10 Biggest Political Scandals of the Last 50 Years

The White House, Washington DC

10 Biggest Political Scandals of the Last 50 Years

In America, scandals are all too common in politics. As many believe politicians are out to line their own pockets rather than support the needs of their constituents, political scandals are commonplace. As political scandals get larger, so too can the fallout as incidents like Watergate have shown. 

The same can be said for popular presidents like Bill Clinton or Gary Hart who can watch their popularity free fall amidst a scandal. With this in mind, let’s look at the 10 biggest political scandals over the last 50 years.


The Watergate Hotel complex from the Potomac River in Washington, DC in autumn
The Watergate scandal is arguably the most famous political scandal in U.S. history.

There is no better-known scandal in U.S. history than Watergate. Eventually forcing then-President Richard Nixon to resign, Watergate is all about a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Among the questionable activities of this scandal, the goal was to guarantee Nixon’s re-election in 1972.

Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky

Bill Clinton had previously been under heavy scrutiny for multiple rumored affairs.

Former President Bill Clinton has long dodged rumors of extramarital affairs. However, Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky couldn’t be outrun. It was first met with a denial by the President only to later be admitted. President Clinton would be the first sitting President to be impeached in 130 years, though the Senate acquitted him.


President Reagan
Then President Reagan met with aides to go over a speech to the public discussing the scandal.

Among the best-known scandals in the last 50 years is the Iran-Contra affair. This political scandal included the U.S. selling arms to Iran. With profits from the sale, the U.S. funded a rebel group known as the Nicaraguan Contras. This group was attempting to overthrow the communist government in the country. Unfortunately, these transactions violated multiple U.S. policies and laws.

Spiro Agnew

Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew was only the second vice president to resign from office.

Only the second vice president to resign in American history, Spiro Agnew did exactly that. Stemming from accusations of tax evasion and bribery, Agnew resigned in October 1973. The result was that then-President Richard Nixon had to appoint House Minority Leader Gerald Ford as Agnew’s replacement. This appointment would set Ford up to also serve one term as President.


Edward Kennedy
Senator Edward Kennedy was very popular and could have made a serious White House run.

Stretching just outside the 50-year mark at 55 years, the Chappaquiddick incident involving Edward Kennedy and a young female staffer was a major one. The brother of John and Robert Kennedy, Edward was driving a car with the young female staffer when the vehicle veered off a bridge and the staffer died. As Kennedy waited more than 9 hours to report the incident, it would destroy his chances at the Presidency.

Gary Hart

Gary Hart
Gary Hart’s overconfidence was his downfall when he challenged reporters to look into him.

Despite persistent rumors about his womanizing ways, Presidential hopeful Gary Hart challenged reporters to look into him. Well, the Miami Herald was already watching Senator Hart and they discovered he was indeed having an affair with a young actress. Hart would drop out of the 1998 Presidential race in May 1987 due to the affair coming to light.

John Edwards

John Edwards
There is a good chance John Edwards would have made it to the Oval Office.

A rising star in the Democratic party, John Edwards covered up an affair with a Presidential aide working on his 2008 campaign. The affair would end his campaign entirely and it wouldn’t be until after his wife died in 2010 that Edwards admitted to the affair. Using campaign funds to help cover up the affair forced the government to pursue charges but Edwards was acquitted on account of a mistrial.

Valerie Plame

Valerie Plame
Valerie Plame was a dedicated CIA agent before her cover was blown.

After President George W. Bush made false claims about Iraq and WMDs in his 2003 State of the Union, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson publicly reprimanded the President. As a result, “Scooter” Libby, then an advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, outed Wilson’s Wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative. The resulting outcry ended Plame’s career and led to major political fallout.

David Petraeus

David H. Petraeus
General David Petraeus was on the fast track politically only to lose it all.

One of the highest-ranking military officials in the U.S., four-star General David Petraeus had a bright future. As the newly installed CIA director, the FBI was already investigating the general for revealing classified secrets to his biographer with whom he was having an affair. The scandal cost him his job and eliminated any chances at a future presidential run.

The “Keating Five”

Senator John McCain was the most powerful member of the “Keating Five.”

When the rich and powerful have a problem, they often call on their friends in government. This is exactly what happened with Charles Keating, owner of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. With his business in trouble, Keating called five Senators with whom he was cozy to stop a federal investigation.

The Senators, including popular Senator John McCain, did exactly that. When the scandal came to light, the Senator faced multiple attacks on this issue during his 2008 campaign against Senator Barack Obama.

To top