Political Scandals

Should we expect our politicians to be more honest than we are?

They say that Presidents are supposed to be students of history.
Well if that is the case then those aspiring to political office
should concentrate on the information below. Scandal during a
presidential administration can cripple a Presidency, just ask
President Clinton. We hold (or at least used to) Presidents to a very
high moral standard (this is getting funny!). Presidents are not only
responsible for themselves but for those beneath them. As President
Harry S. Truman used to say; “The Buck Stops Here.” Below you will
find brief summaries of three of the most scandalous administrations
in American History. In reference to the twenties pay particular
attention to Harding.

Political Scandals
of the 1870’s

Credit Mobilier was a construction
company that helped build the Union Pacific Railroad. The company was
owned by some union Pacific stockholders who gave the construction
company huge contracts. They were funneling money from Union Pacific,
a company that they owned little stock, into Credit Mobilier, where
they owned a majority of the stock. With Union Pacific receiving
government subsidies and funds, the investors were stealing
government money. To avoid a governmental inquiry into the
transaction, the investors gave Credit Mobilier stock to members of
Congress. A congressional investigation in 1872 revealed many
congressmen, high ranking republicans, and vice-president Schuyler
Colfax took stock in the company. The scandal marred Grant’s first
term. Schuyler was replaced for the election in 1872. This began the
uncovering of several scandals.

What became known as the Whiskey Ring
Scandal started when Benjamin H. Bristow, Grant`s third secretary of
the Treasury, found a group of distillers was falsifying reports.
They cheated the government out of millions in tax dollars. It was
then discovered that many of Grant’s appointees were also involved in
the scandal. Included in these appointees was Grant’s personal
secretary, Orville E. Babcock. Even though the prosecutor had mounds
of evidence against him, Babcock was acquitted and he resigned.
Grant, furious with Bristow’s findings about Babcock, forced him to
resign from the cabinet.

In 1876, Secretary of War, William
Belknep, was under investigation for accepting bribes in connection
with the Indian Agency. He resigned as congress was voting on his
impeachment. A few months later, Navy Secretary, William Robinson,
was investigated over grain contracts that he had signed. He also was
faced with impeachment but never resigned due to Grant’s inaction.
Over the course of Grant’s presidency, all of the executive
departments came under investigation.

Political Scandals of
the 1920’s

When Warren G. Harding receive the
Republican nomination for President the New York Times called him “a
respectable Ohio politician of the second class” meaning he was
respectable but not a member of the elite. Some felt that the Times
was rather generous in their description. Nevertheless Harding and
his Vice Presidential counterpart Calvin Coolidge won in a landslide

Harding sought a
return to
” or a return to
the simpler days before the Progressive Era. He believed that the
government should not control business and that we shouldn’t deal in
the affairs of Europe. In short, he was a conservative. Harding’s
cabinet was primarily made up of his friends and political
supporters. They were known as the “Ohio Gang.”

In 1921 Secretary of the Interior, a
member of the Ohio Gang, was able to gain control of valuable oil
fields in Teapot Dome, Wyoming and Elk Hill, California. These oil
fields had been set aside by the government for use by the navy. In
1922, Secretary Fall made a
secret deal with two rich oilmen. He gave them a lease to pump oil
out of the fields and sell it for themselves. Fall receive $325,000
in bonds and cash as well as a large herd of cattle.
After over six years of testimony and
implicating others in the Harding administration Fall received a
$100,000 fine and a year in prison. This Teapot Dome Scandal, as it was called, was one of the most
embarrassing episodes in U.S. history.

There were other scandals involving
the Ohio Gang. Jesse Smith,
assistant to Attorney General Harry M. Cramer was exposed as a
bagman.” He was carrying bribes to and from the
Attorney General’s office. After he was banished from Washington he
committed suicide. Charles
Cramer, legal advisor to the Veterans Bureau was also exposed for
taking bribes
, he too
committed suicide. Charles
Forbes, head of the same bureau, was convicted of taking at least
$250 million dollars in kickbacks and bribes
. Colonel Thomas W. Miller, head of the Office
of Alien Property was convicted of fraud
. He had sold valuable German patents seized
in the war for far below market price. He too had taken

All told the Harding administration
was one of the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, in American
history. Through it all only Harding, Coolidge and a few members of
the Cabinet remained in the clear. Harding was not a bad man, he just
chose his friends poorly. In 1923, a hurt Harding declared
I have no trouble with my
enemies… but my damned friends, they’re the ones that keep me up at
” Upon returning from a
good will trip to Alaska he became critically ill, the pressure and
the stress of the scandals having effected him deeply. On August 2,
1923 he died in office.

Political Scandals
of the 1970’s

Beginning on June 17, 1972, events
began that would force President Nixon to resign in disgrace and turn
into the worst political disgrace in the history of the Unites
States. That night five agents on the Committee to Reelect the
President were arrested while burglarizing the Democratic National
Headquarters in the Watergate complex. Over the next couple of year

Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the
Washington Post, and the Senate Select Committee uncovered numerous
actions carried out by, or from orders given from, President Nixon.

They found that the Nixon
administration had bugged the Democratic Headquarters. The
Republicans had attempted to sow dissention among Democratic
candidates in an effort to weaken the party. The White House, and
even the President had authorized payment to those scheduled to
testify on Watergate, and to cover other criminal activities. A
“plumbers unit” had broken into psychiatrist Daniel Ellsberg’s
office. Ellsberg was a former government official who leaked the
“Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret study on the causes of the Vietnam
War. Nixon’s White House had also created a list of political enemies
that included Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, African-American
Representative John Conyers of Michigan and Daniel Schorr of CBS

President Nixon denied everything, and
were it not for “secret” White House tape recordings, might have
cleanly escaped. The Senate committee asked for the tapes, but
President Nixon claimed that executive power denies him from having
to release the recordings. After the Supreme Court ruled unanimously
in Nixon v United States that the tapes were to be turned over, they
were given to the committee. When the tapes were delivered one tape
had more than eighteen minutes erased from it. As event unfolded
special prosecutor Archibald Cox and his successor Leon Jaworski
prosecuted Nixon official for criminal conduct. In July of 1974 the
House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment
against President Nixon. The first, Obstruction of Justice, charged
that he withheld evidence, condoned perjury, interfered with
investigations, attempted to misused the CIA, made false and
misleading statements to the public, and other infractions. He was
charged with abuse of power for misusing the FBI, the IRS, the Secret
Service, maintained an illegal investigative service, interfered with
the Watergate investigation, and failed to prosecute his subordinates
for criminal actions. Lastly he was charged with failure to comply
with congressional subpoenas.

Effective August 9, 1974 Nixon
resigned from office, realizing that his impeachment was almost
certain. He said he quit because the investigations would consume all
his energy at a time when the nation need the President to focus on
peace abroad and the nations economic difficulties.

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