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From Aaron Burr to Bill Clinton: previous presidents, VPs' scrapes with the law

While serving as the nation's third vice president, Aaron Burr was indicted for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

Published: April 1, 2023 11:15pm

While the criminal indictment of Donald Trump will be the first for an incumbent or former president, other presidents have been investigated, and vice presidents have been convicted of crimes. 

On Thursday, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict the 45th president over his alleged role in a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, making him the first former president to face criminal charges.

The issue of extradition was brought up by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who slammed the indictment as "un-American," saying "[t]he weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head."

DeSantis, a potential Trump rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, vowed, "Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda."

Trump reacted to the indictment Thursday on social media. "The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to 'Get Trump,' but now they've done the unthinkable — indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference," he posted on his Truth Social platform. "Never before in our Nation's history has this been done." 

Trump is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday

The question of extradition previously arose in the case of the third vice president of the U.S. 

The infamous duel in July 1804 between then-Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton occurred in New Jersey, but Hamilton died from his wounds in New York. Burr was indicted for both murder and dueling in New York and for murder in New Jersey. 

Burr eventually fled to Georgia, making extradition more difficult. While under indictment, however, he returned to Washington, D.C., to fulfill his duty as President of the Senate to preside over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. He completed his term as vice president while under indictment, and the murder charges were eventually dropped, but he was convicted for misdemeanor dueling. 

In more recent years, another vice president was indicted. 

Then-Vice President Spiro Agnew was investigated in the summer of 1973 for income tax violations, bribery, and extortion dating from his time as governor of Maryland. Agnew faced federal indictments but argued that a sitting vice president must be impeached to be removed from office. 

After the solicitor general said that vice presidents could be indicted and with the Watergate scandal and the specter of possible impeachment looming over President Richard Nixon, his administration sought to oust Agnew. Agnew resigned in October 1973 and entered a no-contest plea to a single federal count of failing to report $29,500 in income on his income-tax return when he was Maryland's governor in 1967. 

Agnew acknowledged that his plea was essentially a felony conviction, and he received a three-year sentence of unsupervised probation and was fined $10,000. 

A recent president narrowly escaped criminal indictment. 

Former President Bill Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice in 1998 for claiming in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit that he didn't have an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The Senate, however, voted to acquit Clinton in 1999, and he escaped indictment at the end of his presidency by reaching a deal with the independent counsel to pay $25,000 in fines. 

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