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10 Embarrassing Presidential Scandals the White House Wishes Remained Classified

By Gary Mills in Politics
| October 27, 2020 6:03 am PDT
Biggest Presidential Scandals in History

There’s one thing you can count on when a new president is inaugurated every four or eight years. And I’m not talking about reduced taxes, a surging job market, or a thriving economy.

I’m referring to scandals. Shameful and embarrassing daytime-soap-like shenanigans you’d never suspect the most powerful man in the world to be involved in.

That is, until you’ve lived through a few presidencies. Only then are you surprised when a scandal doesn’t hit the White House.

The bright side is that there’s never a shortage of entertainment. Every scandal gives us an opportunity to gossip, tell the other side “I told you so,” and create millions of memes. These days, they even create betting opportunities at political gambling sites.

Sometimes it’s the scandalous parts of history that are most interesting to learn about.

On that note, I thought I’d share the presidential scandals that stood out the most to me. Some of them involve politics. Some of them involve sex scandals. Some are shocking, and some are just depressing.

I bet at least one of these accounts from my list of the 10 biggest presidential scandals will leave you shaking your head in disgust.

The Teapot Scandal

The Teapot Dome scandal was one of several scandals the Ohio Gang was involved in.

The Ohio Gang was a group of members — many of whom were from Ohio — that were friends of Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States. The gang often played poker together.

Harding gave many Ohio Gang members positions in his cabinet. For example, he made Harry Daugherty the attorney general, and Albert B. Fall was made interior secretary.

Other members included Joseph B. Foraker, Jesse Smith, Edwin C. Denby, Harry Ford Sinclair, and Charles R. Forbes.

Warren G. Harding was a member, too. However, it sounds as if he had no idea what the rest of the gang was up to.

Case in point — during a trip to Alaska, Harding asked his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, what he would do if he knew of a scandal in his administration. Would he bury the scandal or tell the public about it?

Harding was referring to rumors he heard about Jesse W. Smith (one of the Ohio Gang). Harding never said what the rumor was, but he did decide to let Smith know that he’d be arrested. Jess burned all the evidence and then committed suicide.

Warren Harding died from a heart attack during this same trip. It wasn’t until after his death that many of the scandals the Ohio Gang was involved in came to light.

One example is the Teapot Dome bribery scandal.

The short version of this scandal is that one member of the Ohio Gang, Albert B. Fall, leased petroleum reserves located at Teapot Dome in Wyoming, as well as two locations in California, to companies at low rates without giving other companies a chance to bid on it.

The fact that Fall leased the oil production rights without competitive bidding was, in fact, legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.

What wasn’t legal was the fact that these companies gave Fall no-interest loans and gifts worth $500,000 (about $6 million today).

Fall tried to keep his dealings a secret, but his new lifestyle made it obvious he was suddenly flush with cash.

There was an investigation roughly two years later. Fall tried to cover his tracks by getting rid of records, but someone found out about the $100,000 he received from one of the oil companies.

Fall was found guilty of accepting bribes and was the first US cabinet official sentenced to prison. He spent one year in jail.

The Teapot Dome scandal ruined the reputation of the Harding administration despite Harding having nothing to do with it. At the time, this scandal was considered one of the greatest scandals to happen in American politics.

Donald Trump Sex Scandals

Trump has no shortage of sex scandal baggage.

Chances are you’ve heard of the Hollywood Access tape. This is the recording where Trump bragged that you can grab a woman wherever you want if you’re a celebrity.

Then there’s his affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. In 2006, she revealed that she had an affair with Trump and that Michael Cohen (Trump’s personal lawyer) paid her $130,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement about it.

Cohen admitted in court that he paid her, but under Trump’s orders. This violated campaign financing rules, which is one of the reasons why Cohen is sitting in the slammer now.

And then there’s the whole #MeToo movement. Once this picked up steam, 25 women came forward with accusations that Trump assaulted them.

Of course, Trump has denied these allegations. Most presidents do until the evidence is overwhelmingly against them.

It’s hard to believe him, though, when you think about the Hollywood Access tape. Or how he admitted on The Howard Stern Show that one of the perks to owning a beauty pageant is having the ability to get away with walking into the women’s dressing room.

Grover Cleveland Sex Scandals

Grover Cleveland Sex Scandals

Something that makes Grover Cleveland unique from other presidents is that he served two non-consecutive terms.

And one of the things that makes Cleveland like many other presidents is that he was involved in his fair share of sex scandals.

One scandal Cleveland was involved in was sexually assaulting Maria Halpin. When she threatened to report the assault, Cleveland told her that he’d ruin her.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Halpin discovered that she was pregnant and that Grover was the father. He used his connections to have the baby sent to an orphanage. Grover then had Halpin committed to a mental asylum.

She was soon released because she wasn’t insane.

And then there’s Oscar Folsom, a longtime friend and lawyer for Cleveland. When Folsom died in a car accident, his daughter Frances was left in Cleveland’s care.

Cleveland raised her. He adored her. And then adoration turned into grooming.

Grover used to send Frances flowers with a note saying that he was waiting for his bride to grow up. Many people thought this was a joke.

But it wasn’t. Cleveland was serious.

When Frances was in college, Cleveland sent her a letter proposing to her. She agreed, and they got married on June 2nd, 1886.

The Pentagon Papers

The Pentagon Papers was a prequel to the Watergate scandal.

The Pentagon Papers — officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force — was a history report of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967.

The idea to create this report belonged to Robert McNamara. He questioned the decision-making that led to the US getting involved.

Over the course of 18 months, 37 military personnel, historians, and analysts researched and produced a 7,000-page, 47-volume report.

Daniel Ellsberg, a defense analyst who specialized in nuclear weapons strategy and counterinsurgency theory, agreed with the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. That is, until he finished the report.

Ellsberg believed that the public had a right to know about how the US got involved in Vietnam. So, he decided to leak the papers to the public.

The Pentagon Papers showed that the United States government — over the course of three presidential administrations — lied to the American public.

For example, the papers showed that JFK had actively overthrown South Vietnamese president Dinh Diem. They also showed that the US bombed North Vietnam, even though the bombing had no impact on the enemy’s willingness to fight. And that Lyndon B. Johnson misled the public about how involved the United States was.

And loads more.

The New York Times and, later, the Washington Post, published pieces of the report every day until the Nixon administration asked the courts to restrain them. The administration said that the report contained classified material and that releasing it to the public would cause immediate and irreparable harm to the United States.

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled in the newspaper’s favor, so the papers continued to publish the report verbatim.

None of Nixon’s policies were included in the Pentagon Papers, but there was a lot of embarrassing and damning evidence about the previous administrations. Still, Nixon was concerned that this information would impact his chances at reelection the following year.

Nixon then decided to target Ellsberg since he was the one who leaked the papers.

He authorized many criminal efforts to discredit Ellsberg. These efforts were brought to the public’s attention during the Watergate investigation.

Ellsberg was supposed to be charged with crimes such as espionage, conspiracy, and stealing government property. However, the charges were dismissed once Nixon’s “plumbers” broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in an attempt to discredit him.

The Watergate scandal investigation would eventually force Nixon to resign in 1974.


The Watergate scandal is interesting because it resulted in the impeachment of the president. This was one of only two times this has happened in United States history.

The scandal started with a break-in. Several burglars were arrested the morning of June 17th, 1972, inside the Democratic National Committee office, which was inside the Watergate complex in Washington D.C.

They broke in to steal top-secret documents and to bug the office phones. The goal — as we learned in the last section — was to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, a defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

It wasn’t clear that the burglars were connected to the White House or Nixon. Not in the beginning. And Nixon swore up and down that the White House was not involved.

“I can say categorically that… no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.”-President Richard Nixon

The public believed him. Nixon won the 1972 reelection in a landslide.

Little did the public know that Nixon was about to bribe the burglars from saying anything. And he was working on a plan to instruct the CIA to prevent the FBI from investigating the break-in.

Roughly a year later, FBI director Patrick Gray testified that he was asked to keep the White House in the loop of the Watergate investigation on a daily basis. He was asked by John Dean (Nixon’s lawyer), who Gray said probably lied to investigators.

Not long after, James McCord, one of the Watergate burglars, wrote one of the judges saying that he had lied during his testimony. The lie was that the break-in was a CIA operation when it wasn’t — other government officials gave the order instead.

Shortly after McCord confessed, John Dean started to work with prosecutors. And Gray resigned from the FBI after it came to light that he destroyed files connected to the case.

In May 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee started (televised) hearings about the scandal. John Dean gave a seven-hour statement in which he shared that he discussed Watergate with Nixon at least 35 times.

Where the scandal really started to unravel, though, is when the former presidential appointments secretary Alexander Butterfield stated that every conversation in Nixon’s office had been recorded since 1971.

The committee struggled to get Nixon to release those tapes. However, following the indictment of the Watergate Seven (the Nixon officials involved in the cover-up), the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn the tapes over.

He did. However, whoever reviewed the tapes realized that there was an 18-minute gap missing. Many people believe it was Nixon who erased it (though his secretary said that she accidentally erased it).

In August of 1974, an audiotape now known as the “smoking gun” recording was released. This included a conversation that took place shortly after the break-in between Nixon and Bob Haldeman that included a plan to block the FBI’s investigation.

This taped proved that Nixon had lied to America, his aides, and lawyers for more than two years.

Nixon knew he was going to be impeached, so on August 9th, 1974, he resigned from the presidency.

“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”– President Richard Nixon

Six weeks later, Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as the new president of the United States. And he pardoned Nixon for any crimes he committed.

That’s the short version of this crazy story.

And this is only one of many criminal activities Nixon’s “plumbers” were involved in. According to Vox.com, they were involved in several criminal acts that usually included targeting and sabotaging Nixon’s political opponents.

As White House aide Charles Colson said to Nixon once, “We did a hell of a lot of things and never got caught.”

John F. Kennedy Sex Addiction

JFK: “My name is John F. Kennedy…and I’m a sex addict.”

Crowd: “Hi, John.”

That’s what JFK should have said during his 1961 Inaugural Address. Instead, this self-proclaimed sex addict is known for this famous line: “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

But while the American public knew him for that line, those closest knew him for saying this: “If I don’t have sex every day, I get a headache.”

(This sounds like an exaggeration to me. Besides, the line doesn’t work – I’ve tried.)

Apparently, JFK was obsessed with sex from an early age after having lost his virginity in a whorehouse as a teenager. The hit it and quit it attitude only continued from there.

One of the women who slept with him said that he was “nice – considerate in his own way, witty and fun. But he gave off light instead of heat. Sex was something to have done, not to be doing. He wasn’t in it for the cuddling.”

JFK got worse as he got older. During his short tenure in the White House, he had an affair with a 19-year-old intern, a mob-connected socialite, and Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe.

George H. W. Bush’s Affairs

What’s shocking about Bush is that he stressed family values. Despite this, he had several mistresses during his time as a politician and president.

Few people knew about it too.

I think it was a little bit easier for him to disguise because he wasn’t a womanizer like John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson. And his wife, Barbara, tolerated it.

At least, she did until George came across Jennifer Fitzgerald.

A close family friend said that Fitzgerald was more than a fling and that Fitzgerald had a lot of influence over George for several years. She became his “office wife.”

The relationship with Fitzgerald continued for years, even when George had other affairs.

Fitzgerald was with Bush when he became vice president for the Reagan administration. This lasted eight years. And she was with him when he ran for president and won.

The affair got so bad that Barbara burned her love letters to Bush, which she had had since WWII. She went into a deep depression.

Fitzgerald’s relationship with Bush ended in 1992 when Bush failed to win his reelection campaign.

Iran-Contra Affair

The Iran-Contra Affair was the largest scandal to take place during the Ronald Reagan administration.

Here’s a brief summary of what happened.

In 1981, Reagan approved an operation where the CIA would help Nicaraguan rebels fight the socialist Sandinista government. The goal was to prevent the spread of Communism.

The Democrats were against this operation.

To circumvent the Democrats, Lt. Col Oliver North suggested selling weapons to Iran (despite an arms embargo due to the Iran vs. Iraq war) and then using the funds from the sale to aid the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

They sold Iran missiles and other weapons — secretly.

That is, until the operation became public in 1986. That’s when Al-Shiraa — a Lebanon-based publication — reported that North and national security advisor Robert McFarlane were holding meetings with Tehran.

An investigation started and soon revealed that only $12 million of the $30 million the Iranians reportedly paid had reached the government. Oliver North then explained that the difference had been shipped to the Contras.

The investigation went on for eight years. 14 people were charged with crimes, including Oliver North. In the end, North’s conviction was overturned.

There was no proof that Reagan knew about the operation, nor was he linked to it.

What’s crazy about this scandal is that, despite all the laws that were broken or how badly Reagan’s image suffered following the scandal, when Reagan left office in 1989, he had the highest approval rating of any president since Franklin Roosevelt.

Thomas Jefferson Sex Scandal

Thomas Jefferson Sex Scandal

I’ll admit it. This scandal bothered me the most.

This Founding Father and author of the Declaration of Independence committed acts that would be criminal today.

The scandal I want to share is his “relationship” with Sally Hemmings. Hemmings was his slave who he kept in bondage.

Sally was 14 years old when Jefferson started having sex with her. What’s sort of creepy about this is that Hemmings was the sister of Jefferson’s deceased wife, Martha. As the story goes, Hemmings looked more and more like Martha the older she got.

And if that wasn’t awful enough, Jefferson had six children with Sally and kept them all as slaves.

To be fair, he freed them all. Eventually.

Not Sally Hemmings, though. She was still Jefferson’s slave when he died in 1826.

Bill Clinton Sex Scandal

Bill Clinton is known for having an affair with a specific woman — Monica Lewinsky. The truth is that she’s only one of several women Clinton was accused of messing around with. A woman named Kathleen Willey said that Clinton groped her in a hallway in 1993. Juanita Broaddrick claimed Clinton raped her in 1978.

The most popular, though, is Monica Lewinsky.

She was hired as an intern during Clinton’s first term. Lewinsky told Linda Tripp (a US civil servant) that the sexual encounters happened on nine separate occasions between November 1995 to March 1997.

Little did Lewinsky know that Tripp recorded the conversation.

Lewinsky committed perjury when she lied about it, saying that nothing happened between her and Clinton. Clinton lied about it too, saying on TV and in court that nothing happened.

There was the recording that said otherwise, though. And Clinton left some bodily fluids on Lewinsky’s dress.

Bill Clinton was eventually impeached (one of only two presidents to be impeached). He was fined and had his license to practice law in Arkansas suspended for five years.

The Senate voted to acquit him of the perjury and obstruction charges. Five Republicans did too. So, Clinton wasn’t removed from office. He stayed and finished his term.


Those are some of the biggest scandals to rock the White House. Our nation’s leaders have been involved in a little bit of everything, including slavery, affairs, bribery, theft, and more.

I’ll be honest — it’s hard to read about these scandals and not be suspicious of every president we have. So many of our presidents were known as being womanizers, greedy, paranoid, power-hungry, and control freaks.

Sadly, it wouldn’t take more than a little restraint, maturity, and selflessness to get through the White House free of any scandals.

That doesn’t seem like it should be too much to ask from our commander-in-chief.

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