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Top 10 U.S. Political Scandals

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Craig Butler. Politics without scandal might be a lot more effective – but it would also be pretty boring. For this list, we’ve focused mainly on scandals where the political ramifications were front-and-center, and have avoided as many sex-based scandals as possible, because we’ve already done that list. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 U.S. political scandals. Special thanks to our users Alex Poggetti, Gregg Johnson, Jaime Enrique Gutierrez Pérez and Margaret Rd for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Transcript
Script written by Craig Butler.

Politics without scandal might be a lot more effective – but it would also be pretty boring. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 U.S. political scandals.

For this list, we’ve focused mainly on scandals where the political ramifications were front-and-center, and have avoided as many sex-based scandals as possible, because we’ve already done that list.

#10: Rod Blagojevich
(2009)

Mop-topped Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich flew onto the national stage in 2009 when he was removed from office and eventually imprisoned. The reason: corruption charges related to a deal he tried to cut. Blagojevich could appoint the person to fill President Obama’s vacant Senate seat and wanted to personally profit from this appointment. Blagojevich’s arrogance and “frat boy” persona made this a front-page headline for months.

#9: Benghazi Attack
(2012)

The 2012 Presidential campaign was impacted by that September’s attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Four people, including the U.S. Ambassador, were killed and several more were injured. Republican critics claimed that details of the attacks, including who was really responsible and why they occurred, were being withheld. The controversy continues to be a point of contention between Democrats and Republicans today.

#8: WikiLeaks and NSA Surveillance
(2010-13)

Inappropriate government secrecy and surveillance is an ongoing political hot potato, and was most recently brought into the news by the WikiLeaks and National Security Agency affairs. The WikiLeaks scandal involves the release of confidential documents; the NSA Surveillance scandal concerns government monitoring of communications of both government officials and private individuals. Big Brother, anyone?

#7: ABSCAM
(1970s - 80s)

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the FBI targeted corrupt politicians in a sting operation known as ABSCAM. One senator, six congressmen and an assortment of state and local officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were caught and convicted of taking bribes. Because most of those involved were Democrats, ABSCAM became a nightmare for the party just as Ronald Reagan’s presidency began.

#6: Keating Five
(1989)

Political corruption charges tainted Senators Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, John Glenn, John McCain and Donald Riegle Jr. in 1989. The Keating Five were accused of improperly helping Charles H. Keating, Jr, who was a major contributor to their campaigns. Keating was being investigated for his role in the collapse of a bank that resulted in a $3 billion federal bailout. Glenn and McCain continued their political careers; but the others did not.

#5: Iran-Contra Affair
(1985-87)

Senior officials in the Reagan administration ran a secret project to give weapons to Iran, which at the time was strictly forbidden. Money raised from the sales was then funneled to the anti-Communist Contra forces in Nicaragua. The subsequent pardoning of those involved by George H.W. Bush further fueled cynicism about government accountability.

#4: Pentagon Papers
(1971)

Former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg released the secret Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971 and created an instant crisis for the Nixon White House. Among other things, the papers proved that the government had secretly expanded the scope of the Vietnam War into Cambodia and Laos. They also demonstrated secret American manipulation of Vietnamese politics. As all of this activity had been kept from the American people, it increased the perceived credibility gap between what the government says and what it does.

#3: Teapot Dome Scandal
(1920-23)

Political scandals are nothing new, as the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s demonstrates. Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall accepted bribes so that private oil companies could have access to government lands in the area known as Teapot Dome. Fall was caught and convicted, and until Watergate, the scandal was considered the blackest mark on American politics.

#2: Lewinsky Affair
(1998)

Was the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky a premeditated, orchestrated political attack by Republicans or the result of a President lying under oath? The subject is still being debated today, as is the exact meaning of “sexual relations.” What is clear is that it resulted in the impeachment of Clinton, though not his removal from office. It also exacerbated the extremely partisan divide in America – both in government and among the electorate.

Honorable Mentions

- Jack Abramoff – Lobbying Scandals (2000s)
- Chappaquiddick Incident (1969)

#1: Watergate Scandal
(1972)


As a political scandal that actually brought down a President, Watergate was a Republican-orchestrated break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building. It eventually precipitated a massive cover-up and a series of lies and deceptions that destroyed the Richard Nixon presidency. Nixon resigned to prevent his forced removal from office; 43 other people were eventually sentenced for their roles in this most defining of political scandals.

Do you agree with our picks? What scandalous outrages would you have put on the list? For more enthralling Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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