Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House
“A thoroughly consuming reexamination of one of the most shameful scandals of American political history.”
Is it possible for an American vice president to direct a vast criminal enterprise within the halls of the White House? To have one of the most brazen corruption scandals in American history play out while nobody's paying attention? And for that scandal to be all but forgotten decades later?
The year was 1973, and the vice president in question was Spiro Agnew. Long on firebrand rhetoric and short on political experience, Agnew as governor of Maryland and a Baltimore County executive had carried out a bribery and extortion ring in office for years. Then at the height of the Watergate investigation, three federal prosecutors discovered his crimes and launched a mission to take him down before Richard Nixon's own downfall made way for Agnew to ascend to the presidency.
“The crowds who came out to his rallies reveled in Agnew’s unapologetic take-the-paint-off-the-walls partisanship. His increasingly confrontational taunts became a constant presence on the network newscasts . . . Agnew’s political brand was built around the idea that he was an outsider . . . and if he didn’t actually appear to care whom he had offended, that became a feature of his candidacy . . . Rather than hurting him, his ‘slip ups’ seemed to solidify his support with the Republican base.”
Does that sound familiar? Decades before Donald Trump entered politics and began regularly making inflammatory remarks at his rivals. Agnew used this same style of impetuous name calling and bullying tones to gleefully mock liberals and anyone who stood in his way. He did everything he could to bury the investigation: dismissing it as a "witch hunt," riling up his partisan base, making the press the enemy, and, with a crumbling circle of loyalists, scheming to obstruct justice.
Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House by Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz is based on her Peabody Award-nominated podcast of the same name. In this wildly entertaining and informative investigation, Maddow and Yarvitz detail the probe that uncovered Vice-President Spiro Agnew's sordid crimes, attempted cover-up, and plea bargain that eventually forced his resignation. Maddow is the Emmy Award winning host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, as well as the New York Times bestselling author of Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (2012). Yarvitz is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning television producer and journalist.
“And yet, for all his real impact. Agnew’s story is largely forgotten today . . . what exactly promoted Agnew’s resignation from office in 1973. It was some pennyante tax evasion back in Maryland, right? Part of the reason for the lost history of Spiro Agnew is the simple factor of time.”
Bagman is the story of Spiro Agnew’s crimes. It is a saga that played out in the shadows of Watergate, and although most of Agnew’s misdeeds such as criminal conspiracy, bribery, extortion, and tax fraud occurred prior to his time as vice president he did continue to receive kickbacks from contractors while in office. On October 10, 1973, after months of maintaining his innocence, Agnew appeared before the federal court in Baltimore, and pleaded no contest to one felony charge of tax evasion and resigned from office. Because of this he has the dubious distinction of being the only sitting vice president to be convicted of a felony and only the second to resign. In 1832, John C. Calhoun resigned after being elected to the US Senate from South Carolina.
Spiro Agnew was crooked long before he arrived in Washington, and the history of his efforts to cover-up his wrongdoings make a fascinating tale. Maddow and Yarvitz are wonderful storytellers and capably engage the reader by expanding on her podcast with even more details and expert analysis of Agnew's numerous criminalities. Most notably, they convey the scandal’s lasting impact on American politics and the media. Bag Man is a thoroughly consuming reexamination of one of the most shameful scandals of American political history.