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VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
Nixon, and pretty much the last thing the president wanted was his vice
president caught up in impeachment hearings. So Nixon went to war with
Agnew by demanding his resignation. Agnew, however, refused to resign, at
Attorney General Richardson, meanwhile, reasoning that Nixon was
about to face his own impeachment and removal from office, knew he had
to somehow get Agnew out first—otherwise, one criminal would simply
replace the other. Richardson therefore called Agnew’s bluff about whether
a sitting president or vice president could be indicted and prepared an
indictment. At the same time, his team entered into negotiations with
Agnew’s lawyers and eventually agreed to an arrangement whereby Agnew
could avoid jail time altogether if he resigned from his office.
On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president literally
minutes before pleading no contest to a single charge of tax evasion, for
which he had to pay a $10,000 fine. He also received three years of probation.
Despite the guilty plea and sentence, Agnew maintained that he was
the victim of a “witch hunt” by unethical prosecutors and a scandal-seeking
press. Luckily for him, his friend Frank Sinatra loaned him $250,000 to pay
the fine and his lawyers. Unluckily for him, Agnew was disbarred by the
Maryland State Bar Association.
Meanwhile, a group of enterprising law students from George Washington
University Law School was unable to persuade the governor of Maryland,
Marvin Mandel, to sue Agnew for return of the kickback money. (As
it turned out, when they made the request of Governor Mandel, he was
busily involved in his own criminal activity (mail fraud and racketeering),
for which he was eventually convicted.14) They therefore brought a private
civil prosecution against Agnew on behalf of Maryland taxpayers. Their
lawsuit was not resolved until 1981, when a judge found that Agnew “had
no lawful right to this money under any theory”. Agnew was ordered to pay
$147,500 for the kickbacks and $101,235 in interest. After two unsuccessful
appeals, he finally paid the money in 1983.
When Agnew resigned as vice president, Gerald Ford was nominated to
take his position. The nomination was confirmed on November 27, 1973,
and it was, of course, Ford who became the 38th president of the United
States after Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974. President Ford
famously pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in
office, but Spiro Agnew was not so pardoned. He remained a convicted
felon at the time of his death in September 1996, although he apparently did
repay Frank Sinatra the $250,000 loan.