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 a New York Times bestseller focusing on Greek-American Spiro Agnew and the untold story of the other scandal that rocked Nixon’s White House with new reporting that expands on Maddow’s Peabody Award-nominated podcast. The book, it should be noted, is not a biography of Agnew.
For those unfamiliar with his background, Spiro Theodore Agnew, the 39th Vice President of the United States, was born in Baltimore, MD. His father, Theophrastos Anagnostopoulos, originally from Gargalianoi, Messenia in the Peloponnese, immigrated to the United States in 1897 or 1902 according to various sources, settling in Schenectady, NY, changing his name to Theodore Agnew, and opening a diner. In 1908, Anagnostopoulos moved to Baltimore where he opened a restaurant and met Margaret Pollard. They married in 1917 and their son, Spiro, was born in 1918 and raised in his mother’s Episcopalian faith.
Agnew served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star. In the 1950s, after establishing a law practice in the Baltimore suburbs, Agnew became active in local politics. From 1962 to 1966 he served as Baltimore County executive– the first Republican to hold that office in the 20th century– and was elected governor of Maryland in 1966. Two years later Richard Nixon chose the relatively unknown Agnew to be his vice presidential running mate. Despite allegations of financial misconduct leveled at the governor, the Nixon-Agnew ticket won by a narrow margin.
As vice president, Agnew was known for his strong criticism of antiwar demonstrators and his comments on bias in the news media. Shortly after his reelection in 1972, Agnew faced charges of past bribery and tax fraud dating from his governorship. He resigned from office on October 10, 1973, pleading no contest to tax evasion. He was fined $10,000 and given a suspended prison sentence; the government agreed not to prosecute him on charges of bribery and extortion. After he was disbarred in Maryland, Agnew moved to Rancho Mirage, CA, where he conducted business in international trade and wrote his memoirs and a novel. Agnew passed away in 1996.
Bag Man highlights three key questions about Agnew and his time as vice president: Is it possible for a sitting 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?
Maddow and Yarvitz expand on their podcast showcasing a specific time in U.S. history that reads like a thriller while offering insights into present day parallels.
The year was 1973, and Spiro T. Agnew, the former governor of Maryland, was Richard Nixon’s second-in-command. Long on firebrand rhetoric and short on political experience, Agnew had carried out a bribery and extortion ring in office for years, when— at the height of Watergate— three young federal prosecutors discovered his crimes and launched a mission to take him down before it was too late, before Nixon’s impending downfall elevated Agnew to the presidency. The self-described “counterpuncher” vice president did everything he could to bury their 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 in order to survive.
In this account, Maddow and Yarvitz detail the investigation that exposed Agnew’s crimes, the attempts at a cover-up— which involved future president George H. W. Bush— and the backroom bargain that forced Agnew’s resignation but also spared him years in federal prison. Based on the award-winning hit podcast, Bag Man expands and deepens the story of Agnew’s scandal and its lasting influence on politics, media, and our understanding of what it takes to confront a criminal in the White House.
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 available online and in bookstores.