A Quickie Guide to Career-Ending Political Sex Scandals
Nov 14th 2012 5:45PM
Updated Nov 14th 2012 6:18PM
As details of General David Petraeus' sex scandal continue to emerge, each one leads to further questions, raging from concerns that the (now former) director of the CIA may have compromised the security of America's secrets to confusion over how many members of the military's top brass are engaging in potentially career-ending affairs. Ultimately, however, one thing is not in doubt: Petraeus' affair has shut the door on a promising political career.
Petraeus is not alone: Washington's halls of power are littered with the corpses of promising political careers that fell victim to sexual scandals. And, while each affair has its own distinctive contours, D.C. affairs generally fall into a few simple categories.
Here's our short list of the top six types of political career-ending affair. If we missed one, be sure to let us know.
While there are a lot of potential twists and turns that a devastating political affair can take, the basic outlines are generally the same: a politician, surrounded by admiring voters and supporters, engages in inappropriate relations with someone other than his or her spouse. While not particularly notable, this sort of affair can certainly be devastating: In 2012, Republican Herman Cain's presidential ambitions tanked when he was accused of sexually harassing several women and conducting a 13-year affair with Ginger White. (Cain and White pictured above.)
The Classic cuts across party lines. In 1987, Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) watched his presidential ambitions evaporate when photos were released of him relaxing on a yacht (named "Monkey Business!") with model Donna Rice. A slew of other Republicans and Democrats, including Rep. Tom Ganley (R-Ohio), Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), Rep. Don Sherwood, Rep. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), Rep. Charles Robb (D-Va.), Rep. Donald Lukens (R-Ohio), Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.), Rep. Brock Adams (D-Wash.), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), and Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) have also taken heat -- and sometimes lost their jobs -- over similar affairs.
Some of Washington's philanderers didn't let hypocrisy stop them from using their bully pulpits to attack an even more infamous cheater: President William Jefferson Clinton. One of the president's most prominent attackers, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), spearheaded the impeachment proceedings against Clinton even as his own long-term affair came to light. Other critics of Clinton's sexual improprieties, including Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho), Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind), Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Rep. Robert Livingston (R-La.), Rep. John Senator (R-Nev.) and Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) also faced criticism about their own extramarital dalliances, either before or after the president's impeachment proceedings.
Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa?
While the basic affair is bad enough, the horrifying mess is doubled when the politician in question fathers an illegitimate child. This isn't surprising; after all, being dishonest is one thing, but being dishonest and a poor provider is something else entirely.
Maybe this is why Grover Cleveland (top left), probably the most prominent politician to have fathered a child out of wedlock, was still able to make it to the White House. While critics taunted him with the refrain: "Ma, Ma, where's my pa?," they also had to acknowledge that Cleveland was very generous when it came to child support. After his election in 1884, supporters answered the goad with a refrain of their own: "Down in the White House, ha, ha, ha!"
Other philanderers haven't been so lucky. For example, the revelation that Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C., top right) fathered a child with campaign worker Rielle Hunter ended his hopes of nabbing the vice presidential slot under Barack Obama. And when it came out that Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y., bottom left) had fathered a child outside his marriage, he decided to not seek reelection.
Edwards and Fossella join a long, if not particularly distinguished fraternity: Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind., bottom right) admitted that he had an illegitimate child, while famed segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) was later found to have fathered a child with a then-underage black woman who worked for his family.
Sleeping With the Help
Thurmond's relationship with a family employee brings to mind another classic philandering type: the politico who has an affair with an employee. The most famous of these is probably President Clinton, whose affair with intern Monica Lewinsky (above right) became the epicenter of a political witch hunt. But Clinton's affair was just one of many in D.C.'s halls of power. Here are a few others:
- Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) resigned after allegations of an affair with a female staffer came to light.
- Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) put his mistress on his staff, then fired her.
- Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had an affair with an intern while investigating Clinton.
- Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.) was convicted of sexual assault after engaging in a relationship with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer in 1994.
- Rep. Stephen LaTourette (R-Ohio) had a long affair with his chief of staff, whom he later married.
- Rep. Jim Bates (D-Calif.) sexually propositioned several female staffers.
- Rep. Dan Crane (R-Ill.) was censured by the House of Representatives for having sex with congressional pages.
The Dead Paramour
While the public revelation of an affair is never easy, the fallout is doubled when the news is accompanied by the untimely disappearance of the girlfriend (or boyfriend) in question. The classic example of the career-killing dead paramour is probably Chandra Levy, a Federal Bureau of Prisons intern who had an affair with Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.). In 2001, Levy's remains were found in Rock Creek Park. Although police later determined that Condit (above) was not responsible for her death, the exposure of the affair cost him his re-election in 2002.
But not every dead paramour story ends as badly as Condit's. For example, while the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne effectively put the kibosh on Teddy Kennedy's presidential aspirations, the Massachusetts senator was able to hold onto his position for another 40 years. Similarly, the scandal surrounding the death of Marilyn Monroe, who was allegedly John F. Kennedy's paramour, never attached itself to the popular president.
Falling Out of the Closet
Rep. Eric Massa's (D-N.Y.) 2010 sexual harassment of staffers qualifies as sleeping with the help, but the fact that the staffers in question were male -- and that Massa was married -- added an interesting twist. And Massa wasn't the only D.C. politico to get done in by a homosexual affair. Three years earlier, Sen. Larry Craig's (R-Idaho) indiscretions in a Minneapolis airport bathroom devastated his political career, while Rep. Mark Foley's (R-Fla.) sexual harassment of underaged male congressional pages led to his resignation. Other politicians, including Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), Sen. Ed Schrock (R-Va.), Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.), Rep. Jon Hinson (R-Miss.) and Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.) all saw their careers cut short because of homosexual scandals.
However, not every homosexual affair ends in disgrace. When the relationship between Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and a male prostitute came to light in 1989, the still-closeted Frank called upon the House of Representatives to investigate him to ensure "that the public record is clear." Although he was censured for "fixing" tickets for the prostitute, Frank held onto his seat. In the following election, he returned to Washington with 66% of the vote, and was re-elected in every subsequent election, until he chose to retire in 2011.
What a Tangled (Inter)Web
While social media has created new ways for politicians to build relationships with their constituents, it has also had a dark side: For elected officials in search of new ways to shoot their careers in the foot, it offers an almost irresistible weapon. Between humiliating self-portraits, ineradicable e-mails and -- in the case of Gen. John R. Allen and Jill Kelley -- an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 pages of compromising communication, it's easy to see how social media will open the door to a bright new future of humiliating scandals.
Prior to this month, the poster child for Internet scandals was Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y., above). Both because of his unfortunate surname and because of the embarrassing nature of the sexualized self-portraits that he tweeted to various women, Weiner's humiliation became a national punchline. He resigned in 2011.
But while Weiner was a Twitter trailblazer, he is hardly the first person to get caught making questionable use of social media. Another New York congressman, GOP Rep. Chris Lee, resigned after a news station reported that he'd sent a topless photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist. And much of Rep. Foley's harassment of congressional pages took place via e-mail.
However, the all-time worst internet political sex scandal (thus far) is probably that of Brian J. Doyle, Deputy Press Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. In 2006, Doyle was arrested after he conducted sexually-explicit internet conversations with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl. In point of fact, his internet correspondent was actually an undercover detective. Doyle was eventually sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to seduce a minor and transmitting harmful material to a minor.