WASHINGTON – In a phone call between President Nixon and the man who would become "Deep Throat (search)," the president instructed FBI official Mark Felt (search) to aggressively pursue the case against the gunman who shot George Wallace.
There must be no public suspicion of a cover-up, Nixon said, in the wounding of the Alabama governor who was then running for president.
The May 15, 1972, phone call is believed to be the only tape-recorded conversation between Nixon and Felt, the No. 2 FBI official. Nixon expressed satisfaction when Felt told him the suspect had some cuts and bruises.
"I hope they worked him over a little bit more than that," Nixon said.
"I think they did pretty well," Felt responded with a chuckle.
The Watergate (search) break-in occurred a month after the Nixon-Felt conversation was captured on a White House taping system that eventually helped lead to the president's downfall. As "Deep Throat," Felt was instrumental in forcing Nixon from office, leaking damaging information about the president and his aides to The Washington Post.
Many of the Nixon White House tape recordings housed at the National Archives have been in the public domain for several years and are now available on the Internet. The conversation with Felt was made available Thursday by the National Security Archive, an organization of journalists and scholars who collect government documentation through the Freedom of Information Act.
Wallace was a Democratic presidential candidate in 1972. He was shot and left paralyzed by gunman Arthur Bremer (search) during a Maryland campaign stop.
Nixon talked to Felt hours after the shooting, saying "the main thing is to be sure that we don't go through the thing that we went through with the Kennedy assassination where we didn't really follow up adequately."
"We'll take care of that," Felt assured the president.
"You've got to remember that if we don't follow it adequately with this fellow, they're gonna think, `Well, my God if Kennedy is shot everybody goes to check everything, but with Wallace we sort of cover it up.' You understand?"
"Yeah I sure do," Felt replied.
"I don't want any slipups, OK?" Nixon said.
"There's no question about it," Felt replied.
A few weeks before the Wallace shooting, Felt and other career agents at the bureau had been passed over by Nixon for director of the FBI. Nixon instead selected longtime loyalist L. Patrick Gray (search) the day after the death of J. Edgar Hoover.
The following year, after Gray resigned amid allegations he had destroyed documents in the Watergate scandal, Nixon was heard on the White House tapes dismissing the idea of Felt becoming FBI director.
"No. I tell you, I don't want him. I can't have him," Nixon told Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. "I want a fellow in there that is not part of the old guard, and that has not had part of that infighting in there."
Nixon chose William Ruckelshaus, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.