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After learning that his own Justice Department is investigating his crimes, Vice President Spiro Agnew embarks on a secret, behind-the-scenes effort... to obstruct justice. To use his power inside the White House to interfere with the investigation and shut it down. It’s a scheme that involves President Nixon himself, members of Nixon's inner circle, and it has never been known to the prosecutors investigating the case... even now, 45 years later.
For a list of sources and references for this episode, see here.
W. CLEMENT STONE (BUSINESSMAN): This is W. Clement Stone saying I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel terrific!
W. Clement Stone was an eccentric, self-made millionaire. A business tycoon who transformed himself from insurance salesman… into a power-of-positive thinking self-help guru.
STONE: I love all my fellow men. I love every one of you. And it’s my sincere prayer that you respond and learn how to help yourself by learning the art of motivation
W. Clement Stone looked sort of the way that he sounds. He had a pencil-thin moustache, he was always immaculately dressed in a bow-tie and a vest, sometimes a big cigar. He was an ostentatiously wealthy millionaire who wanted you to be a millionaire, too.
And the way you could do it was by purchasing his motivational records... “The Sounds of Success.”
ANNOUNCER: The Combined Group of Companies presents: The Sounds of Success.W. Clement Stone's patented self-help you-can-be-rich-too mantra... was “PMA: Positive Mental Attitude.”
And in the Fall of 1973, he came to the rescue of a man whose mental attitude-- and whose life in general-- had suddenly become something quite less than positive:
JOHN CHANCELLOR: Good evening. For the first time in American history, a grand jury today began hearing evidence which could link a Vice President to criminal charges. The federal prosecutor’s office in Baltimore began, in strict secrecy, the presentation of evidence concerning Spiro Agnew.
Vice President Spiro Agnew was facing the prospect of a federal indictment on bribery and extortion charges. And what John Chancellor said there was right -- nothing like that had ever happened before in U.S. history. And in that darkest hour, the man who rode to the rescue of the Vice President... was W. Clement Stone.
That Fall of 1973, with the possible indictment of the Vice President looming, Stone set up the official Spiro T. Agnew Legal Defense Fund.
In a slightly over the top press release, he described how honored he was to start accepting donations from average Americans on behalf of the Vice President, he estimated that Agnew’s defense bills could reach a half-million dollars.
And after setting up a nationwide phone bank to start taking in those donations from across the country, W. Clement Stone -- by the end of that first week -- had raked in all of about 300-bucks.
It didn't work.
But Spiro Agnew did like having celebrity friends like W. Clement Stone.
Frank Sinatra also came to his aid. Sinatra hit up his friends to give money to Agnew.
One friend of Sinatra’s reportedly told him in response, “Look, we don't give a damn about Agnew, but if you want some money, Frank we'll give it to you.”
The truth was, Spiro Agnew really did need the money. He had hired this team of big-name lawyers who were waging an aggressive battle in the courts to try to keep him out of jail.
He also had his PR strategy at that point, which was to throw the kitchen sink at his own Justice Department, to attack the prosecutors as biased. That was the strategy that was happening out loud, in public, so you could see it.
But there was also his strategy… that was hidden from public view. Hidden then... and hidden for years after. That was one Spiro Agnew had been waging -- secretly -- from the very beginning.
It was a coordinated effort... to obstruct justice. To use the power of his position in the White House to block that investigation, to shut it down before it closed in on him.
And that story-- the story of that secret obstruction effort-- it hasn’t even been known to the prosecutors who were investigating Agnew at the time. They are about to hear it here for the first time.
You’re listening to “Bag Man.” I’m your host Rachel Maddow.
Episode 4: “Turn It Off”
BARNEY SKOLNIK (FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR): This is an actual conversation?
MIKE YARVITZ (PRODUCER): Yeah, transcript of an audio recorded conversation.
SKOLNIK: Wow. Oh my God, this is beautiful.
You’ve heard from Barney Skolnik before. He was the senior prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Baltimore in the Spring of 1973.
What he’s reacting to here is a transcript of a conversation that he has never seen before. My producer Mike Yarvitz gave him a copy.
SKOLNIK: “There's an investigation going on in Maryland. He asked Bob for helping in turning it off.” Okay. Well these are fun.
YARVITZ: Well, let me give you a couple more!
SKOLNIK: Don't get my juices flowing. I mean, I'm too old for this shit!
In the Spring of 1973, this team of young federal prosecutors in Baltimore-- led by Barney Skolnik-- they were hot on Spiro Agnew’s trail.
Agnew had been the Governor of Maryland before becoming Vice President. He’d been Baltimore County Executive before that. And what this team of prosecutors had just discovered is that throughout his time in government, Spiro Agnew had been a crook.
He was a shakedown artist. He had been extorting money from government contractors for years, demanding payoffs, accepting envelopes stuffed with cash. It all started back when he was first elected back in Maryland politics, but it continued right through his time as Vice President.
It was cash delivered to him-- usually through a Bag Man-- in exchange for government contracts that he controlled.
And in early 1973, when Spiro Agnew first learned that there was some investigation going on back in Maryland, he started taking actions, almost immediately, to try to make that investigation go away.
What we know about this secret effort from within the White house to interfere with that ongoing investigation... we know about because there are tapes.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You’ve got it across very strong to him that this is terribly important.
Richard Nixon’s secret White House recording system famously led to his own demise as President. But the tapes from that recording system also picked up hours of conversations about this investigation in Maryland that was closing in on the Vice President.
In April 1973, Vice President Agnew first heard that one of his co-conspirators, a man named Jerry Wolff, was on the radar of prosecutors.
RON LIEBMAN (FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR): Jerry Wolff, who was another one of these guys, became hysterical in his lawyer's office, we were later told, and was screaming in the hall about, you know, “He's gonna take everybody down!” You know, he was, it was terrible pressure.
Jerry Wolff had been a really big part of Agnew’s bribery scheme. He got a cut of the payoffs himself, he knew all about what Agnew was doing. And when Agnew learned that Jerry Wolff was about to be questioned by prosecutors, he went to one of President Nixon’s closest aides-- White House Chief of Staff HR Haldeman-- for help:
HR “BOB” HALDEMAN (NIXON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF): Wednesday April 10th. The President got me in first thing this morning…
What you’re hearing right now is an audio diary that Bob Haldeman kept during his time as Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff. Here’s what he recorded that night about a conversation he'd had with Agnew that day:
HALDEMAN: The Vice President called me over today and said he had a real problem, because Jerry Wolff who used to work for him back in Maryland and then he brought him to Washington with him ... is about to be called by the U.S. Attorney up there who’s busting open campaign contribution cases and kickbacks to contractors. It seems that Wolff kept verbatim records of meetings with the Vice President and others, back over the years.
Agnew tells the White House Chief of Staff that this guy -- who’s now under scrutiny by prosecutors -- he kept verbatim notes of all his meetings. Agnew clearly knew that Jerry Wolff was a really dangerous witness. If he squealed, he could potentially unravel the whole thing.
What Agnew wanted HR Haldeman to do about this threat... was help him stop the prosecutors.
Now, in order to understand what you’re about to hear on these tapes, there’s one other character that you need to know about.
The U.S. Attorney in Maryland who was leading that investigation was someone we’ve talked about a lot, a Republican U.S. Attorney named George Beall. He oversaw that team of federal prosecutors, he also came from a family that was basically Republican royalty in Maryland.
Part of the reason that he was Republican royalty was at the time that George Beall was leading this investigation out of the U.S. Attorney’s office, his older brother was a sitting U.S. Senator from Maryland, Republican Senator Glenn Beall.
SEN. GLENN BEALL (R-MD): The United States is the strongest free country on the face of the Earth, and since we are that, we are interested in promoting freedom around the world…
And Spiro Agnew and the Nixon White House, they thought that Glenn Beall-- the Senator-- would be their key to making this entire investigation go away.
HALDEMAN: He made the point that George Beall who’s Glenn Beall’s brother is the U.S. Attorney there, and that if Glenn Beall would talk to him he could straighten it out. The Vice President’s tried to get him to, but apparently not successfully, so he wanted me to talk to Glenn Beall, which, of course, I won’t do, in order to verify a White House awareness and concern. He feels the publication of this stuff would finish the VP, because Wolff was with him for so long.
If you're ever trying to explain the concept of "obstruction of justice" to a second grader, this would be a good case study.
The Vice President believes that what this witness will say could "finish" him. He tries to get the White House to stop the prosecutor from questioning that witness by pressuring the prosecutor through his family. It is an overt, spelled-out effort to use political power and political leverage to shutdown this potent criminal case.
That said, if it was just a failed effort-- if this had ended there at that conversation with HR Haldeman and Haldeman saying he wouldn't do it-- then you could maybe just chalk it up to the Vice President blowing off steam and having obstructionist inclinations.
But it didn’t stop at that conversation.
Bob Haldeman didn't agree to pressure Senator Glenn Beall himself, but he did relay that request from Agnew to another top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman. And then, three days later, Ehrlichman was discussing it with President Nixon in the Oval Office.
Now, don’t worry about picking up every word here, I will sum up the gist of what you’re about to hear. The first voice you’re going to hear is John Ehrlichman. And the voice you’re going to hear in the background is President Richard Nixon:
JOHN EHRLICHMAN (ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT NIXON): Did Bob tell you about his meeting with Agnew?NIXON: No, I didn’t see Bob [unintelligible] what is it? He saw him?
EHRLICHMAN: Well, he saw him two or three days ago. And your Vice President has problems of his own.
“Your Vice President has problems of his own,” Ehrlichman tells Nixon.
What you’re going to hear next is Nixon asking if this has something to do with Watergate, Ehrlichman then has to correct him, get him up to speed to let him know that this is Agnew’s own totally separate scandal:
NIXON: With this?
EHRLICHMAN: No, no, something else … Back when he was Governor. Apparently there’s an investigation going on in Maryland, and he asked Bob for help in turning it off.
“There’s an investigation going on in Maryland, and he asked Bob for help in turning it off.”
And again, if it just stopped right there, if Nixon, Ehrlichman and Haldeman all said, “Agnew is trying to get us to interfere with this investigation, but we obviously can’t do that,” if it had stopped right there... then... maybe...
But it didn’t stop there.
Days later, Agnew himself was in the Oval Office putting a plan in place with the President himself to obstruct this investigation, to shut it down. The tape you’re about to hear now is a little bit rough. Don’t worry about picking up every word. What you’ll hear first is Agnew venting to President Nixon in the Oval Office about that U.S. Attorney in Maryland George Beall who’s been digging into the County where Agnew got his start:
VICE PRESIDENT SPIRO AGNEW: Can you imagine a guy going in to, uh, an in-depth investigation, and going into the County that I was in and beginning this--
Agnew is complaining here about this U.S. Attorney George Beall. And what Nixon immediately moves to is... who is this U.S. Attorney and what can we do about it? Listen:
NIXON: Who is the U.S. Attorney that's handling it? Is it Beall?
NIXON: Well, is he a good boy? Why the hell did we appoint him?
“Is he a good boy?” That’s what Nixon asks Agnew. “Why the hell did we appoint him?”
What the two men then start putting together is a plan to start pressuring George Beall to stop this investigation.
What you’ll hear in this next clip is Agnew first talking about all of the IRS agents who have been assigned to the case, and then Nixon and Agnew talk about getting to George Beall, getting to the prosecutor, through his brother Republican Senator Glenn Beall:
AGNEW: He's got 30 IRS people in there snooping around there. They're looking at everybody, every angle
NIXON: Well, how can we get that word to him though?...
AGNEW: Glenn Beall's the only way to influence this.
NIXON: The senator?
NIXON: Well, look, has Glenn Beall been talked to? … Well, Glenn Beall better take a real deep—we helped him bury that one in ‘70. Bury it.
What you heard Nixon say at the end there is “we helped” Glenn Beall bury that in 1970.
That was actually the key here. Senator Glenn Beall owed the Nixon White House because Nixon and Agnew helped him get elected. The father of George Beall and Glenn Beall had previously held that U.S. Senate seat in Maryland. But a Democrat had beaten him and taken the seat in 1964. When that seat came up again in 1970, Nixon and Agnew helped the Beall family avenge that loss and take back that seat in the U.S. Senate.
AGNEW: I think we have a candidate in Glenn Beall that we can be extremely proud of…
And it worked, the Republican Party got that Senate seat in Maryland back. But so did the Beall family.
And now one of the Beall sons was going to try to destroy Spiro Agnew with this investigation? No. Nixon and Agnew decided -- no, now it was time for Senator Glenn Beall to return the favor and to shut down his little brother.
Agnew goes on in that conversation to bring up a potential witness who might tell prosecutors that he came to the White House to hand Agnew an envelope full of cash.
AGNEW: He may say he gave me a kickback of some kind. Came over here and handed me $50,000. [cross-talk] Totally ridiculous.
Agnew says that claim would be “totally ridiculous.” But listen to how Nixon responds to that… to this idea of a witness who could incriminate Agnew inside the White House. Listen to the very end of this:
AGNEW: There are all kinds of rumors.
NIXON: Good God, isn't it awful?
AGNEW: But this man is . . .
NIXON: Well, can we destroy him?
Did you hear Nixon at the end there? He says about this witness... “can we destroy him?”
So, what the President and the Vice President are discussing in the Oval Office at this point is, number one: how they can get a U.S. Attorney to shutdown an ongoing investigation of the Vice President. And number two: how they might destroy any witnesses who might try to come forward with information on the Vice President.
But there’s one more piece of this conversation I want to play. What they’re talking about here is instructing the U.S. Attorney George Beall specifically to fire the main prosecutor working on the case, Barney Skolnik:
AGNEW: Somehow get Glenn Beall—George Beall, the brother-- to realize that he's— go in there, finish up what he's doing ... Get this thing over with and get this guy, Skolnik, who's a Muskie volunteer, the hell out of his office.
“Get this thing over with and get this guy Skolnik, who’s a Muskie volunteer, the hell of his office.”
So: end the investigation now and fire the lead investigator from the case Barney Skolnik. He's a Democrat.That was June 1973. Fast forward a little more than a year, Nixon resigns after the revelation of his role in obstructing the investigation into Watergate.
The first article of impeachment drawn up against Nixon was “obstruction of justice” for his role in trying to cover-up that scandal.
But what we can now hear on these tapes is a robust obstruction effort by Nixon and Agnew totally separate from Watergate!
It’s Richard Nixon, hearing about an investigation into his Vice President, and saying how do we go about shutting this down, how do we use the power of the White House to force the prosecutors to drop the case, how do we destroy witnesses that might come forward.And they weren't just musing about doing this. They did it! That’s next.
HALDEMAN: Monday April 30th. Uh, Resignation Day.
In April 1973, Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff HR Haldeman suddenly resigned over his role in Watergate.
When he did, the man Nixon named as his replacement-- his new Chief of Staff-- was General Al Haig:
NBC REPORTER: Press Secretary Ron Ziegler said General Haig’s appointment is an interim one, but he said Haig already is on the job carrying out most of the duties HR Haldeman used to perform.
When Al Haig took over that job, one of those duties that he inherited, was a White House plan that already in action to obstruct and try to shutdown a criminal investigation of the Vice President.
Al Haig took the job… and he didn’t miss a beat.
Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew had come up with a plan to get to George Beall, the U.S. Attorney leading that investigation. And they would get to him through his brother a Republican U.S. Senator named Glenn Beall.
It was Haig’s job to make that happen. And again we know that because there are tapes.
Like this one where you can hear Nixon and Haig in the Oval Office putting together a plan to have a White House adviser named Mel Laird be the middleman.
Now, the tape here is a little rough, but you’ll hear Nixon trying to figure out with Haig how to do this secretly, how to do this in a way where Nixon’s fingerprints weren’t on it. Nixon starts here by saying “I think you better talk to Mel”:
NIXON: Well, I’ll tell you, I think you better talk to Mel.
GEN. ALEXANDER HAIG (NIXON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF): I’ll talk to Mel.
NIXON: I don’t think I better--
HAIG: No, no, no!
NIXON: I can’t have it put out that I was trying to fix the case.
HAIG: No, no, no, you cannot do this.
Nixon says there, “I can’t have it put out that I was trying to fix the case.”
And Haig says “No, no, you cannot do this.”
Al Haig then lays out what exactly they want this Senator, Glenn Beall, to do for them:
HAIG: So, if Beall can get his brother – who’s the U.S. Attorney, who we appointed, who’s a Republican, but who’s turned this thing over to two fanatical prosecutors-- but if he just sits in on them and supervises this--
“If [Glenn] Beall can get his brother – who’s the U.S. Attorney, who we appointed, who’s a Republican, but who’s turned this thing over to two fanatical prosecutors-- if he just sits in on them and supervises this.”
In other words, what U.S. Attorney George Beall needs to do is sit in on these “fanatical prosecutors” in his office who are taking this investigation to places we don’t want it to go.
Nixon and Haig are devising this plan, in secret, to interfere with this ongoing investigation. They then start putting this plan into action.
But the middle man they end up using-- the guy who they drag into this obstruction scheme-- ultimately isn’t Mel Laird. Who they end up using for this obstruction effort is the Chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time. A man by the name of... George Herbert Walker Bush.
The future President of the United States-- George Bush-- gets enlisted in this effort to reach out to Senator Glenn Beall to have him pressure his brother to shutdown this investigation.
Listen to this phone call between Richard Nixon and Al Haig.
The audio here is a little bit distorted, but the first voice here is Nixon and he’s talking to Haig about enemies of the White House who are now going after everybody:
NIXON: It’s amazing, isn’t it? By golly, the way they start to go after everybody, don’t they?
HAIG: Yeah, they’re after everybody. And the Vice President has been very nervous, he called me three times here.
NIXON: I know and you decided to have Harlow try to, well he’s isn’t here—
HAIG: He isn’t here, so I did it through George Bush on the first run.
NIXON: That’s good, that’s good.“I did it through George Bush on the first run.”
This didn’t ever stick to George HW Bush... maybe because these audio tapes have just been collecting dust for the last four decades. But George Bush was brought in to a potentially criminal effort organized and directed by the then-President of the United States Richard Nixon to obstruct an ongoing investigation into his Vice President.
And George Bush did it.
U.S. Attorney George Beall ended up donating his papers to Frostburg State University in Maryland. And if you go to those archives, you can now see an official “memo-to-file” that U.S. Attorney George Beall wrote that Summer of 1973. In that memo to file, it is made quite clear that after the White House came up with this plan, George H.W. Bush did, in fact, contact U.S. Senator Glenn Beall and he tried to have Senator Glenn Beall get word to his little brother the U.S. Attorney about this investigation.
This is what he wrote in the file: “With respect to conversations with my brother Glenn, the discussions were most superficial and very guarded. He occasionally mentioned to me the names of persons who had been to see him or who had called him with respect to [this] investigation. Names of persons that I remember him telling me about included Vice President Agnew ... and George Bush.”
Now, there are a few amazing things here.
First, of course, is that a future U.S. President participated in what was likely a criminal scheme to obstruct justice.
But there’s also the fact that Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew would even attempt this sort of thing in the climate of Watergate that they were in.
This was the Summer of 1973. The Senate Watergate hearings were on TV every day. The Watergate cover-up was starting to unravel around Richard Nixon. Nixon had just fired his Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, his White House Counsel John Dean, his Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, his top Domestic Aide John Ehrlichman... it was all supposedly to clean house from the Watergate mess.
But right then at the same time, Nixon and Agnew decided to undertake a whole separate effort to interfere with a totally unrelated investigation into Agnew.
And the final amazing thing here is that the Baltimore federal prosecutors who were building this case against Agnew at the time-- which Agnew and Nixon were actively trying to shut-down-- they have never known about any of this.
45 years later, this is all brand new to them:
SKOLNIK: This is an actual conversation?
YARVITZ: Yeah, transcript of an audio recorded conversation.
That’s Barney Skolnik, the lead prosecutor on the team.
Remember that audio diary from HR Haldeman?
HALDEMAN: The Vice President called me over today and said he had a real problem.
Here’s Barney Skolnik learning about that recording for the first time:
SKOLNIK: Oh, he had an audio diary? Jesus!
YARVITZ: He made the point that George Beall who’s Glenn Beall’s brother is the U.S. Attorney there, and that if Glenn Beall would talk to him he could straighten it out.
SKOLNIK: “If Glenn Beall would talk to George, he could straighten it out.” Yeah! Well, you, you want my reaction to this? I mean, you know, it's exactly what you would think. That's the kind of classic crap that we feared might happen is, you know, somebody like Agnew going to somebody like Haldeman to go to somebody like Glenn Bell. I mean, that's, you know, that's the what our President calls “the swamp.” I mean that's, you know, that's the swamp, you know, in operation.
YARVITZ: But you didn't know at the time that it was in operation.
SKOLNIK: No! Well I mean we knew, we had some sense as the whole country did of what kind of administration Nixon-- with Haldeman and Ehrlichman and so on-- were running, but we had no, we had no knowledge that this was happening!
Here’s Ron Liebman-- another one of the Baltimore prosecutors-- seeing Nixon on tape here talking about destroying a potential witness in their case:
AGNEW: There are all kinds of rumors.
NIXON: Good God, isn't it awful?
AGNEW: But this man is--NIXON: Well, can we destroy him?
LIEBMAN: “Well, can we destroy him?” Forty-five years later, and my blood still boils when I read stuff like that.
That conversation between Nixon and Agnew in the Oval Office also included them strategizing about how to pressure Senator Glenn Beall.
AGNEW: Glenn Beall's the only way to influence this.
NIXON: The senator?
LIEBMAN: This is, this is the Nixon White House.This is what they did across the board.
YARVITZ: I mean, what does-- you’re a lawyer-- what does that look like?
LIEBMAN: Clearly obstruction of justice or attempt to obstruct justice. Clearly.
YARVITZ: If you had known about that at the time, would obstruction have been something in your mind in terms of--
LIEBMAN: You bet, you bet. Sure. I think, I think, uh, I don’t think it would have been very difficult at all to start investigating obstruction of justice if we had known about this.
Here’s Tim Baker. He was the third prosecutor on the team. Tim Baker himself is referenced in one of those conversations as one of the “fanatical prosecutors” that’s taking this investigation in a direction they didn’t want it to go.
HAIG: So, if Beall can get his brother – who’s the U.S. Attorney, who we appointed, who’s a Republican-- but who’s turned this thing over to two fanatical prosecutors.
TIM BAKER (FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR): Two fanatical prosecutors! That’s funny. Well, we were-- I mean, fanatical?-- boy, once we thought he was guilty, then we were, we were really focused on it. We were gonna, we were gonna do this. We were gonna get this guy out of there and more.
Tim Baker wasn’t the only one of the prosecutors referenced directly in these tapes.
Remember that conversation between Nixon and Agnew about getting the lead prosecutor Barney Skolnik thrown off the case?
Barney Skolnik himself... never had any idea about that.
AGNEW: Get this thing over with and get this guy Skolnik, who's a Muskie volunteer, the hell out of his office.
SKOLNIK: Oh, there’s my name! Wow! Agnew said my name! Oh, joy. “Get this thing over with and get this guy Skolnik who’s a Muskie volunteer the hell out of this office.” Oh man, you gotta give me a copy of this! Oh, wow! Makes my whole life worthwhile! Oh, that's beautiful. “Get him the hell out of this office.” Oh, thank you, my man. This is so beautiful. Michael, you really have, you really have, this doesn't just make my day, this makes my decade. “Get this guy Skolnik who’s a Muskie volunteer the hell out of this office.”
These prosecutors, who are now reading through these conversations for the very first time, their emotions about this case, and what they’re seeing-- 45 years later-- it’s all still very much on the surface for them.
LIEBMAN: It makes your skin crawl, doesn't it? It really makes your skin crawl. Even 45 years later with all the stuff that we have come across in terms of public corruption, it still makes your skin crawl.
SKOLNIK: This is essentially somebody under investigation going to an authority-- in this case, happens to be the President-- to say not just “stop the investigation,” but get a prosecutor fired for no apparent reason other than he's running the investigation, that's obviously illegal and obstruction of justice. And to have political pressure put on the lead prosecutor-- George-- to stop the investigation, again for no discernible reason. I mean again, you know, “stop the investigation because statute of limitations is run” or you know, fill in the blank, some legitimate reason? But this is, “Stop it because I want it stopped. Because I am exposed to possible criminal prosecution.” Obviously that's obstruction of justice. I mean, all of these conversations are if not literally illegal, they are certainly suggesting that illegal things be done.
So, it’s remarkable for us to realize that the prosecutors have never known about any of this until now. It’s amazing to hear them reacting to it for the first time.But the reason they never knew about it until now is not just amazing, in a sense, it’s sort of heroic.
Think about what this says, what this means, about their boss George Beall, the Republican U.S. Attorney who was overseeing their investigation.
That coordinated obstruction effort launched by Spiro Agnew and carried out by Richard Nixon and the whole machinery of the White House and the Republican Party… that plan was actually carried-out as intended.
People close to Richard Nixon-- including George HW Bush-- did, in fact, push this Senator who may have owed his seat to the White House -- they pushed Senator Glenn Beall to try to influence this investigation.
Spiro Agnew himself personally lobbied Senator Glenn Beall over-and-over again. Agnew’s records and papers are now held at the University of Maryland. What you find when you go through those papers-- as we did-- are multiple face-to-face meetings that Agnew himself held in his office with Senator Glenn Beall.
It’s all right there in his notes and his daily calendars.
This effort to get to that Senator, to get him to help them shutdown this investigation that his little brother was running, that plan was put into place. And the first part of it worked.Senator Glenn Beall himself took all of that pressure that he was getting and he did, in fact, reach out to his little brother George about it.
In that same memo to file in his papers in the Frostburg State archive, George says his older brother “relate[d] to him … expression[s] of concern” from George Bush and Agnew and others.
His Senator brother was contacting him telling him about all the powerful and important people in Washington who had been in touch with him “concerned” about George's investigation.
The obstruction effort got to George Beall. And George Beall memorialized that pressure that he was getting for the record... for history... but he stopped it there.
We now know he never once passed a word of any of it along to his team of young federal prosecutors who were just quietly working that case.
BAKER: There wasn't any moment in which George hesitated at all about this.
LIEBMAN: George never-- to me, and as far as I know to my colleagues-- never once said anything like, “Hey, you know, my brother called and he says, this is really causing a problem, are we really sure about this? Do we really want to do this?” Nothing like that ever, ever happened.
SKOLNIK: There was never any, not only was there never any specific information along those lines, but there was never any indirect indication from the way George spoke to us that anything his brother had said to him had any effect. Whatever they wanted George to do, he didn't do!
LIEBMAN: If that had happened, there would have been the mutiny of mutinies on the part of Tim, Barney and me. There would have been a world-class mutiny, but it wouldn't have happened because there's no way that our boss, George Beall, would come near that. 100%U.S. Attorney George Beall was all of 35 years old at the time. He was a Republican on the rise in Maryland. He had his whole career in Republican politics ahead of him. But he refused to bow to that pressure that was coming right at him from this Republican White House, through his direct family.
This coordinated obstruction effort that involved Vice President Agnew, President Nixon, HR Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Al Haig, George Bush... this coordinated effort to shutdown an investigation into the sitting Vice President... it failed.
And it failed because this Republican U.S. Attorney was in a position of responsibility-- he had this investigation to pursue-- and he never once blinked.And so, what happened next... when that obstruction effort failed because of him?
Richard Nixon had been actively trying to interfere with this investigation on behalf of his Vice President, but when that effort failed, Nixon was more than willing to turn on Agnew in order to save himself.
And that is when things went totally off the rails… to the point where Spiro Agnew actually believed that Richard Nixon might be plotting to have him killed.
REPORTER: You say that you were actually fearful that if you did not go along, President Nixon might have ordered you assassinated, could you explain that?
That is a real, live part of this story and that is still to come.I’m Rachel Maddow, and this is “Bag Man.”
“Bag Man” is a production of MSNBC and NBC Universal. This series is executive produced by Mike Yarvitz. It was written by myself and Mike Yarvitz. Editorial and production support from Jonathan Hirsch and Marissa Schneiderman for Neon Hum Media. And, by the way, if you want to see that memo to file that George Beall put in his archives at Frostburg State University, we have posted it at msnbc.com/bagman, along with a whole bunch of other materials you might want to see from this episode.