Election day is nearly upon us. Shall we have our politics with some tea? From affairs to backroom deals, here are 5 scandals that prove politicians really are in a class of their own. Let’s sip some political tea.
Warren G. Harding’s Ohio Gang
It’s the start of the Roaring Twenties, and Prohibition is in full swing. Upon being elected president, Warren G. Harding invited his poker buddies, better known as the Ohio Gang, to work with him. Harry Daugherty, a close pal who helped cover up one of Harding’s romantic affairs, was rewarded the position of attorney general. Jess Smith, an alleged bootlegger, became Daugherty’s aid in the Justice Department. His buddy Albert B. Fall was appointed Secretary of the Interior. And Charles Forbes, named Veterans Bureau director, was one of the most shameless.
Behind Harding’s back, his cabinet stole from taxpayers left and right. Whether from Liberty Bonds, bribes, false healthcare claims or the infamous Teapot Dome affair, they directed millions into their own pockets. Secretary Fall, for example, took some $5.7 million in bribes, paid off his debts and bought a second ranch in New Mexico.
Harding died of a heart attack 29 months into his first term. He didn’t live to see the Ohio Gang become the only presidential cabinet convicted of taking bribes while in office. Daugherty was tried for corruption, and Forbes was sentenced to prison for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.
Ted Kennedy’s Car Crash Cover-Up
It’s 1969, and a young woman is found dead in Senator Ted Kennedy’s car the morning after he drove across a narrow bridge on Massachusetts‘ Chappaquiddick Island. Her identity was revealed as Mary Jo Kopechne, Robert F. Kennedy’s speech writer.
On an early July morning, a fisherman saw an overturned black Oldsmobile under a bridge filled with water, with Kopechne still inside. Her torn nails indicated that she fought to survive. The duo had been driving home from a celebration to thank the Boiler Room Girls, who earned their nickname while working on Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
The odd twist? Ted called Kopechne’s family 10 hours later but didn’t admit he was involved in the crash. He was found in the police chief’s office making phone calls the next morning, appearing relatively unphased. He said he was in shock after the accident and had gone to his hotel. Police didn’t want questioning to get out of hand; he was a popular senator, after all. An autopsy was never performed, and the car was destroyed. Ultimately, Ted Kennedy emerged from both water and conspiracy unscathed.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Chandra Levy
In 2001, 24-year-old former Washington intern Chandra Levy went missing. Soon afterward, her relationship with California congressman Gary Condit came to light. Levy had told her aunt about the secret relationship then had her internship terminated shortly thereafter.
That May, Levy went for a hike in Rock Creek Park then was reported missing five days later. Her remains were found a year after, and with so much time having passed, the medical examiner couldn’t determine the cause of death. Condit acted surprised by her disappearance and never had to come clean about the affair.
In June, Condit lawyered up and discreetly wooed the Levy family to vouch for his innocence. But multiple women came forward admitting their own affairs with the congressman. Levy’s aunt spoke as an anonymous insider to tell the Washington Post everything. The case spiraled into a full-blown scandal, and Levy was the biggest story in America until September 11, 2001. (No evidence proved Condit was or wasn’t involved in Levy’s death.)
The Mean Girls of Multnomah County
Initially, the pack secretly hatched a plan to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples throughout the county. But the move ended up backfiring and helped ignite a successful drive for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Oregon. Why? Linn was ready to make a change, but the other three didn’t want to plead the case in the public sphere.
So when the secret plan broke, Linn’s one-time allies read about it in the newspaper and took offense to her reveal, forming an alliance to block her proposals. The miscommunication ruined Linn’s relationship with the so-called mean girls — as well as her subsequent bid for re-election.
The Tommy Burks Murder
Thirst for political power isn’t a good look. In 1998, Byron “Low Tax” Looper ran as a long-shot candidate against popular Tennessee state senator Tommy Burks. By 2000, Looper was found guilty of killing Burks and sentenced to life in prison. So what happened? (Warning: The details are gruesome.)
Looper murdered Burks on his farm a few weeks before the election, and he wasn’t stealthy about it, either. According to an ABC News report, he left a bullet and tire tracks, making a scene as he sped away. The strangest part? Looper’s high-school friends Rex and Joe Bond testified that he had shown up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the night of the killing and bragged about the crime he’d just committed. Politics doesn’t get much more scandalous than that.