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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 victory.



Harding sought a "return to normalcy" 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 bribes.



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 night!" 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 Bob

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 news.


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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