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The 30 Craziest Political Scandals in U.S. History

Eliot Spitzer's Bribes and Prostitutes

During his time as Attorney General and Governor for the state of New York, Eliot Spitzer engaged in suspicious money transactions, mostly from bribes he had taken. The government underwent a full investigation, finding out that Spitzer has spent roughly $80,000 on prostitutes. This led to the discovery of a huge prostitution ring.

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John Eaton's Shunning

The public's view of Secretary of War John Eaton and his mistress-turned-wife caused the wives of President Andrew Jackson's Cabinet members to convince their husbands to shun Eaton. Because this caused such an impasse in Washington, Jackson was forced to eventually replace a handful of the members of his Cabinet.

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Jack Ryan's Marital Problems

When he was running for Senate against Barack Obama in 2004, it was revealed that Jack Ryan would take his former wife (Jeri Ryan of Star Trek: Voyager fame) to sex clubs against her will and pressure her into performing intercourse with him in front of a room full of strangers. This discovery ended Ryan’s political career.

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Wilbur Mills' Ill-Fated Joyride

Wilbur Mills served more years in Congress than anyone else in U.S. history, but that is not normally what he is remembered for. On October 9, 1974, Mills was pulled over at 2 a.m. in Washington D.C. by police, who found that he was intoxicated and had scratches on his face from an argument with his passenger, Argentinian stripper Fanne Foxe. Foxe ran out of the vehicle and fell into a nearby reservoir.

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Douglas R. Stringfellow’s Miraculous Recovery

After serving in World War II, Douglas R. Stringfellow claimed to have lost the use of his legs and was confined to a wheelchair. When Stringfellow was a congressman, the Army Times released a report saying that Stringfellow could walk and that he also lied about his time as a prisoner of war. He did not attempt to continue his political career.

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Ronald Reagan's Shady Weapons Deal

During the Ronald Reagan administration, the U.S. government breached a trade embargo to sell weapons to Iran without the knowledge of the American public. This was done in the hopes of releasing U.S. hostages overseas and giving the United States control in Nicaragua’s Contra movement, but it backfired and the American people discovered the scheme.

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Bob Barr’s Sweet Tooth

When President Bill Clinton had his own sex scandal, Republican Congressman Bob Barr was one of the primary figures calling for impeachment. However, it was revealed that Barr had been witnessed licking whipped cream off the breasts of women at a charity auction in the early 1990s. Barr was not successful in his re-election campaign.

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Earl Butz’s Offensive Sense of Humor

Earl Butz, the secretary of agriculture under President Ford, had a reputation for telling filthy jokes. The one that got him in trouble occurred on an airplane, when singer Pat Boone asked him why the Republican party wasn’t popular with black voters. Butz replied, “The only things the coloreds are looking for in life are tight p***y, loose shoes, and a warm place to s**t.” He was asked to resign a few days later.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt's Secret Mission

During World War I, the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island was said to have a thriving homosexual community whose members referred to themselves as “The Ladies of Newport.” In order to get to the bottom of it, Navy Assistant Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt sent men undercover to initiate sex with the sailors to see who was gay. The Senate was not happy with Roosevelt’s actions.

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Bob Packwood’s Diary

It was well known that Oregon Senator Bob Packwood sexually harassed women throughout his time in office, but he lost any hope of denying these claims when his private diary was discovered. Within its pages, Packwood graphically chronicled his physical encounters with his employees and hinted at bribes he had taken.

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Albert B. Fall’s Teapot Dome Bribes

Supposedly, President Warren G. Harding was a nice guy, but he sure had lousy taste in friends. At that time, America had two large oil reserves that were preserved for the U.S. Navy. However, in 1921, Albert B. Fall (the Secretary of the Interior) convinced Harding to transfer the reserves to the Department of Interior. In turn, he leased each reserve to two of the largest oil tycoons in the country – Doheny and Sinclair. Worse yet, he didn’t seek competitive bids. Investigations later revealed that Fall accepted $400,000 in payments and loans for the deal. Fall was convicted of taking bribes, but Harding was not.

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Governor Huey Long’s Attempted Dictatorship

Huey Long became governor of Louisiana in 1928 and did something that was unheard of at the time. He decided to fire every government employee that wasn’t loyal to him. Long also demanded (not asked, mind you) 20% of all state contracts. Well, when he didn’t get his way, he declared martial law. An employee by the name of Sam Irby attempted to reveal his corruption, but he was later abducted and tortured until he changed his mind about Long. Irby eventually escaped captivity after a ridiculous car chase and told everyone everything he knew. By then, it was too late and Long had been elected as senator. Eventually, he was assassinated in 1935 by an angry dentist after attempting to run for president against FDR.

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Grant Administration’s Credit Mobilier Profits

So, this one spans quite a few people that were involved in the Grant Administration. At the time, the Union Pacific Railroad was working on the transcontinental railroad, which was on government-granted land and financed by government-sanctioned stocks. They used an investment firm called Credit Mobilier of America, but the company was owned by the individuals that also owned the Union Pacific Railroad. They used this scam to pay themselves millions and got government support by issuing some members stocks. Soon, an investigation was afoot, and 30 representatives were found guilty of bribery including future president Garfield.

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Gary Hart’s Cold Feet

Democratic senator from Colorado, Gary Hart, was a shoe-in and could have even gone on to be president. However, rumors circulated that he had an extra-marital affair. This was spurred on by the Miami Herald, and Hart got worried about his reputation. In turn, he decided to pull out of the race. Strangely enough, he re-entered the campaign a few months later only to quit again after three months.

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Lyndon B. Johnson’s Shady Dealings

Lyndon B. Johnson was our 36th president, but he was a Texas Senator before he made it to the White House. His opponent at the time was Coke R. Stevenson, who everyone expected to win. However, Johnson had some friends in high-places – specifically the corrupt George Parr. On election night, the counties that Parr controlled had 10,547 votes for Johnson and 368 for Stevenson. When it was announced that Stevenson was still winning, Parr issued “corrected tallies,” which transferred 200 votes from Stevenson to Johnson, causing him to win the seat by 87 votes. Anyone that spoke up mysteriously ended up dead, including Sam Smithwick, who had also murdered a journalist who criticized political corruption.

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Eagleton’s Mental Health

Health issues in our leaders are a legitimate cause for concern, but years ago, no one wanted a vice president with a mental health problem. This was Senator Thomas Eagleton’s issue. He was selected as the running mate for George McGovern in 1972, but he only lasted 18 days. Later, it was discovered that he had been hospitalized for depression and had received electroshock treatments in the past.

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Jack Abramoff’s Gifts for Favors

Jack Abramoff was best known as the “Man Who Bought Washington.” He was a lobbyist with deep pockets and a massive web of corrupt politicians. He gave congress members millions of dollars, free meals, tickets, and trips to famous golf courses. Eventually, the Justice Department started an inquiry after the Washington Post began to dig. Abramoff went to prison along with the House Administration Committee and Republican Senator Tom DeLay. After he was let out of jail, he wrote a book about the scandal.

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Pete Halat’s Risky Friendships

When running for Biloxi mayor, Pete Halat had to take drastic measures to win. See, he was the lawyer of the Dixie Mafia kingpin, Kirksey Nix. While Nix was in prison for a con, Halat laundered money for him but skimmed $500,000 off the top. When it was discovered, Halat placed the blame on the husband of the woman that was going to run against him in the upcoming mayoral run, Margaret Sherry. Her anti-corruption platform would have destroyed him. Nix sent a hitman to kill the two in bed, which was carried out successfully. Halat attended the funeral, gave the eulogy, and was elected mayor of Biloxi. His role in the murders became known, but he remained mayor for four years. Later, he was convicted of wire fraud and obstruction of justice, which led to a 16-year prison sentence.

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The Keating Five Investigation

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, it was discovered that five senators were interfering in the investigation of a savings and loan company, Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. Investigations revealed that the senators had been paid by the owner of the firm, Charles Keating. Later, the firm collapsed and received a taxpayer bailout of $3 billion. All five denied the charges, and only one received a reprimand. This investigation later resurfaced in 2008 when McCain ran for president.

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Jim Traficant’s Prison Sentence

In 2002, Jim Traficant was convicted of taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering and forcing his aides to perform chores at his farm in Ohio and houseboat in Washington, D.C. He was given a 17-year prison sentence. However, the punishments were still to come. A few months later, the House of Representatives threw him out of office – something that’s only been done five times in over 213 years.

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Spiro Agnew’s Resignation

Spiro Agnew was Richard Nixon’s vice president, and the second vice president that ever resigned in American history. Why? He was accused of tax evasion and bribery. When the accusations first surfaced in September 1973, he said he would not resign if indicted. However, that October, he took a plea bargain to stay out of jail and stepped down.

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John Edward’s Affair Made Public

John Edward’s was a senator for North Carolina that was the apple of the Democratic Party’s eye. That is until rumors of his affair surfaced. The affair was with a filmmaker, Rielle Hunter, who he hired to work on his campaign. Later, Edward’s admitted to the affair and admitted he had fathered a child with her. Following this, Edward’s went before a grand jury for trying to use campaign money to hide the scandal. He was acquitted on one count, and the others ended in a mistrial.

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Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s Retaliation

This scandal began when an Ambassador, Joe Wilson, questioned the Bush Administration on going to war with Iraq. Later, the press somehow found out that the Ambassador’s wife, Valorie Plume-Wilson, was an undercover CIA spy and published it in an op-ed piece in 2003. Everyone wondered if the Bush Administration leaked this information in retaliation to her husband’s views. During the investigation, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted of perjury and obstructing the investigation of the leak. Bush commuted Libby’s prison sentence to 30 months soon after.

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John Ensign’s Slap on the Wrist

In 2011, John Ensign was in the middle of more than on scandal. One of which was one that involved an affair, but it’s an interesting one. Ensign had an affair with a campaign staffer’s wife and paid $96,000 to the pair to keep quiet. In addition to this, Ensign also got Douglas Hampton (the husband) a new lobbyist job that violated congresses “one-year” cool-off period, which he was later convicted of committing. Hampton’s life was torn apart despite his claims that Ensign orchestrated it all. Ensign had no repercussions, gave up his seat in 2011, and returned to his successful veterinary practice. 

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Grover Cleveland’s Hidden Son

Grover Cleveland was the only president to be elected for two terms non-sequentially, but that isn’t all he was known for. During his first campaign, information surfaced that he had an illegitimate son, who he fathered ten years prior. In 1884, this was big news and a massive faux pas. After he admitted guilt, chants of “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Off to the White House ha ha ha!” became prevalent across the nation.

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Thomas Jefferson’s Possible Child(ren)

Thomas Jefferson is one of the most well-known presidents we have, but that doesn’t absolve him of scandals. Early in his presidency, Thomas Jefferson allegedly had a relationship with a woman named Sally Hemmings in 1802. This is arguably one of the first presidential sex scandals in history. Sally Hemmings was Jefferson’s slave, and it was rumored that he even had a child with her. None of this stopped him from remaining as president for another seven years following the accusations. However, in 1998, DNA testing discovered that Jefferson was the father of at least one of Sally Hemmings’s children – if not more. 

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William Belknap’s Whiskey Ring

Ulysses S. Grant had one of the most corrupt presidencies of all time, though this is still argued today. One of the scandals during his run was dubbed “The Whiskey Ring.” The scheme was a network of bribes from Whiskey distillers and shopkeepers to avoid paying federal taxes. The Whiskey Ring involved several high-ranking members of Grant’s Cabinet, including his own private secretary. This scandal led to the impeachment of Grant’s secretary of war, William Belknap, although he resigned before he was convicted.

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Mary Jo Kopechne’s Death

This scandal destroyed any chance Ted Kennedy had of a presidential run. In 1969, he and five other men (all who were married) spent the day socializing with young women who worked on their campaign – none of whom were their wives. Kennedy got in the car with Kopechne and began driving toward Chappaquiddick Island. However, the pair would never make it. Kennedy and Kopechne went off the bridge and into the waters. Kennedy escaped and claimed he attempted to save Kopechne, who was found the following morning trapped in the car. Suspicion arose since Kennedy waited 10 hours until alerting police. Apparently, he sought advice before informing emergency services of his drowning passenger.

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The D.C. Madam’s Escort Service

Deborah Jeane Palfrey was a woman that ran an escort service that catered to high-profile customers throughout the nation’s capital. It’s no surprise that this situation went terribly when a jury convicted Palfrey for running a prostitution service. This gained her the nickname “The D.C. Madam.” Senator David Vitter was one of the senators that had frequented her service during its existence. He apologized to the public, but it ultimately cost him his career as he wouldn’t serve in office again.

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Dan Rostenkowski’s Overdraft Penalties

We’ve all had an overdraft at least once in our lives, and they’re not cheap. Well, for hundreds of members of George H.W. Bush’s cabinet, overdrafts were free. This issue led to an investigation, which later realized something even bigger – the embezzlement and misuse of public funds. This ended the career of Representative Dan Rostenkowski, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He eventually served prison time but was pardoned by Clinton in 2000. That’s one big price to pay for overdrafts.

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