Thursday, December 11, 2008

Let's Make a Deal?

The latest New York Times story about the corruption charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich discusses, among other issues, the possibility that he could strike a plea bargain with prosecutors, and that a promise to resign the governorship could be one element in such a deal.

There is at least one high-profile precedent for such a bargain. In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew was under investigation regarding accusations of corruption from his days as a county and state official in Maryland. On October 10, 1973, Agnew pleaded no contest to one of the charges, and resigned the office of vice president. I'm not sure how direct the quid pro quo was, but it's generally accepted that his resignation was an integral part of the deal.

The political implications of Blagojevich's case are different than those of Agnew's. But both cases involve a sense of urgency.

Everyone recognized that the question of whether Agnew would continue as vice president was an important one. By late 1973, it was becoming more clear that Richard Nixon might leave the presidency, due to the Watergate scandal. And, of course, Nixon did resign, about 10 months after Agnew's resignation. By the time of Nixon's resignation, on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford had been put in place as Agnew's successor, so there was a "clean" successor available to take over the presidency.

In Blagojevich's case, the urgency has to do with the need to appoint a senator to succeed Barack Obama, in a way that is not tainted by suspicions arising out of the allegations against the governor. It has already been almost a month since Obama resigned his Senate seat. Normally, a governor moves quickly to appoint a replacement, because a state loses clout in Washington when it has only one senator. That sense that the clock is ticking might work in Blagojevich's favor, if he negotiates a deal.

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