Less than a year before Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as president of the United States, Spiro Agnew becomes the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace. The same day, he pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of charges of political corruption. He was subsequently fined $10,000, sentenced to three years probation, and disbarred by the Maryland court of appeals.
Agnew, a Republican, was elected chief executive of Baltimore County in 1961. In 1967, he became governor of Maryland, an office he held until his nomination as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1968. During Nixon’s successful campaign, Agnew ran on a tough law-and-order platform, and as vice president he frequently attacked opponents of the Vietnam War and liberals as being disloyal and un-American. Reelected with Nixon in 1972, Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered widespread evidence of his political corruption, including allegations that his practice of accepting bribes had continued into his tenure as U.S. vice president. He died at the age of 77 on September 17, 1996.
Under the process decreed by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, President Nixon was instructed to the fill vacant office of vice president by nominating a candidate who then had to be approved by both houses of Congress. Nixon’s appointment of Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan was approved by Congress and, on December 6, Ford was sworn in. He became the 38th president of the United States on August 9, 1974, after the escalating Watergate affair caused Nixon to resign.
READ MORE: What Is the 25th Amendment?
Vice Presidential Vacancy Isn’t Automatically Filled by House Speaker
A viral Facebook post wrongly suggests that if Joe Biden were to become president and later step down, Nancy Pelosi would become vice president. The Constitution says the vice president would become president and nominate a replacement Congress must confirm or deny that pick.
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lays out the political ascension that occurs if a president steps down or is removed from office, in which the vice president assumes the presidency.
But a Facebook post — circulating ahead of the Sept. 17 Constitution Day, no less — is distorting the facts about what a vice presidential vacancy would mean if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden became president and later stepped down.
“Biden steps down, Harris becomes president ! Makes Pelosi vice president. Think about That one,” the text post, shared by more than 8,000 users, reads.
While it’s true that Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, would become president in that hypothetical scenario, it’s false to suggest that Nancy Pelosi — assuming she is still House speaker — would automatically become vice president.
The 25th Amendment says that: “ In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”
Its next section reads: “ Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”
So if Biden and Harris won the 2020 election and Biden stepped down after taking office, as the post hypothesizes, Harris would become president and then nominate a new vice president. And Congress would have the final say on confirming that nominee.
The 25th Amendment was approved by Congress in 1965 — not long after Vice President Lyndon Johnson became president following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — and was ratified by three-quarters of the states in 1967, according to the U.S. National Archives.
When President Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973, Nixon nominated House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to become vice president.
And when Nixon resigned the following year, Ford became president and nominated Nelson Rockefeller, the former governor of New York, to become vice president.
It is true, however, that under current law, if there is no president or vice president, the House speaker would be next in line for the presidency.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
th Amendment.” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School. Accessed 14 Sep 2020.
Kilpatrick, Carroll. “Nixon Resigns.” Washington Post. 9 Aug 1974.
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Vice President Agnew resigns - HISTORY
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I.R.S. Sees Nothing to Prevent New Tax Cases Against Agnew
Washington, Oct, 10--Spiro T. Agnew resigned as Vice President of the United States today under an agreement with the Department of Justice to admit evasion of Federal income taxes and avoid imprisonment.
The stunning development, ending a Federal grand jury investigation of Mr. Agnew in Baltimore and probably terminating his political career, shocked his closest associates and precipitated an immediate search by President Nixon for a successor.
"I hereby resign the office of Vice President of the United States, effective immediately," Mr. Agnew declared in a formal statement delivered at 2:05 P.M. to Secretary of State Kissinger, as provided in the Succession Act of 1792.
Minutes later, Mr. Agnew stood before United States District Judge Walter E. Hoffman in a Baltimore courtroom, hands barely trembling, and read from a statement in which he pleaded nolo contendere, or no contest, to a Government charge that he had failed to report $29,500 of income received in 1967, when he was Governor of Maryland. Such a plea, while not an admission of guilt, subjects a defendant to a judgment of conviction on the charge.
Tells Court Income Was Taxable
"I admit that I did receive payments during the year 1967 which were not expended for political purposes and that, therefore, these payments were income taxable to me in that year and that I so knew," the nation&aposs 39th Vice President told the stilled courtroom.
Judge Hoffman sentenced Mr. Agnew to three years&apos probation and fined him $10,000. The judge declared from the bench that he would have sent Mr. Agnew to prison had not Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson personally interceded, arguing that "leniency is justified."
In his dramatic courtroom statement, Mr. Agnew declared that he was innocent of any other wrongdoing but that it would "seriously prejudice the national interest" to involve himself in a protracted struggle before the courts or Congress.
Mr. Agnew also cited the national interest in a letter to President Nixon saying that he was resigning.
"I respect your decision," the President wrote to Mr. Agnew in a "Dear Ted" letter made public by the White House. The letter hailed Mr. Agnew for "courage and candor," praised his patriotism and dedication, and expressed Mr. Nixon&aposs "great sense of personal loss." But it agreed that the decision was "advisable in order to prevent a protracted period of national division and uncertainty."
The resignation automatically set in motion, for the first time, the provisions of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, under which the Republican President must nominate a successor who will be subject to confirmation by a majority vote in both houses of congress, where Democrats predominate. Until a successor is confirmed and sworn in, the Speaker of the House, Carl Albert Democrat of Oklahoma, will be first in line of succession to the Presidency.
Mr. Agnew&aposs sudden resignation came only 11 days after he made an emotional declaration to a Los Angeles audience: "I will not resign if indicted! I will not resign if indicted!" It marked the second time in the nation&aposs history that the Vice-Presidency was vacated by resignation. The first occasion was in 1832, when John C. Calhoun stepped down after he was chosen to fill a Senate seat from South Carolina.
Mr. Agnew&aposs decision appeared to have been based on personal, rather than political or historic, considerations.
Close and authoritative associates of Mr. Agnew said that, contrary to official White House denials, Mr. Nixon at least twice asked him to resign after it was disclosed on Aug. 6 that the Vice President was under investigation
The requests were said to have been spurned by Mr. Agnew until sometime in the last week. According to some associates, Mr. Agnew was advised by his defense attorneys that the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service had obtained "incontrovertible evidence" of unreported income while he held office in Maryland.
Even so, the Vice President&aposs closest associates had expected him to fight the accusations or at least to continue to seek a forum to try, as he did in his courtroom statement today, to place the accusations within the context of "a long-established pattern of political fund raising" in his home state.
Said to Have Accepted Reluctantly
Yesterday, the defense attorneys and officials at the Justice Department reportedly reached agreement on the plan under which Mr. Agnew would resign, plead no contest to the single tax-evasion charge and accept the department&aposs pledge to seek a light sentence.
According to the sources, Mr. Agnew reluctantly accepted the proposal when he returned to Washington from a speaking engagement yesterday in New York and then told the President of his reluctant decision at 6 o&aposclock last night.
Shortly after 2 P.M. today, Mr. Agnew&aposs staff was assembled in his office in the Executive Office Building next to the White House. As the Vice President was addressing the court in Baltimore, his military advisor, Maj. Gen. John M. Dunn, informed the staff of his decision.
Some of the aides wept. Others, stunned by the announcement, asked such things as how they should answer the telephone. And a number of them privately and bitterly denounced the President.
One of Mr. Agnew&aposs stanchest supporters, Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican of Arizona, declared publicly that Mr. Agnew had been "treated shamefully by persons in responsible Government positions."
Justice Department Is Assailed
As Mr. Agnew had done until today, Senator Goldwater accused the Justice Department of having "convicted" the Vice President by headlines and newscasts based on leaks of official information before a single legal charge had been filed."
Until today, Mr. Agnew had waged a determined campaign to halt the investigation of his Maryland political career, in which he was Baltimore County Executive before he became Governor. His attorneys had argued in preliminary legal skirmishes that the Constitution forbade the indictment of an incumbent Vice President and that the leaks of information about the charges against Mr. Agnew had destroyed any prospect for a fair hearing.
Thus, Mr. Agnew&aposs surprise appearance this afternoon in the Baltimore courtroom marked a swift abandonment of his campaign for vindication. Judge Hoffman had been scheduled to hear in the courtroom arguments by reporters and news organizations seeking to quash subpoenas served on them by the Vice President&aposs attorneys.
Feared Effort Would Take Years
At the same time, Mr. Agnew insisted that he was innocent of any other wrongdoing. But he said that his attorneys had advised him it might take years to establish his innocence and that he had been compelled to decide that "the public interest requires swift disposition of the problems which are facing me."
Some of Mr. Agnew&aposs associates said later today that the signals of his momentous decision had been there but that they had not wished to accept them for what they became.
After the Vice President&aposs emotional speech to the National &aposFederation of Republican Women on Sept. 29 in Los Angeles, his aides described plans for subsequent speeches in which Mr. Agnew would reiterate the charge that the Justice Department had selected him as a "big trophy" to use in restoring reputations blemished by "ineptness" in the investigation of the Republican burglary of the Democrats&apos headquarters in the Watergate complex here.
But last Wednesday, President Nixon declared at a White House news conference that the charges against Mr. Agnew were "serious" and he defended the Justice Department&aposs conduct of the case.
One Associate Is &aposFlabbergasted&apos
The next night, in Chicago, Mr. Agnew delivered a speech marked by the absence of the accusations against the Justice Department and he asserted to assembled newsmen that "a candle is only so long, and eventually it burns out."
His press spokesman, J. Marsh Thompson, and other Agnew associates were reportedly ordered to make themselves unavailable to newsmen beginning early last week.
As one stunned Agnew associate remarked this afternoon, "I felt things were beginning to close in, but I still don&apost understand it. I&aposm flabbergasted."
A White House official familiar with previous discussions between Mr. Nixon and Mr. Agnew said, significantly, that the decision was "not altogether unexpected here--I think the initiative, this time, was from [Mr. Agnew&aposs] side."
The shock of the announcement of Mr. Agnew&aposs resignation had barely worn off when the White House and leaders in Congress began deliberating about both the politics and the mechanics of Vice Presidential succession.
Mr. Nixon was said to have begun consultation with leaders "both within and outside the Administration" on the nominee to succeed Mr. Agnew.
Mike Mansfield, Democrat of Montana, the Senate majority leader, assembled bipartisan Congressional officials to discuss the selection process and prepare for hearings to assess the qualifications of the nominee.
Speculation About Successor
The White House has repeatedly denied that it had a "contingency" list of potential successors. Published reports, and renewed speculation today, centered on the possibility that Mr. Nixon would nominate Attorney General Richardson, Governor Rockefeller of New York, former Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally, Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus or Senator Goldwater.
But Democratic leaders in the House have hinted privately that they would oppose a nominee who could be expected to confront their party three years from now as a Presidential candidate. Thus, others said to be under active consideration were such Republican elder statesmen as former Gov. William W. Scranton of Pennsylvania, former senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky and former Secretary of State William P. Rogers.
Mr. Agnew, his career ended at the age of 54 years, was said to have begun telephoning friends to thank them for their past support. He disappeared from public view this afternoon as the limousine in which he was riding pulled away from the Baltimore courthouse and the former Vice President waved to spectators.
Veep Spiro Agnew Resigns
On October 10, 1973, following months of pressure and scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew turned in his letter of resignation to President Nixon (who was soon to follow him) becoming only the second vice president to resign.* Michigan representative Gerald R. Ford took his place as vice president on December 6, 1973.
Agnew began his political life as a liberal Democrat and ended it as a law-and-order Republican who pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to charges of tax fraud. He once called the media “nattering nabobs of negativism”** and found a political base with both social conservatives and what would later be called Reagan Democrats.
He rose quickly from a mere county executive of Baltimore County in 1962 to the Republican candidate for governor of Maryland in 1966. The Democrats nominated a race-baiting candidate and Agnew, running to the left of him, won becoming one of the first Republican governors south of the Mason-Dixon line since the Civil War. Just two years later, Nixon chose him to be his far-right, hippie-bashing, anti-intellectual attack dog – a role he (along with speechwriters William Safire and Pat Buchanan) clearly relished.
In fact, he was a hero to many and the subject of one of the first fads of the decade: T-shirts and other products sporting his image were mass-produced (check your local thrift store or our eBay links below and to the right). To his credit, Agnew refused royalties for merchandise with his likeness and instead asked that any proceeds go to aid families of American POWs. As you will see later, the “royalties” he chose to keep came from far deeper pockets.
During the campaign, the Democrats ran an ad which simply showed the words “Spiro Agnew, Vice President” with someone who is heard but not seen chuckling at first, but eventually breaking into all-out laughter. Like the infamous Goldwater/A-bomb commercial of , this controversial ad was quickly withdrawn. It was Agnew who was laughing by the end of the campaign as he and Nixon easily beat George McGovern and his divided Democratic party.