A little less than a year before Richard Nixon left office over the Watergate scandal, vice-President Spiro Agnew left office under a cloud of bribery, income tax evasion and influence peddling.
At issue was the matter of extortion, bribes, tax fraud and conspiracy during his time in office as Governor of Maryland, coming to over $100,000 in bribes alone. The investigation began shortly after George Beall assumed the role of U.S. Attorney, but had been bubbling under the surface for several years before, certainly during Agnew’s time as Governor.
There had been speculation that much of the controversy began as the result of Nixon’s growing displeasure over Agnew. He was considered something of a “loose cannon” and a potential embarrassment to the White House. So the case was brought in lieu of Agnew refusing to resign or leaving the 1972 re-election ticket. There was also speculation that the amount of attention directed at Spiro Agnew was distracting from the revelations coming out during the Watergate investigation.
Whatever the situation was – Spiro Agnew accepted a bargain, of sorts. In exchange for pleading No-Contest to a charge of failing to report a $29,000 bribe in 1967, while he was still Governor. The no-contest plea was in exchange for a bigger investigation which would have resulted in prison time for the vice-President. Instead, he received a $10,000 fine and the proviso that he resign from office.
This Press Conference, held by Attorney General Elliot Richardson, along with assistant Attorney General Henry Peterson, who was in charge of the Criminal Division at the justice Department and George Beall, who carried out the investigation, go over the details of that investigation and the plea bargain which resulted in the sudden resignation and departure of Spiro Agnew. It was given on October 11, 1973 and carried by all the radio and television networks.
Agnew was only the second vice-President in U.S. history to resign, but he was the only one to do so based on criminal charges.
So now you know. Here is that complete press conference, as it aired live on October 11, 1973.