Mark Felt: The Man
Who Brought Down the White House (7/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 103 Minutes
This is a completely
different view of the Watergate investigation than what you get from
both the book and the movie “All the President’s Men,” about the
Washington Post Woodward & Bernstein Watergate coverage. To start, there
is very little Woodward and no Bernstein.
Rather, it tells the
personal story of Mark Felt (Liam Neeson), who was #2 in the FBI, and
the heir apparent when J. Edgar Hoover died about a month before the
Watergate break-in, and his tortured relationship with what was going on
in the Nixon White House. It also presents a shattering picture of his
relationship with his troubled wife Audrey (Diane Lane).
Landesman has chosen to shoot it extremely darkly. In fact he might as
well have saved the money and shot it in black-and-white, so dark are
most of the images. Landsman stated that he “used color that was moody
but never artificial.” He says he “shot almost everything through blue
filters to cool everything off. Cool but never cold. Colors play the
emotions.” I think this was a bad decision because the cinematography
detracts from the story Landsman is trying to tell.
Another problem I had
with the movie relates to keeping straight who the many characters that
appear are. The only two characters other than the main ones that I
could get straight were L. Patrick Gray (Martin Csokas), a Nixon
apparatchik who replaced J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI upon
Hoover’s death, and John Dean (Michael C Hall). The others, and the
relationship they had to the issues, were constantly unclear and
I have no idea of the
truth and accuracy of this film. I always hesitate to believe what I see
on screen created by Hollywood because they take such great licenses
with the truth.
My main problem with
Deep Throat is the legality and ethics of Felt’s actions, so I asked an
old friend, Robert Bonner, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Central
District of California (which includes Los Angeles) and served two
positions in Bush Administrations, Head of Customs and Head of DEA.
Here’s what he said,
is no question that Felt disclosed ‘law enforcement sensitive’
information that he was not authorized to disclose, and had it been
known to the FBI would have subjected him to discipline, including
potential termination. In other words, every FBI Agent knows that it
violates FBI policy to disclose to persons not authorized to have it
‘law enforcement sensitive’ (LES) documents and information derived from
same. This would include all reports of FBI interviews of persons in
connection with an ongoing FBI investigation, e.g., the Watergate
other hand, LES documents and information are typically not classified.
Therefore, the criminal penalties that would attach to the disclosure of
classified information would not apply. Compare the Ellsberg case which
did involve classified documents.
FBI Agent was paid to provide LES information that could and should be
prosecuted as bribery, or accepting of a bribe in exchange for providing
LES information. Several federal agents have been prosecuted for
providing LES to, e.g., one of the Mexican drug cartels.
guess is that Mark Felt did not commit a crime when he disclosed LES
information, because he did not take money in exchange for it and it was
not classified information. But I would need a few more facts to be
sure. He clearly violated FBI policy that forbids an Agent from
disclosing LES information.”
So the morality and
legality of what Felt did is still as opaque as it ever was.
The film is certainly
not as compelling or entertaining a film as All the Presidents Men
(1976), but it is an arguably believable take on a man who
prided himself on his integrity and that of the FBI, yet whose lasting
legacy is mixed. Some see him as a traitor who clandestinely revealed
closely held information to the media, and who was clearly a liar,
because he constantly lied about his identity as Deep Throat.
Woodward, before a Watergate related Grand Jury Felt was asked by Stanley Pottinger, the Assistant Attorney
General heading the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Dept., whether
the Nixon White House had pressed the FBI to conduct "black-bag jobs" --
covert break-ins to gain intelligence data in domestic security cases.
While denying there was any pressure, Felt made an off-hand remark,
Woodward wrote, that "he was such a frequent visitor of the White House
during that time period that some people thought he was Deep Throat."
After Pottinger and
his Justice Department colleagues completed their interrogation, the
jurors were asked if they had any questions for Felt. According to
Woodward, one juror asked a simple question, "Were you?"
"Was I what?" Felt
"Were you Deep
Felt said no but was visibly shaken,
Woodward wrote. Recognizing the delicacy of the situation, Pottinger
told the court stenographer to stop taking notes. He approached Felt and
quietly reminded him that he was under oath and needed to answer the
Then he gave Felt an out. He told him
that he considered the question outside the purview of the investigation
and would have the question withdrawn if Felt asked him to do so. Felt
quickly made the request, but in doing so he gave Pottinger the answer
to the question.
Pottinger relayed the story to Woodward
at a luncheon in 1976 but, apparently believing in the right of
reporters to have confidential sources, kept the tale of the grand jury
So if it was an
honorable thing to do, and he did it, why did he lie about it and keep
it hidden for 30 years? On the other hand, the film paints him as a
paragon of virtue, and if that’s true, so be it.
What Landesman has
done very well that is indisputable is the casting of the two main
characters. While Diane Lane is one of the most beautiful actresses in
the history of Hollywood, the person she was playing, Audrey, was her
equal in beauty. Neeson is almost a dead ringer for Mark Felt.