On a warm Saturday in early July, an employee at the Maryland Historical Society placed a call to the police. He had noticed two visitors behaving strangely—a young, tall, handsome man with high cheekbones and full lips and a much older, heavier man, with dark, lank hair and a patchy, graying beard. The older man had called in advance to give the librarians a list of boxes of documents he wanted to see, saying that he was researching a book. At some point during their visit, the employee saw the younger man slip a document into a folder. When the police arrived, they found 79 documents in a laptop bag and took the two men into custody.

The younger man was Jason Savedoff, a 24-year-old Canadian-American dual citizen and aspiring model who had attended McGill University. But it was the older man whose identity quickly attracted national attention. He was a 63-year-old presidential historian named Barry Landau, who for many years had moved in the most rarefied circles of American life.