This article provides a list of political scandals that involve officials from the government of the United States, sorted from oldest to most recent.
Scope and organization of political scandals
This article is organized by presidential terms in order, older to recent, and then divided into scandals of the federal Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government. Members of both parties are listed under the term of the president in office at the time the scandal took place, even though they may not be connected with the presiding president.
In this article, the term "politician" (a person who is professionally involved in politics) includes not only those elected, but also party officials, candidates for office, their staffs and appointees. Please note that every president directly selects, appoints or hires several thousand people. Each of them selects thousands more. Private citizens should only be mentioned when they are closely linked to the scandal or politician, such as Jack Abramoff. This list also does not include crimes that occur outside the politician's tenure (such as before or after his term in office) unless they specifically stem from acts made while in office and discovered later.
Scandal is defined as "loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety". Scandals are separate from 'controversies', (which implies two differing points of view) and 'unpopularity'. Many decisions are controversial, many decisions are unpopular, that alone does not make them scandals. Breaking the law is a scandal. The finding of a court is the sole method used to determine a violation of law, but it is not the sole method of determining a scandal. Also included as scandals are politicians who resign, quit, run, or commit suicide while being investigated or threatened with investigation.
Notoriety is a major determinant of a scandal, that is, the amount of press dedicated to it. Misunderstandings, breaches of ethics, unproven crimes or cover-ups may or may not result in inclusion depending on the standing of the accused, the amount of publicity generated, and the seriousness of the crime, if any. Drunk driving may be a conviction, but is usually too minor and too common to mention unless there are multiple convictions and/or jail time.
Given the political nature of Congress in which the leading party has determining power, politicians who are rebuked, denounced, censured, admonished, condemned, suspended, reprimanded, found in contempt, found to have acted improperly, or used poor judgement are not included unless the scandal is exceptional or leads to expulsion or conviction.
George W. Bush administrations (2001–2009)
- Francis J. Harvey (R) Secretary of the Army, appointed by G. W. Bush, resigned
- Maj. Gen. George Weightman ( ) was fired for failures linked to the scandal
- Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley (R) appointed by G. W. Bush, was relieved of command resigned for failures linked to the scandal.
- Timothy Goeglein, Special Assistant to President Bush, resigned in 2008 when it was discovered that more than twenty of his columns had been plagiarized from an Indiana newspaper.
- Scott Bloch was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the United States Office of Special Counsel. On April 27, 2010, Bloch pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of Congress for "willfully and unlawfully withholding pertinent information from a House committee investigating his decision to have several government computers wiped...." On February 2, Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson ruled that Bloch faces a mandatory sentence of at least one month in prison.
- Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney (R), was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Plame affair on March 6, 2007. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000. The sentence was commuted by George W. Bush on July 1, 2007. The felony remains on Libby's record, though the jail time and fine were commuted. President Donald Trump fully pardoned Libby on April 13, 2018.
- Alphonso Jackson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, resigned while under investigation by the Justice Department for alleged cronyism and favoritism
- Karl Rove, Senior Adviser to President George W. Bush, was investigated by the Office of Special Counsel for "improper political influence over government decision-making", as well as for his involvement in several other scandals such as Lawyergate, Bush White House email controversy and Plame affair. He resigned in April 2007. (See Karl Rove in the George W. Bush administration)
- Richard J. Griffin, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security appointed by George W. Bush who made key decisions regarding the department's oversight of private security contractor Blackwater USA, resigned in November 2007, after a critical review by the House Oversight Committee found that his office had failed to adequately supervise private contractors during the Blackwater Baghdad shootings protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq.
- Republican contributor Howard Krongard was appointed Inspector General of the US State Department by President George W. Bush in 2005. was accused by the House Oversight Committee of improperly interfering with investigations into private security contractor Blackwater USA concerning the Blackwater Baghdad shootings. Krongard resigned in December 2007.
- "Lawyergate" or the Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy refers to President Bush firing, without explanation, eleven Republican federal prosecutors whom he himself had appointed. It is alleged that they were fired for prosecuting Republicans and not prosecuting Democrats. When Congressional hearings were called, a number of senior Justice Department officials cited executive privilege and refused to testify under oath and instead resigned, including:
- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
- Karl Rove, Advisor to President Bush
- Harriet Miers, Legal Counsel to President Bush, was found in Contempt of Congress
- Michael A. Battle, Director of Executive Office of US Attorneys in the Justice Department
- Bradley Schlozman, Director of Executive Office of US Attorneys who replaced Battle
- Michael Elston, Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty
- Paul McNulty, Deputy Attorney General to William Mercer
- William W. Mercer, Associate Attorney General to Alberto Gonzales
- Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
- Monica Goodling, Liaison between President Bush and the Justice Department
- Joshua Bolten, Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bush was found in Contempt of Congress
- Sara M. Taylor, Aide to Presidential Advisor Karl Rove
- Bush White House email controversy – During the Lawyergate investigation it was discovered that the Bush administration used Republican National Committee (RNC) web servers for millions of emails which were then destroyed, lost or deleted in possible violation of the Presidential Records Act and the Hatch Act. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Andrew Card, Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings all used RNC webservers for the majority of their emails. Of 88 officials investigated, 51 showed no emails at all. As many as five million emails requested by Congressional investigators were therefore unavailable, lost, or deleted.
- Lurita Alexis Doan (R) Administrator of General Services, investigated for "the most pernicious of political activity" at work. The team also recommended she be "disciplined to the fullest extent". Among other things she asked GSA employees how they could "help Republican candidates". She resigned. (2000)
- J. Steven Griles (R) Deputy to the Secretary of the Interior pled guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 10 months.
- John Korsmo, chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board, pleaded guilty to lying to congress and sentenced to 18 months of unsupervised probation and fined $5,000. (2005)
- Philip Cooney (R) Bush appointed to chair the Council on Environmental Quality, was accused of editing government climate reports to emphasize doubts about global warming. Two days later, Cooney announced his resignation and later conceded his role in altering reports. Stating "My sole loyalty was to the President and advancing the policies of his administration".
- The Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal involved Jack Abramoff, a prominent Republican lobbyist with close ties to administration officials, legislators, and staff who offered bribes as part of his lobbying efforts. Abramoff was sentenced to 4 years in prison. See also George W. Bush's legislative branch for 11 legislators and staff caught in the investigation. Executive branch personnel involved include:
- David Safavian (R) CoS of the GSA (General Services Administration) was convicted of making false statements as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal and was sentenced to one year in prison. (2005) found guilty of blocking justice and lying, and sentenced to 18 months
- Roger Stillwell (R) staff in the Department of the Interior, pleaded guilty and received two years suspended sentence.
- Susan B. Ralston (R) Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to Karl Rove, resigned on October 6, 2006, after it became known that she accepted gifts and passed information to her former boss Jack Abramoff.
- J. Steven Griles (R) Deputy to the Secretary of the Interior pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 10 months
- Italia Federici (R) staff to the Secretary of the Interior and President of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, pled guilty to tax evasion and obstruction of justice. She was sentenced to four years' probation.
- Jared Carpenter (R) Vice President of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, was discovered during the Abramoff investigation and pled guilty to income tax evasion. He got 45 days, plus 4 years' probation.
- Mark Zachares (R) staff in the Department of Labor, bribed by Abramoff, guilty of conspiracy to defraud.
- Robert E. Coughlin (R) Deputy Chief of Staff of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest after accepting bribes from Jack Abramoff. (2008)
- Kyle Foggo (R) CIA Executive Director was convicted of honest services fraud in the awarding of a government contract and sentenced to 37 months in federal prison at Pine Knot, Kentucky. On September 29, 2008, Foggo pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment, admitting that while he was the CIA executive director, he acted to steer a CIA contract to the firm of his lifelong friend, Brent R. Wilkes.
- Julie MacDonald (R) Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior, resigned on May 1, 2007, after giving government documents to developers (2007)
- Claude Allen (R) appointed as an advisor by President Bush (R) on Domestic Policy, was arrested for a series of felony thefts in retail stores. (2006)
- Lester Crawford, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, resigned after two months. He pleaded guilty to conflict of interest and received a 3-year suspended sentence and fined $90,000 (2006)
- The 2003 Invasion of Iraq depended on intelligence that Saddam Hussein was developing "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs) meaning nuclear, chemical and/or biological weapons for offensive use. As revealed by The (British) Downing Street memo "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy" The press called this the "smoking gun". (2005)
- Yellowcake forgery – Just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration presented evidence to the UN that Iraq was seeking material (yellowcake uranium) in Africa for making nuclear weapons. Though presented as true, it was later found to be not only dubious, but outright false.
- Coalition Provisional Authority Cash Payment Scandal – On June 20, 2005, the staff of the Committee on Government Reform prepared a report for Congressman Henry Waxman. It was revealed that $12 billion in cash had been delivered to Iraq by C-130 planes, on shrinkwrapped pallets of US$100 bills. The United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, concluded that "Many of the funds appear to have been lost to corruption and waste.... Some of the funds could have enriched both criminals and insurgents...." Henry Waxman, commented, "Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone?" A single flight to Iraq on December 12, 2003, which contained $1.5 billion in cash is said to be the largest single Federal Reserve payout in US history.
- Bush administration payment of columnists were done with federal funds to say nice things about Republican policies. Illegal payments were made to journalists Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus (2004–2005)
- John A. Shaw (R) was appointed by George W. Bush as Under Secretary of Defense. He was investigated on corruption although charges were never filed against him, he was asked to resign in 2004. When he refused to resign, he was fired by the Bush administration on December 10, 2004.
- The Bernard Kerik nomination in 2004 as Secretary of Homeland Security was derailed by past employment of an illegal alien as a nanny, and other improprieties. On November 4, 2009, he pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud and five counts of lying to the federal government and was sentenced to four years in prison.
- Elliott Broidy (R) Chairman of Finance for the Republican National Committee was accused of bribing several NY state pension officials in exchange for investments in his own private equity fund. He pled guilty, but because of his cooperation the charge was dropped from a felony for attempting to provide excess gratuity, to a misdemeanor and he avoided jail, but was ordered to forfeit $18,000,000. (2008)
- Plame affair – CIA agent Valerie Plame's name was leaked by Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, to the press in retaliation for her husband's criticism of the reports used by George W. Bush to legitimize the Iraq war. Armitage admitted he was the leak but no wrongdoing was found.
- Thomas A. Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), withheld information from Congress about the projected cost of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, and allegedly threatened to fire Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster, if Foster provided the data to Congress. (2003) A few days after the bill was signed, Scully resigned (2003).
- NSA warrantless surveillance – Shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush (R) implemented a secret program by the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on domestic telephone calls by American citizens without warrants, thus by-passing the FISA court which must approve all such actions. (2002) In 2010, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled this practice to be illegal.
- Janet Rehnquist (daughter of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist) was the appointed Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services by George W. Bush. In 2002, Governor Jeb Bush's (R-FL) Chief of Staff Kathleen Shanahan asked Rehnquist to delay auditing a $571 million federal overpayment to the State of Florida. Rehnquist ordered her staff to delay the investigation for five months until after the Florida elections. When Congress began an investigation into the matter, Rehnquist resigned in March 2003, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family.
- John Yoo, an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel inside the Justice Department who, worked closely with vice president Dick Cheney and the Bush Six, He wrote memos stating the right of the president to –
- suspend sections of the ABM Treaty without informing Congress
- bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allowing warrantless wiretapping of US Citizens within the United States by the National Security Agency.
- state that the First Amendment and Fourth Amendments and the Takings Clause do not apply to the president in time of war as defined in the USA Patriot Act
- allow enhanced interrogation techniques (torture) because provisions of the War Crimes Act, the Third Geneva Convention, and the Torture convention do not apply.
Many of his memos have since been repudiated and reversed. Later review by the Justice Department reported that Yoo and Jay Bybee used "poor judgement" in the memos, but no charges were filed.
- Carl Truscott (R) Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, was appointed in 2004 but was soon under investigation for his management style and allegations of lavish spending and misuse of resources, including requiring a large number of agents as personal security, allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars of expensive upgrades to the ATF HQ building, adding a new garage to his house, detailing 20 agents to help with his nephew's high school project and other examples of poor financial judgment. Truscott resigned as the ATF Director on August 4, 2006.
- John David Roy Atchison (R), Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, was arrested for intentions of having sex with a five-year-old. Atchison committed suicide before trial while in custody (2007)
- Darleen A. Druyun was the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force nominated by Bill Clinton in 1993. She pleaded guilty to inflating the price of contracts to favor her future employer, Boeing. In October 2004, she was sentenced to nine months in jail for corruption, fined $5,000, given three years of supervised release and 150 hours of community service. She began her prison term on January 5, 2005. CBS News called it "the biggest Pentagon scandal in 20 years" and said that she pleaded guilty to a felony.
- Randall L. Tobias (R) US Director of Foreign Assistance, appointed by Republican President President George W. Bush was found to have been a client in the DC Madame prostitution investigation. Having officially encouraged abstinence, he resigned his position. (2007)
- James W. Treffinger (R-NJ) a US senatorial candidate pleaded guilty in 2003 to corruption and fraud as Chief Executive of Essex County and ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution and serve 13 months in jail.(2002)
- Ted Stevens (R-AK) U.S. Senator, was convicted of seven counts of bribery and tax evasion on October 27, 2008. He then lost re-election. Newly appointed US Attorney General Eric Holder (D) dismissed the charges "in the interest of justice" stating that the Justice Department had illegally withheld evidence from defense counsel.
- Charles Rangel (D-NY) U.S. Representative, failed to report $75,000 income from the rental of his villa in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and was forced to pay $11,000 in back taxes. (September 2008)
- Duke Cunningham (R-CA) US Representative from the 50th District, was accused of accepting $2.5 million in bribes (which included a 42-foot yacht and a Rolls Royce) from contractors doing business with the US government. He pled guilty to charges of conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud, and tax evasion in what came to be called the Cunningham scandal. He was tried and found guilty and sentenced to over eight years in prison. (2005)
- Rick Renzi (R-AZ) announced he would not seek another term.* He was later sentenced to three years in prison after conviction on federal corruption charges of extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering and racketeering related to a 2005 money-laundering scheme that netted the Flagstaff Republican more than $700,000. (2005)
- Mark Foley (R-FL) resigned on September 29, 2006, after sending sexually explicit messages to former Congressional pages.
- Jim Gibbons (R-NV) US House of Representatives from the 2nd District was campaigning for Governor when he walked waitress Chrissy Mazzeo to her car. She claimed he threw her against a wall and threatened to sexually assault her. He claimed she tripped and he caught her. The civil lawsuit was settled by the payment of $50,000 to Mazzeo. Six weeks later he was elected governor. See State scandals. (2006)
- Tom DeLay (R-TX) US Representative and House Majority Leader, served from 1985 to 2006 when he resigned his position to undergo trial for conspiring to launder corporate money into political donations and money laundering during the 2002 elections. On November 24, 2010, DeLay was found guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison and 10 years' probation, respectively. The ruling was overturned on appeal. On September 19, 2013, the conviction was overturned.
- Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal (R) The lobbyist found guilty of conspiracy, tax evasion and corruption of public officials in three different courts in a wide-ranging investigation. He served 70 months and was fined $24.7 million. See George W. Bush's executive branch for eight others caught in the investigation. Legislators and staff involved include;
- Tom DeLay (R-TX) US Representative and House Majority Leader was reprimanded twice by the House Ethics Committee and his aides indicted (2004–2005); eventually DeLay himself was investigated in October 2005 in connection with the Abramoff scandal, but not indicted. DeLay resigned from the House June 9, 2006. DeLay was found to have illegally channeled funds from Americans for a Republican Majority to Republican state legislator campaigns. He was convicted of two counts of money laundering and conspiracy in 2010. His conviction was overturned on appeal.
- Michael Scanlon (R) Communications Director to Tom DeLay, worked for Abramoff and pled guilty to bribery.
- Tony Rudy (R) Deputy CoS to Tom DeLay, pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
- Jim Ellis (R) Executive Director of Tom DeLay's Political Action Committee Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), was found guilty of money laundering.
- John Colyandro (R) Executive Director of Tom DeLay's political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), was indicted by Texas for money laundering
- Bob Ney (R-OH) US Representative pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements as a result of his receiving trips from Abramoff in exchange for legislative favors. Ney received 30 months in prison.
- William Heaton (R) CoS to Bob Ney, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud admitting to conspiring with Ney, Jack Abramoff and others to accept vacations, meals, tickets, and contributions to Ney's campaign in exchange for Ney benefitting Abramoff's clients. (2006)
- Neil Volz (R) former CoS to Bob Ney, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in 2006 charges stemming from his work for Bob Ney. In 2007 he was sentenced to two years' probation, 100 hours' community service, and a fine of $2,000.
- John Albaugh (R) former CoS to Ernest Istook (R-OK), pled guilty to accepting bribes connected to the Federal Highway Bill. Istook was not charged. (2008)
- James Hirni (R) former staff to Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), was charged with wire fraud for giving a staffer for Don Young (R) of Alaska a bribe in exchange for amendments to the Federal Highway Bill. (2008)
- Kevin A. Ring (R) former staff to John Doolittle (R-CA), was convicted of five charges of corruption and honest services fraud. sentenced to 20 months.
- Fraser Verrusio (R) Policy Director for US Senator Don Young (R-AK) of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was investigated during the Jack Abramoff scandals. Verrusio drafted favorable federal legislation for equipment rental companies through the Abramoff firm. He was accused of accepting bribes, such as tickets to the World Series and then lying about it. He was sentenced to a half day in jail, 2 years probation and fined. (2011)
- Mitchell Wade private contractor and "co-conspirator" with Cunningham
- Kyle Foggo Director of the CIA and friend to Wilkes, convicted of fraud
- Brent R. Wilkes private contractor
- Tan Nguyen (R-CA) US Representative candidate for the 47th District, was convicted of voter intimidation. He lost the election and was sentenced to one year in prison and six months in a halfway house. (2006)
- Adam Taff (R-KS) 3rd US Congressional District candidate, was indicted for converting funds given for his campaign and used them for his personal use and for wire fraud in a deal to buy a home. He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in prison. (2006)
- William J. Jefferson (D-LA) US Representative had $90,000 in cash in his home freezer seized by the FBI in August 2005. He was re-elected anyway, but lost in 2008. Jefferson was convicted of 11 counts of bribery and sentenced to 13 years on November 13, 2009, and his chief of staff Brett Pfeffer was sentenced to 84 months in a related case.
- Bill Janklow (R-SD) was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for running a stop sign and killing a motorcyclist. He resigned from the House and was given 100 days in the county jail and three years' probation (2003)
- Jim Traficant (D-OH) was found guilty on ten felony counts of financial corruption and was sentenced to 8 years in prison and expelled from the House. (2002)
- John E. Sweeney (R-NY) US Representative from 20th US District, was arrested in 2007 and again in 2009 for DWI. He was sentenced to 23 days in jail with 3 years' probation. (2009)
- Vito Fossella (R-NY) US Representative, 13th District, was arrested for drunk driving. He was found guilty of driving with twice the legal limit and sentenced to 5 days in prison. This led to the revelation that the married congressman had a longtime affair with another woman which had produced a child. He did not run for re-election. (2008)