2 Ex-Timesmen Say They Had a Tip on Watergate First





The Watergate break-in eventually forced a presidential resignation and turned two Washington Post reporters into pop-culture heroes. But almost 37 years after the break-in, two former New York Times journalists have stepped forward to say that The Times had the scandal nearly in its grasp before The Post did — and let it slip.

Robert M. Smith, a former Times reporter, says that two months after the burglary, over lunch at a Washington restaurant, the acting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, L. Patrick Gray, disclosed explosive aspects of the case, including the culpability of the former attorney general, John Mitchell, and hinted at White House involvement.

Mr. Smith rushed back to The Times’s bureau in Washington to repeat the story to Robert H. Phelps, an editor there, who took notes and tape-recorded the conversation, according to both men. But then Mr. Smith had to hand off the story — he had quit The Times and was leaving town the next day to attend Yale Law School.

Mr. Smith kept the events to himself for more than three decades, but decided to go public after learning that Mr. Phelps planned to include it in his memoir.


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