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The majority of responses to our editorial last week calling for a special prosecutor to be hired in the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey have been supportive. But the critics, as usual, have been vociferous and animated — and prone to name-calling, much as the president himself.

In a letter on Thursday, one local reader called us “fools” for “intentionally trying to sway readers to believe something that isn’t true.” Said he, “Less than 30 minutes ago I saw acting FBI Director (Andrew) McCabe testifying before Congress, and he said that nothing has been done to impede the Russian investigation …”

He argued that this rendered “inaccurate” our contention that the probe was in jeopardy. “(The) director of the FBI, and other government agencies, are always far removed from the actual investigation work in cases like this.”

He could not be more wrong.

I have no doubt that McCabe was being forthright in his testimony, I responded, but it’s not clear how long he will be in that position. (As a senior FBI official, naming him as chief would probably be the best outcome and would go far in mollifying concerns that James Comey’s removal was an attempt to obstruct the investigation.) But given all we know about the president and the people around him, it’s unlikely that he will choose an FBI insider. Either way, does anybody really question whether the head of this agency will have profound influence on the Russia probe? “It’s one thing for an investigation to be completed,” I wrote. “It’s another for the findings . . . to see the light of day.”

For the worst example of how the intelligence community can be politicized, one need only look at the Watergate scandal, a narrative provided in large part by a former FBI high-ranking official who once called Santa Rosa home: Mark Felt.

Felt, better known as “Deep Throat,” was motivated to help reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post primarily out of disgust for what was happening at the White House and how the intelligence community, including the FBI, was being used as part of the cover-up. He also was doing it out of frustration for being passed over for the top job in favor of individuals who had no FBI experience.

His story, at the least, is timely.

Like McCabe, Felt was the second in command at the FBI. When his boss, J. Edgar Hoover died 45 years ago this month. Felt was hoping to be named his successor. But instead, President Richard Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray, a Justice Department official with no FBI background. The reason was clear. Gray was a Nixon loyalist who had helped Nixon during his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1960. By all appearances Felt was crushed, but “he put on a good face,” Woodward wrote in his 2005 book, “The Secret Man.”

Gray soon brought aboard four loyal staff members and was either spending hours in closed-door meetings with them or was away from the office.

According to Felt, Gray seemed overwhelmed with the day-to-day operations of the agency, responsibilities that fell to Felt. One of those was responding to a call from an FBI night supervisor on June 17, 1972 concerning the arrest of five men in business suits who were caught breaking into the Watergate office building.

As the famous secret tapes that Nixon kept — and would lead to his ultimate downfall — showed, six days later the president ordered the CIA to get the FBI to stop or limit its investigation into the Watergate break-in. Felt, who already had assisted Woodward with other stories, was concerned about what was happening internally at his agency, prompting him to require that future meetings with the reporter be held in a public parking garage, usually at 2 a.m.

“At the time, I had no idea of the degree to which Felt sensed he was in jeopardy or the momentum of the cover-up he was resisting,” Woodward wrote.

As Felt would write in his own books, he felt intense pressure from Gray and others at the White House to not just slow the investigation but to stop the leaks.

To Felt’s great dismay, Gray at one point in late 1972 buckled to pressure from White House Counsel John Dean to hand over key documents related to the FBI investigation.By the spring of 1973, the New York Daily News broke the story that Gray had gone so far as to destroy incriminating files kept in a safe by Howard Hunt, a former CIA employee who was a key figure behind the Watergate break-in. Gray had taken the files to his Connecticut home shortly after the burglary, kept them for six months and destroyed them at Christmas.

After the story broke, Gray resigned, but Felt and other FBI insiders were once again passed over for the top position in favor of William Ruckelshaus, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Felt decided at that point to resign, but not before meeting one more time with Woodward in that famous parking garage in Rosslyn, Virginia.

“Felt was nervous,” Woodward wrote of that meeting. “First he said that everyone’s life was in danger and electronic surveillance was going on — the CIA was doing it. He said that President Nixon had personally threatened Dean. The continued effort to buy the silence of Hunt, (Gordon) Liddy (another ringleader of the break-in) and the five Watergate burglars, the cover-up costs, was going to be about $1 million. Most alarmingly, he said that covert activities were going on that involved the entire U.S. intelligence community.”

This is why the public has reason to be concerned about the firing of the FBI director last week and the integrity of the investigation into ties between Trump’s people and Russian hackers.

It’s also reason to be concerned about whether history is repeating itself with another (cyber) break-in of Democratic National Committee headquarters, congressional hearings into an attempt to influence the outcome of a national election and, now, possible White House attempts at obstruction. Now there are even reports of demands for loyalty oaths and the possibility of tapes existing.

It’s all sounding too familiar.

Thankfully, a half-century ago the nation had people like Felt — as well as Sens. Sam Ervin, a Democrat, and Howard Baker, a Republican, who presided over the Watergate hearings — who had the courage to stand up to make sure the truth was told and justice was served.

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