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AGNEW, Spiro secrets (1918–1996)

Monday, May 9, 2011

AGNEW, Spiro secrets (1918–1996)

A son of Greek immigrants born in Baltimore on November 9, 1918, Spiro Agnew received a law degree from the University of Baltimore in 1947. In 1962, campaigning as a reformer, he was elected chief executive of Baltimore County. Four years later, Agnew was elected governor of Maryland. Republican presidential candidate RICHARD NIXON chose Agnew as his running mate in 1968.

That campaign was well advanced when President LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON
(LBJ) heard rumors of a Republican effort to sabotage peace negotiations on the VIETNAM War. Specifically, Anna Chennault—a Chinese-born Republican activist and leader of Concerned Asians for Nixon—was suspected of urging South Vietnamese leaders to stall the peace talks.
Johnson ordered a FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI) investigation, which included wiretaps and physical surveillance on Chennault. Three days before the election, on November 2, 1968, FBI eaves-droppers heard Chennault advise a South Vietnamese politician that his country would “get a better deal” from Nixon in the new year.
Asked if Nixon knew what she was doing, Chennault replied, “No, but our friend in New Mexico does.” Coincidentally or otherwise, Spiro Agnew spent that afternoon in Albuquerque, making campaign speeches.
J. EDGAR HOOVER, himself a staunch Nixon supporter, reported the conversation to President Johnson on November 6. Furious, LBJ telephoned Nixon—already the president-elect—and chastised him for meddling in U.S. foreign policy. Hoover subsequently reported the FBI investigation of Agnew and Chennault to Nixon, placing full blame on the Johnson White House.
If Agnew took offense at the snooping, he covered it well. During the next four years, employed primarily as Nixon’s mouthpiece for stinging attacks on the press, “radical liberals,” and other targets drawn from the White House enemies list, Agnew repeatedly sought Hoover’s help in preparing his inflammatory speeches, once requesting “especially graphic incidents” from classified files with which to smear his critics.
A phone call placed on May 18, 1970, for instance, solicited FBI assistance in defaming Rev.
Ralph Abernathy, a civil rights activist and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Hoover described the call in a memo: “The Vice President said he thought he was going to have to start destroying Abernathy’s credibility, so anything I can give him would be appreciated. I told him that I would be glad to.”
Exposure of the WATERGATE scandal in 1972 spelled political doom for Spiro Agnew.
Journalists investigating the Nixon administration discovered that Agnew had been taking bribes since 1962 from engineers and architects pursuing government contracts in Maryland.
The payoffs had continued after he became vice president, and Agnew persistently failed to report the income on his tax returns. Meeting with Nixon on August 6, 1973, Agnew proclaimed himself innocent of any wrongdoing, but his days were numbered. On October 10, 1973, he resigned in disgrace, pleading “no contest” the same afternoon on one count of income tax evasion dating from 1967. Agnew was fined $10,000 and placed on three years’ probation. Following his resignation, Agnew told friends that he had been threatened by unnamed persons at the Nixon White House and stated, “I feared for my life.” He never spoke to Nixon again, but he described the events in a memoir titled Go Quietly or Else (1980). Agnew died in 1996.


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