As if having a Vice President convicted of taking kickbacks weren't a big enough black eye for the administration of President Richard Milhous Nixon, the President and his White House staff had an even bigger mountain of political (and criminal) problems themselves - problems which would ultimately lead to the resignation of a President and the second (and third) applications of the 25th Amendment in less than eleven months.
Downfall of a President
In the early hours of June 17, 1972, Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, James McCord and Frank Sturgis were arrested, having been caught while breaking into the Democratic National Committee's national headquarters, located in the Watergate Hotel and office complex in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the "Watergate Affair" or more often simply just "Watergate," over the next 26 months a series of investigations would reveal that the burglars were in fact White House operatives; just part of a "dirty tricks" campaign which included illegal electronic surveillance of political opponents, politically motivated investigations of groups and individuals, campaign finance and other financial improprieties, and a variety of abuses of presidential power. Further imperiling Nixon was that from almost immediately after the Watergate burglary arrests, the President was directly involved in attempting to cover up the overall extent of the crimes, thereby obstructing justice.
Over the course of an eighteen month period from February 1973 to August 1974, both houses of the United States Congress would be knee-deep in investigations of the affair, during which numerous salacious details emerged including the existence of a tape recording system's installation in the Oval Office. When special prosecutor Archibald Cox requested the tapes, the White House stonewalled. When Cox subpoenaed the recordings on Saturday, October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered his dismissal. When Attorney General Elliot Richardson was given that order, he immediately resigned his office in protest. When Richardson's subordinate, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus, was given the order, he likewise submitted his resignation. Solicitor General Robert Heron Bork, third in line at the Department of Justice and now Acting Attorney General, would finally carry out Nixon's order. This tactic backfiring on the President severely, he would appoint Leon Jaworski as Cox's successor, whereupon Jaworski picked up right where Cox had left off.
On February 6, 1974 and to the surprise of virtually no one by this time, the House of Representatives began a formal process leading toward impeachment, authorizing its Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the subject. Hoping to avoid a release of the actual recorded conversations which had been subpoenaed, in April Nixon released written, partially redacted transcripts of the recordings; this was greeted by the public, the media, and virtually everyone involved in the investigation of the President with a resounding thud. While it would take three months for the House Judiciary Committee's hearings to actually begin, on July 27, 1974 it would vote, by 27-11 margin, to recommend three articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Three days earlier, the United States Supreme Court had issued a ruling that the recordings subpoenaed by Cox (and again by Jaworski) were not subject to "executive privilege" (as had been professed by the Nixon administration) and had to be turned over to the special prosecutor's office immediately.
By August 5th, the extent of Nixon's involvement in the scandal (including, ironically in one case, the lack of evidence, thanks to a mysterious 18 1/2 minute erasure in one key recording) became known within government circles. Even the President's most staunch supporters now advised the President to resign from office. On the evening of August 8, 1974 - six years to the day of the announcement that he had selected Spiro Agnew as his Vice Presidential running mate - Richard Nixon announced that the following day he'd be the first President of the United States to resign that office. The following morning, an eleven word, one sentence letter of resignation was delivered to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at 11:35 a.m., officially ending the Nixon presidency. 25 minutes later, Vice President Gerald Ford would be sworn in as the 38th President of the United States in accordance with Section 1 of the 25th Amendment.
Rockefeller Succeeds Ford
Just as Spiro Agnew's resignation would create a Vice Presidential vacancy Ford would fill in October 1973, Gerald Ford's elevation to President of the United States would create the second Vice Presidential vacancy in just ten months. Even before the ink was dry on President Nixon's resignation letter, press speculation began as to whom President Ford would select to replace him as Vice President. The new President would consider several candidates, among them former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Republican National Committee chairman (and future Vice President, Acting President, and later President) George Herbert Walker Bush. But as John Connally had with Richard Nixon prior to the latter's selection of Ford, Laird backed away from a Vice Presidential offer. Bush meanwhile was the target of an investigation that allegedly linked him to a secret Nixon campaign slush fund; the investigation would ultimately clear him of any wrongdoing, but given the climate of the time, the new President didn't want even a whiff of scandal in his administration.
After eleven days, on August 20, 1973 President Ford nominated former New York Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller as Vice President, in accordance with Section 2 of the 25th Amendment. While some anticipated a quick confirmation based on his extensive political background, the Rockefeller confirmation dragged on for months as Congress investigated his family's vast holdings in major corporations with government ties. With a net worth estimated at $ 178 million ($ 864 million in 2015 dollars), the Vice President-designate offered to allay Congressional concerns by placing his securities in a blind trust if confirmed. Despite the length and contentiousness of the confirmation process, ultimately the Senate voted 90-7 to confirm Rockefeller, while the House of Representatives would soon follow suit, albeit by a smaller, 287-128 margin. On December 19, 1974, Rockefeller would be sworn in as the 41st Vice President of the United States, the third in just 435 days, and the second (in a row) to be installed under the provisions of the 25th Amendment.