So Much Winning! (And By ‘Winning’, I Mean ‘Prison’)

Presidential Scandals
This chart, from Daily Kos, compares the number of indictments, convictions, and prison sentences among presidential administrations back through Nixon.

As the Robert Mueller investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign heated up late last week (resulting in arrests this morning), I started seeing a copy/paste comment around social media. The short form is: Over the past 50 years of presidential administrations, there’s only been one prison sentence handed down for Democratic administrations, while there have been something like 90 for Republican administrations. Nowhere did I see any Trumpbots refuting this assertion, which is odd enough in itself (almost any assertion one makes about Trump or Republicans is usually met with fury and obfuscation these days, if not outright lies), but I also didn’t see anyone citing any sources for it.

So I decided to look it up for myself.

Right off the bat, memory tells me that the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were rife with criminal charges, convictions, and prison sentences, while I can’t think of a single Democratic administration official who was convicted of anything. But I know memory is a funny thing, so I won’t trust it on a charge this serious.

My mission: to determine whether this copy/paste comment is true, and to provide a source-packed blog entry detailing my information.

• Setting The Stage

“50 years” goes back to 1967, which is just prior to Nixon’s first win in 1968, so it must include the Democratic administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. But Johnson took office in 1963, so I’m going to start there, which is actually 54 years ago — almost exactly. (Surely no one will think this is unfair, since it would add years of Democratic time, increasing the chance of finding more DNC failures to refute the assertions of Republican criminality.)

So, since I’m starting in 1963, let me set the stage:

1963-1969: Lyndon B. Johnson (D)
1969-1974: Richard M. Nixon (R)
1974-1977: Gerald Ford (R)
1977-1981: Jimmy Carter (D)
1981-1989: Ronald Reagan (R)
1989-1993: George H.W. Bush (R)
1993-2001: Bill Clinton (D)
2001-2009: George W. Bush (R)
2009-2017: Barack H. Obama (D)

I’ll stop there because the Trump stuff is just now beginning. In the past 54 years, then, there have been four Democratic presidents and five Republican presidents. Rounding off to number of years, Democrats have been president for 26 of those years (48%) and Republicans have been president for 28 of those years (52%). If “both parties are the same”, we would expect the criminal convictions and prison sentences among the administrations to split fairly evenly, with Republicans seeing slightly more because they held office slightly more during the period under discussion.

It might be relevant also to discuss which party was in control of Congress during these years, since it is often Congress who initiates, or at least calls for, the investigations that later result in indictments, impeachments, convictions, and imprisonment. According to this chart, some of the presidents during this time saw both a same-party Congress and an other-party Congress during their terms. Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama each saw Congress shift from one party to another. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush I each saw Congress entirely under Democratic control during their terms. (In fact, Democrats dominated Congress from the Great Depression until the 1990s.) This being the case, one might expect a few more investigations into Republican administrations and a few less into Democrat administrations.

• Finding Sources

It didn’t take very long (about three seconds) to find some sources on this via internet search engines.

This Daily Kos piece starts with the fact that no one in Obama’s administration was indicted (and therefore no one was convicted or imprisoned), and then goes on to list “scandals” in previous administrations back through Nixon. Since “scandal” is a loose, subjective term, the writer specified it as “only the executive branch scandals that actually resulted in a criminal indictment”. The helpful chart (see image at top right) shows that Nixon’s administration — by far — had the most indictments, convictions, and prison sentences.

The information came from Wikipedia’s List Of Federal Political Scandals In The United States, every line of which contains citations to credible sources, including major newspapers and news magazines as well as historical books and other archives. Kos didn’t go back through Johnson’s administration, but the Wikipedia list goes all the way back. I’ll eventually get to LBJ.

• Ones And Zeroes

Note that the only solid row of zeroes is next to Obama’s name. Obama only had a completely friendly Congress for the first two years; the remaining six years saw GOP domination of the House, and Republicans also took the Senate for the final two years. And those GOP-controlled bodies made every effort to come up with something: multiple probes into Benghazi, and a yearlong investigation into email use, costing close to $30 million, found nothing worthy of even an indictment, much less a trial.

The only other zeroes on the chart are next to Carter’s name, in the columns for convictions and for prison sentences. There was only one indictment during Carter’s administration, that of Bert Lance, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Lance resigned immediately and later stood trial for 11 charges — all relating to banking activity before he was in government. Lance was not convicted of any of them.

Next on the “nearly scandal-free” ranking are two Republicans, Gerald Ford and Bush I, each with a row of ones. Ford, with the shortest administration on this list (never elected president, he only served the remainder of Nixon’s second term), saw only one resignation from his administration, that of outspoken racist Earl Butz. In all fairness to Ford, Butz was a holdover from the Nixon administration, and should really be counted for Nixon. In fairness to both Ford and Nixon, Butz resigned over repeated obscene and racist remarks, not because of criminal wrongdoing. His conviction came later, when he pleaded guilty to tax evasion from a 1978 income tax return (well after his 1976 resignation). So I won’t count Butz on this list.

So far:
Republicans: 1
Democrats: 0

As for Bush I, the only conviction to come from his administration was that of Catalina Vasquez Villalpando, who was sentenced to four months in prison and three years of probation after pleading guilty to tax evasion. Also during his administration, Bush I issued presidential pardons for five convicted members of the Reagan administration. It should be remembered also that Bush I was also part of the Reagan administration — as Vice President. Despite his denials at the time that he knew anything about the Iran-Contra affair, and despite managing to escape blame-free from the whole thing, it is now known that he was closely involved and knew quite a bit about it. In his own diary, he wrote: “I’m one of the few people that know fully the details…”

That takes care of the ones and zeroes — zero convictions for Obama and Carter, one conviction/prison term from Bush I, and one from Ford that I’m not counting. So far, our tally for both convictions and prison sentences is Republicans 1, Democrats 0.

And though the Daily Kos article doesn’t mention LBJ, I promised that I would. I could only find one resignation by a senior administration official during LBJ’s time in office, that of advisor Bobby Baker. As it turns out, Baker resigned in October 1963, which was before LBJ became president. Baker was eventually sentenced to 18 months in prison on tax evasion charges. As with Butz/Ford above, I can’t count Baker’s conviction as a black mark on LBJ’s administration because he never worked in government while LBJ was president. If anything, it would be counted against JFK’s presidency, which isn’t under consideration here.

• The Medium Fish

Having done away with the five presidents with one or fewer indictments (and among them only Obama went the full eight years), let’s move on to slightly larger numbers (more than one but still not many). Only Bill Clinton fits this category.

There were two indictments during Clinton’s eight-year administration: Bill Clinton himself (for perjury and obstruction of justice) and Ronald Blackley — chief of staff to the Secretary of Agriculture (for perjury). Clinton was acquitted in his 1999 trial before the Senate, while Blackley was convicted by a federal jury in 1997 and sentenced in 1998 to 27 months in prison.

So, two indictments, but only one conviction and prison sentence, leaving us with Republicans 1, Democrats 1.

(And, so far, we’ve covered all four Democrat presidents in our time period, but only two of the five Republicans.)

• The Big Fish

According to the Kos chart, Bush II and Reagan are about equal in the convictions/sentences columns, though Reagan had more indictments. I won’t devote time to extra details, but here’s a taste:

Reagan’s administration:

* Melvyn Paisley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, pleaded guilty to bribery, served four years in prison
* James E. Gaines, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (replaced Paisley), convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity and theft and conversion of government property, sentenced to six months in prison
* Victor D. Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and conspiring to defraud the government
* James G. Watt, Secretary of Interior 1981–1983, charged with 25 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, sentenced to five years probation, fined $5,000 and 500 hours of community service
* Deborah Gore Dean, Executive Assistant to Secretary of HUD, convicted of 12 counts of perjury, conspiracy, bribery, sentenced to 21 months in prison
* Phillip D. Winn, Assistant Secretary of HUD 1981–1982, pleaded guilty to bribery
* Thomas Demery, Assistant Secretary of HUD, pleaded guilty to bribery and obstruction
* Joseph A. Strauss, Special Assistant to the Secretary of HUD, convicted of accepting payments to favor Puerto Rican land developers in receiving HUD funding
* Silvio D. DeBartolomeis was convicted of perjury and bribery
* Lyn Nofziger, White House Press Secretary, convicted of illegal lobbying (later overturned)
* Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense, indicted on two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice (pardoned by Bush I before trial)
* Robert C. McFarlane, National Security Advisor, convicted of withholding evidence, given only two years probation (later pardoned by Bush I)
* Elliott Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State, convicted of withholding evidence, given only two years probation (later pardoned by Bush I)
* Alan D. Fiers, Chief of CIA’s Central American Task Force, convicted of withholding evidence, sentenced to one year probation (later pardoned by Bush I)
* Clair George, Chief of Covert Ops-CIA, convicted on two charges of perjury (pardoned by Bush I before sentencing)
* Oliver North, National Security Council staffer, convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity, obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents (convictions later vacated)
* John Poindexter, National Security Advisor, convicted of five counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, defrauding the government, and alteration and destruction of evidence (Supreme Court overturned this ruling)
* Joseph F. Fernandez, CIA Station Chief of Costa Rica, indicted on five counts (case dismissed when Attorney General Dick Thornburgh refused to declassify information needed for his defense)
* Michael Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan 1981–1985, pleaded guilty to perjury related to lobbying activities, sentenced to three years probation and fined $100,000
* Anne Gorsuch Burford, Head of the EPA, found in Contempt of Congress, resigned
* Rita Lavelle, EPA administrator, convicted of perjury, served six months in prison, fined $10,000, and given five years probation
* J. Lynn Helms, FAA administrator, charged with diverting $1.2 million from an issue of tax-exempt municipal bonds to his own personal use, settled the case before trial, resigned
* Peter Voss, U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, pleaded guilty to theft and accepting payoffs, sentenced to four years in federal prison and fined $11,000
* Jim Petro, U.S. Attorney, dismissed and fined for tipping off an acquaintance about an ongoing Secret Service investigation

I found 19 convictions here, while Kos found 16. Quite a few of them avoided prison one way or another. I only found five that I could confirm went to prison, so I’m not sure how Daily Kos came up with eight. Either way, Reagan’s administration had more than all the Democrats (plus Ford and Bush I) combined.

(There were dozens of other convictions and imprisonments during this time, but they can’t be tied directly to Reagan’s administration. Quite a few other Reagan administration officials were mired in scandal, but escaped charges by resigning quickly or turning over on their friends.)

The Bush II administration wasn’t much different:

* Felipe Sixto, Special Assistant for Intergovernmental Affairs & Duty Director at the Office of Public Liaison, convicted of stealing nearly $600,000 for personal use, sentenced to 30 months in prison
* Scott Bloch, head of U.S. Office of Special Counsel, pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of Congress, sentenced to at least one month in prison
* Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 (commuted by Bush II)
* John Korsmo, chairman of Federal Housing Finance Board, pleaded guilty to lying to congress, sentenced to 18 months of unsupervised probation and fined $5,000
* Darleen A. Druyun, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force, pleaded guilty to inflating the price of contracts to favor her future employer Boeing, sentenced to nine months for corruption, fined $5,000, given three years of supervised release and 150 hours of community service
* David Safavian, General Services Administration Chief of Staff, found guilty of blocking justice and lying, sentenced to 18 months
* Roger Stillwell, Department of the Interior staffer, pleaded guilty, received two years suspended sentence
* J. Steven Griles, Deputy to the Secretary of the Interior, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, sentenced to 10 months
* Italia Federici, Secretary of the Interior staffer and President of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and obstruction of justice, sentenced to four years probation
* Mark Zachares, Department of Labor staffer, found guilty of conspiracy to defraud
* Robert E. Coughlin, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest
* Kyle Foggo, CIA Executive Director, convicted of honest services fraud in the awarding of a government contract, sentenced to 37 months in federal prison
* Claude Allen, advisor on Domestic Policy, arrested for series of felony thefts in retail stores, convicted on one count
* Lester Crawford, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest, received 3 years suspended sentence and fined $90,000
* Bernard Kerik, nominee (never confirmed) to Secretary of Homeland Security, pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud and five counts of lying to the federal government, sentenced to four years in prison
* John David Roy Atchison, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, arrested for intentions of having sex with a five year old (committed suicide before trial)

As with Reagan’s, there were many other scandals listed, but the others I found were either not directly tied to Bush II, or never charged/convicted. I count eight that were sentenced to prison (Kos had nine) on 15 convictions (Kos had 16).

And like Reagan, Bush II’s administration — by anyone’s count — had more convictions and prison sentences than all the Democrats (plus Ford and Bush I) combined.

Both Reagan and Bush II pale in comparison to the sheer criminality of Nixon’s administration. The Watergate scandal alone resulted in the indictment of 69 people, with trials or pleas resulting in 48 being found guilty — many in Nixon’s administration. Nixon himself faced no charges, though he did resign as president (the only president to do so), and was pardoned by Gerald Ford (which many see as an admission of guilt, since innocent people don’t need pardons).

I admit I got lost in the list of names and trying to sort out which ones could be considered part of Nixon’s administration, and which ones were merely implicated but not charged or convicted. I’ll go with Daily Kos’ count of 76 indictments, 55 convictions, and 15 prison sentences — more prison inmates than Bush II and Reagan combined, if you use my count.

• Conclusion

I easily concluded that the copy/paste comment was true, even if the numbers might be slightly off. Regardless, this exercise was eye-opening and stupefying.

If you use my counts, the criminal conviction score is Republicans: 90, Democrats: 1, and the “sentenced to prison” score is Republicans: 29, Democrats: 1. Either way, this is overwhelming if you haven’t considered it before.

If you use Daily Kos’ counts, the scores are 89-1 and 34-1.

So, 89 or 90 administration officials have been convicted of crimes in Republican presidencies, while only one came from a Democrat presidency (and you’ve already forgotten his name). Even if you subtract the handful that Bush I pardoned, these numbers are still staggering.

Note: Even as I wrote the above, Trump administration officials are going down, including the guilty plea by George Papadopoulos. It seems the pattern of GOP corruption will continue.

  1. Dana says:

    Interesting, but not surprising. I hadn’t seen these numbers prior to reading about it here.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      For me, it is another nail in the coffin of “both parties are the same” — an idea that I keep hearing (and I used to say it too).

      There are clearly similarities in that people of both parties have been corrupted, people of both parties have committed grievous moral offenses, officials from both parties seem beholden to the mountains of cash pouring in from donors, etc.

      But when I actually start stacking up the parties side-by-side, there’s no contest about which one is the greater evil.

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