Political scandals include a wide range of factors, from passion scandals to corrupt actions meant to gain them access to power and money. In most cases, corruption is the leading factor. Here are some of the best-known scandals that occurred throughout history, involving famous politicians and state figures.
1. The Watergate Scandal
Very few political scandals in world history have had such a huge impact than the Watergate scandal, under Richard Nixon’s presidency. As a matter of fact, Nixon is probably one of the politicians whose career was utterly and irrevocably destroyed by a scandal. Watergate occurred in the early 1970’s following a break-in on June 1972 at the Watergate Complex hosting the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washigton D.C. When President Nixon’s administration tried to cover up its involvement in the break-in, the conspiracy was discovered and an investigation started by the U.S. Congress, leading to a constitutional crisis. A wide series of illegal and clandestine activities were discovered as a result of the investigation, involving harassment, spying and illegal intimidation methods of political figures or members of activist movements.
Following the release of a series of tapes where Nixon was admitting to knowing about the illegal activities and about the break-in at Watergate Offices, the President was forced to resign. 69 people from his administration were indicted, 25 of them being found guilty in the case. Following his resignation, Nixon was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford as President, who on September 8, 1974, issued a full and unconditional pardon of the former head of state. The pardon was basically offering him immunity from prosecution for any potential crimes committed during his presidential mandate.
2. The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal
This one is closer to our day and is still a media storm anywhere you look online. In fact, the Democrat presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton is still under investigation for the email scandal that has plagued her election campaign this year. The whole story started in March 2015, when the media found out that during her Secretary of State tenure, Clinton had used her home’s private email server for official State Department communications. By not using federal protected servers of the State Secretary office for official, state-related communications, she has risked exposure of countless state secrets to the public. According to official records, the scandal involved thousands of emails that were marked as classified by the U.S. State Department. The controversy actually started against hearings held by the US States House Committee on Benghazi, with some political experts claiming that Clinton’s use of a private server violated a series of federal laws governing recordkeeping for state related matters.
After several allegations were raised by the media and other observers’ organizations, the FBI launched an official investigation on how the classified information was handled by Clinton. As a result of this, it was concluded that the current presidential candidate was extremely careless in her way of handling the email system, but no official charges were filed. In the end of August this year, the federal court has demanded reopening the case and asking Clinton to answer the questions under oath.
3. The Bill Clinton- Monica Lewinski Scandal
Confirming the very definition of what a good old political scandal, this was probably one of the most media-friendly one that shook the foundations of the American political system. It ended up ruining Bill Clinton’s political career. Deemed by the media as the Tailgate, Sexgate or Monicagate, the scandal came to light in 1998, alluding to a sexual relationship between the U.S. President Bill Clinton and one of his interns, 22-year old Monica Lewinski. Lewinski, a recent graduate of the Lewis & Clark College, was hired as an intern during Clinton’s first term and later became an employee of the House Office of Legislative Affairs. As per her admissions during several phone calls with her friend Linda Tripp, she started a relationship with Clinton during that time. Trip, an employee of the Defense Department, secretly recorded the calls and they were later released to the media following another scandal the President was being investigated in.
During several TV arguments, Clinton refused to admit any involvement with Lewinski although it became clear to anyone watching the affair closely that he was lying. An investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives led to his impeachment in 1998, for perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Clinton was fined and his law license suspended for five years by the Supreme Court. However, as strange as it may seem, he continued to be a president for the rest of his term.
4. The Silvio Berlusconi Prostitute Scandal
Media says famous Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi is probably the most corrupt politician in recorded history. There are many allegations against him, some verified, others less so, from abuse of service and power to financial bribery and sexual convictions. Many people have linked his name to Mafia affairs, others claim that he entered politics to save his companies from bankruptcy. But the biggest scandals ever surrounding the man are the sexual ones. Berlusconi was accused and initially convicted of paying a Moroccan underage prostitute for sexual favors.
As investigations revealed, in early 2010, Berlusconi had paid Karim El Mahrough, or Ruby Rubacuori by her Italian stage name who was 17 at the time for several sexual encounters between February and May of that year. The young prostitute was arrested the same year on theft suspicion but Berlusconi used his influence to have her released from prison. For this, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from political life, but upon an appeal in 2014, his conviction was overturned and he was again eligible to hold political office.
5. The John Edwards Affair
Another famous sex scandal involving a Democrat Senator broke out in 2007 and lasted for three years. At the time, John Edwards was a successful US Senator, and he was even a vice-presidential and presidential candidate. He admitted to an extramarital affair in August 2008, after having denied the allegations for almost a year. In late 2007, several U.S. tabloids revealed that Edwards had had an affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter and had a child as a result of that affair. The tabloids quoted Andrew Young, a witness and member of Edwards’ campaign team, who claimed the Senator had asked him to convince a doctor to fake the DNA results on his paternity test. Young also claimed Edwards had asked him to “take one for the team” and pretend the baby was his, and not the Senator’s. After continuously denying all allegations for 7 months, Edwards finally admitted to the affair in an ABC News interview in August 2008.
Later, in January 2010, he publicly admitted he was the child’s father. A sex tape release towards the end of 2010 brought new charges against the former presidential candidate, which prompted the federal court to open a case against him on allegations that he asked two of his campaign donors to provide nearly $1 million in secret payments in order to hide his pregnant mistress from media eyes.
6. The Petticoat Affair
While it may seem a rather derisory affair to many observers today, this political scandal that occurred 180 years ago was one of the worst affairs of the century. It happened during the term of one of America’s most beloved presidents Andrew Jackson. The scandal broke in 1830 and it was considered a massive issue at the time. Led by Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, it publicly ostracized then Secretary of War, John Eaton and his second wife Peggy over a marriage that was considered to fail moral standards. Everything began when John Henry Eaton decided to marry recently widowed belle Margaret Peggy Timberlake, after only a few months since the suicide of her husband. Rumors ensued claiming that Eaton had been involved with Timberlake even before her husband’s death and that the suicide was caused by grief over the affair.
Following public rumors, most of Jackson’s cabinet turned against Eaton, but the President was the only one in support of the politician, which led to a group resignation from many cabinet members. Starting from a rather trivial manner, the affair actually shook up the entire Jackson administration and created political instability, a fact which facilitated the rise to power and eventually to presidency of Martin Van Buren.
7. The Keating Five
This is the generic name for one of the worst 1980’s political scandals. The Keating Five are five U.S, senators accused of corruption in 1989. During the late 1980’s, the United States was plagued by an economic crisis triggered by several savings-and-loan deregulations. Everything culminated with the collapse of 747 savings and loan associations, including the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. It was later discovered that the Lincoln Savings Chairman, Charles Keating Jr. made a series of very risky investments using the depositors’ money. To gain immunity from prosecution for his actions, Keating paid five congressmen to keep Lincoln Savings from being investigated. Following the collapse of Lincoln Savings in 1989, the facts were brought to life and the five senators were accused of corruption: Alan Cranston- the California Democrat Senator, Dennis DeConcini- Arizona Democrat, John Glenn- Ohio Democrat, John McCain- Arizona Republican and Donald W. Riegle- Michigan Democrat.
Following a U.S. state investigation three of the senators were only reprimanded, while Glenn and McCain were cleared of any charges. Following the scandal, both Keating and Lincoln Savings became symbols for the idea of corruption in the American financial system and society and are still featured in many popular references when facts of corruption are cited.
8. The Teapot Dome Scandal
Before Watergate, this was the “flagship” of U.S. political scandals, regarded as one of the most sensational corruption incidents. The scandal had a corruption incident at its foundation involving the bribery of a politician. The event happened during 1921 and 1922, during Warren G. Harding’s administration. Then State Secretary Albert Bacon Fall was accused of reportedly leasing national petroleum reserves to several oil companies for preferential rates, without a competitive bidding process. The lease terms were apparently created to favor a couple of oil companies which, in turn paid Fall handsomely for the favor. The petroleum reserves in question included the Wyoming area known as the Teapot Dome and two other California areas. One year later, these leases were exposed to the public following an inquiry by Senator Thomas Walsh triggered by a public letter and complaint made by a Wyoming oil operator.
The civil and criminal suits related to this political scandal continued till the end of the 1920’s. After years of legal back and forth and media scandals, a Supreme Court ruled that the oil leases had been obtained in a fraudulent manner and two years later, Albert Fall was convicted for accepting bribes while on public office. He was thus the first ever cabinet member who went to prison for corruption.