Obit.: Charles A. Nuzum, 85; Led FBI’s Probe Of 1972 Break-In at Watergate Complex
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 23, 2008; Page B06
Charles A. Nuzum, 85, the FBI agent who was in charge of the agency’s investigation into the Watergate burglary, died Aug. 2 at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital because of an accidental fall. He lived in Tallahassee.
Mr. Nuzum oversaw the probe into the June 17, 1972, break-in at Democratic national headquarters at the Watergate office complex when he was chief of the FBI’s bankruptcy, antitrust and wiretapping unit. The investigation, run from the FBI’s Washington field office, uncovered the connection of the White House to the burglary, and the burglary to a wide-ranging set of crimes, undertaken to punish the perceived political enemies of the Nixon administration.
Mr. Nuzum would report the team’s findings daily to his superiors, including Robert Gebhardt, the assistant director of the FBI’s investigative division. Gebhardt would send the reports to Mark Felt, the agency’s associate director. Felt passed on the information to the FBI’s acting director, L. Patrick Gray. Mr. Nuzum’s name and his initials are on many of the key memos of the period.
“Charlie was an outstanding supervisor,” said Gebhardt, now retired and living in Southern California. “We had many sleepless nights and coffee-filled mornings . . . because there were obstacles to the investigation. He knew it, and he knew it was one of the biggest cases the FBI ever had.”
Two of the obstacles were in the chain of command. Unbeknown to the agents or almost anyone else, Felt was a source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who with Carl Bernstein was covering the scandal for the newspaper. Their articles about some of the FBI team’s findings gave the administration fits and prompted a search for leaks by the leaker himself.
Gray, who was awaiting nomination and confirmation to the FBI’s top job, later acknowledged that he had been sharing FBI interviews of Watergate suspects with the White House. The Nixon administration repeatedly tried to stop the FBI’s investigation.
Mr. Nuzum was born in Bourbon County, Kan., and his family moved to Florida while he was a child, settling in St. Petersburg. Mr. Nuzum was attending St. Petersburg Junior College when World War II started.
He served as a pilot in the Army Air Forces and flew a B-24 on 33 missions from a base in Italy. His military awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart.
He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1948 and joined the FBI in 1954. He worked as an accountant in Kansas City, Mo., and New York before moving to Washington in the 1960s.
After his retirement in 1975, he returned to Florida and became a state beverage division chief in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. At the time of his retirement in 1983, he was president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators.
He was also a member of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Joy L. Nuzum of Tallahassee; two children, Charles Nuzum Jr. of Lafayette, La., and Denise Perrino of Falls Church; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.