Another of the books I received for Christmas was Bag Man by Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz. I spent some of last week reading it while I was off from work. It recounts one of the untold stories surrounding the Nixon Presidency in vivid detail, along with some interesting parallels between Spiro Agnew and Donald Trump.
I faintly recall the announcement that Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from his office, the first (and only) vice president to do so. At the time it seemed a mere side note in comparison with the ongoing Watergate investigation, but Maddow and Yarvitz demonstrate very clearly in this book how inextricably linked the two events were, not necessarily that they reflected two sides of the same crime, but in that the relationship between Nixon and Agnew, the dynamics of why Nixon chose this unknown governor from Maryland to be his running mate and the break in their relationship which followed, explain some of the reasons why Agnew was not indicted for any Watergate crimes and why even Nixon wanted him gone.
History, of course, is an interesting mistress. Once you decide to study her, to attempt to strip away the allure of the day-to-day description of events as told by those who lived them, it becomes clear that what people say about what happened during an event, and what actually happened, is not so easily determined. While we all saw the horrible events of January 6th in Washington, the true unvarnished story of what took place, may take a decade to discover. Sadly, it is often only after a person's departure from this world, that those in the know, those actually present who have been quiet, are free to disclose the real truth about who said what or who did (or didn't) act to intervene.
For Agnew, all most of his supporters knew was that he was an anti-establishment man of the people who said what he thought, sometimes without polish. He stood for old time values, law and order, apple pie and America. One of his strongest group of supporters, Republican Women, flocked to his rallies, believed his denials of guilt, joined in the chorus of calling those persecuting him, Democrats, the Justice Department, the press, as enemies of everyday Americans. (No, Trump didn't invent the playbook of attacking our institutions, he just took it to a new level).
And, when the final deal was made to allow Agnew to plead no contest to simple tax evasion, it was agreed to, not because he wasn't guilty of extortion, bribery, and fraud, but because it was presented as best for the country to allow him to resign as soon as possible so that he would not become President, a prospect all too possible given the growing evidence of Nixon's part in Watergate. Oddly, it was the brief written at the time by the Justice Department, the brief that determined that while a president could not be indicted while in office, a vice president could that played a part in Agnew negotiating the details of his resignation. It was that brief that led Agnew to stop fighting his indictment, and that became prominently quoted during the Trump Presidency when Robert Mueller used it to justify his decision not to recommend an indictment after his investigation. It wasn't that Trump wasn't guilty, it was that there was precedent that a sitting President couldn't be indicted, and that precedent emanated from the Agnew investigation.
There is a lot to the book that would make this post far too long, should I choose to try to summarize all the highlights. One item is Nixon's jealousy that Agnew was so popular, had risen so fast, while Nixon had worked so hard to attain his position juxtaposed with his complete dissatisfaction with Agnew, an unhappiness that resulted to a point where the two did not meet or talk, sometimes for months. And, which ultimately spared Agnew involvement in Watergate since he had long lost the president's confidence.
What is also incredibly fascinating is what Agnew did after leaving office. Despite the disgrace of having to resign, he used his previous title without restraint to garner influence and money. Can you imagine, the only vice president in history to resign and he is still using the prestige of that office to generate income? Up until recently, I would have guessed that it might never be seen again, but I expect we will be in for a whole new level of shameless use of office by a disgraced public servant from the now twice impeached former president.
In the end, Bag Man paints Agnew as an immoral, greedy, lying, opportunistic huckster who took full advantage of being in the right place at the right time. Sound familiar?
Finally, now that Trump has been acquitted by the Senate, it is important to note that never in the history of presidential impeachments, has the sitting president been found guilty of the crimes presented by members of his own party. Mitt Romney made history in the first impeachment trial when he voted guilty, then he and six others voted to convict Trump in yesterday's trial. I know Trump and his allies see acquittal as a victory, but 57 to 43 is a significant majority. Anyone who loses an election by such a majority, 57% to 43% would be hard-pressed to claim some type of victory.
By comparison, Clinton's impeachment trial was 50-50 for obstruction of justice, and 55-45 for acquittal for perjury. Five GOP Senators who voted guilty in Clinton's impeachment, among them McConnell, Graham and Grassley, thought that Trump's involvement in an attack on the Capitol during a constitutionally mandated tally of the electoral college votes for which the president lied to his followers in telling them that Pence could alter the tally, was less important than Clinton lying about having sex. I guess their priorities have changed over the years. At the time, Susan Collins voted not guilty, yet voted guilty in yesterday's voting. Perhaps, unlike Trump, she did learn her lesson.
Also interesting is that some of the GOP Senators who voted to acquit claimed the trial was unconstitutional even though Trump was actually impeached during his term and it was the Senate itself, led by McConnell, which decided to hold the trial after inauguration. Also, to say it was unconstitutional seems a bit odd when the Senate itself voted twice on the very idea of constitutionality of the trial, and both times it was deemed constitutional.
As for the ridiculous notion that it was close to the end of his term so why impeach now, I guess we should have expected that from a party which used the excuse of it being too close to an election to block Obama's Supreme Court nomination 8 months before the 2016 election, but rushed through Trump's nomination within 10 days of the 2020 election.
Finally, I never thought I would feel sorry for Mike Pence, the lead enabler of Donald Trump. But I can only imagine how he felt when he heard the insurrectionists chanting Hang Mike Pence as they stormed the capitol. That in itself should give anyone pause who believes for one iota that Donald Trump cares about anything or anyone other than himself. It seems that some of those who violated our democracy last month were actually prepared to die for Trump. I wonder if Mike Pence was, and had he died, would it have mattered to McConnell, Graham, Grassley, Paul, Cruz, Hawley, etc?