25 Biggest Political Scandals In History

Posted by , Updated on June 23, 2024

Politics, as many people know, can be quite a dirty business, leading to some of the biggest political scandals in history. Because of the many perks that are included with public service, such as fame, power, money, and honor, there are certain politicians that cannot control themselves and give in to the temptations of corruption and greed. There are still others that are falsely accused or claims are falsely exaggerated, but the scandal remains. Whether Democrat or Republican, some of the more common scandals that are mentioned in the news have to do with extramarital affairs, excessive use of funds, improper utilization of taxes, and more. While these are far from the only political scandals, these were some of the most newsworthy and influential scandals of their time. Here are the 25 Biggest Political Scandals In History that truly stand out.

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The Profumo Affair

Profrumo sitting at deskhttp://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/profumo-resigns-in-sex-scandal

The Profumo Affair was a 1963 British political scandal named after John Profumo, Secretary of State for War. His affair with Christine Keeler, the reputed mistress of an alleged Soviet spy, followed by his lying in the House of Commons when he was questioned about it, forced the resignation of Profumo and damaged the reputation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s government. Macmillan himself resigned a few months later because of ill health.


The Wilbur Mills Scandal

Wilbur Mills against yellow backgroundhttps://timeline.com/wilbur-mills-tidal-basin-3c29a8b47ad1

Wilbur Mills was a popular US congressman, but things fell apart for him after getting a DUI right after engaging in a scuffle with Argentinean stripper, Fanne Fox. To make things even more comical, when he was pulled over, she was actually with him in the car. Before the police officer could even say a word, however, she jumped out the back and dove into a drainage ditch, after which she was taken to a mental hospital and left Wilbur with some serious explaining to do.


The Keating Five

Linsoln Savings and Loanhttps://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-lists/top-ten-political-scandals-22369/the-keating-five-184443/

The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980’s. Basically they had prevented Charles Keating, Chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association from being audited in return for receiving campaign funding. Unfortunately for everybody else in America, the association collapsed under the corruption, causing billions of dollars worth of damages and ruining the reputations of the senators.


The Appalachian Trail Lie

mark sandford headshothttps://www.thestate.com/news/special-reports/state-125/article47320885.html

From June 18 until June 24, 2009, the whereabouts of politician Mark Sanford were unknown to the public, as well as to his wife and the State Law Enforcement Division, which provided security for him. He had told his staff that he would be hiking the Appalachian Trial but failed to answer any phone calls. Not long afterwards, however, reporter Gina Smith ran into him at the airport in Atlanta returning from Argentina. Apparently he had a mistress and had decided to go pay her a visit.


Prince Harry's Nazi Costume

profile shot of prince harryhttps://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1481148/Prince-Harry-faces-outcry-at-Nazi-outfit.html

Long before his picture perfect royal wedding, Prince Harry attended a private party and was photographed wearing an armband with a Nazi insignia. While this was only one of many scandals the hard-partying prince was caught up in during his adolescence, it was the most memorable for many, and led to an official apology by the prince and palace.


The Chappaquiddick Incident

Ted Kennedy headshothttps://www.history.com/news/ted-kennedy-chappaquiddick-incident-what-really-happened-facts

In the Chappaquiddick incident on July 18, 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne, a female passenger of U.S. Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, was killed when he accidentally drove his car off a bridge and into a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Kennedy swam free and left the scene, not reporting within nine hours, but Kopechne died in the vehicle. In the early hours of July 19, Kopechne’s body and the car were recovered. Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury and received a two-month suspended jail sentence. The incident became a national scandal, and may have influenced Kennedy’s decision not to campaign for President of the United States in 1972 and 1976.


The Chen Shui-bian Scandals

Chen at podiumhttps://people.howstuffworks.com/6-political-scandals8.htm

Although President Chen Shui-bian wanted to see a strong and independent Taiwan, his family’s (and his own) lack of self control managed to undermine many of his positions. His son-in-law was caught money laundering and insider trading, his wife wired over $21 million to various banks in the world, and he was arrested after his resignation for embezzlement of funds and receiving bribes. High aspirations don’t necessarily make good leaders.


Berlusconi Bunga Bunga Parties

shaking a woman's hand at an eventhttps://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/05/17/berlusconis-bunga-parties/2205533/

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was involved in a lot of messes in his 17 years in office. He was known as a playboy, fraud, swindler, and gangster. Basically anything bad…that’s what he was. The most famous of his escapades, however, were probably the huge promiscuous parties he threw that have come to be known by the nonsensical term bunga bunga.


The Moshe Katsav Rape Scandal

Moshe Katsavhttps://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/moshe-katsav

Moshe Katsav, former President of Israel, was accused of raping and sexually harassing up to ten women. While he was still in office, police raided his house and seized computers and documents. There were calls for him to resign or suspend himself from the presidency which he refused to do. After stepping down, however, he lost his presidential immunity and was promptly convicted of the crimes, only to be released five years into his seven year term.


Bill Langer Affair

william langer at deskhttp://www.mandanhistory.org/biographieslz/williamlanger.html

When North Dakota Governor William Langer took office in 1932, he and five co-conspirators required all state employees to donate part of their annual salaries to their political party. Collecting this money was not prohibited by state law and was a common, traditional practice. However, when donations were made by highway department employees, who were paid through federal relief programs, the US attorney charged that the donations constituted a conspiracy to defraud the federal government. Langer and his colleagues were eventually brought to court. Although he was convicted of a felony and told to resign as governor, he ended up declaring North Dakota independent, instituting martial law, and barricading himself in the governor’s mansion until the Supreme Court would meet with him. Eventually, a settlement was reached and a new governor was chosen.


The Florida State Voting Recount

al gore and george bush headshotshttps://www.factcheck.org/2008/01/the-florida-recount-of-2000/

The election between George Bush and Al Gore was plagued with issues, but it wasn’t until Florida bungled its voting system that the trouble really began. With the world watching, Florida was in the spotlight until the courts stepped in and chose President Bush.


The Gary Condit Affair

Gary Condit headshothttps://abcnews.go.com/US/rep-gary-condit-breaks-silence-15-years-chandra/story?id=43034319

Gary Condit, a former representative from California, was reported to have an affair with Chandra Levy, an intern at his Washinton DC office. After she disappeared, he admitted to the affair but denied anything to do with her disappearance. He was cleared as a suspect, however, when Chandra’s body was found and police determine that Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadorian immigrant, was responsible. However, charges against Guandique were later dismissed because of lack of evidence.


The Foley Affair

Mark foley headshothttps://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/11/the-page-who-took-down-the-gop-mark-foley-dennis-hastert-213378

On September 28, 2006, ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross reported that in 2005, congressman Mark Foley had sent email messages from his personal AOL account to a former Congressional page, asking the page to send a photo of himself to Foley, among other things. Foley’s office confirmed that Foley had sent the messages but said it has a practice of asking for photos of individuals who may ask for recommendations and that the page had requested a recommendation. Eventually, however, other pages ended up coming forward and led to a severely tarnished reputation.


Jacob Zuma Scandals

Jacob zuma at podumhttps://www.ft.com/content/8434d30e-0bed-11e8-839d-41ca06376bf2

Once thought to be an anti-apartheid hero, former South African President Jacob Zuma fell from grace after multiple scandals hit his nine-year presidency. Most pronounced was his relationship with the Gupta business family, which was reportedly responsible for him rapidly hiring and firing finance ministers, leading to a decline in South Africa’s credit ratings. In 2017, South Africa’s high court voted to reinstate 783 charges of corruption and fraud against the president, leading to his resignation in February 2018.


John Edwards

John Edwardshttps://www.bustle.com/articles/121572-whatever-happened-to-john-edwards-the-north-carolina-senators-fall-from-grace-was-quick-absolute

Although the National Enquirer isn’t known as the most legitimate news source, they did manage to spill the beans on Presidential hopeful and Senator John Edwards’ affair with videographer Rielle Hunter. The scandal was further complicated by Edwards’ use of campaign funds to cover up the affair, his wife’s terminal breast cancer, and his admission that he fathered a child with Hunter.


Elliot Spitzer

Elliot spitzer headshothttps://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/12/10/the-humbling-of-eliot-spitzer

According to published reports, investigators believe Spitzer paid up to $80,000 for prostitutes over a period of several years while he was Attorney General, and later as Governor. Spitzer first drew the attention of federal investigators when his bank reported suspicious money transfers, which initially led investigators to believe that Spitzer may have been hiding bribe proceeds. The investigation of the governor led to the discovery of the prostitution ring, after which he obviously resigned.


Barack Obama's Birth Certificate

Barack Obama headshothttps://www.snopes.com/fact-check/birth-certificate/

Throughout his campaign and much of his presidency, President Obama faced wide spread rumors and controversy regarding the validity of his Hawaiian birth certificate. While the release of his short and long form birth certificates proved his Hawaiian birth, many conspiracy theorists believe these certificates are forgeries.


Bill Clinton – Monica Lewinsky Scandal

Bill clinton headshothttps://www.history.com/topics/monica-lewinsky

Infamous for his firm denial and then subsequent admission of having an affair with 22-year-old White House aid Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton faced impeachment on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice, although he was later acquitted.


William Jefferson Scandal

William Jefferson headshothttps://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/06/us/06jefferson.html

Suspecting Louisiana congressman William Jefferson of bribery, the FBI raided his congressional offices in May 2006, but he was re-elected later that year. On June 4, 2007, however, a federal grand jury indicted Jefferson on sixteen felony charges related to corruption which led to a 13-year prison sentence. The FBI’s search of Jefferson’s congressional office was the first of its kind and was disputed all the way to the Supreme Court – changing the way congressional investigations can be conducted.


Far Spread Harassment on Capitol Hill

The capitol building against a purple night skyhttps://www.gop.gov/the-house-is-addressing-sexual-harassment-on-capitol-hill/

In the era of the #MeToo movement, widespread reports began to come to light regarding sexual harassment within the US government. One of the most shocking results of this newfound attention was that tax-payers were funding settlements for sexual harassment against congressmen and that all victims of sexual harassment in congress were made to sign an agreement barring them from talking about the harassment. Due to this attention, congressional policies and general public opinion has drastically changed.


The Plame Affair

Scooter libby and robert novakhttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/oct/28/usa

On July 14, 2003, Washington Post journalist Robert Novak, from information obtained from Richard Armitage at the US State Department, effectively ended Valerie Plame’s career with the CIA (from which she later resigned in December 2005) by revealing in his column her identity as a CIA operative. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, adviser to then Vice President Dick Cheney, was eventually determined to the be source of the leak and subsequently charged. This led to a widespread discussion regarding the safety and security of confidential operatives.


Hillary Clinton's Private Email Server

Hillary clinton state dept headshothttps://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2018-02-07%20Interim%20Report_The%20Clinton%20Email%20Scandal%20and%20the%20FBI's%20Investigation%20of%20It.pdf

In 2013, it was reported that while Secretary of State, Secretary Hillary Clinton used a private email server in addition to her secured government server for official government business. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Secretary Clinton was investigated for her use of this server for handling classified information. While the investigation led to no charges, the political fury during the election and the later investigations into how the investigation was handled make this a scandal that is still talked about today.


Russia Tampering with 2016 US Presidential Election

Trump putin meetinghttps://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/assessing-russian-activities-and-intentions-in-recent-elections

After the conclusion of the 2016 Presidential Election, a joint task force of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the Department of Homeland security found that Russia had intentionally interfered with the US Presidential election with the intention of improving Donald Trump’s chances of winning. While it is now well accepted that Russia did interfere with the election, the resulting special counsel investigation into whether or not President Trump’s campaign was aware of Russia’s involvement is still open, making this our largest unresolved political scandal on this list.


Iran–Contra Affair

head shot of president reagenhttps://www.britannica.com/event/Iran-Contra-Affair

Also referred to as Irangate, the scandal involved US President Ronald Reagan’s senior administration officials secretly facilitating the sale of arms to Iran, the subject of an arms embargo. They had hoped that the arms sales would secure the release of hostages and allow U.S. intelligence agencies to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. Unfortunately for them, the plan was uncovered and led to a huge international mess.



1 - Nixonhttps://www.history.com/topics/watergate

The Watergate scandal blew up after the June 1972 break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex of Washington DC. The Nixon administration initially attempted to cover-up its involvement, but it eventually led to Nixon’s resignation, the first and only presidential resignation to date. There is still no conclusive understanding of what they were actually trying to accomplish with the break in.

Photo: 1. Executive Office of the President, nixon (Public Domain), 2. Executive Office of the President, Reagan (Public Domain), 3. Vladimir Putin (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 4. State Department, Hillary (Public Domain), 5. Dori, Robert Novak IUB img 1622-b, CC BY 3.0, 6. Nicolas Raymond, Washington DC Capitol - Purple Hour HDR, CC BY 2.0, 7. US Congress (Public Domain), 8. Executive Office of the President (Public Domain), 9. Executive Office of the President (Public Domain), 10. Department of State (Public Domain), 11. US Congress (Public Domain), 12. US Department of State (Public Domain), 13. Us Congress (Public Domain), 14. US Congress, Condit (Public Domain), 15. Executive Office of the President of the United States (Public Domain), 16. US Congress, William Langer (Public Domain), 17. Amir Gilad, Moshe Katsav 2, by Amir Gilad, CC BY-SA 3.0, 18. European People's Party, EPP Summit, 14 December 2017, CC BY 2.0, 19. David3108, A-bian at 228 Memorial, CC BY-SA 2.0, 20. Stevan Kragujević, Stevan Kragujevic , Ted Kenedi u Beogradu, 1974, CC BY-SA 3.0, 21. Picture Capital, 2014-12-03 Prince Harry will attend the annual ICAP Charity Day, CC BY 2.0, 22. US Congress, Mark Sanford, Official Portrait, 113th Congress (Public Domain), 23. US Congress, Assorted. (Public Domain), 24. US Congress, WilburMills (Public Domain), 25. Daylife.com, John Profumo 1960 (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only)