman, who was the editor of The Washington Post at the time, and who was the editor of Woodward and Bernstein, said, "Look, Mark Felt did not contribute much of anything."
WALLACE: Do you agree with that from your reading? And that is an interesting question, Mr. Ben-Veniste. Because, you know, you were there as part of this process as a Watergate prosecutor. How do you fit Mark Felt in when you compare his role to Judge Sirica, who got one of the Watergate burglars to go to the grand jury by his tough sentence, to the Irvin committee and what they did? How does Mark Felt's role fit in to breaking the case?
BEN-VENISTE: I think he provided some encouragement by confirming to Bob Woodward (search) and more importantly perhaps to the editors at The Post that they were on the right track, because Watergate did not stop with Mr. Liddy and his henchmen. But it went further. It went to Mitchell, it went to the committee to re-elect the president.
And at that point, Felt was in a position where his boss, L. Patrick Gray, the director of the FBI, had already been corrupted by the president and his men. At their direction, the director of the FBI had destroyed the contents of Howard Hunt's safe. He also saluted when the head of the CIA and the deputy director of CIA proposed this preposterous idea of derailing the investigation, claiming that there were national security assets that had to be protected.
Well, where was Felt to go? Yes, he could have gone public. But more importantly, Mr. Nixon could have served out his term if Mr. Liddy had stuck to his hobby of cooking by candlelight instead of breaking into the Democratic National Committee (search) headquarters -- a fundamentally un-American and criminal activity. You don't in this country break in, rifle the papers, plant bugs in the opposition party's headquarters.
That's un-American and clearly illegal. But for this crazy scheme, Nixon clearly would have served out his term.
WALLACE: Mr. Liddy, let me try your patience a little bit more here, as well as Mr. Ben-Veniste.
Do you have all that much credibility, when it comes to ethics, when it comes to observing the law? Ben Bradlee, the editor of The Washington Post during Watergate, said, "You know, it wasn't all that long ago that Liddy was serving time for his role in the break-in."
LIDDY: Well, it's true. I was serving time for my role in the break-in, but the irony is that The Post, which should know by this time what Watergate was all about, still has not published and told the American people what it was all about. And all the facts are in the files of the United States district court in Baltimore, Maryland. This was an operation that was spying on a call-girl ring.
WALLACE: You know, I don't want to go too far down this line. You've in fact...
LIDDY: I know you don't want to.
WALLACE: Well, because you've been sued by a...
LIDDY: And I have won.
WALLACE: Well, you didn't win. It was...
LIDDY: Yes, I did win.
WALLACE: In any case, you know, it's sort of inside baseball, and we're never going to know...
LIDDY: No, no, no, no. Oh, we are going to know. No.
We do know. It's just that we refuse -- "we" being the, you know, mainstream media -- we refuse to tell the American people.
WALLACE: 30 seconds to Mr. Ben-Veniste.
BEN-VENISTE: Still another cover-up.
Look, this was a dangerous time. The Nixon administration decided to take into their own hands the idea of breaking into people's homes, their offices for political purposes. This was not only anathema to the FBI, but to Felt personally. Did he have other motives? Clearly so. I'm not giving him my award for the freedom medal...
WALLACE: Let me ask...
BEN-VENISTE: But look, what is confusing here -- and by this week's revisionists, who've been out there on all the media, is their idea of loyalty. FBI agents, prosecutors swear allegiance to uphold the Constitution. They don't swear allegiance to the person who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office. And that's the big difference. It's the difference between a democratic country and a banana republic.
WALLACE: But let me ask you, Mr. Ben-Veniste, because this question of Mark Felt's motives, and his outrage, has come up. Mark Felt was a top official in the J. Edgar Hoover FBI. He was later convicted for his role in black-bag jobs, where he had authorized the break-in into the apartments of various associates of the Weather Underground, the anti-Vietnam War radicals.
Do you think he was really outraged by what the Nixon White House was doing?
BEN-VENISTE: I think he was outraged by the groups like Mr. Liddy operating out of the basement of the White House, taking it upon themselves to break into the offices of psychiatrists, in order to discredit and humiliate individuals whom they hated. He was outraged, I think, by the misuse of the IRS and other federal agencies to further Mr. Nixon's personal vendetta against the so-called "enemies."
WALLACE: And we have less than a minute left, and I'm going to give it to Mr. Liddy. What do you think Mark Felt was outraged about? What do you think his motives were?
LIDDY: You know, neither Mr. Ben-Veniste nor I have the slightest idea of what was in the head of this now poor, addle-pated, 91-year-old guy. We don't know what he was doing or why he was doing it.
BEN-VENISTE: I think it's fair to say that there were probably a number of reasons. He was passed over to head the FBI. Clearly that must have been in his mind. Maybe he hoped he would eventually get the job.
But it is also a good thing that the information about the corruption of the head of the FBI, the head of the CIA, and Mr. Kleindienst, who was then attorney general, who Gordon Liddy came to see hours after the burglars were arrested, to try to get them out of jail on John Mitchell's instructions, the head of the committee to re- elect the president.
What did Kleindienst do with that information? He didn't tell anybody. What did Helms and Walters at CIA do with their information? They didn't tell anybody. And Patrick Gray, despite his saluting and being corrupted by these men, was left twisting slowly in the wind, as Mr. Ehrlichman put it during his...
LIDDY: What did the mainstream media do with the information, now that we have it, as to what it was all about? They won't tell anybody.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. The wars of Watergate rage on.
Mr. Ben-Veniste, Mr. Liddy, thank you both so much for joining us today.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Chris.