In my latest reading of Jules Witcover's Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, the focus was on Watergate as well as Vice-President Spiro Agnew's legal problems.
was accused of taking kickbacks from contractors in exchange for
providing them with contracts. Agnew allegedly did this as Governor of
Maryland, but the charge was also that he was continuing to receive
kickbacks as Vice-President, as the contractors continued to demonstrate
their gratitude for Agnew's help over the years. From what I gathered
in reading Witcover, Agnew had a variety of responses to these charges.
For one, he said that he was receiving campaign contributions, not
kickbacks. Second, he blamed the corruption in question on one of his
subordinates, whom Agnew happened to bring with him to Washington, D.C.
when he (Agnew) became Vice-President. And third, Agnew alleged that
certain people in Maryland were conjuring up stories about Agnew in
order to get themselves legally off the hook on charges regarding
corruption. I should also note that, in Witcover's book, Agnew appears
to be surprised to learn of the allegation that he continued to receive
kickbacks as Vice-President (but I don't recall offhand if Witcover was
the one narrating this, or if he was quoting somebody else).
Nixon's Chief-of-Staff, Alexander Haig, pressured Agnew to resign.
But, for a while, Nixon and some of his key advisers wanted to keep
Agnew on as Vice-President. The reason was that they regarded Agnew as
insurance for Nixon: the Democratic Congress would be reluctant to
remove Nixon from office for Watergate, were Agnew to be Nixon's
replacement as President, for the Congress definitely did not want a
President Agnew! Agnew thought this was because he was so conservative,
and that may have been part of the reason. But I also infer from
Witcover's book that many people just did not think that Agnew was
Presidential material, and this included Nixon, a number of prominent
Nixon aides, and others.
John Damgard, who was an aide to Agnew,
related that Agnew felt that Nixon tried to save his own skin by
offering up Agnew. If the Congress spent a lot of time on Agnew's
impeachment, the reasoning supposedly was, it wouldn't have the
motivation to go on to impeach Nixon. Why Nixon (or, more accurately,
Haig, under Nixon's possible direction) went on to ask for Agnew's
resignation rather than allowing Agnew to stay on as VP and be
impeached, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it was because Agnew's case
in court was appearing to be such a lost cause for Agnew, that Nixon
would have had to demand his resignation, in order not to look bad.
writing about Witcover's book, I've talked about Agnew's popularity.
In Witcover's narration, Agnew kept some of that, even amidst his
scandals. Agnew received telegrams from people expressing their support
for him, even as some of them criticized Nixon for not supporting Agnew
enough----for being out for Nixon alone. When Nixon spoke out about
Agnew, Nixon (to Agnew's apparent disappointment) did not mention
Agnew's insistence that he (Agnew) was innocent; rather, Nixon praised
Agnew's service in speaking candidly about controversial issues.
According to Witcover, Nixon was "merely commending [Agnew's] past
service in a way that could sustain his own good standing with the
vice-president's Silent Majority constituency" (page 329).