Throughout American history, some presidents have had better taste than others when selecting the members of their Cabinets. The president’s Cabinet includes the vice president plus the heads of the departments of the executive branch of the government. With all those Cabinet members, sometimes not everybody has the best interests of the nation at heart.
Read on to discover which presidents appointed the most corrupt Cabinets. And get the details on how President Donald Trump’s Cabinet compares on page 7.
1. James Buchanan’s Cabinet turned against the United States
James Buchanan notoriously failed to act at the onset of the Civil War. His inaction in the face of escalating tensions only helped the efforts of his corrupt Cabinet. Buchanan’s Cabinet included Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb, who “abandoned his faith in the Union.” Cobb assisted in the formation of the Confederate States of America. And then he took up arms against the United States.
Another member of Buchanan’s Cabinet, Secretary of War John B. Floyd, weakened the military. He scattered the U.S. Army to leave it vulnerable to capture if hostilities broke out. Additionally, Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson participated in a conspiracy to set fire to New York. According to Ulysses S. Grant, “The president did not prevent his cabinet preparing for war upon their government.”
Next: This president caused problems that lasted well beyond his tenure.
2. Andrew Jackson started the ‘spoils system’ that led to more corruption
ATTN: reports that historians blame Andrew Jackson for the “spoils system” that led to generations of corruption. Under this system, government officials got jobs based on what they had done for the incoming administration (rather than on merit). “It took decades to dismantle the spoils system that started under Jackson,” the publication explains. “And it can be argued that it’s never gone away completely.”
Jackson failed to keep federal offices nonpartisan. And he gave lucrative jobs to his donors, friends, business associates, and even newspaper editors who had written in his support. ATTN: characterizes the result as “a cavalcade of theft and corruption in distant offices and military posts, including $1.2 million embezzled from the New York City Customs House, the most lucrative point of entry in the U.S.”
Next: This president has become notorious for his corrupt Cabinet.
3. Ulysses S. Grant had one of the most corrupt Cabinets
ATTN: reports that Ulysses Grant had a reputation for honesty. But his administration, including his Cabinet, numbered among the most corrupt of the 19th century. The publication reports, “A near-ceaseless flow of money from speculation and western expansion led to an epidemic of corruption.” But Grant didn’t acknowledge the problem. Instead, he “responded by stubbornly protecting those accused of graft.”
More than 100 officials under Grant conspired to steal tax revenue from whiskey sales. The secretaries of the Navy, War, and the Treasury faced allegations of bribery. Congress passed an act to retroactively grant huge pay raises to congressmen. And in the Crédit Mobilier scandal, a construction company massively overcharged the Union Pacific Railroad by paying millions in bribes to the vice president, secretary of the Treasury, and congressmen.
Next: Most people only remember this president for all his scandals.
4. Warren G. Harding’s Cabinet was plagued by scandals
Warren G. Harding had a very short presidency before his death. But most people remember Harding’s presidency (and his Cabinet) for rampant corruption and numerous scandals. According to ATTN:, Harding’s Cabinet “had the dubious distinction of being the first to have a member convicted of a crime.”
The publication explains that Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert Fell went to prison as part of the Teapot Dome scandal. “Fell accepted bribes to lease the Navy’s oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, to private companies.” The same scandal claimed Harding’s secretary of the Navy. The attorney general resigned over a “bootlegging kickback scheme.” And two other department heads faced convictions of bribery and fraud.
Next: Historians characterize this president as one of the most corrupt.
5. Richard Nixon is one of the most corrupt presidents of all
ATTN: refers to Richard Nixon as “the gold standard of presidential corruption.” Nixon remains the only president in American history to have to resign. (He faced impeachment after the Watergate scandal.) But the publication notes that Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, had to resign a year before Nixon. The reason why? He was implicated in a tax evasion scheme.
You might recall a few other scandals from the Nixon years. Nixon’s CIA director conducted illegal surveillance on U.S. journalists and plotted assassinations in Chile. And Nixon’s Securities and Exchange Commission head “had to resign after less than three months in office after altering a negative finding against a Nixon fundraiser.”
Next: This president’s Cabinet caused scandal after scandal.
6. Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet caused scandal after scandal, too
Cracked reports that during Reagan’s time in office, an eye-popping 138 members of his administration faced investigations, indictments, or convictions for their roles in various scandals. Most people remember the biggest: the Iran-Contra Affair. Senior officials, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, illegally sold arms to Iran. They then used the Iranian money to fund Contra rebels trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s socialist government.
Another major scandal? The Reagan administration’s rigging of House and Urban Development grants. That scandal involved Reagan’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, secretary of the Interior, and treasurer. In addition, ATTN: notes that other Reagan scandals included Operation Ill Wind, the EPA’s Sewergate scandal, and a copyright infringement case in the Department of Justice.
Next: Donald Trump already faces this accusation.
7. Donald Trump has been accused of corruption
Your opinion of Donald Trump and his Cabinet definitely depends on your politics. But critics have accused Trump and his Cabinet of composing one of the most corrupt administrations in history. The Washington Post reports that Trump has spent decades “not only manipulating the economic, legal, and political systems to increase his wealth but publicly bragging about his ability to do so.” So many expected Trump to continue to bend or break the rules as president. After all, even actions that are legal can still be corrupt.
Furthermore, the Huffington Post notes that Trump uses his position to promote his private businesses. He “makes face time with visiting dignitaries a perk for his paying customers.” And he gets his staff involved, too, such as when Kellyanne Conway promoted Ivanka Trump’s brand. He also refused to place his assets in a blind trust. And he uses his own properties for official meetings. All of those are largely unprecedented and have ruffled many feathers in Washington and beyond.
Next: Will Trump deliver on this key campaign promise?
8. Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ but has he?
Newsweek notes that on the campaign trail, Trump promised to “drain the swamp.” But as the publication reports, “many observers believe the swamp has grown into a sinkhole that threatens to swallow the entire Trump administration.” Time explains, “While his Cabinet-level picks have been less traditional — a lot more billionaires and retired military officers than usual, for one thing — it’s clear that they are much more swampy as a whole than Trump pledged.”
Many resignations, investigations, and scandals have taken place so far. Ethics lawyers and government watchdogs have criticized the “revolving doors” at Trump’s government agencies. His first national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Additionally, many Cabinet secretaries face investigations for exorbitant travel expenses. Furthermore, other cases relate to personal investments or to relatives’ interactions with government agencies. So, as one historian told Vox, “Politicians lie, but this is different.”
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