The Marylandchurian Candidate
Updated: Apr 24
By a twist of fate, the Maryland communities of Hollywood and California share a border that predates the founding of the infinitely more famous movie epicenter. You would think that at some point during the last hundred years at least one producer or director would have capitalized on this quirk. Yet, as far as I can tell, idyllic St. Mary's County has never been used as a filming location for a major motion picture. After what has unfolded in 2023, my guess is that will change.
As it turns out, this corner of the Chesapeake is critical to the origin story of the major supporting character in what I believe could be the most shocking political biopic ever made: namely, the based-on-true-events version of former Governor Larry Hogan's life. It'd be pure box office gold!
Allow me to give you a peek at my draft treatment for "The Marylandchurian Candidate.*"
The Smoking Gun
To truly understand why Larry Hogan is eerily reminiscent of the politician's broken son in Richard Condon's seminal conspiracy thriller, it's easiest to work backwards and then close with a flourish.
In early April 2023, Hogan's longtime friend and maybe his most trusted political advisor, Roy McGrath, died under mysterious circumstances while surrounded by federal agents in Tennessee. His death followed a weeks-long manhunt that somehow was national news despite the fact that the crimes he was accused of were almost as weak as Roy's physique on his wanted poster. Why was the US government going this hard after McGrath, the supposed white-collar mastermind in a "he-said, they-said" case revolving around a relatively small severance/expense payout? [A predicament that subsequently prompted him to illegally (per Maryland wiretap laws) but not illogically (in the context of someone trying to prove their innocence) record conversations.]
Who better to answer this question than McGrath himself? But that's not possible. Or is it?
Well, it kind of is. You see, while Hogan's former right-hand man was on the run, two books about Roy's career were digitally published by an author named Ryan Cooper whose link to the real world consists of nothing more than a few press phone calls. Other than those interactions, Cooper doesn't seem to exist... unless you concur with the widely accepted theory that he is McGrath's alter ego. If so, it means Roy, until recently a St. Mary's County favorite son, can still tell his side of the story from beyond the grave. [Talk about taking ghost writing to the next level!]
And it's a doozy.
The Moment Of Truth
In the late spring of 2020, Larry Hogan asked McGrath to leave the top spot at the quasi-governmental Maryland Environmental Service (a role that Hogan had appointed him to four years earlier) in order to fill the governor's chief of staff position. For a variety of reasons - the biggest among them being a compensation reduction that would result from switching jobs - Roy was hesitant to sign on. His trepidation led to a deal negotiated one-on-one behind closed doors.
The details hashed out that day will never be fully known, but they are the linchpin of this tale. According to McGrath, their agreement consisted of one primary solution and two key directives (cited on page 17 of the Ryan Cooper eBook Betrayed). The solution was fairly straightforward: convince the board at his current job to approve a $200,000+ golden parachute upon his departure. How he told them to do it, though, is what matters most. Roy claimed Hogan said "great, just keep me out of it." As a result, the future chief of staff came up with a workaround that involved stressing to the Maryland Environmental Service that the governor "anticipated" their cooperation. By framing it this way, he could sidestep the idea of direct gubernatorial approval.
Regardless of what has been written to the contrary, there is one unassailable source that confirms Maryland's last governor was aware of the solution: Hogan himself! If the hyperlinked Baltimore Sun article wasn't proof enough, the top dog still appeared to have his chief of staff's back when they parted ways due to the fallout from this debacle. To wit, Cooper points out on page 37 of the aforementioned eBook how Hogan's office issued a press release praising McGrath. [Right before the governor started to change his tune in a feeble attempt to distance himself from controversy.]
Last but not least, it's important to note that from 2003 to 2007, Larry Hogan put 7,000 people into government positions as Maryland's Secretary of Appointments. Hence, he, perhaps more than anyone alive today, cannot use ignorance as a defense in a prominent Annapolis hiring situation.
Given what we know about that fateful day in May, it's obvious a good chunk of Roy's chronicle rings true. So, what does that mean for the other man involved in this mess? Let's find out.
The Leading Actor
There have only been two two-term Republican governors in Maryland's history. One was Theodore McKeldin. The other? Lawrence Joseph Hogan Junior.
To say it is exceedingly rare for a member of the GOP to spend eight years as the head honcho in a state that supports Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin would be an understatement. It takes someone special. But the word 'special' can mean a lot of things.
For quite a while, I've contemplated writing an article about the man who occupied the governor's residence in the state adjacent to my home. Something always felt off to me about this guy.
How did he comfortably win when only one of Maryland's eight Congressional districts went red? Why did the media treat him with kid gloves in an era where almost everyone else in his party was skewered? What could possibly explain how a wealthy developer-cum-politician, who has been accused of sweetheart infrastructure and campaign finance irregularities, was able to ride off into the sunset basically scot-free?
The short answer is cancer. A "very advanced and very aggressive" non-Hodgkins lymphoma that, according to Hogan, spread "very rapidly" in 2015, his first half-year in office. [More specifically, the month after prolonged civil unrest in Baltimore resulting from the Freddie Gray protests.]
It would be in bad taste to suggest there was a political motive behind the announcement of a potentially deadly disease. Isn't it odd, though, that the two major papers in this region reported conflicting dates for when Hogan found the first lump? Plus, how strange is it that the bigger outlet filed a correction yet didn't feel the need to question or explain the altered timeline?
[FYI: those two distinct dates bookend Hogan's mission to Korea and China, which just happen to be the very same places that forever changed Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate!]
No matter the reason, Larry's approval ratings shot up after the public learned of his diagnosis and stayed remarkably high for the duration of his governorship; even after what should have been an epic fail in 2020. A slow burn event that, probably not coincidentally, started the month before Hogan tried to recruit that ill-fated chief of staff...
The Korean Connection
Well before the manhunt sideshow grabbed headlines, Maryland's governor was making news of a different sort: as a pandemic hero. Working together with his wife Yumi, Larry Hogan became a media darling for upstaging the President thanks to the deal he struck with a Korean company called LabGenomics to deliver half a million testing kits to the Old Line State.
[Interestingly, McGrath claimed to have been helping Hogan "organize the state's response" to Covid around this time (in an advisory role while still employed by the environmental concern). But since I had difficulty corroborating the ins and outs of Roy's connection to the Korean test kit initiative, I can't say with certainty what McGrath really knew or did as part of that specific campaign. I was also unable to ascertain if it is partially to blame for everything that followed.]
As we later learned, the transaction Hogan insisted on calling "Operation Enduring Friendship" was an utter fiasco. In short, the first $9.46 million of product was such a dud that most of it eventually needed to be (quietly) swapped out, at a cost of an additional $2.5 million. That's bad. But it gets so much worse.
As the old saying goes, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. And, boy, did some fishy behind-the-scenes stuff go on with this ordeal! If we give credence to Ryan Cooper's book (specifically the seventh chapter), the evidence laid out is absolutely damning. McGrath asserted Larry "overruled" everyone who wanted to make sure the test kits worked before procuring them. He professed that Hogan was willing to get into a Korean standoff, so to speak, with the federal government on the BWI tarmac to safeguard their delivery. Once it was clear the original batch was faulty, he alleged Hogan "directed the building of a new lab specifically for the purpose of using up the kits."
To cap things off, traditional news sources uncovered how there was no purchase contract and no adherence to the usual approval process. Hogan even vetoed a 2021 transparency bill that had passed by a cumulative 178 to 1 margin in the Maryland State House. His justification? He felt it was "unreasonable" and "out of touch" to "expect the Governor or an agency head to check boxes on a form..." Wow.
What happened earlier in Larry Hogan's life that made him think any of this was okay?
The Sordid Prequel
Decades before Larry's political star began to shine, another Hogan made a name for himself in both Maryland and national political circles: his father. The elder Hogan was a "conservative stalwart" thrice elected to Congress during the Nixon years. But this was no ordinary Republican.
In fact, he was the only member of his party to upvote all three articles of impeachment after Watergate. He alluded to the clear conscience this afforded him; but maybe there was something else going on. I mean, this was a guy who fought to block desegregation in, of all places, The Free State. How clear could his conscience really be? He also happened to divorce Larry's mom and get remarried to a legislative assistant while on Capitol Hill. What, if any, part did that play?
But of all the threads that deserve pulling, there's one that overwhelmingly stands out. And it's this: Lawrence Hogan was a former G-man. Yes, the guy who in the 1970s played a memorable part in an earthshaking break-in conspiracy that was carried out by domestic intelligence service operatives had been one himself for about ten years in the '40s and '50s.
[Of course, there are some who maintain individuals who hold covert roles never fully leave. Whether that was the case here or not, I find it fascinating that the public relations firm he helmed before becoming a Representative had a Washington plumber association as its first client, given the HBO-worthy role 'plumbers' played in Nixon's White House.]
That's right, the politician whose confidant lost his life as a result of a 2023 FBI operation was the son of a politician whose connection to the Federal Bureau of Investigations started 75 years ago!
The Ultimate Reveal
So where do all of these, um, coincidences leave us when we fast forward back to today? It's hard to gauge really. Larry Hogan is no longer in office. The media and most Marylanders seem content to let bygones be bygones. The clock has almost struck midnight on McGrath's case.
Is this caboodle destined to be nothing more than a footnote in a forgotten history book?
Only if we let it.
Keep asking questions about his time in public office. Like:
Why wasn't a bigger deal made of Hogan's Wickr-gate? Call me crazy but I would think the media and the opposition party would be all over a Republican who got caught governing in secret by using a message-destroying app.
On page 18 of Betrayed, Cooper writes that "sanitized emails" would be sent out only after they were "honed" on Wickr. If true, isn't that doubling down against the spirit of FOIA?
The book also assigns a quote to the man who was chief of staff before McGrath. It is, shall we say, extreme. Will any established journalist follow up to confirm if he expressed it?
Similarly, has anyone asked fellow two-term Governor Parris Glendening (D) how he could praise Hogan Jr after Larry's father "threatened to castrate" him in "a fit of rage?"
Cooper mentions another longtime advisor that falls on the 'far-left.' Will anyone pick that person's brain to see whether Hogan could even be classified as a RINO? If Larry switched partisan teams, would he be more liberal than DINOs? Is he really a GINO swamp creature?
And keep asking questions about what happened with Roy. Like:
McGrath admits that he took a photo of a Wickr conversation. Did his demise have anything to do with someone being afraid of some other thing he could have recorded?
Even if it has nothing to do with Wickr, was his intimate knowledge of what happened with the Korean test kits, or anything else, too much of a liability?
With so many people there to witness Roy's final moments in a busy strip mall parking lot, why is it so unclear what happened in Farragut, Tennessee?
Why couldn't the Knox County Regional Forensic Center let the public know the results of their autopsy instead of making us wait weeks or months for the pathologist?
Did anyone in the vicinity of the shooting know McGrath from the time he spent attending the... wait for it... FBI Citizen's Academy in Baltimore?
I, for one, hope that at least some of these questions are resolved. We deserve better.
The Post-Credit Scene
Don't get up just yet. Larry teased a 2024 Presidential run, until he (mostly) bowed out in March. [Interesting timing given what happened with McGrath the next week.] Not unlike his dad, he alluded to caring less about his future than "a future for the Republican Party." All that would sound great if he didn't also refuse to rule out running against his own party two days later!
For those keeping track, the Presidential aspirations component was the one The Manchurian Candidate parallel that was missing. If Richard Condon (who, in yet another coincidence, viewed Nixon with such contempt that it merited mention in his New York Times obituary) was alive today, I surmise he would be floored by the similarities. I bet Roy McGrath would, too.
It only seems fitting to close with this intertitle anecdote. Referencing Watergate at his inauguration in 2015, Larry Hogan exclaimed that his father, "taught (him) more about integrity in one day than most men learn in a lifetime." Truer words have never been spoken.
Note: the post above may contain commentary reflecting the author's opinion.
*Working title - all rights reserved*