How The Mighty Fall: 13 Washington Sex Scandals

Sex scandals are nothing new. There must be something about holding so much power and influence that causes men to think that they can do anything. Image @ TabletMag

Sex scandals are nothing new. There must be something about holding so much power and influence that causes men to think that they can do anything. Image @ TabletMag

So Anthony Weiner wasn’t quite as rehabilitated as he’d led us to believe. After stepping down from his Congressional seat in 2011 because of a sexting scandal, he told us he was a changed man. He and his wife had a baby and he seemed on the verge of a huge comeback in the NYC mayoral race. Now we’ve learned that he never really was “a changed man” and that he’d kept sending inappropriate messages and pictures even after he was held to task for the ones that forced him to resign. His wife, Hilary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, has said that she forgives him and wants to move forward. Weiner says that he has no intention of pulling out of the race and is the frontrunner in a large field of mayoral candidates, but these new revelations might have an impact on that. We shall see.

Anthony Weiner is not the first politician to get caught with his pants down (literally). There seems to be something about holding so much power and influence that causes men to think that they can do anything and attracts a certain kind of woman. Yes, there are political groupies. And sex scandals are nothing new: in 1796, Alexander Hamilton had an affair with a married woman whose husband blackmailed Hamilton which forced him to confess, ruining his political career. And everyone knows about Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. Washington is always ripe for a sex scandal. Here are some of the most interesting…

Congressman Wilbur Mills – 1974: Wilbur Mills was an Arkansas Democrat and one of the most powerful Congressmen on the Hill until a trip to Boston started his downward spiral. Mills met Fanne Foxe (a.k.a. “the Argentine Firecracker”) at a Boston strip club and they soon began an affair. Mills, who was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was driving – drunk – along the capital’s Tidal Basin with Foxe one evening when he was pulled over by police. For the second time. This time, Foxe ran from the car, leaving the drunken Congressman on his own. Mills made light of the incident and was actually able to get past it. Then he went to Boston again and a kiss on the cheek from his former paramour brought an end to his career. Foxe went on to cash in with a book deal.

Governor Mark Sanford – 2009: We all remember that June, when Mark Sanford told his staff he was taking off for a few days to “hike the Appalachian Trail” and then seemed to fall off the face of the earth. When a local South Carolina TV reporter spotted the governor almost a week later arriving back in the state from Argentina, the game was up. Sanford admitted that he’d been having an affair with an Argentinian woman. He held a press conference to explain himself, saying he had ended the affair, which turned  out to be untrue. In December, Jenny Sanford filed for divorce but, though impeachment was  discussed in the state legislature, Sanford served out his term. This past April, South Carolina elected him to Congress, a position he accepted with his mistress, now-fiancee, at his side.

Senator John Ensign – 2009: At about the same time Sanford’s affair was discovered, Senator John Ensign of Nevada had his own troubles. In June, he admitted to having an affair with a former staffer. The admission was instigated by a blackmail letter from the staffer’s husband to Fox News, in which the aggrieved party laid out Ensign’s “heinous conduct.” Fox refused to play but Ensign came clean nonetheless. Ensign faced ethics charges and a complaint from Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics in Washington for both the affair and improper use of campaign finances. He resigned in disgrace.

Senator David Vitter – 2007: David Vitter came to the Senate in 1999. He was a staunch conservative, favoring right-wing policies like abstinence-only sex education and an amendment banning same-sex marriage. He sold himself as a family values politician but it was only a facade. High-priced call girls were Vitter’s soft spot — that, and wearing diapers. Vitter’s phone number turned up in the client list of infamous D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Hustler‘s Larry Flynt got hold of that information and called Vitter to ask him about it. The next day, Vitter released a statement admitting to the behavior and asking for forgiveness. He called a press conference a week later in which both Vitter and his wife, Wendy, spoke. The Republican party did forgive Vitter, mostly because his resignation would lead to a Democrat being appointed by then-Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco until a special election could take place. Vitter has weathered the scandal due, mostly, to the statute of limitations on his use of the Madam’s services.

President Bill Clinton – 1998: Clinton’s dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky nearly cost him his office. Lewinsky came to the White House in June of 1995 and it didn’t take long for her to find a spot in the President’s… heart. When she was transferred to the Pentagon, she met Linda Tripp and the rest, as they say, is history. In January of 1998, Tripp took tapes of phone conversations between herself and Lewinsky to her lawyer. From there, the scandal took off, culminating in an impeachment proceeding that did not manage to get through the entire Congress. Other women stated that Clinton had sex with them but, due to insufficient evidence, none of them went beyond the deposition stage. The scandal didn’t seem to hurt “The Big Dog” as much as his enemies would have hoped and he is still held in high esteem by most Democrats. His charitable work is unimpeachable, however (see what I did there?).

Senator Gary Hart – 1987: The Senator from Colorado was very popular among Democrats and hopes were high for him to run for president in 1988. He was, in fact, the frontrunner for the nomination, even though he had long been haunted by rumors of “womanizing.” In May of 1987, a Washington Post reporter asked Hart, specifically, if he had ever committed adultery, knowing that he had. This happened just after photos of Hart, with a pretty model named Donna Rice perched on his lap, hit the news stands. Hart had spent the night with Rice on a yacht called, appropriately enough, Monkey Business. Faced with the allegations of two affairs and thunderous disapproval from his own party, Hart dropped out of the race on May 8th.

Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller – 1979: Rockefeller had been appointed to the post of veep by Gerald Ford, who moved up to president when Nixon resigned in 1974. Rockefeller was that most rare of breeds (especially nowadays) — the progressive Republican. When Ford ran for president in 1976, Rockefeller chose not to be his running mate, effectively retiring from politics. But his death in 1979 came as he did… well, that’s how the joke goes, anyway. Rockefeller was having an affair with his 25-year-old secretary, Megan Marshak. One night, Marshak called 911 (though some say she called a friend who performed that task for her), saying that her boss had a heart attack. The Rockefeller family, wanting closure and no questions, allowed no autopsy and had the body quickly cremated. But the evidence points to Nelson Rockefeller dying as every man would wish to: in the arms of a beautiful woman. This isn’t really such a terrible scandal but it does make the men envious, right guys?

Congressman Wayne Hays – 1976: The gentleman from Ohio served 13 successive terms in Congress, eventually chairing the powerful Committee on House Administration. In 1976, Hays was running for the Democratic nomination for president when his former secretary, Elizabeth Ray, spilled the beans. She told the story of how Hays had hired her even though she couldn’t type, file or even answer the phone. The impetus for Ray’s revelations was Hays’ marriage to his Ohio office secretary, Pat Peak. A woman scorned, Ray went public with her and Hays’ arrangement. This led to Hays’ resignation on the first of September of that year.

Senator Bob Packwood – 1995: The Senator from Oregon had years of sexual misconduct allegations laid at his feet in November of 1992, when the Washington Post outlined the complaints of ten women who said that Packwood assaulted and abused them. The women, mostly staffers and lobbyists, agreed to wait until after the 1992 election to make their complaints public. Packwood, of course, denied everything and, without enough evidence, the Senator won re-election. But things began to unravel for him after that. His diary became the center of a legal argument about whether or not it could be subpoenaed. He turned over 5000 pages to the Senate Ethics Committee but refused to give them more when requested. Probably because he needed time to edit them. His back against the wall, Packwood made veiled threats against other Senators. This pushed the Committee not to hold open hearings and, in closed meetings, they decided that Packwood would be expelled, as there were many questions regarding criminal violations on his part. The Senator resigned before that could happen. He’s now a lobbyist (big surprise).

Congressman John Livingston – 1999: Another victim of Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine, Livingstone was set to become the Speaker of the House. When Flynt offered a million dollars for scandals about Congress members, Livingston’s name was offered. The Speaker-elect admitted to an affair and resigned his future role. He later resigned from Congress in May of that year. He, too, has found a cozy spot as a lobbyist.

Congressman Gary Condit -2001: Condit had an affair with intern Chandra Levy, which came to light when Levy disappeared in May of 2001. At first, Condit denied any involvement at all, but eventually admitted to the affair. The attention focused on him, along with speculation that he may have been involved in her murder, cost Condit his seat in the 2002 election. He was later exonerated when Levy’s body was found in a Washington, D.C. park and another man was convicted for the crime.

Congressman Mark Foley – 2006: Foley represented the state of Florida for six terms until his propensity for messaging House pages became common knowledge. Under his AOL Instant Messenger UID of Maf54, Foley sent explicit messages to the pages in which he referred to sexual acts and body parts. The one that got him in trouble wasn’t even his page — he was from the district of Rep. Rodney Alexander. The young man hadn’t said anything because his parents told him not to. Somehow, the Clerk of the House got wind of these messages and ordered Foley not to contact the page again. Despite the machinations of colleagues, Foley’s misbehavior came out and, rather than face an ethics investigation, he resigned.

Senator John Edwards – 2007: Presidential-hopeful Edwards had met documentary film maker Rielle Hunter in 2006, when she filmed a chronicle of the Edwards campaign. Less than a year after Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, announced that her cancer had returned, the National Enquirer (hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day) broke the story of Edwards’ and Hunter’s affair, stating that there was a child from the union. Edwards denied the story but lost all credibility with the Democrats, dropping from the race (from a personal viewpoint, I was devastated and angry — Edwards was my guy that year). Elizabeth died in October, 2002. Edwards then faced charges of using campaign funds to hide the affair, which ended in a not-guilty verdict on one count and a mistrial on the rest. It was reported in 2011 that Hunter — and their child — had moved in with Edwards in his North Carolina home.

There are lots more scandals but many are at a local level and I thought it best to stick with people most of us have, at least, heard of. You will note that these sex scandals involved politicians of both parties. I guess testosterone is the one thing they all have in common. But there are no women on the list. It is thought that, for women, power takes on a different character. Women exercise their power by withholding sex (think Lysistrata). Besides, women who gain such power are usually too busy trying to be taken seriously by their male colleagues. Maybe one day they won’t need to put so much effort into that and we will see some female politicians in sex scandals. I’m not holding my breath.