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Inside Politics

Clinton: Felt did right thing in Watergate affair

Former President Clinton appears Wednesday on "Larry King Live."
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Larry King sits down with former President Clinton.

CNN's Brian Todd profiles Mark Felt's life and FBI career.
Bill Clinton
Mark Felt
Larry King

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former FBI official Mark Felt "did the right thing" by leaking information to The Washington Post that helped lead to President Nixon resignation's in the Watergate scandal in 1974, former President Clinton said.

"I think he did a good thing, and I think it was unusual circumstances," Clinton said Wednesday on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Felt, once the No. 2 official at the FBI, was "Deep Throat," the secret source for Washington Post reporters in the aftermath of the bungled 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex.

His identity remained unknown to the public for more than 30 years -- one of the best-kept secrets in the history of journalism. (Full story)

"I think Felt believed that there was a chance that this thing would be covered up," Clinton said, referring to the break-in and Nixon administration's cover-up. "Ordinarily, I think a law enforcement official shouldn't leak to the press because you should let criminal action take its course.

"But there was some reason to believe he was right. He always felt ambivalent about it apparently, and I think that's good," the former president said. "Under these circumstances he did the right thing."

Clinton also said he had no problem with Felt, 91, coming forward today.

Clinton said he had long felt it likely that "Deep Throat" was someone who worked in the "executive office complex. I really had no idea."

In the Wednesday night interview, Clinton also discussed the impact of religious groups on politics, his humanitarian projects and his relationship with former President George H.W. Bush.

When asked whether the Christian conservative movement -- which makes up much of President Bush's political base -- concerns him, Clinton replied: "I think they should be worried about it. Because I think whenever religious people try to exercise political power in God's name, and to say that they have the whole truth and they can impose it ... that's always hazardous.

"Our country is the most religious, big country on Earth, with more different faiths flourishing and more regular observance because we haven't had a state religion," he said. "And we haven't had politics as religion. And we haven't had politicians claiming to be in possession of the whole truth."

But religious influence in politics comes and goes, Clinton added.

He admitted that Democrats often are uncomfortable with discussions of the moral dilemmas many religious people feel. "And so we have ceded the ground of too many voters to the religious right," he said. "But that's our fault. We should engage in this debate."

Clinton said he is committed to the humanitarian projects he directs, including assessing the needs of the tsunami-ravaged region of southern Asia for the United Nations. He just returned from Indonesia's Aceh province, Sri Lanka and India.

The Democrat explained the nature of his relationship with the elder Bush, whom he defeated in 1992. The former GOP president appeared Tuesday on "Larry King Live." (Full story)

"I've always liked him. I've always admired him. I mean, he gave his life to public service. He comes from a family who did. His father was a distinguished senator from Connecticut," Clinton said.

"And so I share an interest in public service. He likes sports. I like sports. He likes people. And I think he's a genuinely good man."

The Bushes have invited Clinton to their family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, this summer.

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