Cocaine busts, tax cheats, and bribe-taking, born-again Christians: Welcome to the political scandals of 2014. From the illegal to the merely offensive, from the tragic to the sublimely ridiculous, let’s take a look back at the bad behavior of 2014:
The trials of Bob McDonnell. The former Virginia governor was once the golden boy of the GOP. The born-again family man with a talent for winning elections was on the fast track to a national presidential ticket, but a wealthy vitamin executive plying McDonnell and his family with a Rolex, a wedding reception, and golf vacations changed all that. The ugly end for McDonnell came in 2014 when he and his wife went on trial for felony fraud only to expose the fraud of their “storybook” marriage. The now-convicted felons will hear their sentences in January, but their story continues to spiral downward. Son Robert Ryan McDonnell was busted on a DUI last week, while their daughters recently appealed to the court for leniency, but just for dad. They described their father as simple, religious man… and blamed their mother for everything that’s happened.
Chris Christie’s Bridgegate. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” With those eight words, an aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie closed most of the George Washington Bridge, snarled tri-state traffic for hours, and unleashed a media-fueled political scandal worthy of a B-grade mob movie. Christie called the emails, which were part of a revenge plot against Democrats who didn’t endorse Christie for governor, “inappropriate” and “unsanctioned” and went on to preside over an epic, two-hour press conference that was summed up with his declaration, “I am not a bully.” If Christie was not a presidential aspirant with an anger-management problem, the episode might not even make the list. But given the governor’s need to convince American voters he’s worthy of their trust, Bridgegate clocks in high.
VA Hospital Wait Times. The word “scandal” hardly seems strong enough for a system that left newly discharged Iraq and Afghan veterans waiting so long to see a doctor that some committed suicide as the months and years passed. Congressional hearings in 2014 exposed hospital administrators keeping secret lists of wait-times to mask their incompetence, but nothing could hide the shame of a process that treated disabled vets so badly. Newly installed VA Secretary Robert McDonald has announced a massive restructuring of the VA hospital system and promised that the 35 staffers he’s fired so far are just the beginning of the people he’s holding accountable for the tragic, inexcusable mess.
Secret Service Gate Jumpers. The White House may look like a heavily guarded fortress from the outside, but a knife-wielding gate jumper who popped over the front fence in September exposed serious vulnerabilities at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, like the fact that the Obamas don’t lock their front door. Huh? A closer examination of the once-vaunted Secret Service, which is in charge of protecting the president, revealed an agency in turmoil that has been asked to do more, such as guarding the vice president’s grandchildren, while budgets have shrunk and asymmetric threats increased. Julie Pierson, the woman installed at the top of the agency after the 2012 Colombian prostitute scandal, resigned amid the controversy, while the president’s former bodyguard was brought in to restore the president’s protectors to their former glory.
Sen. John Walsh’s Doctored Master’s Thesis. Walsh, the former Army general and lieutenant governor of Montana, was appointed by Democrats in February to succeed outgoing Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. The deal would let Walsh run as an incumbent against Rep. Steve Daines for Baucus’s seat. But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation when The New York Times reported that Walsh had plagiarized significant portions of a 14-page paper required for his master’s degree at the Army War College. Walsh initially said he’d done nothing wrong, but later told the AP that he had been suffering from PTSD when he wrote the paper. Walsh eventually withdrew from the Senate race, leaving Democrats just days to find a candidate to run against Daines, the congressman who flipped the Senate seat for Republicans in November and will be sworn into the Senate in January.
Michael Grimm’s Felony Plea. The lowest moment of 2014 for Staten Island Republican Rep. Grimm might have been the time in January when he threatened to throw a reporter off a Capitol balcony and break him in half “like a boy.” But then last Tuesday happened, when Grimm pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion, one of the 20 felony counts he’d been facing since April related to Healthalicious, a Manhattan restaurant Grimm operated before going to Congress. Feds accused Grimm, a former FBI agent, of paying employees with envelopes stuffed with cash and then hiding nearly $1 million from the IRS. Despite the scandal, Grimm beat his Democratic opponent by 18 points in November. After saying he wouldn’t resign from Congress because he was still “able to serve,” Grimm has announced he’ll step down Jan. 5.
The Cocaine Congressman. Freshman members of Congress do the darndest things, including buying three grams of cocaine from an undercover federal agent three miles away from the Capitol. America, meet Trey Radel, the self-described “hip-hop conservative” who once reviewed a Jay Z album in a series of tweets, including one that called the oeuvre “pretty sick.” Less than a year into his new job in Washington, Radel plead guilty in a DC court to cocaine possession and spilled the beans on the drug bust he tried to keep a secret from his constituents and Republican congressional leadership. Although he swore he wouldn’t resign over the incident, Radel stepped down in January after Republicans at home began calling for his head. Radel has since had his record expunged and, even better, is back on Twitter.
Rob Ford. That’s all. Just Rob Ford.
The Kissing Congressman. The first time that Vance McAllister (R-LA) went to Washington was in November 2013 to be sworn in as congressman representing Louisiana’s 5th District. But it didn’t take long for McAllister to succumb to the city’s charms, like passionately kissing a congressional staffer only to be caught in the act on surveillance video. When the video leaked, McAllister, a father of five who had campaigned as a devout Christian, asked for forgiveness from “God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve.” McAllister’s wife, Kelly, campaigned for his reelection, saying she felt blessed to be married to a man “who owns up to his mistakes.” But the voters didn’t agree. McAllister finished fourth on Election Day, but declared to his local paper, “It’s all good.”
Virginia Delegate’s Minor Sex Texts If you thought all the bad behavior happened in Washington, look no further than Richmond, Virginia, where Democratic State Delegate Joe Morrissey entered a modified guilty plea this month for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, specifically for having sex with a 17-year-old staff assistant and then texting a naked photo of the girl to a friend. Both Morrissey and the girl, who is pregnant, say their phones were hacked by the girl’s estranged lesbian lover (are you following this?), but the judge who heard the case didn’t buy it. Morrissey had been granted a work-release program that would have made it possible for him to serve his jail time at night, while voting in the legislature during the day. But a judge revoked the option last week when Morrissey violated the terms of the deal. Although he recently resigned from the legislature, Morrissey has promised he’ll run in the special election to fill his open seat. Good luck with that.
Honorable mention: Charlie Crist’s fan. It wasn’t really a scandal, but you wouldn’t know it from the way Florida Gov. Rick Scott reacted to Democratic challenger Charlie Crist’s decision to put a small electric fan at his feet during the final Florida governor’s debate before the midterm election. Scott was so convinced that Crist had violated the debate rules that he refused to go onto the debate stage for a full six minutes, leaving Crist and his fan to have the spotlight all to themselves for the opening moments of the televised debate. Twitter dubbed the imbroglio “Fanghazi,” while The Atlantic wrote an ode to Crist’s love affair with the little fan. And what happened once the debate resumed? Who knows? All anybody remembered was the fan.