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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deep Throat Was FBI's No. 2 Man

WASHINGTON -- Deep Throat, the mystery man who reigned as Washington's best-kept secret source for more than 30 years, was not just any shadowy, cigarette-smoking tipster in a raincoat. He was the No. 2 official of the FBI, W. Mark Felt, who helped The Washington Post unravel the Watergate scandal and the presidency of Richard Nixon, a feat that he lived to see disclosed on Tuesday, frail but smiling at 91.

In a final plot twist worthy of the saga that Felt helped to spawn, Vanity Fair magazine released an article from its July issue reporting that Felt, long a prime suspect to Nixon himself, had in recent years confided to his family and friends, "I'm the guy they used to call 'Deep Throat.'"

Within hours -- after Felt himself, in failing health since suffering a stroke in 2001, appeared in the doorway of his daughter's home in Santa Rosa, California -- the Post confirmed his role.

Felt had always been on the short list of potential Deep Throats. The source was instrumental to the reporting of Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation in August 1974 -- the only resignation of a U.S. president in history.

Nixon resigned after it became clear the U.S. House of Representatives would impeach him for a string of transgressions named after the famous break-in of Democratic national headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington.

Woodward and Bernstein initially declined to confirm the Vanity Fair article, believing they had promised Felt unconditional confidentiality till his death. Meanwhile, the Post, which had guarded the secret as closely as the formula for Coca-Cola, suddenly found itself scrambling to deal with a monthly magazine's scoop of the final footnote to the biggest story in its history.

"It's been the Post's story forever," said Tom Wilkinson, assistant managing editor of the paper, "and you never like to see those things go to somebody else."

Deep Throat began life as someone Woodward described only as "my friend," but he was rechristened by a Post editor in honor of the pornographic film of that name that was then a national sensation. The list of possible real-life counterparts for the shadowy figure Hal Holbrook played in the film of Woodward and Bernstein's bestselling book, "All The President's Men," has ranged widely -- and often improbably -- including Henry Kissinger and former President George H.W. Bush.

But much of the most serious and informed speculation has long centered on the FBI, and on Felt.

Still, at least one prominent Washingtonian expressed a slight nostalgia that the mystery had been solved."I mean, I always suspected it, but I never asked," said Sally Quinn, whose husband, Benjamin Bradlee, the former executive editor of the Post, was until Tuesday one of only four people publicly known to know the truth. "There's been a certain mystique about the story that will not be there any more. Everybody loves a secret that can be kept. Deep Throat has become this living legend, like Camelot. And now it isn't anymore."