It wouldn’t be a year in politics without a scandal or two. On that count, 2015 did not disappoint. From secret servers to the Secret Service to a sex bus across the pond, here are the lies, cover-ups and takedowns that defined bad behavior in 2015.
1. Hillary’s Not-So-Private Server
It may not have been the most damaging scandal of 2015, but it certainly took up the most oxygen: Hilary Clinton’s long-ago decision to use a private email server to handle her correspondence as Secretary of State. Was the email hacked by the Chinese? Did she illegally disclose state secrets? Where did the emoticons on her Blackberry go “:-(” as she once asked an aide in an email?
Those questions and dozens more followed the discovery of the private server by the Benghazi Select Committee, a House panel led by GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy to investigate the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. As a result, Clinton released 55,000 pages of email to the State Department for review, which then released batches to the public under a court order, to the delight (and occasional frustration) of reporters everywhere.
Clinton’s own tortured explanation of the account, along with her endless journey to call it a mistake, kept the speculation about the matter burning for months. But ultimately, Gowdy’s long-awaited 11-hour public hearing with Clinton as the star witness may have put the controversy to bed, at least for now. The $4.5 million effort produced no “smoking gun,” few new lines of inquiry, and a collective shrug from the American public.
The FBI continues to investigate the legality of the server and the information shared on it, but Clinton remains more than 20 points ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination in national polls, thanks in no small part to Bernie’s own declaration that the American people “are sick of ya damn emails!”
2. Dennis Hastert Cops a Plea
Rep. Dennis Hastert’s reputation as a Midwest nice guy helped him win the House Speaker’s gavel in 1999 when the GOP needed a scandal-free leader to helm the party during the Clinton impeachment. But in 2015, the now-retired congressman pled guilty to violating federal banking laws to hide making $1.7 million in hush money payments.
The mystery in the case remains what Hastert, the longest serving Speaker in American history, was trying to hide. The indictment in the case explained only that the payments were related to “prior misconduct” against a person who once lived in Yorkville, Illinois, where Hastert was the high school wrestling coach for more than 15 years. Hastert avoided a public trial by pleading guilty, but in June, CNN reported the payments were to a former student who accused Hastert of sexual misconduct. This month, news reports also revealed that the former Speaker had suffered a stroke and a series of complications while awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for February.
3. Tammany Hall’s Double Disaster
At the beginning of 2015, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos were two of the “three men in the room” in New York state—the guys who, along with whoever was governor at the time, held the power and did the deals. (Silver, who took over the state Assembly in 1994, was arguably the most powerful man in New York for decades.) But with that power came corruption for Silver and Skelos, who were convicted this year on unrelated federal charges involving bribery and extortion.
Prosecutors told Silver’s jury that he had been engaged in “real deal” abuse of power. “Cheating, lying, and getting away with it,” the prosecutor said. For Skelos and his son, Adam, separate charges came regarding a $300,000 bribery, extortion and conspiracy scheme feds say was meant to enrich the two.
By the end of 2015, Silver and Skelos had both been convicted and are facing 130 years each in jail time, meaning the only “men in the room” they’ll be in the future are the kind on the inside of a prison cell.
4. Aaron Schock Redecorates
What do you get when you combine a bowl of pheasant feathers, a chatty interior decorator, and a reporter with time to kill in the Downton Abbey-inspired office of then-Rep. Aaron Schock? You get the beginning of the end for Schock’s once-brilliant career, which began in 2009 when he became the youngest serving member of Congress and ended in March, when he resigned amid questions about his potentially improper use of federal funds.
Not only had Schock gotten the Downton designer’s work for free (a legal no-no), the Chicago Sun-Times also found him requesting thousands of dollars in federal reimbursement for mileage his car never clocked. Now, instead of populating his once-globe-trotting Instagram feed, the Men’s Health cover model spends his days embroiled in a federal investigation over who paid for his lavish lifestyle as a congressman, a whip-fast fall from grace even Lady Mary Crawley might find pity for.
5. Rahm’s Brewing Cop Cover-up
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual has now publicly apologized for the police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was killed in 2014 by a Chicago police officer who claimed he feared for his life as he shot the young man. The officer was charged with murder, but more than a year after the fact and only after dashcam video emerged showing McDonald taking 16 bullets in 15 seconds as he moved away from, not toward, the officer, as The Daily Beast’s Michael Daly reported.
When the video was still private, Emanuel and the Chicago City Council approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family, interpreted by some as hush money, just as Emanuel won his runoff for a second term as mayor. Since the McDonald video became public, two more videos have emerged showing Chicago officers killing or injuring suspects. Expect to see more of this Chicago scandal next year, as it doesn’t feel like this one’s over.
6. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Loses Her Law License, Among Other Things
Can a state Attorney General lose her law license but keep her job? So far, so good for Pennsylvania AG Kathleen Kane. But that seems to be the only good thing this once-rising star has going for her.
What is isn’t going well for the Pennsylvania Democrat? You could start with the two felony perjury counts she’s facing. Or the subsequent suspension of her law license. Or the call from the governor, her fellow Democrat, to resign from her job. Or the Pennsylvania state Senate’s unanimous vote to begin to remove her from office.
But wait, there’s more, all thanks to Kane’s alleged scheme to embarrass the man she beat out for the AG slot by leaking details of a secret grand jury investigation he was involved in. If that weren’t enough, Kane has launched a separate investigation into emails between state prosecutors, judges, and attorneys who Kane says sent misogynist, racist, and pornographic emails on state servers. One of the lawyers caught in the web? Kane’s identical twin sister (they work in the same office), whose offensive emails Kane said don’t warrant her sister’s firing.
Don’t start missing Kane just yet—she says she won’t resign and is planning to run for re-election in 2016 because “This is where I belong.”
7. The Secret Service Spills the Secrets
If you need a chart to keep track of all of the investigations into U.S. Secret Service scandals, time to get it out again. In 2015, one agent drove into a crime scene at the White House after drinking at a local bar, another agent had his badge, gun, and government-issued flash drive stolen, and still another was arrested for sexting with someone he thought was a 14 year-old girl.
But the most scandalous of them all was the agency Inspector General’s report looking to find out who had leaked Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s agency personnel file, which showed the congressman, who also oversees the agency, had been rejected from the Service in 2003. The report detailed the assistant director emailing agents that “Some information that [Chaffetz] might find embarrassing needs to get out,” after a particularly grueling beatdown of the agency by Chaffetz. But the IG could not find out who leaked the info because more than 40 agents had combed through the confidential file.
8. Ex-Rep. Michael Grimm Heads to the Slammer
If you had already forgotten about Rep. Michael Grimm, the FBI agent-turned congressman who resigned his seat back in January, you had your chance to remember the gentleman from Staten Island this past summer as he was sentenced to eight months in prison for tax fraud related to his side-gig running Healthalicious, a restaurant in Manhattan.
During his sentencing, the former Marine relied on an unusual defense that his work ethic and perfectionism led him to break the law. “All my life I have scraped and I have clawed and I have killed myself to better myself,” he told the judge. “A Marine is taught not to fail.” The judge’s response: “Your moral compass, Mr. Grimm, needs some reorientation.” Also, Happy New Year, in prison.
9. Rep. Chaka Fattah Under Fire
It’s hard to say what will be more difficult for Rep. Chaka Fattah to overcome: His July indictment on charges of bribery and corruption or the four primary challengers he’s drawn since his scandal came to light.
Fattah denies the charges, which include offering to put in a good word for an associate looking for an ambassadorship in exchange for $16,000 in cash, which Fattah allegedly covered up as a car sale. There’s no denying the dismal fundraising Fattah has posted since his indictment, which has left him with just $3,000 in the bank for his re-election effort. And more bad news for the congressman, who represents the district where Democrats will hold their national convention this summer—his son, Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr., was convicted on unrelated federal fraud charges last month, a development the elder Fattah said was an effort to get the papa Fattah in the end.
10. Honorable Mention, International Edition: The U.K. MP’s Sex Bus
Proving that bad judgment never stops at the water’s edge, Britain’s conservatives came under fire this year for a scheme to provide entertainment of the physical variety for members of Parliament under pressure in an election year. The campaign trips with young activists were called “Road Trips” with benefits. Some MPs apparently viewed the arrangement as a dating agency, while others saw a “sexual buffet.” The Beast’s Nico Hines called it “a dystopian Bacchanalia,” but on both sides of the pond, we can just call it a really, really bad idea.