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The Biggest Political Scandals in American History

From adulterous affairs yielding secret children to hotel break-ins and secret gun deals, scandal has always followed American politicians.

Grover Cleveland’s Secret Son

Just days after Grover Cleveland won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1884, the Buffalo Evening Telegraph published a shocking expose. The paper revealed that, a decade earlier, Cleveland allegedly sexually assaulted Maria Halpin, a woman he was infatuated with, causing her to become pregnant with his child. According to Halpin’s affidavit, when the child was born, Cleveland used his political influence in the city to have Halpin committed, and sent the child to an orphanage.

Warren G. Harding’s Many Scandals

Like Cleveland before him, Warren G. Harding also had a secret out-of-wedlock child, a daughter he conceived with a 19-year-old woman named Nan Britton. He also carried on a long-term affair with the wife of a local dry goods store owner who blackmailed him for $50,000 and a cruise to China during the 1920 election. But Harding’s scandalous behavior didn’t end when he left his bedroom. His cabinet members, known as the “Ohio Gang” because of their wanton corruptness, were involved in so many shady dealings—the Teapot Dome Scandal stands at the top of that list—that Harding left office with a reputation as one of the worst presidents in U.S. History.

Watergate

In June of 1972, burglars were arrested in the office of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate complex of buildings in Washington D.C. The prowlers were soon connected to President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign. The Watergate Scandal, as it came to be known, altered American politics forever, and changed the way Americans looked at their elected officials.

The Iran-Contra Affair

Seven American hostages were being held by Iranian-backed terrorists in 1985. Despite President Ronald Reagan's vow not to negotiate with terrorists, National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane went to Iran to make a deal, sending weapons in exchange for the Middle Eastern country’s help brokering the release. Later, it was revealed that some of the money allocated for the weapons was funneled secretly to Nicaragua to support the anti-communist Contras, counter to a law barring the U.S. government from supporting them. While Reagan was never charged with a crime, several members of his administration were convicted of crimes in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky

In 1998, news broke of President Bill Clinton’s clandestine affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. Clinton vehemently denied the allegations, which were later revealed to be true. The shocking expose not only opened the floodgates for other women to declare similar affairs, it actually ended up getting Clinton impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice.

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