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Eight Political Scandals That Rocked Capitol Hill Worse Than IRS-Gate Eight Political Scandals That Rocked Capitol Hill Worse Than IRS-Gate

Eight Political Scandals That Rocked Capitol Hill Worse Than IRS-Gate

by Tasbeeh Herwees, Rosalie Murphy
May 20, 2013


It's been difficult to escape the discussion of the IRS treatment of Tea Party-related organizations lobbying for tax-exempt status. Unlike Benghazi-Gate, it's a scandal worth its salt. It's got all the elements of a classic political screw-up: serious misuse of authority, ill-intentioned bureaucrats, and another reason to suspect a government institution of conspiring against you.

Here are 8 other political scandals that had the White House press corps salivating: 

Jack Abramoff's Indian Lobbying Scandal - 2004

Jack Abramoff, "America's most notorious lobbyist", served 43 months of a 6-year sentence for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials and tax evasion. Abramoff was a highly influential D.C. lobbyist who had built a niche for himself as a lobbyist for Native American tribes. He made over 200 senior contacts in the Bush administration who he lobbied for tribal gaming rights and recognition. In 2004, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee started investigating Abramoff's Indian gaming lobbying and eventually found him guilty. They found that Abramoff and his cohorts had used corrupt practices while they lobbied for the Native American tribes, playing politicians and staffers his way with bribes, engaging in wire fraud, and tax evasion. 

Iran-Contra Affair - 1986

In 1986, in the midst of an arms embargo, the U.S. government under President Reagan clandestinely arranged the sale of weapons to Iran. They had two aims in mind: to facilitate the release of seven American hostages captured in the authoritarian state and to divert funds from the weapons sale to the anti-communist Nicaraguan contras. At the time, the Boland Amendment had expressly banned any U.S. financial assistance to the Contras, a militant group bent on overturning the Marxist government. The Contras had been documented perpetrating extreme human rights violations, including murder, kidnappings, torture, rape and other forms of violence. 

Watergate Scandal - 1972 

"All the President's Men", anyone? This scandal was so shocking it inspired a movie and continues to be a point of reference for today's political snafus. President Nixon was forced to resign from office—the first and only U.S. president to ever do that—after The Washington Post reports, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, uncovered attempts to cover up a break-in at the Democratic National Committee's Watergate office. As it turned out, President Nixon's administration had broke in to the office multiple times, illegally photographing documents and installing listening equipment to spy on the Democratic Party. It was the attempted cover-up that rallied public opinion against Nixon's administration. With the threat of impeachment hanging over his head, he resigned, handing the reigns over to Gerald Ford, who would later pardon him.

Army-McCarthy Hearings - 1954

Joseph McCarthy is infamous for his Communist witch hunt of the 1950s in which he led a campaign to identify, question and imprison suspected Communist and Soviet spies and sympathizers. McCarthy's pursuit led him to an investigation of the Army Signal Corps. He accused the Army laboratory at Fort Monmouth of a Communist infiltration and the charge ruffled more than a few feathers. The Army countered with a claim that Roy Cohn, who worked for McCarthy, had pressured the army to give unfair privileges and spacial treatment to his friend G. David Schine, an anti-communist propagandist. McCarthy was aggressively questioned at the hearings. Because they were televised, the hearings had a hugely negative effect on McCarthy's approval ratings and sparked the decline of his political career, even though the committee eventually ruled that McCarthy had not been involved in any coercion.

Teapot Dome Scandal - 1921

Department of the Interior leased oil production rights at a Wyoming oil field to two oil companies without competitive bidding. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall received generous kickbacks from both companies (lease wasn't illegal; kickbacks were). Ultimately, Fall went to prison and both reserves were returned to the Navy. He was the first Cabinet member to go to prison while in office.

Whiskey Ring - 1875

A group of federal politicians siphoned off millions of dollars from federal liquor taxes by bribing distillers, storekeepers and IRS agents. President Ulysses S. Grant's private secretary, Orville Babcock, was one of 110 convicted; $3 million in missing taxes were recovered.

Galphin Affair - 1849

Georgia Governor George Crawford agreed to help a family, the Galphins, win compensation for an estate the government had claimed after the Revolutionary War—provided the Galphins gave him half of what they won. Congress approved compensation money, which was legal. Once he became Secretary of War, he and the Galphins demanded that Congress pay interest on the payment, which wasn't legal. Secretary of the Treasury paid out the settlement, with the illegal interest, giving Crawford half and keeping a bit for himself. Crawford resigned, but was never punished.

Most of James Wilkinson's political life - 1788 

Wilkinson was a general working on establishing the state of Kentucky when he cut a deal with the Spanish—if he swore allegiance to Spain, Kentucky could have a monopoly on Mississippi River trade. He did so. Kentucky ultimately decided not to become Spanish, but Wilkinson continued pocketing Spanish money for decades. Another general intercepted a check in 1796. Wilkinson also tried to set up an independent nation with Aaron Burr. At both trials, he was found not guilty of treason.

Image (cc) flickr user brownpau

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