The Legacy of Leonard Colodny
A Life Well-Lived (1938 – 2021)
Leonard I. Colodny, who passed away peacefully on July 2, 2021 at the age of 83, was a loving husband, father, and grandfather to his family, an unflinching partner, friend, and guide to his colleagues, and an inspiring analyst, investigator, and bestselling author. He left us a rich and remarkable legacy that helps us understand a shattering political event in recent American history.
Len was a warrior for truth. His work lives on in the trove of historical materials and records archived in the “Colodny Collection” at the Central Texas Historical Archive, Texas A&M University. Len co-authored two groundbreaking books, national bestseller Silent Coup: The Removal of a President (1991) and The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons from Nixon to Obama (2009). In those books he helped uncover and explain extensive new evidence that overturns mistaken history and transforms our knowledge of the Watergate saga and Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Len possessed masterful investigative skills and a razor-sharp analytical mind. He had an almost uncanny ability to connect the dots where others could not, and explain the meaning of complicated and multi-layered historical events. People Len encountered from divergent political backgrounds, and other authors and journalists working on their own intensive projects, were all in awe of Len’s tenacity and his unwavering commitment to get the story right.
“Len was a great patriot, driven not only to reveal the truth in our history, but also to fight like a tiger to protect that truth from powerful people who seek to obscure it,” said his lawyer Charlie Carlson. “The beauty of his genius was his clear recognition of the importance of all that he was doing.”
The greater Tampa Bay, Florida area was Len’s home since 1984. He was born, raised, lived and worked in Washington, DC, later moving to Maryland. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Sandra Colodny, his children Sherry Colodny and John Colodny, and his grandchildren, Jeremy Hollis and Samantha Colodny. He proudly served his country in the Air National Guard.
Before emerging as a successful historical investigator and author, Len was a businessman. He was Vice Chairman of the Prince George’s County, Maryland Human Relations Commission (1973-1978), serving on both the Law Enforcement and Education panels. He was instrumental in reducing police brutality by implementing mental health initiatives and he facilitated the establishment of a rape crisis center, which became a model and was among the first of its kind.
Len Colodny helped change the world. His purpose was to reveal what was hidden, to correct what was misunderstood. In doing so, he changed the people who knew him, worked with him, loved him. And he made us better.
By Robert Gettlin
In May 1980 I made a phone call from my desk at The Washington Star newspaper that changed my life. When I made that call to a man named Leonard Colodny, whom I had then never met and did not know, I was 28, had just started a new job as a metro reporter on the Star’s Maryland staff, and was pursuing a story. Exactly 11 years later, Len and I published our book, Silent Coup: The Removal of a President. It was a big national bestseller on the Watergate story and Richard Nixon’s presidency, but it was controversial and not well liked by most of the journalism community. Huge efforts were made to dismiss our work. The book toppled revered icons, overturned the accepted orthodoxy, and presented hard evidence that key players portrayed as heroes were in fact hiding secrets about their roles in the Watergate saga.
Len and I were in a foxhole together, fighting the considerable clout of our detractors. It was hard, very hard. Len was an impenetrable rock, a tower of strength. He never wavered – not once – in his conviction that the truth eventually would be accepted. He spent the next 40 years of his life staying true to that vision and working tirelessly to the very end to see it realized.
How did we get there? How did Len and I go from a phone call over a local news story to become battle-hardened brothers-in-arms over a book that investigated the hidden forces behind the only resignation of a president in US history?
The full answer is that our story is a long, multi-faceted tale, a saga with many chapters. In the pages that follow, I am going to focus in depth on one key aspect that was especially important and deeply personal for Len. It’s the story of his dealings with journalist Bob Woodward. It’s the story he always wanted me to write. Now, in his memory and to keep the fire of his legacy burning, I present it to you.
We know this was important to Len because the landing page of the great Watergate.com site he created is pretty much dedicated to Woodward questions – what the famous reporter has been hiding and why, what are his methods, and why finding answers is a key to understanding the events we call Watergate.
In telling this story my aim is to show you that when things went bad for Len Colodny, and for me, he was as tough as nails and never lost sight of what was most important. He was a true game-changer. He was a man for the ages.
Woodward’s “Holy S…” Metro Shop
I called Len on that day in May 41 years ago because he was embroiled in the story I was pursuing. The story was already hot local news and as a new guy on the beat I was playing catch up. Here’s the gist. Len had been working as a consultant for Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburban community just north of Washington, DC. He had been studying a county department and found sketchy business practices and favoritism. He wrote up his findings and made improvement proposals. The county executive and the executive’s aides weren’t thrilled with what Len wrote and they pressured him to change his findings. Len refused and resigned. The county executive claimed Len was fired, and it all went public. The local papers were competing to cover the story – the Star, The Washington Post, and smaller weeklies. I was behind and I had to catch up.
The story escalated and so did the competition among reporters to get an edge. The county council of elected officials got involved and launched its own investigation. The heat grew hotter for Len. To try and keep Len quiet, the county executive’s aides secretly offered him merit-protected jobs in the county government, which violated the law. Len refused, and he went public about the job offers. His family received death threats. One evening one of Len’s children picked up the phone and heard the anonymous caller say: “You are going to die!” It was a time of stress and fear. The police sent cruisers by the Colodny home as protection.
In November 1980, six months after I first called Len, the story was at a fevered pitch. One morning everything changed, and the unlikely cause was Bob Woodward, who was then the assistant managing editor at the Post for metropolitan news. The Watergate reporter who had become a legend was now running the huge staff of local reporters that covered the greater DC-Maryland-Virginia region, and that included the reporter covering Montgomery County.
Woodward’s mandate to his bevy of assistant editors and to his staff was to produce “Holy Shit!” stories. Get on the front page, at almost any cost, because that’s where careers were made at the Post. How do I know this? Well, the Post itself reported on the dysfunctional culture in Woodward’s metro shop in great detail just months later in April 1981. It came after one of the greatest fiascos in modern American journalism – the Post’s fabricated story of child heroin addict.
One of Woodward’s young and ambitious reporters, Janet Cooke, went too far and in hopes of furthering her career. She wrote a made-up story about eight-year-old “Jimmy,” who she described in vivid detail as shooting up junk with help from the drug-addicted adults in his life. The story was so compelling it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and it won! Woodward pushed heavily for the nomination, despite early rumblings among some editors and reporters in the newsroom who warned that Cooke’s piece was probably not true.
That’s when things fell apart. The story – “Jimmy’s World” – was now as high profile as any news story could be, and it wasn’t long before the façade collapsed and Cooke not only admitted to making up the story, but also revealed that much of her impressive resume that got her hired at the paper was also concocted. The Post forfeited the Pulitzer. Deeply embarrassed, senior management assigned the paper’s ombudsman to investigate and reveal what had happened.
The ombudsman’s impressive, compelling, and lengthy report laid it all bare – a breakdown of the editing and basic story verification system at the paper, a newsroom culture that celebrated anonymous sources that could not be checked, and a hyper-competitive, front-page-at-all-costs mentality, particularly within Woodward’s Metro shop. Woodward and other editors accepted responsibility and took their lumps.
But even as he wiped egg of his face, Woodward also gave the ombudsman one of the strangest and most troubling quotes an editor could possibly say about a phony story he or she allowed into the newspaper. Woodward’s words struck me 40 years ago when I first read them, and to this day I still shake my head whenever I see Woodward them.
“I think the decision to nominate the story for a Pulitzer is of minimal consequence,” Woodward told Ombudsman Bill Green. “I also think that it won is of little consequence. It is a brilliant story – fake and fraud that it is.” Here is the hero of Watergate, who helped bring down a president with the help of a supposedly morally troubled anonymous source dubbed Deep Throat, celebrating the brilliance of a fraudulent news story!
Makes you wonder. But by April 1981, Len and I were already well familiar with Woodward’s no-holds-bar tactics and the heavy pressure he could apply on young reporters to produce those “holy shit” stories. As for Woodward’s alleged sacrosanct promises to protect sources, well, that didn’t always add up either.
“We’re Diddling Our Readers”
Len experienced the full-blown Woodward treatment on that morning in November 1980. Here's how it went down: had his own tape recordings of the improper job offers made to him by the county executive’s aides. He didn’t want to release the tapes or even reveal their existence because of the death threats to his family and because under Maryland law it was a potential crime to record a phone call – even your own personal calls – without consent of all parties. As the pressure was mounting on Len and he was accused of lying about the job offers, he decided to offer to play the tapes on an off-the-record basis for reporters to prove he was telling the truth.
I was one of the reporters, as was the Post reporter covering the story, Loretta Tofani, as well as the two reporters for the local weeklies. The strict, not-too-be-violated agreement we all made with Len was this: We could not so much as imply there were tapes, or in any way use material from the tape transcripts, without his express permission. Done, no debate. Either abide by the agreement, or forfeit listening to the recordings, Len told us. We all agreed.
Woodward, whose national reputation was staked on being the ultimate protector of sources, felt no compunction about running roughshod over this agreement made by his reporter. Woodward, by his own admission, wanted those tapes revealed by the Post. He devised a scheme that he apparently believed would strongarm Len and back him into a corner so that the Post would get an exclusive, front-page, “holy shit” story about secret tape recordings of improper job offers in Montgomery County.
Remember, to be on page one was to live or die at the Post, even if you work on Metro. Bill Green’s investigation of the Janet Cooke fiasco documented that in great detail. In November 1980, that’s what drove Metro editor Woodward as he moved to force Len’s tapes into the paper, an agreement be damned and if it meant burning a source.
Here’s how Woodward’s scheme worked. To back his claims of the improper job offers, Len had a legally sworn deposition prepared detailing what he knew. He released that to the press. We reporters knew what he said was true because we had heard the tapes. But the stories for our papers reporting on Colodny’s deposition quoted only from the sworn document. All except in the Post.
Rather than quote from Colodny’s written deposition, the Post lifted quotes directly from the secret tapes, inserted them into its story on the deposition, and purposefully made the quotes appear as coming from recorded conversations. It was essentially a concocted version to force Len to yield.
The Post story was littered with quotes filled with “uhs,” “ers,” ellipses, and elements of spoken conversation – clearly signaling that the Post was in possession of recording transcripts.
Len realized he had been had the moment he picked up the Post that morning. He called Tofani and complained to her and her direct editor David Maraniss. Why had they blatantly violated the agreement, he asked? He had never given permission for the Post to quote from his tapes. Maraniss said Colodny should talk to Woodward.
Not long after, Woodward called Len. As our friend journalist Ray Locker recently wrote in his own article on this Woodward-Colodny call: “What he [Len] heard changed the course of the rest of his life.” It changed mine as well.
Woodward played dumb from the outset, telling Len he didn’t know the terms of the agreement Tofani and Maraniss had made over his tapes. Len would have to talk to Tofani and Maraniss about that. No, Len said, the agreement was clear and ironclad. Besides, he told Woodward, he’d already called Tofani and Maranis that morning and they told him to talk to Woodward. Sorry, Woodward said, whatever the case, the Post now had no choice but to report the existence of Len’s recordings.
No, Len said, refusing to budge, he never agreed to that. Well, Woodward said, “We’re diddling our readers” because the Post story on the deposition clearly shows that recordings exist. Now the paper needs to say it outright in the next morning’s edition.
Yes, but it was the Post that chose “diddle” its readers, Len shot back to Woodward, by deciding to violate the agreement. He would not agree to release the Post of responsibility. Len could see the deception and exactly what had been done, that it was all a ruse and a set up to pressure him. It was a remarkable conversation, and Len wrote about it and posted the transcript of that call on his Watergate.com site. You can read it yourself. It’s titled, “Bob Woodward Lied to Me, To His Readers, To Our History.”
Woodward never took responsibility and kept sending Len back to Tofani and Maraniss. Len reminded Woodward there had been death threats against the Colodny family, and that these recordings could be deemed illegal in Maryland. All of that flew past Woodward, he clearly was not interested. He told Len not to worry because the tapes would make Len a hero. He knew that from Watergate, Woodward said. Back and forth it went.
Bottom line, Len steadfastly refused to release the Post, but it was clear Woodward would reveal the tapes. He had made up his mind. What was Len to do?
Countering Woodward’s Deception
What happened next may well have been the most important event to seal my partnership with Len Colodny. Looking back, I can say it set us on the path that led to Silent Coup. After he hung up with Woodward, Len called me and told me what had happened. Even today, all these years later, I can hear him telling me to come to his house right away. He was going to play the recording for me of his just-ended call with Woodward.
I remember listening to that call and feeling shock, and also dread that I would be scooped. Without another word from my lips, Len said he had devised his own plan. Woodward’s deception would not win the day, he insisted. He told me that if the Post indeed revealed the tapes in the next day’s paper – which he was sure would happen over his objection – I was released to also report on the tapes in the Star.
The situation definitely worked in my favor. As the morning paper the Post printed its first early edition the night before around 10 p.m. The Star, as the afternoon paper, printed its first edition in the morning. I know it sounds confusing, but that’s how it was. I remember leaving Len’s house and rushing to my office to brief my editors. They had no idea about the tapes, but quickly got up to speed. They gave me the green light to go ahead with our story if the Post broke the agreement. I prepared as much of my story as I could. Then I waited.
Around 10 p.m. I drove to the Post building and picked up the first edition. There it was at the bottom right of page one, Tofani’s story disclosing the existence of Len’s tapes. I went back to the Star newsroom, and gave a thumbs-up to the night editor. They cleared the top of our front page for my story. When the Star hit the streets that morning it had a banner headline: “Tapes Back Colodny Job Claims.”
Woodward figured he’d have his “holy shit” story all to himself. He didn’t. A few years later I interviewed him when Len and I started working together on an article about Woodward’s brand of journalism. Amazingly, he agreed to an interview and maintained he’d never done anything wrong. He said he wasn’t aware of the details of the Post agreement over Len’s tapes. I pressed him on the details of the scheme and asked why the Post deliberately inserted quotes in the deposition story that clearly came from tape recordings. It was obvious he was trying to force Len’s hand. Woodward dissembled and called me “a disgruntled job seeker” because I was never hired at the Post. I had applied there early in my career.
He also said, “You got beat on that story.” I replied, no, I had the full story of the tapes the same day as the Post. Well, the Post published first, he said. He wouldn’t let it go. Interesting. The hero of Watergate was still miffed over losing his exclusive on a front-page story about a local political controversy.
I realize I’ve spent a lot of space telling you about Len Colodny’s first dealings with Bob Woodward, and how he was burned as a source by the man with whose reputation is to protect sources at all costs. I’ve written all this because it was deeply important to Len himself. If you go to his Watergate.com site you will see that the landing page focuses on many of the subsequent revelations we found about Woodward, his Watergate reporting, and his relationship to Gen. Alexander Haig, who, Len and I wrote in Silent Coup, was Woodward’s key source.
One of the most satisfying outcomes from writing that book was that another great journalist, Ray Locker, picked up where we left off in our investigative work and wrote two superb books, Nixon’s Gamble and Haig’s Coup. Ray wrote those two works on his own, but he will tell you that neither of his books would have happened but for the guidance, encouragement, and support he got from Len Colodny. This is the true measure of Len’s legacy: he inspired and motivated others to do important work and to make their own mark.
He certainly inspired and pushed me. After the Montgomery County episode, Len and I decided to try and document an article or story about Woodward’s editorial methods. We already knew about the “Jimmy’s World” fiasco, and we even found another example of a confidential source – a Fairfax County, VA police official – who was burned by one of Woodward’s Metro reporters on a local news story. We felt we had good material, especially because Woodward’s habit of writing best selling books based almost completely on unnamed sources was already sparking debate and skepticism in the journalism business about his ethics and methods.
The Uncharted Path
Then everything, in November 1984, everything changed for Len and me with the publication of journalist Jim Hougan’s book, Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat, and the CIA. Hougan revealed the first details of Woodward’s job at the Pentagon in 1969 before he left the Navy to become a reporter. Hougan wrote that among his duties, Woodward was a briefer on the staff of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Thomas H. Moorer.
Hougan’s work turned Len and me in a new direction, and that path eventually led us on the journey to writing of Silent Coup. After we made that turn, we eventually uncovered the secret about Wooward’s Navy service that Woodward has been concealing. It’s a secret that Len and I believed has contaminated American journalism.
We all harbor secrets; it’s what we do as humans. But Woodward’s secret greatly troubled Len, and me, because it has distorted our understanding of a turbulent and seminal political event, the repercussions of which have echoed through the past five decades. Woodward’s public reputation and brand are betrayed by what he has been hiding, and by his methods (which exposed themselves to us in Montgomery County) to stay at to the top of the journalism profession.
When it comes to Woodward, Watergate, and The Washington Post, our culture has long been under a spell. I’ll call it the Lullaby Effect. The story that’s been told and retold for decades is terribly flawed. Yet, it is comforting and makes us feel good. Just like a lullaby. Even when hard evidence has been presented to the contrary, much of journalism, popular entertainment, academia, and political culture have turned their backs on the newly discovered facts, have had no interest in seeing how the dots actually connect, and have been openly hostile to views outside of accepted orthodoxy.
All of this greatly troubled Len Colodny. He knew there were deliberate efforts to hide and evade facts and evidence, to keep the spin whirling in order to prop up traditional versions. He understood that influential people and powerful institutions have vested interests, huge personal and professional investments in the popularly accepted telling and retelling. And this fueled Len to investigate and reveal the facts and explanations in Silent Coup (in which I was his full partner and co-author) and his second book, The Forty Years War.
Len often talked about an even deeper, graver truth of the Watergate story that reverberates up to today with terrible results for our country, notably in foreign policy. Nixon was a secretive, petty, and paranoid leader who condoned, encouraged, and ordered illegal and corrupt activities. He was also a global strategic thinker for his time (1960s-70s) who opened the door to Communist China, pushed for nuclear arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union, brought the Vietnam War to a close, and eliminated the draft. These were bold moves. What is mostly unknown – in fact, what is rarely discussed in the historical record – is that the hard Right in our country distrusted and despised him as much as did his classic enemies on the Left. Power centers in the military and the intelligence community feared Nixon’s policies, and were determined to block them. The fact that Nixon tried to carry out his plans secretly only motivated his opponents to try harder to stop him.
Better yet, when an opportunity arose, they decided to go for the kill and bring down the King. Nixon’s own wrongdoing, bad behavior, and terrible personal judgment provided the very weapons that did him in.
None of what Len and I published was meant to exonerate Richard Nixon, although our detractors found it convenient to shout otherwise. We had no plan or intention to brush away Nixon’s wrongdoing or that of his associates. The goal was to present the facts we were able to uncover, and then piece together the best explanation and analyses into a new understanding that disrobed a veiled history. Len and I learned that the larger agenda on the Right to cancel Nixon’s policies were linked to Woodward’s past and the secret he’s been hiding. During five crucial years as a young officer in the US Navy, Woodward worked for, was mentored by, and formed important connections with some of the powerful men who were deeply opposed to, and sought to block, Nixon’s foreign policy efforts.
I am going to give you the facts. And I am asking you to stick with me as I walk you through Woodward’s Navy service. It’s important that you read this because without knowing the truth – and Woodward has actively buried, distorted, and, when pressed, dissembled about these facts for years – you can’t understand his Watergate reporting. And without understanding what motivated his reporting you can’t see the hidden forces that pushed Richard Nixon to his political demise.s was one of the explosive revelations that Len and I reported in Silent Coup, and which Len continued to teach and talk about up until his death.
In the Inner Sanctum
We’ll start our story in 1965 when Woodward graduated from Yale University on a Navy ROTC scholarship. He was assigned to the USS Wright, designated as a National Emergency Command Post afloat. According to one admiral’s description, the Wright was “a mini-headquarters facility in case of nuclear war.” The venerable publication Jane’s Fighting Ships described the Wright as having “the most powerful transmitting antennae ever installed on a ship” at that time. Essentially, it was a floating command center for top military officials and the president. Woodward was right there, witnessing and supporting the big players at the center of the action. He held a “top-secret crypto” security clearance and commanded the enlisted men who operated the ship’s radio circuits. His skipper was Captain Francis Fitzpatrick, who shortly rose to admiral to become the assistant Chief of Naval Operations for communications and cryptology, one of the US Navy’s top positions.
This was Woodward’s first assignment – but certainly not his last – serving under ambitious and influential commanding officers with serious clout and who rose to become top Navy brass. In fact, in his next two assignments Woodward would serve directly under even more powerful officers. His final boss at the Pentagon was Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, then the CNO but who would rise to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
What is crucial to know about Moorer is this: As the chair of the JCS, the nation’s very highest military commanders, Moorer was the key player in the infamous and subversive JCS spy ring that move against President Nixon and that aimed to undermine and block his policies. Both Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger were the key targets of their JCS opponents.
Moorer’s extensive spying, carried out by a few of his most trusted aides and a young Navy Yeoman assigned to the White House, was uncovered by Nixon’s own aides in December 1971. The president considered firing Moorer and even contemplated bringing the admiral up on criminal charges. It was Seven Days in May come to life, as one of the White House investigators explained.
But Nixon decided to bury the whole thing to save face and kept Moorer in place. That was Nixon’s personality, avoid confrontation and try to use conflict as leverage to contain his enemies. The president figured that once he caught Moorer and his henchmen red handed stealing sensitive and private information, pilfering desks, briefcases, and burn bags, he would be able to contain the Joint Chiefs and make them heel to his wishes. It was a huge mistake, and it backfired.
The spy ring secret was so sensitive within the White House that it became an obsession for Nixon. He insisted it should never leak out. And later, when he became Nixon’s chief of staff in May 1973, it became an obsession for Alexander Haig, too. But Haig’s anxiety over the JCS spying was for a different reason: As Kissinger’s military aide from 1969 to 1972 he was a secret, back-door facilitator of JCS surreptitious activities. If the spying story ever came out, Haig could end up being implicated. Nixon never truly knew of Haig’s divided loyalties. Ray Locker’s book, Haig’s Coup, masterfully tells this story. It is a must read.
Eventually bits and pieces of the military spying leaked, and the Senate Armed Service Committee held tightly controlled closed-door hearings in 1974 at the height of the Watergate scandal. The full story was again buried at the highest levels, and it all drifted away after a few brief headlines. No one knew at the time that Woodward, then part of the Post reporting team on Watergate, had not only been groomed in the Moorer-dominated Navy culture that despised Nixon, he had worked under Moorer at the CNO’s office. This is part of what Woodward has been hiding.
But there is even more to the story. Before being commanded by Moorer, Woodward’s second assignment was as communications officer on the USS Fox, a guided-missile frigate that accompanied aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean during the Vietnam conflict. More importantly, the ship supported highly classified intelligence operations. His first commander on the Fox was Robert O. Welander. Who was Welander? Well, he eventually left the Fox for a sensitive Pentagon assignment and ended up working for, you guessed right, CNO Moorer. As Moorer’s aide, Admiral Welander was a second key player in the spying operation against Richard Nixon.
Back on the Fox, Woodward’s second commander gave Woodward his second promotion in three years to full lieutenant and the Navy awarded Woodward with the prestigious Navy Commendation Medal. The citation praised Lt. Woodward’s “exceptional zeal and ingenuity” in his job as communications officer, among other things. Remember this fact, because it is highly important. In just a few paragraphs you will read how Woodward has been describing his Navy career for decades. It is completely opposite to what actually happened and it reads like an elaborate cover story.
The last chapter of Woodward’s Navy career began in 1969. Now in his fifth year, he was assigned on good recommendations to the Pentagon as a communications watch officer for the Chief of Naval Operations working on highly sensitive channels, and also even more sensitive and secret backchannel systems. He was again under the command of his first skipper from the Wright, now Rear Admiral Francis Fitzpatrick, who was working for Moorer. Also, there on Moorer’s staff was Woodward’s old skipper from the Fox, Rear Admiral Welander.
So, Bob Woodward was now stationed in a highly sensitive job at the Pentagon, working in close proximity to the same senior officers who had nurtured him over the previous four years. And they worked under Moorer, who would soon rise to the top of the military food chain as Chairman of the JCS. And as JCS chair, Moorer would launch his spying on Nixon because he and other military men feared and hated the Nixon-Kissinger foreign and strategic policies.
“I Defy You”
The final piece of this rather complex but incredibly important puzzle is this: in addition to his official duties as a communications officer, Woodward was also selected by Moorer to be one of the CNO’s elite briefing officers. This meant that Woodward regularly traveled to the White House to deliver information. On those trips across the river from the Pentagon to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Woodward would meet with Haig and with others. There he formed important connections that would later serve him as a reporter, not only in Watergate but for years beyond.
Now it’s perfectly understandable for a journalist to use his connections and sources in his reporting work. But for some reason, Woodward has consistently stuck to his phony cover story about his Navy days, calling them “boring,” filled with “miserable” scut work and that he was essentially a loser who was poorly regarded by his commanding officers. We discovered it was just the opposite.
We learned from Hougan’s reporting that Woodward had admitted to Hougan he was briefer for Moorer. It was Len’s great insight early on in our investigation to pinpoint this job as the key to unlocking what Woodward seemed to be hiding. To find out if Woodward was indeed a briefer, we went to sources who would have had direct knowledge. What we found in our reporting is all laid out in great detail in Silent Coup, Chapter 5, “The Woodward-Haig Connection.”
We went to Thomas Moorer himself, who was retired and living in Virginia in 1989. We asked the retired admiral: Was Bob Woodward one of his selected briefers at the CNO’s office in 1969-70? “He was one of the briefers,” Moorer confirmed to us without hesitation. Moreover, we asked Moorer if Woodward briefed Haig at the White House. “Sure, of course,” Moorer said to us, adding that as CNO he was communicating with Haig daily.
We asked Moorer: What sort of briefing would Woodward have normally given to Haig? “Probably the same briefing he had just given me at nine o’clock,” Moorer answered, referring to the 9 A.M. briefing attended by the CNO and other flag officers at the Pentagon. Remember, as a communications officer with a top security clearance Woodward was among those with access to the most secret and sensitive information flowing daily into the Navy’s inner sanctum from around the world. It would be his job as a briefer to present this most important information, among other communications, to Moorer, Haig, and other top brass.
We didn’t stop there. We spoke to former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who was the top civilian official at the Pentagon during Nixon’s first term. Laird, too, was retired but remembered Woodward. Was he aware of Woodward’s briefing duties? Yes, Laird confirmed to us. Moreover, he added, “I was aware that Haig was being briefed by Woodward.” We went further and spoke to Laird’s former aide, Jerry Friedheim. He, too, remembered Woodward, adding that Woodward “was one of several briefers. Briefers were identifiable. That’s how they came to the notice of senior officials.”
Finally, we talked to Roger Morris, who was then a member of Kissinger’s NSC staff. Morris, himself a successful writer and historian, remembered Woodward from 1969-70. Morris put two and two together when photographs of Woodward began appearing in the newspapers in the 1970s after Woodward achieved Watergate fame. He recognized Woodward as a young Navy officer he had seen going into Haig’s office. “I learned through friends,” Morris explained to us, “that this was the same guy who had been one of Moorer’s aides, and had worked at the Pentagon and so forth, and knew Al Haig well, and had been back and forth in the West Basement in those early days.”
We had four on-the-record sources. In March 1989, Woodward agreed to talk to Len and me. We told him we were writing a book about Watergate and we met with him at his Georgetown home, everyone recording the interview. We talked to him about many things, and you can read the full transcript on Watergate.com where Len posted it.
Woodward was steady and even in answering most of our questions. But when we raised the topic of his briefing duties for Moorer, he flatly denied he ever did so. He grew agitated when we pressed him.
Did you do any briefings of people during the year you were at the Pentagon, I asked him. Woodward snapped: “Never! And I defy you to produce somebody who says I did a briefing.” I said okay, and tried to move on. But Woodward wouldn’t let it go. He kept pressing.
“Have you got somebody who said I did a briefing?” he insisted. We told him that we have developed information from several sources that he was not only a communications officer but also a briefing officer. Woodward wanted to know our sources, who we talked to and what they said. We reminded him that he doesn’t disclose sources and neither do we. If he is saying he didn’t brief, we’ll report that, we told him. He kept pressing us, telling us we were wrong.
Then the topic of Al Haig came up. We also told him we had information linking him to Haig and he replied: “Now what the hell are my ties to Haig?” He insisted that he met Haig for the first time in the spring of 1973 after Haig became Nixon’s chief of staff.
We knew that was untrue, and in Silent Coup we wrote in great detail about the Woodward-Haig connection before and during the early days of Watergate. One of the key findings in our book was that Woodward’s Deep Throat character from his and Carl Bernstein’s book All The President’s Men was itself an elaborate concocted cover for Woodward’s true Watergate sources, chief among them Alexander Haig. Again, Locker’s book Haig’s Coup later advanced the story of the Woodward-Haig connection beyond what Len and I were able to disclose.
Len understood immediately that Woodward had to deflect from Haig, Moorer, and his many high-level connections during his crucial years in the Navy in order to keep up a façade he had built as the famous Watergate reporter. These men and the community out of which Woodward came had clear motives to take down Richard Nixon because of his policies that they feared. Nixon himself handed them convenient weapons through his own corrupt behavior.
We don’t know everything that Woodward did in the Navy, but we do know without a doubt he has concealed, diverted, and even lied about what we do know. And from this we begin to understand the motives of those who fed information to the-then rather inexperienced 29-year-old reporter. We begin to realize why, to this day, the standard story and all the beliefs surrounding Woodward have been a corrupting influence on our historical understanding.
Here’s how Woodward described his final year at the Pentagon in his 2005 book, The Secret Man, in which he identified Deep Throat as former FBI official Mark Felt.
“My work was routine and boring,” Woodward wrote. “It basically involved watch-standing in the Pentagon for eight-hour shifts overseeing communications involving the chief of naval operations, the secretary of the navy, the Navy staff and personal communications among admirals. I disliked it.”
He went on to describe how he got drunk at a party a few days before his discharge in August 1970 and threw up in the car of “the Navy commander who was technically my boss.” This same commander, Woodward wrote, “said that I had been operating on only one or two of my eight cylinders in the Navy and he genuinely hoped I would find something to engage more of them. He dropped me – dumped me – in something like the north parking lot of the Pentagon, where my car, a Volkswagen Beetle, was parked. I couldn’t walk and began crawling. Military police came to investigate who was crawling around in the parking lot.” He concludes the tale by saying: “I had had a gutless five years in the Navy.”
Doesn’t sound like the high-achieving young officer who had been awarded the Navy Commendation Medal, had served under some of the top officers in the service, and been at the center of the action serving as a hand-picked briefer for the chief of naval operations who later moved stealthily against the sitting president.
Len regularly said that his work pushing against such deliberate distortions was for the purpose of “giving America it’s history back.” This was the flame that fueled his work. It is up to us, his friends and partners to carry on and keep the flame burning.