“The only way I can lose this race is to be caught with a live boy or a dead girl.” — Edwin Edwards. Not all politicians can be as direct and colorful as this ex-felon and former governor and congressman from Louisiana.
Ah, the political sex scandal. Nothing sells more papers and gets more attention. At least, that was the way it was before Trump came to office. Political sex scandals are nothing new. As fans of the musical “Hamilton” know, the Reynolds Affair was a big reason Alexander never made it to the Presidency. Going back even further, Kings and Queens have set up succession issues and subsequent wars due to infidelities going back to the legend of King Arthur and time immemorial. So for this Explainer, we’re going to cover some of the more colorful political sex scandals of the modern age.
Long story short, we’ve come a long way since Louisiana Governor Earl Kemp Long had a very public affair with a burlesque house stripper named Blaze Starr. It used to be that political parties and press would be discreet about a president’s peccadilloes. Aside from the fact that FDR had polio and could barely walk, they covered up his more than casual affair with Lucy Page Mercer. Mercer, who was originally Eleanor Roosevelt’s social secretary, developed a very close relationship with FDR, who wanted to leave his wife for her. Franklin’s mother was adamantly opposed to a divorce since it would be the end of his political fortunes. Franklin assented and his marriage was somewhat of a practical truce than a loving relationship. When he died, it was Mercer that was with him by his bedside, not his wife Eleanor.
Considering that kind of treatment, particular since a war was raging at the time, it was common to turn a blind eye. Aside from the national security implications, the old traditional attitude was that it just wasn’t anyone’s business. While it was rumored JFK had affairs with many women (Marilyn Monroe, Anita Eckberg to name just two), without JFK around to defend himself it seems more salacious than factual and we may never know for certain who he did and didn’t sleep with. Nonetheless, his alleged infidelities seem too numerous and substantial to be mere rumor.
This hush-hush attitude all changed with a scandal in Britain called “the Profumo Affair.” In 1963, John Profumo was the U.K. Secretary of War in the Conservative government when he had an affair with a 19 year old model named Christine Keeler (pictured at the top of the page). The problem?– Keeler was also seeing a Russian naval attache at the same time. At the height of the Cold War it could not be understated how embarrassing this was. The nation’s head defense minister was sleeping with a young woman who was sleeping with the enemy. The story reads like a dry run for every sex scandal that has followed:
- First, deny everything.
- As the press investigates and the truth comes out, admit wrongdoing and beg forgiveness.
- When the questions reach a critical mass, resign in disgrace.
In Profumo’s case, the nature of the scandal eventually brought down the entire conservative government when the Prime Minister resigned only 6 months from the initial disclosure of the affair.
Back on this side of the Atlantic, the first really major scandal of this sort was in 1987 when Gary Hart was about to embark on running for President. After a strong runner up showing in the 1984 Democratic Primaries, Hart was the perceived front runner for the Democratic nod in 1988. In early 1987 he was followed by an investigator who claimed Hart stayed the night at a woman’s house. Later that spring, the Miami Herald claimed an informant provided information about Hart having affairs. Hart, doing damage control, offered to the press to “follow me around” to help prove there was nothing scandalous. Soon after, Donna Rice was identified as the woman. The story seemed to be supported by “a sea of innuendo,” but the coup de grace was a picture of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap, in front of a boat named “Monkey Business.” The nail was in the coffin and Hart’s political career was over.
Which brings us to the ’90s. There was the Bob Packwood sexual harassment scandal and the Chandra Levy/Gary Condit affair (Levy was a Hill staffer who had been murdered in a park; because she had had a relationship with Representative Condit attention turned towards him and he resigned, although D.C. police said she was just a random victim after an investigation). There was Senator David Vitters from Louisiana (really, a lot of these seem to come from Louisiana) who regularly went to a Madame who provided prostitutes. And of course, there was the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.
“Slick Willie,” which many Republicans derisively referred to him as, had political talent to spare, only matched by his libidinous character. Just as he was gearing up his presidential campaign for the Iowa caucuses, it was disclosed that he had an affair with Little Rock hair stylist and cabaret singer, Gennifer Flowers (he would admit to the affair later in a deposition). It appeared his campaign would end before it started, but he retooled in New Hampshire and came in second. With a little more momentum, “the Comeback kid” looked like he was all set to win the nomination when another woman, Paula Jones, announced Clinton had sexually assaulted her and filed suit. Then, Kathleen Wiley also did. Nonetheless, focusing on fixing the economy during a recession and how he could turn it around, he won election.
Republicans, upset after losing the White House after 12 years to an admitted pot smoking, womanizing, sax playing liberal, threw the mud. Oh boy did they throw mud. Any possible thing that could be a scandal was immediately turned into one; the suicide of a close confidante, the firing of people in the White House travel office, the child care provider to Clinton’s first choice for Attorney General. Everything was sensationalized, largely giving rise to tabloid TV and right wing media. Politically, it worked at first, sweeping into Congress and the Senate GOP majorities not seen since the 1950’s. One such scandal related to a failed real estate deal the Clintons invested in called “Whitewater.” A special prosecutor was appointed. The Paula Jones matter was eventually rolled into the same investigation.
Zebras don’t change their stripes and it was eventually revealed Clinton had an affair with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. This matter was looked into by the Special Prosecutor as well. Clinton would eventually escape perjury charges in denying the affair during a deposition about the Paula Jones matter (“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”), however, in the eye of public opinion, he flat out lied. Republicans immediately went about impeaching the President. Unfortunately, they had two major obstacles that would eventually stop them; Clinton had turned the economy around to be extremely prosperous boosting his popularity, and the Republican leadership were hypocritical themselves about affairs since they themselves had mistresses. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich resigned for a number of reasons, but it was well known at the time that he was having an affair with his now wife, Callista (now ambassador to the Vatican). Next in line was Robert Livingstone, who ALSO was having an affair at the time. The american people saw this for what it was and there was no grassroots push to remove Clinton from office. As a result, even though Clinton was impeached by the House, he was only censured by the Senate for lying under oath and finished his term hugely popular.
Without any major sex scandals during the Bush 43 years, let’s now turn our attention to three Democrats; Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards and Anthony Weiner. Spitzer was a former NY Attorney General who was credited with putting a lot of white collar criminals in jail. Elected to the Governorship, it was soon disclosed he had frequented a prostitute, Ashley Alexandre Dupre. Resigning in disgrace, what had once been a potential presidential candidate fell into ignominy.
John Edwards was also a rising star. He came in second to John Kerry for the 2004 Dem nomination and was expecting to make a strong showing in the 2008 contest. An affair with his campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter, which lead to a pregnancy, and his political aspirations crashed and burned. It was made all the worse that a big point of his campaign is how his wife successfully beat cancer; soon after the debacle of a campaign, the cancer recurred and she passed away.
Anthony Weiner on the other hand, is in a league of his own. He was a vocal and spirited NYC liberal, married to Hillary Clinton’s chief aide, Huma Abedin. It was eventually discovered he posted nude images of himself and sexted with other women on the Internet. He resigned. Then, a few years later while trying to make a comeback by running for Mayor, it was discovered he did it again! The consequences wouldn’t have been so bad, but because emails between Hillary and Huma were discovered on the same computer Weiner used, the FBI had to investigate further into Hillary’s alleged e-mail issues. That they announced they did this less than 2 weeks before the election is considered by some the main factor into how Hillary Clinton lost the Presidential election in 2016.
And that brings us to Trump. Even before Trump took office, he was pretty disreputable when it came to women. Aside from his very ugly, public divorce in the 1980’s to his first wife, Ivana Trump, where he openly flaunted his mistress Marla Maples in social circles, he had been accused over the years of sexual misconduct/assault on numerous occasions, often settling out of court. There are currently more than a dozen sexual assault/harassment allegations pending against him, including one by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s show “The Apprentice.”
However, the two that get the most attention are former Playboy Playmate of the Year, Karen McDougal, and porn actress, Stormy Daniels. Their stories are largely similar and fall into the same time frame, but largely go like this:
- Trump’s third wife, Melania, had just given birth to their first son together, Barron.
- Trump met the two women on separate occasions and held out the possibility of improving their media exposure.
- Sexual encounters soon followed (in Daniels’ case, she claims it occurred only once, where McDougal claims an affair continued for awhile).
- Trump’s enticements of media help never really came to fruition.
- When Trump began running for office, both signed non-disclosure agreements requiring them not to openly discuss the affairs in exchange for substantial sums of money.
- Both women were fine keeping quiet for a period of time, but when the stories started popping up in the press, they both fought for the right to break their NDAs and speak about the events in public.
The problem for Trump is that he never disclosed these payments on his FEC disclosure forms, which are violations of campaign finance laws as they were in-kind benefits paid by his friends Michael Cohen and David Pecker (head of the National Enquirer). If that were it, chances are he would probably just get a slap on the wrist from the FEC. However, the person in charge of organizing these payments to the women (Cohen, along with another attorney who represented both women) was also involved in a lot of Trump Organization and Trump Foundation potential financial laundering/fraud issues, including trying to hide the fact Trump was trying to obtain a Trump Tower Moscow all through 2016 and into 2017. As Trump was already under investigation by a special counsel on Russia related meddling in the elections, this looks even worse. It is surprising that the sex scandals are not getting more attention, but when there are so many worse scandals out there, it’s easy to see why they take a back seat.
Are there any other recent examples you think we missed? Do you have any issues you would like us at TeamPurple to cover? Have any thoughts on this or any other issue? Let us know at Teampurplemn@gmail.com or in the comments below.