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Context of 'April 10, 1973: Vice President Agnew Accused of Taking Illegal Campaign Contributions'

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Life Magazine cover featuring Agnew.Life Magazine cover featuring Agnew. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Vice President Spiro Agnew, fresh from helping Richard Nixon win the 1968 election by viciously attacking their Democratic opponents, wins a reputation as a tough-talking, intensely negative public presence in Washington. Much of Agnew’s tirades are crafted by White House speechwriters Pat Buchanan and William Safire. In 1969, Agnew derides antiwar protesters, saying, “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” [Time, 9/30/1996] Student war protesters “have never done a productive thing in their lives,” and, “They take their tactics from Fidel Castro and their money from daddy.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 10/11/1998] In 1970, he attacks the American media and critics of the Nixon administration alike, telling a San Diego audience that “we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.” Agnew attacks enemies of the administration as “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” “vicars of vacillation,” and “the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” Democrats are “radic-libs” and “ideological eunuchs.” In Des Moines, reading a speech written by Buchanan, Agnew slams the US media industry, saying it is dominated by a “tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.” Agnew’s unrelenting attacks on the press raise, reporter Lance Morrow writes in 1996, “issues of media bias, arrogance and unaccountability that are still banging around in the American mind.” Agnew is undone by his own negativity, earning a barrage of critical press coverage for, among other things, calling an Asian-American reporter a “fat Jap,” referring to a group of Polish-Americans as “Polacks,” and dismissing the plight of America’s poor by saying, “To some extent, if you’ve seen one city slum, you’ve seen them all.” Many political observers feel that Agnew’s heated rhetoric is the precursor to the wave of personal, negative attack politics practiced by the GOP in the decades to come. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; Time, 9/30/1996] Interestingly, while many Americans celebrate Agnew’s rhetoric, few want him as a successor to the presidency. One Baltimore bar patron says, “I don’t want the president of the United States to sound like I do after I’ve had a few beers.” [Economist, 9/28/1996]

Entity Tags: William Safire, Richard M. Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Lance Morrow, Patrick Buchanan, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

Vice President Spiro Agnew (see 1969-1971, April 10, 1973, and October 10, 1973) gives the following advice: “We must look to the university that receives our children. Is it prepared to deal with the challenge of the non-democratic left? One modest suggestion for my friends in the academic community: the next time a mob of students, waving their non-negotiable demands, starts pitching bricks and rocks at the Student Union—just imagine they are wearing brown shirts or white sheets and act accordingly.” [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

James A. Rhodes.James A. Rhodes. [Source: Ohio History Central (.org)]James A. Rhodes (R-OH), the governor of Ohio, says of student protesters at Kent State University: “They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes (see 1970). They’re the worst kind of people we harbor in America. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant revolutionary group that has ever assembled in Ameica.… We’re going to eradicate the problem, we’re not going to treat the symptoms.” Two days later, National Guardsmen following Rhodes’s orders kill four unarmed students on the Kent State campus and wound nine others (see May 4-5, 1970). [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: James A. Rhodes, Kent State University, Ohio National Guard

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

By the summer of 1971, President Nixon and his senior staffers, particularly John Ehrlichman, have come to view Vice President Spiro Agnew as more of a liability than an asset (see Mid-1971). Agnew, who has served the president well as a conservative “stalking horse” who could lambast antiwar protesters and foreign leaders in a way that might be unsuitable for a president (see 1969-1971), has in recent months begun complaining about being kept away from real decision-making, particularly on foreign affairs. (Agnew has not made himself popular by attacking Nixon’s recent overtures to the Communist Chinese and complaining to anyone who would listen about his “poor” treatment at the hands of Nixon and his aides.) All of this has made Nixon unwilling to spend a lot of political capital in defending Agnew from bribery charges (see April 10, 1973). Nixon aides ask Agnew to voluntarily resign, a request he resists. In return, Agnew levels accusations that White House staffers began a media leak campaign designed to drive him from office. Agnew waffles on the question, offering to resign if Nixon would promise to grant him immunity from prosecution, then thundering to one receptive audience, “I will not resign if indicted!” By September, Nixon’s new chief of staff, Alexander Haig, brought in to keep the Nixon administration intact under the specter of the Watergate investigations, begins pushing Agnew to resign, threatening that the Justice Department would prosecute him for income tax evasion on the bribes he had taken unless Agnew resigned. Agnew will later say that he felt Haig was implicitly threatening his life if he didn’t “go quietly”; for his part, Haig finds Agnew so menacing that he tells his wife if he disappeared, she “might want to look inside any recently poured concrete bridge pilings in Maryland.” [US Senate, 2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Spiro T. Agnew, John Ehrlichman, US Department of Justice, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Vice President Spiro Agnew tells Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman that he is becoming enmeshed in an investigation of illegal campaign contributions in his home state of Maryland. The state’s US Attorney, George Beall, questioned Agnew’s former business aide, Jerome Wolfe, who provided evidence of Agnew discussing raising funds from Maryland business owners who had received state contracts. It “wasn’t shakedown stuff,” Agnew says, “it was merely going back to get support from those who had benefitted from the administration.” Agnew knows that Beall’s brother is Senator J. Glenn Beall (R-MD), and asks Haldeman to have the senator intercede with his brother, a request Haldeman refuses. For his part, President Nixon is more amused than angered by Agnew’s apparent corruption, joking that taking campaign contributions from contractors was “a common practice” in Maryland and other states. “Thank God I was never elected governor of California,” Nixon cracks. But the allegations against Agnew will become more widespread; a Maryland grand jury will alert the Justice Department that Agnew had taken money for past favors, even taking payments—bribes—after becoming vice president. [Time, 9/30/1996; US Senate, 2007]

Entity Tags: J. Glenn Beall, George Beall, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Jerome Wolfe

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Spiro T. Agnew.Spiro T. Agnew. [Source: University of Maryland]Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigns. He will be replaced by an appointee, House Republican Gerald Ford (see October 12, 1973). Agnew, a conservative Maryland Republican with a long history of racial repression, ethnic jokes, and racial slurs in his record, appealed to conservative Southern voters as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972 (see 1969-1971). Agnew was the first vice president to be given his own office in the West Wing. [Time, 9/30/1996; US Senate, 2007] But by mid- and late 1971, Agnew is battling attempts from within the White House to force him to resign (see Mid-1971 and Beyond).
Nolo Contendre - Agnew’s lawyers reach a deal with the Justice Department, agreeing to a plea of nolo contendre (no contest) to the tax charge, a $160,000 levy of tax repayments, and a $10,000 fine. In return, Agnew agrees to leave office. One of his last actions as vice president is to visit Nixon, who assures him that he is doing the right thing. Agnew later recalls bitterly: “It was hard to believe he was not genuinely sorry about the course of events. Within two days, this consummate actor would be celebrating his appointment of a new vice president with never a thought of me.” For his part, Nixon will recall, “The Agnew resignation was necessary although a very serious blow.” Nixon apparently is not as concerned about punishing a White House official for misconduct as much as he hopes Agnew’s resignation will redirect the public anger away from himself. That ploy, too, will backfire: Nixon later writes that “all [Agnew’s resignation] did was to open the way to put pressure on the president to resign as well.” [US Senate, 2007] Agnew later says that Nixon “naively believed that by throwing me to the wolves, he had appeased his enemies.” [New York Times, 9/19/1996] The State of Maryland will later lift Agnew’s license to practice law. [University of Maryland Newsdesk, 10/6/2003]
'Affluent Obscurity' - Agnew will return to private life (in what one reporter will call “an affluent obscurity”) [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/21/1996] as an international business consultant (see 1980s). He will publish a 1980 memoir entitled Go Quietly… Or Else, in which he says he was forced to resign by scheming Nixon aides, and a novel about a corrupt American vice president “destroyed by his own ambition.” Continuing to maintain his innocence of any wrongdoing (see 1981), he refuses any contact from Nixon until he chooses to attend Nixon’s funeral in 1994. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; US Senate, 2007]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew, US Department of Justice, Nixon administration, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

A Maryland taxpayers’ civil suit finds that former Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned over bribery and tax fraud charges eight years before (see April 10, 1973 and October 10, 1973), had solicited $147,500 in bribes as Baltimore county executive and as governor of Maryland, and that as vice president he had accepted $17,500 of that sum in cash while in office. [Time, 9/30/1996] Agnew’s former lawyer George White admits outside of the courtroom that Agnew had not only admitted taking bribes while governor, but told White that such behavior had been going on “for a thousand years.” White is freed to discuss privileged lawyer-client communications because of Agnew’s public assertions of his innocence in his recently published memoirs, Go Quietly… Or Else. White’s revelations fuel the civil suit that finds Agnew indeed took bribes while governor and vice president. [New York Times, 9/19/1996]

Entity Tags: Spiro T. Agnew, George White

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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