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The Clintons have kept reporters busy for decades, with an almost endless string of scandals following them around since Bill Clinton was first elected to public office in 1977 as Arkansas’ Attorney General. After Clinton’s two terms in the White House – bookended by news reports on Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky – focus shifted squarely to Hillary Clinton, who logged years in the Senate, at the State Department and on her own campaign trail.

As Clinton mounts her second presidential bid this year, the particularly bruising scandal involving her email system while at the State Department continues to snap up headlines. InsideGov examines this controversy and a handful of others, looking at the facts and their validity and ultimately scoring each on our handy Scandal-o-Meter. The scoring spectrum puts a non-scandal at a 0, a mega-scandal at a 10 and your garden variety, this-kind-of-thing-happens-to-most-politicians scandal somewhere between a 3 and a 6.

Click through to see which scandals should be relegated to the history books and which ones deserve further scrutiny.

#1. Vince Foster’s Death

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A childhood neighbor of former President Bill Clinton, Vince Foster was an Arkansas lawyer who worked with Hillary Clinton at Rose Law Firm in the 1970s. He joined the Clinton administration staff as the deputy White House counsel when Clinton was elected in 1992, but struggled with depression after the move to D.C. Foster committed suicide on July 20, 1993; he was found dead in a suburban Virginia park from a gunshot wound to his mouth, the revolver still in his hand. Multiple investigations ruled Foster’s death a suicide, but some people remain convinced it was a cover-up.

Scandal-o-Meter: 0

#2. Ties to Cocaine Smuggler

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Jorge Cabrera cut a check for $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee in November 1995, and the next month, he was invited to a holiday event at the White House, where he snagged a photo with first lady Hillary Clinton. But in January 1996, Cabrera was among a group arrested in Miami on a drug bust; he was sentenced to 19 years in prison. In October 1996, the DNC returned the donation check when it learned Cabrera was a convicted drug trafficker.

Scandal-o-Meter: 2

#3. Paula Jones Accusations

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Paula Jones was a state clerk in Arkansas when, according to her account, then Gov. Bill Clinton sexually harassed her in a hotel room in Little Rock, Ark. Jones filed a civil suit in January 1994, seeking $700,000 in damages; ultimately, the parties settled out of court where Jones was awarded $850,000. Fast-forward to May 2015, when Jones did an interview with the Daily Mail Online and said that Hillary Clinton is not fit to be president because of Bill Clinton’s actions. “There is no way that she did not know what was going on, that women were being abused and accosted by her husband,” Jones said in the article. “They have both lied.”

Scandal-o-Meter: 3

#4. FBI Background Reports

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During investigations related to Travelgate, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found the Clinton administration amassed upwards of 700 FBI background reports on Republicans, many of them officials from previous GOP administrations. There was some dispute about how Craig Livingstone, the director of the Office of Personnel Security and the person who requested the background checks, came to have such a prominent role in the White House. Some asserted that Hillary Clinton had “highly recommended” him for the job and that she was friends with Livingstone’s mother, but an affidavit from the mother revealed she did not know the first lady.

Scandal-o-Meter: 4

#5. The Monica Years

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Former President Bill Clinton has been dogged by sexual harassment charges throughout his political career. But Bubba’s so-called zipper problem hit an apex in the late ’90s when the Monica Lewinsky scandal came to light, linking the president to a White House intern, as well as a number of other women who accused him of harassment. When Hillary Clinton defended her husband on the “Today” show in January 1998, she memorably described the situation as a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” An unquestionable whopper of a transgression for Bill, Hillary’s public assertion of a premeditated scheme meant she got caught up in the scandal, too.

Scandal-o-Meter: 5

#6. Fugitive Fundraiser

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Norman Hsu was a prominent Democratic fundraiser in the early 2000s, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the party and candidates, as well as contributing to the Clinton Global Initiative, an arm of the Clinton Foundation. During Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign, Hsu was a so-called bundler, someone who collects campaign contributions from multiple people and delivers the cash to one candidate. But when it was discovered that Hsu was a fugitive, wanted for fraud charges in 1992, Clinton returned $850,000 in donations that were somehow tied to him.

Scandal-o-Meter: 5

#7. Dodging Sniper Fire Overseas

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During her first campaign for the White House in 2008, Hillary Clinton spoke about a trip abroad as the first lady, describing “landing under sniper fire” at an airport in Bosnia. A week after the comments, her campaign said she “misspoke,” and a few days after that, Clinton said she “made a mistake” in her recounting of the events.

Scandal-o-Meter: 5

#8. Travel Troubles

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Within a few months of former President Bill Clinton’s first term, his team was rocked by its first ethics scandal: Travelgate. In May 1993, seven employees in the White House Travel Office were fired and the FBI was called in to investigate the department’s management and accounting practices. Clinton’s distant cousin was brought in to handle travel arrangements and an Arkansas-based travel company was initially expected to take over the White House account. According to a White House report, First Lady Hillary Clinton was very interested in the goings-on inside the travel office and knew about the firings two days before they happened.

Scandal-o-Meter: 6

#9. Stealing from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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A Government Accountability Office report found that “damage, theft, vandalism and pranks” occurred at the White House in the transition between the Clinton and Bush administrations, to the tune of more than $13,000. Questions also arose about whether or not items that the Clintons moved from the White House to their new home in Chappaqua, N.Y., were gifts to them personally or were intended to remain at the White House. The Clintons ultimately returned the items, but Hillary Clinton, at the time a freshman senator, caught flack from her new colleagues for accepting gifts totaling $190,000.

Scandal-o-Meter: 6

#10. Cash for Cattle

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In the late 1970s, Hillary Clinton made close to $100,000 on cattle futures trading based on advice from a personal friend who was, at the time, a top legal adviser to Tyson Foods Inc. During that time, Tyson was one of the largest employers in Arkansas. According to a 1994 New York Times article investigating the Clintons’ finances, while Bill Clinton was the governor, Tyson did well, receiving, for example, $9 million in government loans and appointments to important state boards.

Scandal-o-Meter: 6

#11. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Speeches

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The whole Clinton family – Bill, Hillary and Chelsea – are high-profile gets for event speeches. But where they decide to speak, their fees and the content of the talks have come under scrutiny in regard to conflicts of interest. Chelsea Clinton, for example, directed a $65,000 fee in 2014 to the foundation; Hillary Clinton did the same with her $300,000 fee for a speech at UCLA. However, financial disclosure forms show Hillary Clinton reported personal income of more than $11 million for 51 speeches in a 13-month span. The Clintons haven’t said how they decide to designate their speaking fees as income versus charity work.

Scandal-o-Meter: 7

#12. Whitewater, the First Domino

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Whitewater has become shorthand for the string of scandals that have dogged the Clintons since their years in Arkansas. Bill and Hillary Clinton joined their friends Jim and Susan McDougal in purchasing a few hundred acres of land along the White River in the Ozarks, with the long-term plan to turn a profit by sectioning off lots for vacation homes. The land deal was a failure, and investigations into the labyrinth of business deals revealed a string of shady deals and questionable practices. But the biggest consequence of Whitewater – a fairly dry legal scandal – was that it ultimately led to Kenneth Starr’s investigations. It was Starr’s panel that brought to light President Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, a decidedly more made-for-TV scandal.

Scandal-o-Meter: 8

#13. Following the Money at the Clinton Foundation


After Bill Clinton left the White House, he kicked off his post-presidency with the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit with a ballooning list of issue areas, ranging from global health to climate change to women’s rights. But with both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s wide-ranging political connections and deep involvement in multiple government sectors, questions of conflicts of interest came up early and often. When Hillary Clinton became the Secretary of State in 2009, the former president said he would disclose his foundation’s donors, among other agreed-upon stipulations. But in spring 2015, a blockbuster book titled “Clinton Cash” investigated donations from foreign entities to the foundation, claiming the State Department (under Hillary Clinton’s tenure) doled out favors to the donors.

Scandal-o-Meter: 8

#14. Benghazi Attack

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In September 2012, four Americans died in attacks on a diplomatic compound and CIA outpost in Benghazi, Libya, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Questions on how the Obama administration reacted to the incident led to a House select committee investigation of the events, with emphasis on what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew before, during and after the attacks. The committee’s ongoing investigations and hearings revealed Clinton’s complicated email account and server setup.

Scandal-o-Meter: 9

#15. Problems with Pardons

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Former President Bill Clinton handed out many pardons during his time in office, including 140 on his last day in the White House, but few were as controversial as the one he delivered to Marc Rich. The fugitive fled to Switzerland in the ’80s when he learned he would be indicted on 65 criminal counts, including tax evasion, fraud and working with Iran during the hostage crisis. Rich’s pardon was among Clinton’s last-day sprint, and came under much scrutiny after it was found that Rich’s first wife, Denise, had contributed $450,000 to the foundation for the Clinton Presidential Library and $100,000 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign.

Scandal-o-Meter: 10

#16. Homebrew Email Server

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While serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton worked off of a private email server at her New York home. Since her emails were not archived on official, government-run servers, Clinton aides decided which emails to hand over to the State Department – and opted to delete notes they labeled as personal (the FBI reportedly has been able to retrieve the deleted emails). The FBI is investigating the security of the server, not Clinton herself, especially since classified information had been found in some of the correspondence.

Scandal-o-Meter: 10

#17. Accounting for Her Email Accounts

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Not only did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintain an email server at her Chappaqua home, she also used a personal email account to conduct official business. Clinton never had a traditional “@state.gov” address, and although other government officials have used private accounts in the past, Clinton’s sole use of a personal account for work is unprecedented, according to a lawyer who worked at the National Archives and Records Administration. In July, Clinton said she is “confident” she never sent or received classified information on the personal account.

Scandal-o-Meter: 10

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