It was 1970 – pre-Watergate, pre-Nixon’s second-term, pre-“All the President’s Men” – and Bob Woodward and W. Mark Felt, commonly known as “Deep Throat,” sat on a bench in the White House. They were strangers with few things in common besides GW.
Woodward, a lieutenant at the time, was on assignment as a courier to the White House. He started taking graduate classes at GW – including History 237, a course on international relations for which he wrote a 68-page paper, and an English course on Shakespeare. He started in Foggy Bottom during the fall of 1970 and the spring of 1971 to “keep his brain alive,” he said in a phone interview with The Hatchet.
“Taking those courses was both energizing and uplifting,” said Woodward, who still has a box full of notes from the courses.
Felt graduated from GW’s Law School in 1940. When Woodward mentioned his GW graduate courses, Felt “perked up immediately, saying he had gone to night law school at GW in the 1930s before joining – and this is the first time he mentioned it – the FBI,” Woodward wrote in a 2005 article for The Washington Post a few days after Felt revealed his secret identity to Vanity Fair.
A few years after this first meeting, Felt became Deep Throat and one of Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s top sources. He confirmed and gave the two Post reporters valuable information that helped them expose and eventually topple President Richard Nixon.
Although GW was not directly involved in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, there are several key graduates whose fates, like the sticky silk of a spider web, intertwined during that time. These graduates were a part of the scandal, opposing the scandal and exposing the scandal. The nexus of this network, the common denominator among these men from different walks of life, was GW.
The scandal began to unravel on June 17, 1972, when five men wearing rubber surgical gloves broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building on 2600 Virginia Ave. N.W. and were arrested.
James McCord, a former CIA official, former FBI official and GW graduate of 1940 with Bachelor of Arts degree in international affairs, was one of the men arrested. The men were caught because a security guard had alerted the police of suspicious activity after noticing a piece of tape on the door in the Watergate building. McCord was the one who had taped the door.
McCord, the security adviser to President Nixon’s Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRP), was convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in January 1973, just a few months after Woodward and Bernstein had written a front-page article in The Post about how the FBI had established the incident was part of a sabotage campaign conducted to help re-elect Nixon.
McCord staked out in room 723 of the Hall on Virginia Avenue- one a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge that now houses graduate students- several times during the Watergate break-in to check on the DNC offices. His name also shows up on several documents in the Family Jewels, CIA declassified files that are housed by GW. Charles Colson – who went to night law school at GW like Felt – received a J.D. with honors in 1959 and was also involved in the scandal. He was known as the White House “hatchet man” and was special counsel to Nixon. He served seven months in prison in 1974 because of a Watergate-related crime.
Colson can be heard on Nixon’s tapes, which he kept while he was in office. On the tapes he speaks with Nixon about White House officials involved in the break-in.
Before he was Nixon’s right-hand man, Colson was a tardy law student at GW. He balanced classes with his job as an administrative assistant to a Massachusetts senator. In an e-mail to The Hatchet, he said he would usually arrive late to class after spending the day on Capitol Hill, but his professor, “who was sympathetic, looked the other way.” Colson was also an editor for GW’s Law Review.
His education at GW and time on Capitol Hill prepared him for his position in the White House, but they did not alert him to the criminal issues he would confront almost 15 years later, he said.
“The trouble I got into was not due to a lack of legal education,” he wrote. “I considered that to be superb, and it well prepared me for responsibilities in government. I wish I’d studied criminal law cases a little harder because I found myself in the middle of it, which I had never thought I would do.”
Although Colson converted to Christianity after his prison sentence, he was not involved in any religious groups on campus when he was at GW, he said. In 1976, he founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, a Christian outreach program for prisoners and ex-prisoners.
About a year after Colson converted to Christianity, Nixon went on trial. Leon Jaworski, a 1926 graduate with a master’s in law, was the special prosecutor on the case and convinced the court to order Nixon to turn over all his tapes. Jaworski received GW’s distinguished Alumni Achievement Award in 1965.
At the same time, J. Edgar Hoover, who graduated from GW Law School in 1917, was the director of the FBI. Hoover was a member of the Legal Aid Society at GW and he was also a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity, according to the 1917 Cherry Tree yearbook. His right-hand man was Felt, who Woodward called “a product of Hoover’s FBI” in his 2005 article.
Thirty-five years later, GW is still intertwined with Watergate. Students live in the stake-out hotel, Gelman has a collection filled with Watergate books and memorabilia and students learn about the scandal in classes. Watergate may have involved once GW students turned Washington insiders, but it also had sweeping effect across the nation.
Woodward said, “Watergate had so many tentacles. So many people were investigating it that if you took any school you’d find some people who were involved.”