Two former New York Times journalists say the paper could have broken the story of Watergate if they hadn't let a hot tip fall through the cracks.

Former reporter Robert Smith tells the Times that the FBI's acting director hinted at White House involvement in the 1972 break-in over lunch two months after it happened.

Smith says he shared the information with Times editor Robert Phelps, but had to hand off the story because he was quitting to attend law school.

Smith says he decided to come forward after learning that Phelps planned to reveal what happened in a memoir that was published last month.

Phelps says he has "no idea" what happened. He says it's probably his fault that the Times didn't pursue the story and got beaten by the Washington Post.