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Disgraced Vice President Spiro T. Agnew officially becomes a private citizen and addresses the nation one last time... as a convicted criminal. Agnew continues his attacks on the press and the prosecutors right to the end. But his sudden resignation leaves questions-- unanswered-- that echo 45 years later. Can a President or Vice President actually be criminally indicted while in office? And if not, what sort of pressure can be brought to bear... to force them out?
For a list of sources and references for this episode, see here.
NBC ANNOUNCER: The program usually seen at this time will not be shown, so that we may bring you the following NBC News Special Report. Here is NBC News Correspondent John Chancellor.JOHN CHANCELLOR: Good evening. What we are about to see has never before happened in American history.
MADDOW: That was October 15th, 1973:
“What we are about to see has never before happened in American history.”
That’ll grab your attention.
What John Chancellor was talking about there, what he was preparing the audience for was not the resignation of the Vice President, that had already happened five days earlier. And it wasn't the resignation of the President either -- that was still a few months away at that point.
That special report that night was actually for the very, very special occasion of an address to the nation -- in primetime! from the newly convicted, ex Vice President of the United States.
CHANCELLOR: A former Vice President of the United States-- convicted of a criminal charge-- has asked the television networks for an opportunity to speak to the country.
Traditionally, if you’re a President-- or even a Vice President-- you might request network airtime and then address the nation from the White House.But in this case, Spiro Agnew was now a private citizen. He had resigned his office, he had just pled to a felony. And so, there was really no precedent for how to do this.
But he wanted to explain himself, and so he requested the airtime, there was certainly interest in what he might have to say! So his address to the nation that night, it didn’t come with the trappings of the White House behind him, it came from the NBC News studios in Washington DC:
AGNEW: I do not want to spend these last moments with you in a paroxysm of bitterness, but I do think there are matters related to my resignation that are misunderstood. It is important to me and, I believe, to the country that these misconceptions be corrected.
Spiro Agnew did not use that final address to the American people that night to express remorse, to acknowledge that maybe he had acted improperly at times.
He also didn’t try to calm down his supporters who, after all, were outraged at his prosecution -- he had denounced that prosecution as a witch hunt! But that night, on national TV, he was not there to call for calm, he wasn’t there to call for unity.
No, Spiro Agnew used that final address that night-- which itself was an unprecedented event-- he used that speech to stoke the fires once again. To launch yet another assault on the press, and to keep attacking the prosecutors who had just driven him from office:
AGNEW: Late this summer, my fitness to continue in office came under attack when accusations against me made in the course of a grand jury investigation were improperly and unconscionably leaked in detail to the news media … The news media editorially deplored these violations of the traditional secrecy of such investigations, but at the same time many of the most prestigious of them were ignoring their own counsel by publishing every leak they could get their hands on.
Spiro Agnew went out... the way that he came in.
As a counter-puncher, as a man whose first instinct in times of trouble was to deny any accusation that was made against him and then to attack, often in personal terms, those he saw as his enemies.
And that story of Spiro Agnew the political fighter… that’s the story we have told throughout this series “Bag Man.” And it turns out, it doesn't stand alone in history. It was unprecedented... then. But now? It’s a story that can maybe be instructive for the fights that we ended up in the middle of all over again in this iteration of Presidential scandal and the conflict between law enforcement and the White House.
We also know that the “Bag Man” story left some burning questions of its own.
And in this episode, we will get some answers. I’m Rachel Maddow and you’re listening to “Bag Man.”
Episode 7: “You Can't Fire Me -- I Quit”
There were a whole lot of things that we turned up in this series that we got lots of questions about from people who listened to the series. And it made us realize that we couldn't leave this story, we couldn’t walk away, without at least trying to answer some of the most burning of those unanswered questions.
And some of the questions were about the big stuff, the big Death-Of-The-Republic serious issues at the heart of this scandal, and the prosecution, and the court case, and the resignation.
But some of the burning questions were honestly just from pure burning curiosity. For example, this moment from our last Episode, Episode 6. There was a comment made by Baltimore prosecutor Ron Liebman in that episode about what he and his fellow prosecutors started to turn up about Spiro Agnew’s money, about how Spiro Agnew was spending his money, including some of the money he got through his criminal schemes.
Now, Ron Liebman didn't explain what he meant, exactly, but boy did this pique a lot of curiosity:
RON LIEBMAN (FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR): You know, these guys they have all these personal peccadillos, you know, they have money and power and they do stupid things. And we came across financial evidence of that and we heard some stories about that. One of them quite bizarre, but we, that wasn't part of the case.
“One of them quite bizarre.”
Alright, we're only human here. We cannot walk away from this without at least trying to figure out what the “one of them quite bizarre” thing is. We will try to get to the bottom of that in this episode here now.
There’s also, of course, the related question about whether Spiro Agnew worried that prosecutors were going to expose his alleged affairs -- could that actually have been the real catalyst for why he quit? Were the prosecutors threatening him that they might expose that stuff? We’re going to try to get to the bottom of that in this episode, as well.
And then, of course, there were also the really big Constitutional questions raised here. The questions that speak most directly to 2018, to what we’re living through right now.
Can a sitting President or a sitting Vice President actually be indicted by federal prosecutors? Spiro Agnew’s defense lawyers argued that he was immune from prosecution-- (that’s an argument, of course, that we’re hearing again today)-- but then, despite those arguments, they did cut a deal with prosecutors, a deal that led to Agnew’s resignation. Why would they do that if they really thought that he was immune from prosecution? If prosecutors couldn't touch him, why would they even bother negotiating with the prosecutors?
And on the other side of that coin, frankly, if the prosecutors were so sure that they could indict him as a sitting Vice President, why did they go through that whole crazy, dramatic choreography where they allowed Agnew to resign just moments before they charged him?
And what does all of that tell us about our situation now-- 45 years later-- and how our situation now 45 years later might eventually be resolved? Can you bring criminal charges against a President? Or a Vice President? Are we sure the legal precedent on this makes sense? Are we sure that the Justice Department rules on this issue could bear any sort of real test? Because in the Spiro Agnew case, they kind of didn’t!
For our final episode, we thought that maybe the people who were directly involved in this at the time might have some unique insights into how those questions should or could be answered today.
So, let’s ask them!
Sitting around this table right here with me now, live and in the flesh-- are a few of the people you have met over the course of these last six episodes. One man whose name and voice you will certainly now recognize, Martin London, Marty London who was one of Spiro Agnew's defense lawyers back in the fall of 1973. Hello, Mr. London, thank you for being here.
MARTIN LONDON (VICE PRESIDENT SPIRO AGNEW’S DEFENSE ATTORNEY): My pleasure, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW: Sitting right next to him is Ron Liebman, who at the time was a-- young buck, 29 years old-- 29 year old federal prosecutor in Maryland. He of course was part of a team of prosecutors along with Barney Skolnik and Tim Baker and their boss, the US Attorney George Beall, who uncovered a bombshell about the crimes of the sitting Vice President of the United States. And then-- as we tell in “Bag Man” had to go about saving the country from that. Mr. Liebman, thank you for being here.
RON LIEBMAN: I'm happy to be here.
RACHEL MADDOW: Also joining us here is my personal lifeline. NBC News presidential historian, Michael Beschloss-- my lifeline to presidential history-- Michael has been a great help to us on this series and on so many other stories with historical ties and resonance. Mr. Beschloss, it's an honor to have you here today. Thank you for being here--
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS (NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN): Honor for me to be here. You're my lifeline, too, Rachel. Always.
RACHEL MADDOW: Let me start off with the fact-- Marty, and Ron-- you guys have not actually seen each other-- you haven't crossed paths in the 45 years since that October day in 1973 when Vice President Agnew walked into that courthouse in Baltimore and pled and resigned. Am I right that you guys have not laid eyes on each other since that day in the courtroom?
MARTIN LONDON: Absolutely correct.
RON LIEBMAN: Today is the first day that we saw each other since October 10, 1973.
MARTIN LONDON: And-- and he for some reason-- he's much younger than I.
RACHEL MADDOW: A lot of the impact of this story, both for Mike and I working on it, and for listeners-- is just about the basic question of-- of the bottom line of that day in court, the last day that you guys saw each other 45 years ago. Whether the Vice President got what he deserved, whether it was right what was worked out. He wasn't indicted. He did resign the Vice Presidency. He pled no contest to a felony, but he didn't go to jail. It was obviously a balance. Hard negotiations leading to that deal. But over the years since you were involved in it personally, how have you felt about that in the long run? Was-- was this justice?
LIEBMAN: In my view, the answer is very clearly no. He didn't get what he deserved. What he deserved was to go to trial like any other citizen-- and if convicted to go to jail and have a fine-- assessed. The reason he didn't get what he deserved was because he had-- I think what we at the time called either the $100 chip or the “get out of jail free” card. In the context of the-- of those times, that-- you-- you have so masterfully covered during the course of this podcast-- it was a-- unusual situation, a sort of one of a kind, at least so far. The-- the result was the right result. It had to be-- it had to be that way because of the context of the times.
RACHEL MADDOW: So it was not justice for Agnew, but it was the right thing for the country.
RON LIEBMAN: That's right.
RACHEL MADDOW: When you and your fellow young prosecutors-- brought to the table this argument that he should serve jail time, that he should do the kind of sentence that anybody else might expect from being caught committing these kind of crimes-- when you got talked out of that-- was it an emotional thing? Were you-- I mean, I can imagine, I remember-- I know how self-righteous I am now. I remember being much more self-righteous when I was in my 20s and early 30s. Being involved in something so dramatic, I mean, obviously it was meaningful to you to be taken so seriously by the attorney general and to have such an important role in those conversations, but I imagine that must have been sort of a heart-wrenching thing for you to be brought around on that issue as a matter of justice.
RON LIEBMAN: It-- it was extremely emotional and heart-wrenching. I-- I remember-- we had meetings in the attorney general's conference room. And I remember the first time sitting across from a bust of Oliver Wendell Holmes and thinking to myself what would he do? And then-- we also had meetings in Elliot Richardson's-- inner office. But I remember-- one of these debates-- in the conference room where Henry Petersen, the head of the criminal division was so angry at-- at-- at us, the three prosecutors, demanding jail time, that he got out of his chair-- and he had this way of shoving his hands in the-- in-- under his belt. And he turned to Tim Baker and said, you know, something along the lines and I'm paraphrasing, "You just want him to be treated," him being Agnew, "like anybody else. Like any person." And-- and Tim, again, I'm paraphrasing-- paraphrasing him, Tim said, "You're damn right I do." And we-- we went around and around and around. And it was the experience-- the statesmanship, whatever you want to call it of-- of the attorney general who-- brought us around to what was at history has depicted, the very best decision under the circumstances.
RACHEL MADDOW: Marty, in terms of why Vice President Agnew-- decided to agree to a plea deal when he did, in that second week of October in 1973, how much did the investigation that the IRS had conducted-- factor into it? IRS agents actively digging into every penny that he received and spent-- turning up a lot of information about his personal life, how he was spending his allegedly ill-gotten gains, some questions that raised about his-- his personal life and his family life, was that-- was that part of his concern about his liability in this investigation and why he might want to cut a deal to end it?
MARTIN LONDON: Look, I've represented a number of people who were facing criminal charges. And-- there are several considerations for a client who's faced with criminal charges. The most important consideration is the end game. Am I gonna lose? And-- and what are the consequences of losing, possibly-- jail. But the other consideration is, this is an investigation that's going to take two to three years. I have to endure two or three years of pain. And if the IRS is involved, we're-- we're talking about extreme pain! We're talking about internal investigations. This is-- you know, like an internal biopsy. This is-- this is terrible. And certainly nobody could ignore the pain of two to three years of uncertainty. And during that uncertainty, the-- you've got the IRS, you've got Ron Liebman, you've got all these people who are, you know, tearing away little bits of flesh. So y-- the answer is yes. The pain of the investigation is certainly something that any-- perspective defendant considers when making a decision.
RACHEL MADDOW: Ron, go ahead.
RON LIEBMAN: I would say, yes. But, if-- if-- one's client, in this case we're talking about Agnew of course-- felt and believed that he was innocent and hadn't committed the series of bribery and extortion crimes that he did commit-- I think that-- a client like that would say to his lawyer or-- or her lawyer, "Gosh, three years of this, that's gonna be horrible. Three years of the IRS crawling in and out of my life, looking after every penny. But you know what, let's do it."
RACHEL MADDOW: 'Cause I'm innocent.
RON LIEBMAN: 'Cause I'm innocent. And here-- you know, the-- the big thing-- when we were in these negotiations, the big thing was Agnew didn't want to set one foot in a jail cell. And he had the get out of free card. And all the rest of it, you know, the-- the subpoenas to the press-- all the other stuff was just background noise as far as we were concerned.
RACHEL MADDOW: Ron, let me ask you about one aspect of the-- the IRS part of this investigation. Because one of the things we did not expect to hear from people involved in the case, and that we certainly didn't-- didn't read a lot about when we looked at contemporaneous materials from the case, was the issue of-- what the IRS figured out about how Agnew was spending his money, and some issues of potential personal hypocrisy or-- or personal peccadillos that were raised-- by that part of the investigation. In our interview with you for the podcast-- this is something we've received a lot of questions about from our listeners-- you're talking about this point leading up to his acceptance of the plea deal, where the investigation's starting to turn up some information about his personal life, how he was spending his money-- you told us this. "You know, these guys, they have all their personal peccadillos, you know, they have money and power and they do stupid things. And we came across financial evidence of that. And we heard some stories about that. One of them quite bizarre. But that wasn't part of the case." And you go on to say that this-- this stuff, personal stuff about Agnew that you turned up, you never planned to use that against Agnew. So to me there's-- there's two questions by that. Number one, is-- was Agnew aware that you knew about that stuff? Might he have been worried that would become part of the case? And what's the “one of them quite bizarre”-- one of the-- the one quite bizarre story you heard about that never made it into the case?
RON LIEBMAN: To answer your first question-- he-- he must have figured out that if-- if the IRS is crawling all over his books and records and his life, looking where every penny came in and where every penny came out, they were gonna come across-- some personal indiscretions that he knew he had in his-- background. For-- as for your second-- question--
RACHEL MADDOW: But did you ever threaten him either implicitly--
RON LIEBMAN: No, no, no.
RACHEL MADDOW: --or explicitly that that would come out?
RON LIEBMAN: This is all before-- what happened to then President Clinton. And we didn't even debate-- whether or not to use this salacious information that we came across. It-- it-- it-- maybe it was a tenor of the times. But it was a non-issue for us. That was--
RACHEL MADDOW: So he had to know that you knew, but he had to-- there was no reason for him to expect that you were gonna make it public?
RON LIEBMAN: Well, I don't know. I mean, I don't know what he expected. Maybe he was worried that we would make it public. It was never discussed. It was never debated with his lawyers. There were things that we learned, and I don't really want to go into them. They're salacious and they're-- you know, as I said in an earlier podcast, it is very common when-- when people have money and power-- and particularly, unfortunately in public life, they do really stupid things. It involves sex. It involves mistresses. It involves all kinds of bad behavior. In 1973-- George Beall and his three assistants, myself, Barney the senior guy, and Tim, we just-- we didn't debate it. We came across. It was told to us. We investigated it. We confirmed it as much as we could. But we never decided to use it. Was Agnew worried that that might all come out? Probably he was.
RACHEL MADDOW: Was it of a purely personal nature? Or was it additional criminal behavior?
RON LIEBMAN: It was of purely personal behavior.
RACHEL MADDOW: Michael Beschloss-- what Ron Liebman is saying there about expectations at the time-- and how-- with-- with no-- with no even implicit threat from the prosecutors that-- that-- that Agnew may have been worried about that coming out, different standards about whether those things could be involved in this sort of public case, how does that strike you?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, you have to assume that he was worried. And what we're talking about, this has been written, that Agnew as the investigation went forward, there was evidence that gifts went from Agnew to a woman who was not his wife, which was very different from the image that Agnew presented to the public. So that had to be at least to some extent an influence on Agnew as he was debating whether to cop a plea or not.
RON LIEBMAN: There was-- there was more than that. But there was that. How unusual is it for-- an elected official to have a woman on the side? You know-- in and of itself, that probably doesn't put you in jail. But when you combine that with a history of bribery and extortion and other behavior--
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Doesn't l-- doesn't look great.
RON LIEBMAN: Doesn't look great at all.
RACHEL MADDOW: Marty, you made the case in 1973, and when we interviewed you for the podcast, you made the case very eloquently that there were legal and practical and common sense reasons why a Vice President should be immune from prosecution, why there could not be an indictment of the Vice President. The prospect of a vice president sitting in jail becoming president. Does he have Secret Service protection in jail? Once he becomes president while imprisoned, does he get his intelligence briefings then? Does he pardon himself? I mean, there-- it's a-- it's a compelling case. And yet, despite that heartfelt belief by you, you negotiated with prosecutors whose leverage against the vice president was that they said they were gonna prosecute him. If you believed absolutely that there's no way they could have done it, why did you even talk about a plea let alone agree to one?
MARTIN LONDON: Well, you overstate the case. There was nobody-- there is nobody who could look at this perplexing problem and say, "I absolutely have-- have a heartfelt belief that this is absolutely correct." Nobody has such a certain-- assurance. We're lawyers, but we're not magicians. We look at the Constitution and we look at the confusion that surrounds this issue. And we say, "We think we're right. But I don't know what the Supreme Court is going to say about this." Now, you have to go back. And when we raised this question, we said if the president is immune, the vice president is immune. And there was no l-- law in the Constitution that says the president is immune. We relied on the same article of the Constitution that covers both the vice president and the president, Article one, Section three-- about the parties convicted shall-- in-- in impeachment. And we said, "Both of them have to be impeached first before you're convicted." Now the Department of Justice sent this question to the Solicitor General to write a brief. Now, this is Nixon's Department of Justice. I'm not saying they're corrupt, but it's Nixon's Department of Justice. And he has appointed everybody in it. And his appointee, Robert Bork, writes a brief looking at the Constitution, the same Constitution that we looked at and said, "Well, you know, you're right, the president is immune, but the vice president isn't immune!" And there was zero constitutional basis for that decision. It-- it-- was that a political decision? I don't know. Well, ask somebody who-- he's not around. But-- I-- that's a very strange thing. And the irony-- let me just finish, is that decision, that-- that-- that opinion that he wrote in 1973 saying, "Yeah, Nixon's immune but Agnew isn't," is one of the two opinions in the Department of Justice that the current President relies on for the argument that the President is not indictable.
RACHEL MADDOW: Michael Beschloss.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It was totally a political decision! Because Elliot Richardson wanted Spiro Agnew out of office as soon as possible. And he knew, as you're both saying, that the only way to do that was for Agnew to figure that he was gonna face the hounds of hell unless he resigned. Hell being big IRS investigation, three years of fighting it in the courts, and maybe going to prison at the end of this. And the only way that Richardson would have had the leverage to get Agnew to quit was to basically say, of course you can be-- indicted. And this is the terrible result you're gonna face unless you get out now.
RACHEL MADDOW: Similarly, there's a sort of conundrum, a question for me, in terms of the prosecution's decision. If you guys believed that you could indict Agnew, that you-- that you could bring charges against him, and in fact you planned to do so, and you had built the case, why did you allow him to resign? Why was it negotiated that he would resign the vice presidency moments before crossing the threshold into the courtroom to-- to issue his plea?
RON LIEBMAN: Well, that's what the-- the-- that was the gravamen-- the-- the fundamental part of the case. On one level there's a-- white collar bribery, extortion investigation of a high ranking public official. And the other part of the-- of the scenario was it's Watergate. The-- the-- President Nixon is going. And it was the fact of where the country was, and what the parade of horribles-- some of which Marty alluded to-- that were-- that would be facing us, if we had indicted Agnew and had insisted that he go to jail-- as part of a plea agreement. He wouldn't have taken that. And then we would have been off to the races.
RACHEL MADDOW: And so the-- rather than tangle with this relatively untested constitutional question of indicting a sitting vice president, if you could cleanly cut that off from the criminal matter and treat him as a citizen rather than as this special high ranking official, that was the way to essentially-- cauterize this, end it-- have-- give it a clean-- give it a clean end in terms of the political future of the country.
RON LIEBMAN: Well, that's right. And, you know-- as-- as Marty h-- has said, I think-- there is no law on whether or not a sitting vice president can be charged and indicted while in office. There-- there are Justice Department-- opinions on that. But that issue, and-- and related issues about pardoning-- presidential pardoning power, which might come up someday soon, perhaps, that-- there's no law on that.
RACHEL MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, let me ask you about-- another kind of bad behavior that we turned up-- in reporting out “Bag Man” that we didn't necessarily expect to find. And that was the role of George HW Bush. What we turned up seems to indicate that George HW Bush, who was at that point the chair of the Republican party, he seems to have had a key role in the active obstruction effort-- that was managed by the White House, orchestrated through both Nixon's office and through Agnew himself-- that targeted the US Attorney George Beall through his brother who was a Republican US Senator, trying to pressure him improperly-- to shut down the investigation essentially as a matter of family and political loyalty. Was it known before that George HW Bush was involved in this obstruction effort? Is this the sort of thing that, like, a darker history of George HW Bush that historians have all known about but people in general don't talk about it?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: No. This is a real discovery. And you found this in the papers, if I remember correctly, of the US Attorney Beall, that are I think in Frostburg State University in Maryland. And not terribly many-- many people if any had gone through those papers. So wonderful for you and-- and your team to have found that. But that is the kind of thing that especially nowadays the idea that the Republican national chairman, as George HW Bush was at that time, to go to a US attorney and go to a US Senator and say, you know, "Wind down this investigation, or stop it," not a great thing.
RACHEL MADDOW: We're gonna take a quick break and come back with Marty London and Ron Liebman and Michael Beschloss. This is “Bag Man.”**************
RACHEL MADDOW: Technical question for you, Ron. Did you ever-- you and your colleagues ever produce a draft indictment for-- for Agnew?
RON LIEBMAN: I don't think we did. I don't remember-- a c-- you know, totally. But I-- I'm pretty sure we did not.
MARTIN LONDON: Well, but the grand jury had not-- had not-- ever-- voted for an indictment--
RON LIEBMAN: No. Nothing was submitted.
MARTIN LONDON: We-- we-- we don't-- we never got anywhere near that.
RACHEL MADDOW: What we did get was a 40 page, dense, written statement of evidence about Agnew's-- that the grand jury-- evidence that the grand jury had collected about Agnew's behavior. And I understand that that was a lot of work at the time, Ron, for you and your colleagues who wrote. We talked in the podcast about how you guys stayed up all night the night before it was due.
RON LIEBMAN: We did. We did, yeah.
RACHEL MADDOW: It then disappeared in history. It's interesting. You know, it's very hard to find that document now. The content of that document would be news to most people who even think they know this history, even to most people who've heard this podcast and now do know something about this history. I wonder if you've reflected on that over the years. That that-- all of that work that went into it, and how much emphasis you guys put on making sure that the evidence against him was documented and a matter of public record. It’s almost instant obscurity, I wonder how-- whether that's weighed on you over the years?
RON LIEBMAN: Well, I actually wasn't aware of that. I mean, I just assumed, I guess, that-- that the 40 page-- recitation of the factual basis of the case was in the public record in the United States vs Agnew. He-- you know, he went into court. He-- he was charged with-- with a crime. He pled-- nolo contendere. And so there was a case. And I-- I frankly, was unaware until this podcast that-- that the all-nighter that we pulled was-- was somewhere-- hidden in the-- in the-- between the pages of the history books.
RACHEL MADDOW: Yeah.
MARTIN LONDON: Let me add-- Rachel-- that-- first-- this 40 page statement was a statement by the prosecutors. None of those facts have ever been proven in a court of law. Second, the-- vice president-- denied-- everything-- in that 40 page statement. He made a statement saying none of it is true. So that 40 page statement is a one party statement about which there is no agreement from the other party.
RON LIEBMAN: Well, that's not entirely correct. First of all, it is accurate. And it was accurate when written. But as-- listeners to this podcast have learned-- and as a result of-- later civil action-- brought against Agnew, Agnew was-- careless enough to have violated the attorney client privilege between him and his personal lawyer whose name was--
RACHEL MADDOW/MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: George White--
RON LIEBMAN: --and admitted to George, as your listeners have already heard that, yeah, he did all that stuff. So-- there you have it.
RACHEL MADDOW: He didn't admit it when-- at the time, when you were representing him, Marty, when you guys were fighting over this stuff. But later, things fell apart.
MARTIN LONDON: He never-- we had nothing to do with the matter. Once with the plea agreement was confirmed--
RACHEL MADDOW: It got worse once you were gone, trust me--
MARTIN LONDON: --we-- we walked out--MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: You-- you were out of there. (LAUGH)
MARTIN LONDON: For us it was (LAUGHTER) history.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I-- I think that was well-advised. (LAUGH)
RACHEL MADDOW: You're still batting 1.000, trust me. But it didn't--
MARTIN LONDON: Okay, okay.
RACHEL MADDOW: --go great for your client. I wanna ask one final question. Michael Beschloss, I'm gonna put this to you, but either of you can-- jump in please if you have anything on this. One of the inspirations for us doing this podcast was that there was-- another really, really good podcast that came out not long ago called Slow Burn, which was done by Leon Neyfakh at Slate. And it was a-- it was a-- different type of historical look at-- at Watergate. And when we started putting together the bones, the structure of how we thought we were gonna tell this story, we went to go talk to Leon about it, to see if this-- this part of the Watergate story had been of interest to him and if he had anything that he could help us with. And he told us one thing about how the Agnew resignation fit into history at the time that I had never thought of before. And I just wanted to run it by you, Michael, and see what you thought. He told us-- I'm quoting him here, “The [ousting] of Spiro Agnew imperiled Nixon in two ways, one practical and one ... atmospheric. Practically, it made the prospect of impeaching Nixon more appealing to Democrats because [impeaching Nixon would now] no longer involve the downside of putting Agnew in the Oval Office. [Agnew] struck liberals as even more dangerous and hateful than Nixon." So that was the practical concern. “Atmospherically, it changed people's sense of what was possible in American politics. The resignation of a vice president had been unthinkable, [but] suddenly it had happened! All bets were off. Now that one unprecedented thing had come to pass, it was easier to imagine another. The notion that Nixon might lose the presidency had seemed like science-fiction. Now it just seemed like a slightly weirder version of something that had already happened.” And so the story of Agnew itself, I think, is epic.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Sure is.
RACHEL MADDOW: The way that it fit into the sequence of events, and whether it made the removal of Nixon from office more likely or even inevitable is an interesting idea to me. How does that strike you, Michael?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think it's right. And it made it more inevitable. Because when Nixon forced Agnew out, he thought it was gonna help him. Because what Nixon had in mind was that once Agnew was gone, Nixon would appoint as his vice president John Connally, his close friend who he wanted to run for president in 1976. So Nixon figures, now I've got Connally. And, you know, Democrats in Congress who were thinking about impeaching me, they'll hate Connally even more than they'll hate Agnew because he could be potentially a stronger Republican candidate in 1976. And here's where things went off the rails. Because after Agnew was gone, Nixon started talking to members of Congress, and saying, "Well, I want Connally," and they said, "Don't even try it. Because Connally can never be confirmed. You've gotta get someone who's gonna be able to be confirmed. And that's Gerry Ford." And so Gerry Ford was forced on Nixon as his vice president. And Gerry Ford was someone that members of Congress of both parties loved, saw as a much preferable alternative to Nixon. And so Nixon's impeachment went even faster as a result.
RACHEL MADDOW: Marty--
MARTIN LONDON: There's-- there's no-- there's no question that it was said at the time that the only-- the best defense that Richard Nixon had for-- a-- against impeachment was the existence of Spiro Agnew in--
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Impeachment insurance--
MARTIN LONDON: --in the vice presidency. There-- there just is no question about that. Certainly-- I agree with the statement that you-- made-- the-- the-- disappearance of Spiro Agnew was an important-- element in the-- ultimate disappearance of-- Richard Nixon.
RACHEL MADDOW: Ron?
RON LIEBMAN: I-- I think even if Agnew had been pure as the driven snow-- Richard Nixon was not gonna stay in the White House. Watergate was--
RACHEL MADDOW: And that was part of your calculation among the prosecution team about why it was so important to get Agnew out of the line of succession, 'cause you thought Nixon was already gonna go.
RON LIEBMAN: Exactly so. Exactly so. That was the gravamen of-- of-- of a lot of what happened.
RACHEL MADDOW: Did you also recognize or discuss the fact that by taking Agnew out, getting Agnew out of the line of succession, you might be hastening the end of Richard Nixon?RON LIEBMAN: Never. Never discussed that.
RACHEL MADDOW: Do you think it's true?
RON LIEBMAN: I-- I think it's like chicken soup. It-- it maybe didn't help. But it didn't hurt.
RACHEL MADDOW: Gentlemen-- Ron Liebman, who was a prosecutor on the team of young Baltimore prosecutors who-- put this case together and made this happen. Marty London, who represented ably the Vice President through a truly unprecedented time in American history. Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian-- and truth teller on all these matters. Gentlemen, it's a real honor to be here with you today. Thank you for coming in and helping us wrap this up. I really appreciate.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Honor for us, thank you, Rachel--
RON LIEBMAN: Thank you very much.MARTIN LONDON: Rachel, it's a great honor for me to be here. And I thank you very much.
RACHEL MADDOW: And that is going to do it for “Bag Man.” Thanks very much to all of you who have listened so intently to every episode and tweeted and posted about it on Facebook and wrote in to us about this series.
As I said all the way back in episode 1… History really is here to help.
“Bag Man” has been a production of MSNBC and NBC Universal. This series was executive produced by Mike Yarvitz, who did the work of a dozen producers all by himself. The heart and soul and skin and bones and everything else of this project is Mike Yarvitz and if you liked any or all of it, Mike deserves all of the credit... all the dumb stuff was me. “Bag Man” was written by myself and Mike Yarvitz. Editorial and production support from Jonathan Hirsch and Marissa Schneiderman from Neon Hum Media. Special thanks to Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC. Elisabeth Sami and Nolly Evans from NBC Universal. The great Cory Gnazzo from MSNBC. The entire team at Neon Hum, including Vikram Patel and Daniel Tureck.
And a very special thanks to the incredible archivists and library staff across the country who helped us conduct many long hours of research for this project. We want to thank the whole staff at the Spiro Agnew Archives at the University of Maryland. Dr. Lea Messman-Mandicott at the Beall Archives at Frostburg State University. And Ryan Pettigrew at the Nixon Presidential Library. We could not have done this without your help. Librarians are superheroes.