If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because history really is here to help. — “Bagman,” page 19
If I leave this office without enemies, I will not have done the job properly. I think that the public has to know there is an office somewhere that is incorruptible. — George Beall, “Bagman,” page 263
I recently read Bagman by Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz. The book’s subtitle is “The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House.” There is also a podcast.
The story is shocking, detailed and well-documented. Here is a brief summary:
- Corruption in Maryland in the 1960’s and 1970’s was commonplace, expected.
- Spiro Agnew was elected Baltimore County Executive in 1962.
- In 1967, he was elected Governor of Maryland.
- Paying government officials to get a contract was normal.
- Agnew set a standard for his share–five percent for him in cash.
- In 1968 and 1972 Agnew was elected Vice President.
- Agnew continued to receive envelops full of cash in his White House office.
- When Attorney General Elliot Richardson learned that Federal Prosecutors planned to charge Agnew with multiple felonies, he knew he had a problem. President Nixon might not finish his term, which would make Agnew President.
- When Agnew learned of the investigation, he pushed back, claiming political bias, over-zealous prosecutors, leaks to the press, and proclaiming his innocence.
- Agnew argued that the Vice President couldn’t be indicted. The Justice Department decided differently: The President couldn’t be indicted while in office, but the Vice President could be. This is why Michael Cohen more recently went to jail but President Trump wasn’t indicted.
- Normally Agnew’s crimes would mean a long prison sentence, which the prosecution demanded.
- Nixon was on the ropes; there was no time for a lengthy trial. The prosecution agreed to a plea deal. Agnew would plea to a felony, resign and receive a light sentence — he got off with a $10,000 fine and three years of unsupervised probation. He wasn’t required to return the money he extorted.
- Ten days later, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, who orchestrated the plea deal, resigned in what is known as “the Saturday Night Massacre.”
The book is full of juicy details, an interesting and informative read.