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The sheer number of scandals in American politics is staggering. From the White House to local office, no branch of government is immune.

Congress in particular has one of the most colorful histories when it comes to political scandals. In fact, Congress has been dealing with scandals and corruption since its very inception.

With that in mind, InsideGov looked back at some of the largest congressional scandals in U.S. history. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does give an overview of some of the biggest controversies to rock D.C.

#25. Tom Delay

Scandal: Money Laundering

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay is no stranger to political scandals and controversies. His most serious offense involved charges of money laundering.

In a 2014 ruling, Delay was formally acquitted of the charges. Although his political career may be over, Delay has since appeared on the TV show, “Dancing With the Stars.”

#24. Congressional Post Office Scandal

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The Congressional Post Office scandal involved a conspiracy to embezzle House Post Office money through stamps and postal vouchers to congressmen. The most dramatic outcome was the conviction of House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski, who pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud.

#23. Anthony Weiner

Scandal: Sexting Controversy

Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after it was revealed that he was sending explicit photos of himself to an adult woman. Remarkably, Weiner had the gusto to run for New York City mayor in 2013, only a couple years after the texting scandal broke.

During the mayoral race, Weiner was once again confronted with controversy, when details surfaced that he had sent more explicit photos under the alias “Carlos Danger.”

#22. Wayne Hays

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Scandal: Secretary Controversy

As the chairman of the House Administrative Committee and the Democratic Campaign Committee, Hays was one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress in the mid-1970s. However, he resigned after a publicized sex scandal, in which his secretary alleged that she was hired solely to be his mistress.

#21. John Langley


Scandal: Bootlegging

Rep. Langley resigned after being convicted of illegally selling alcohol during the Prohibition Era and trying to bribe a Prohibition officer. Following his departure, Langley’s wife successfully ran for his seat in Congress in the next election.

#20. Wedtech Scandal

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The Wedtech Scandal involved the awarding of Defense Department contracts and bribery from the Wedtech Corporation. Two New York congressmen, Mario Biaggi and Robert Garcia, were convicted of criminal charges.

#19. Frank Brasco

Scandal: Bribery

Rep. Brasco was sentenced to five years in prison following his conviction on federal bribery conspiracy charges. Like many others on this list, Brasco’s sentence was mostly suspended.

#18. Newt Gingrich

Scandal: Ethics Violations

Gingrich may have led the impeachment against President Clinton, but he was no stranger to scandals himself. Following 84 ethics charges against him, Gingrich was charged $300,000 in sanctions by the House ethics committee.

#17. Crédit Mobilier

One of the main scandals during the Gilded Age of politics, Crédit Mobilier involved corrupt dealings between the Union Pacific Railroad, the Credit Mobilier of America construction company and at least 13 congressmen. Rep. Oakes Ames was one of the primary agents involved.

#16. Ralph Cameron

Scandal: Grand Canyon Controversy

Senator Cameron sparked controversy after he attempted to control access to the Grand Canyon by buying mining rights to adjacent lands in 1912. He also desperately fought against the Canyon’s National Park status.

#15. Jack Abramoff Scandal

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Scandal: Corruption, Bribery

A prominent lobbyist, businessman and movie producer, Jack Abramoff has referred to himself as “America’s most notorious lobbyist.” Federal investigations into Jack led to the indictment and reprimanding of numerous politicians on charges of corruption and bribery.

#14. Keating Five

The “Keating Five” refers to five U.S. senators who were accused of improperly intervening on behalf of Charles Keating, the chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association during the larger Savings and Loan crisis.

Although Keating served 42 months in prison, none of the five senators were convicted of federal charges, including John McCain, who would go on to run for president.

#13. John Ensign

Scandal: Hampton Affair

Senator Ensign was involved in a drawn-out scandal involving an extramarital affair, thousands of dollars in hush money and illegal lobbying deals. Although Ensign resigned from office in 2011, he was not formally prosecuted by the Justice Department. In 2014, the FBI released more details on the complicated scandal.

#12. Dennis Hastert

Scandal: Illegal Finances, Sexual Abuse

Hastert served as speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, but controversies over his tenure have only recently been publicized. In May 2015, he was indicted on federal charges of structuring bank withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements. In June 2015, he was publicly accused of sexually abusing three students.

#11. Koreagate

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The Koreagate scandal involved the alleged bribery of more than 30 members of Congress by the South Korean government. The two main actors were Tongsun Park, a Korean businessman, and Rep. Richard Hanna, who pled guilty to conspiring to commit bribery.

#10. Ted Kennedy

Scandal: Chappaquiddick Incident

Senator Kennedy made headlines in 1969, after he drove his car off a bridge. Kennedy’s companion, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in the car, while Kennedy left the scene and did not report the incident for nine hours. Kennedy later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crash after causing injury and received a suspended two-month prison sentence.

#9. Congressional Page Sex Scandal

When it was revealed that two congressmen, Reps. Dan Crane and Gerry Studds, had engaged in sexual relationships with 17-year-old congressional pages, the House voted to formally censure the two representatives for ethical misconduct. The scandal also resulted in the formation of the House Page Board, which oversees and protects congressional pages.

#8. Mel Reynolds

Scandal: Multiple Ethics Violations

Rep. Reynolds was convicted of 12 counts of sexual assault, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography on Aug. 22, 1995. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

#7. Wiliam Blount

Scandal: West Florida Conspiracy

Senator Blount has the dubious distinction of being the first U.S. public official to face impeachment; he also signed the Constitution. Blount was expelled from the Senate for conspiring with British officers to conquer parts of Spanish Florida and Louisiana.

#6. Preston Brooks

Scandal: Assault of Sen. Charles Sumner

A devoted proponent of slavery, Rep. Brooks polarized the nation when he struck Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist, with a cane on the Senate floor. Despite the violent act, Brooks received minimal punishment and was re-elected in South Carolina.

#5. Joseph McCarthy

Scandal: McCarthyism

McCarthyism was less of a scandal and more of a black mark in the history of Congress. Led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the McCarthy trials involved the political and cultural purge of suspected communist sympathizers. In 1954, McCarthy’s tactics were formally condemned by the Senate.

#4. William Jefferson

Scandal: Bribery

Even after the FBI raided his offices on suspicion of bribery, Rep. Jefferson managed to win re-election in 2006. A year later, Jefferson was indicted on 16 charges related to corruption. He was found guilty of 11 of these counts and was sentenced to 13 years in prison—the longest sentence ever handed down to a congressman for bribery.

#3. House Banking Scandal

One of the most widespread congressional scandals, the House Banking controversy emerged when the House bank had allowed over 400 members to overdraw their checking accounts without any kind of financial penalty—essentially granting them interest-free, personal loans.

Only 22 members were singled out by the House Ethics Committee, including Donald “Buz” Lukens, who was convicted of bribery and conspiracy.


ABSCAM was the codename for an FBI sting operation that involved the investigation of more than 30 political figures on public corruption charges. The FBI videotaped politicians accepting bribes from a fictitious Arabian company. Seven congressmen were convicted, including Sen. Harrison Williams.

#1. Dan Sickles

Scandal: Murder of Philip Barton Key

Rep. Sickles shot and killed District Attorney Philip Barton Key, after discovering that he was having an affair with his wife. Sickles confessed to the murder but was later acquitted, using temporary insanity as his legal defense.

Interestingly, Rep. Sickles was the first person to successfully use temporary insanity as a legal defense in the U.S.

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