Tuesday, October 13, 2009

About One FBI Official, Ruckelshaus Felt Different

In a fascinating Oct. 3 speech about Watergate's Saturday Night Massacre in October 1973, when he resigned his Justice Department post after refusing to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, William Ruckelshaus also describes his brief tenure as FBI acting director. He said he came away with renewed respect for the dedicated professionals of that agency -- all but ambitious W. Mark Felt, who wanted Mr. Nixon to give him the director job and later became famous as one of Woodward and Bernstein's sources of confidential government data:

I can hardly forget my first morning as FBI Director, on the Monday following my meeting with the President. On my desk upon arrival was a letter to the President from the Deputy FBI Director and the Associate Directors protesting my appointment. The Deputy Director assured me nothing personal was intended, they just felt it was inappropriate to have a bird watcher as Hoover’s successor. The Deputy Director, Mark Felt, of ‘deep throat’ fame, who was actively lobbying for the job as Director subsequently resigned when confronted by me for leaking classified information to the N. Y. Times – an unforgivable sin for an FBI agent.

"Bird watcher" is an allusion to Ruckelshaus's prior service as founding director of the EPA, part of the broader policy legacy of the Nixon administration that he believes was tainted as the result of Mr. Nixon's handling of Watergate.

Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

1 comment:

MK said...

Ruckelshaus mentions that the tape of his meeting with Nixon on April 21, 1973 has not been released. I checked the Watergate releases (the so-called "AOGP" materials which the National Archives opened in 1997). There is no entry among those releases for April 21. See


It is possible that the meeting may show up in pending Chron 5 releases but any Watergate related portions should have been released in 1997.

If I have time, I'll look around some more on the Nixon Library's site to see what NARA has released about Ruckelshaus. I was one of the Watergate tape experts when I worked at NARA and screened for disclosure review many of the tapes from 1972 and 1973. However, I left the agency's employ before NARA finally did the big AOGP release in 1997.

If I find out anything more, I'll post a follow up.

Given my particular background, I liked the conclusion to the Ruckelshaus speech:

"If you get the chance to serve in the high levels of American Government, do it. The opportunities for challenge, interest, excitement and fulfillment are unparalleled in American life. No one should pass on the opportunity if it arises. Certainly, there are perils, but they can be overcome and you will never forget the experience.

In the vast majority of cases, I believe our country is fortunate in having extraordinary citizens like those of you here tonight, still willing to tackle those perils on behalf of our country. As long as that remains true, we will be alright."

Best, as always,