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The Return of Watergate

By Charles Colson
Breakpoint Online – Mark Felt, a consummate FBI professional, whom I dealt with often and trusted completely, turns out to have engaged in cloak-and-dagger escapades worthy of a Fredrick Forsythe novel in order to bring down what he believed was a corrupt presidency. Was he a hero? That's the question the secular media have been asking me all week.

Now, I understand why Felt wanted to stop Watergate. In my memoirs published this month, titled The Good Life, I recall those moments in the White House when now I realize I should have acted to stop the spreading scandal. One night, when, in my presence, Nixon ordered Halderman to get a team in place to do break-ins, I should have stood up and said, "No, Mr. President, you can't do that." But I rationalized that there was a war going on, friends of mine were POWs, and the Cold War was hanging in the balance. Maybe the president was right; we had to take extreme steps to protect the country. And getting Richard Nixon re-elected was, as I saw it then, the most important thing I could do for my country.

What I now realize today, of course, is that we humans all have an infinite capacity for self-justification. Jeremiah was right: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Who can know it?"

So knowing what was right, I did what was wrong, and justified myself in the process. I employed wrong means for what I perceived to be good ends, and I was sentenced to prison, ironically for giving an FBI report to a reporter, another point at which I can identify with Mark Felt.

I'm willing to give Felt the benefit of the doubt that he acted to end corruption, not because Nixon had passed him over for FBI director. That's why many today say he's a hero.

But before we jump to that conclusion, let's look at what he really did. FBI files are maintained on perhaps half of all Americans. Grand-jury records and FBI interviews are sacrosanct. Felt sneaked around in the dark of night, looking for flower pots on a balcony to give sensitive FBI information to reporters—something that was illegal.

He could have used good means to pursue his noble objective: He could have met with the president, or if we had refused to see him, he could have held a press conference to announce what the bad guys in the Nixon White House were doing. He would have been well within his rights.

Today, I'm not concerned about how Mark Felt, or those of us involved in Watergate, or the press is judged by history. All of us have to be responsible for what we did ourselves. What I am concerned about is how, in the eyes of many people, Mark Felt's end justified his means.

I've watched some of the classroom discussions on TV, and, almost to a person, students say he did the right thing because his end was good. This is terribly wrong.

I know we live in an era of moral relativism—everybody chooses what is "right" for them. But this is a path to chaos and a lawless, ungovernable nation.

Let Mark Felt live his remaining years in peace, but please, don't make him a role model for our kids. The lasting legacy of this sad era in American life ought to be a sober reminder that the ends do not justify the means. Integrity means doing the right thing in every area of your life, and it's the real mark of a true hero.

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From BreakPoint, Copyright 2005 Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint with Chuck Colson" is a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission of Prison Fellowship, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, DC, 20041-0500." Heard on more than 1000 radio stations nationwide. For more information on the ministry of Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship visit their web site at

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