There are countless presidential scandals in U.S. history, but very few of them have resulted in resignation or impeachment — which is precisely why MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was drawn to the story of Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s first vice president, who resigned in 1973.
Maddow notes there are many misconceptions concerning the former vice president — including the notion that his “big sin” centered on taxes.
“When I tried to sort of thumbnail in my mind what happened in the Agnew resignation, everything I thought about it was wrong,” she says. “I had assumed that it was a Watergate-adjacent scandal, that the FBI was looking into Watergate-related crimes and they stumbled upon something in Spiro Agnew’s taxes. … All of those things were completely wrong.”
Maddow and her former producer Mike Yarvitz created the podcast Bag Man to revisit Agnew’s story. Though his resignation was officially linked to tax evasion, they say that Agnew had engaged in bribery that dated to the early 1960s, when, as Baltimore County executive, he demanded kickbacks in exchange for local engineering or architecture contracts. He continued the practice even after being elected governor of Maryland in 1967 and then vice president in 1969.
This week, the Trump administration further eased its pressure on Rusal, Russia’s largest aluminum company, less than four months after sanctions on it and its notorious leader were imposed. Even as the White House seems willing to inflict pain on American farmers and consumers with its trade wars, Russian aluminum workers are apparently worthy of special protection.
.. Rusal is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a member of Mr. Putin’s inner circle. As the Treasury Department acknowledges, he has been investigated for
- money laundering and accused of
- threatening the lives of business rivals,
- illegally wiretapping a government official and
- taking part in extortion and racketeering.
.. There are also allegations, made public by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, that Mr. Deripaska
- bribed a government official,
- ordered the murder of a businessman and
- had links to a Russian organized crime group. During the 2016 presidential campaign,
- Paul Manafort, then Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, tried to offer Mr. Deripaska private briefings about the campaign.
.. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he is considering lifting the sanctions altogether because they are punishing the “hardworking people of Rusal.” But Mr. Mnuchin has it backward. If he was truly concerned about Rusal’s 61,000 employees, he would not relent until the company fully washed its hands of Mr. Deripaska and the corrupt regime the aluminum giant serves.
.. Behind Mr. Deripaska’s estimated fortune of as much as $5.3 billion, there stands a great crime. During the “aluminum wars” of the 1990s, when that economic sector was consolidating in the chaotic privatization that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the young metals trader was suspected of ties to gangsters as he seized control of huge Siberian smelters. According to testimony by a gang member in Stuttgart, Germany, part of Mr. Deripaska’s value to the group were his links to Russia’s security services. While his rivals were killed off or fled Russia, Mr. Deripaska somehow emerged as the director general of Rusal, a company that reported revenues last year of nearly $10 billion. But suspicions that the oligarch has had links to organized crime have denied him a visa to enter the United States.
.. they must do its bidding, which in Mr. Deripaska’s case meant spending more than $1 billion, through his holding company, on new infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia
Mr. Deripaska has embraced his role, stating that he does not separate himself from the Russian state.
.. Manafort tried to pitch him a plan for an influence campaign to “greatly benefit the Putin government.”
.. “Rusal’s own website says that it supplied military material to the Russian military that was potentially used in Syria.”
.. Mr. Deripaska’s holding company, hired a $108,500-a-month lobbyist to continue to negotiate with the Treasury Department. The firm he chose, Mercury Public Affairs, is the firm Mr. Manafort paid $1.1 million to lobby members of Congress on behalf of Ukraine and its then-president, Viktor Yanukovych
.. Led by David Vitter, a former Republican senator from Louisiana, Mercury has sought to enlist support from ambassadors of France, Germany and Australia, among others.
.. emanding more time to reduce the oligarch’s ownership stake in En+ from 70 percent to below 50 percent. In a July 24 filing with the Justice Department, Mercury outlined a host of calamities that might be unleashed if sanctions aren’t eased
- The global aluminum market might suffer significant disruptions with “severe collateral damage to United States interests, allies”;
- En+ might have to entertain a potential acquisition by “Chinese and/or other potentially hostile interests”; or
- Mr. Deripaska might just hang on to his majority stake.
.. The specter of a fellow traveler with gangsters dictating terms to the United States government is yet another sign of the Trump administration’s inexplicable capitulation to Russia.
.. July 16 summit in Helsinki, at which President Trump and President Putin met privately for more than two hours.
We don’t know what they discussed, but given the stakes on both sides, there’s a good chance that the discussion touched on the subject of the sanctions the United States has imposed on Russia’s biggest aluminum company.
the more compelling and consequential issue is the Trump-Cohen relationship.
.. given Trump’s odd account that he repaid Cohen for his services “sometimes” and not others, he may well argue that he did not, in the first instance, recognize an obligation for the Daniels payment
.. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, said earlier this month that Trump’s “reimbursement” was in the neighborhood of $470,000, considerably more than three times the sum paid to Daniels.
.. It is far less threatening than questions of bribery, extortion, mail or wire fraud, or direct or indirect indebtedness to a foreign power.
Stormy Daniels already has a defamation claim against President Trump based in part on his accusation that her story that she was threatened in a parking lot was false. (Trump says the claim of an affair was “false and extortionist.”) Now she has a splendid case.
Accusing someone of a crime is defamation per se, meaning no damages need to be proved. Avenatti will be entitled to depose Trump under oath to ask such nettlesome questions as:
- Did you have sexual relations with my client?
- Did you publicly deny knowledge of a settlement payment on national TV?
- Did you reimburse Michael Cohen for fronting the money?
- Did you break up the payments in monthly installments? Why?
- Have you made other payments to remain silent about adulterous affairs? How many? Did they all extort money from you, in your view? What are their names? How much did you pay out?
.. According to Daniels, Cohen strong-armed her into making a settlement. She, in other words, was the victim of a pressure campaign, not its instigator. Cohen would therefore need to answer questions that parallel inquiries for Trump. One or both might take the 5th — which many Americans would interpret as evidence one or both violated criminal campaign laws.
Avenatti has advantages over Robert S. Mueller III. Avenatti can needle Trump daily on TV, a tactic that already pushed Trump to lie publicly about his knowledge of the settlement. Avenatti can not be fired by Trump. Pursuant to the Paula Jones case, Daniels’s lawyer unquestionably has the right to depose Trump under oath.
There is delicious karma in this happening to Trump, who bludgeoned Hillary Clinton during the campaign for allegedly helping her husband to falsely smear women who accused the philandering president of sexual conduct. We reach karmic overload when we note that Trump has spent a lifetime threatening to and actually filing lawsuits alleging defamation.