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Presidential improprieties


President Clinton is accused of lying about sex and engaging in a cover-up. How do his alleged offenses compare with those of his predecessors?

John Adams: Threw his political enemies in jail after they criticized the government.

Thomas Jefferson: Concealed from Congress his plan to pay Napoleon a $2 million bribe for help in buying Florida and Spain. (The bribe was never paid; Napoleon refused to cut a deal.)

James Madison: Ignored allegations that the top commander of the army was secretly on the Spanish payroll, which were subsequently confirmed.

James Monroe: Poured money into a corrupt expedition to explore the Yellowstone River to appease the expedition leader's brother, who was chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee; ignored corruption in the treasury and war departments.

John Quincy Adams: After the presidential election was thrown into the House of Representatives because none of the candidates had received a majority in the Electoral College, Adams made a "corrupt bargain" with Henry Clay to win the office. Also, for Clay's support, Adams promised to name Clay Secretary of State. (Adams cut deals with other politicians.)

Andrew Jackson: Blocked by Congress from abolishing the Bank of the United States, the institution Congress had established to handle government accounts, Jackson ordered the Secretary of the Treasury to remove federal funds from the bank, in violation of the law. (He ordered the money transferred to state banks run by members of his party.)

William Henry Harrison: Lied about being raised in a log cabin to win votes. (He was born in a red brick mansion on the James River.)

John Tyler: Offered to bribe Martin Van Buren with a seat on the Supreme Court in exchange for his support of the annexation of Texas; Van Buren refused.

James Knox Polk: Misled the country into fighting the Mexican War. (Polk claimed the Mexican army had fired on American soldiers on American soil; in fact, the Americans were on land long recognized as Mexico's.)

Zachary Taylor: Ignored conflict of interest scandal involving his Secretary of War, who pocketed a $100,000 legal fee from a family that sued the federal government.

Franklin Pierce: Tolerated corruption. Refused to prosecute the governor of the territory of Kansas, who tried to move the capital to Indian lands he had secretly purchased.

James Buchanan: Tolerated the buying of votes; accused of bribing members of Congress; accused of awarding a naval contract to a shipbuilder in exchange for a campaign donation.

Abraham Lincoln: Jailed thousands of Confederate sympathizers in the border states without congressional authorization; delayed putting Ulysses S. Grant in charge of the army until Grant indicated he wouldn't run against Lincoln in 1864.

Andrew Johnson: Refused to implement federal law turning confiscated land in the South over to ex-slaves. He was impeached after he dismissed and replaced Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The Senate voted on three articles of impeachment, and failed to convict by a one-vote margin on each.

Ulysses S. Grant: Tolerated fraud in the federal government; came to the defense of his top aide, who was implicated as a leader in the infamous Whiskey Ring, which tried to evade the federal tax on whiskey imposed during the Civil War.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Ignored evidence that his election to the presidency was secured through the stealing of tens of thousands of votes; ignored evidence of massive fraud in the Post Office.

James Garfield: Promised railroad executives to give them the right to veto his Supreme Court nominees in exchange for campaign donations.

Chester Arthur: Implicated in vote stealing in Indiana and New York; lied about his health, concealing the fact that he was suffering from Bright's disease, a fatal kidney disorder.

Benjamin Harrison: Ignored corruption in the Pension Bureau; accepted a free house from special interests.

Grover Cleveland: Lied about his health, concealing an operation for cancer.

William McKinley: Appointed an inept senator as Secretary of War to create an open seat in the Senate for his campaign manager.

Theodore Roosevelt: Secretly connived with the leader of the Panamanian Revolution to cut a deal for the Panama Canal in time for the presidential campaign of 1904.

William Howard Taft: Allowed the State Department to negotiate arms contracts with foreign governments on behalf of U.S. companies.

Woodrow Wilson: Segregated the federal government; concealed two strokes he had suffered before he became president.

Warren G. Harding: Let the head of the Veterans Bureau get away with massive fraud without punishment; created an atmosphere in which corruption ran rampant through his administration leading to the Teapot Dome scandal.

Calvin Coolidge: Concealed a heart attack he suffered while president.

Herbert Hoover: First president to politicize the Internal Revenue Service, ordering the agency to go after his political enemies.

Franklin Roosevelt: Used the Internal Revenue Service to go after enemies (including Huey Long); waged war in the Atlantic in the spring of 1941 without the consent of Congress.

Harry Truman: Accepted gift of a freezer from a Milwaukee businessman; declined to press a federal investigation of a fraudulent election implicating old friends from a Kansas City political machine.

Dwight Eisenhower: Accepted a free farm from businessmen; concealed a heart attack suffered in 1949, three years before he became president.

John Kennedy: Concealed the fact that he suffered from Addison's disease; used the Secret Service to facilitate secret rendezvous with mistresses; carried on an affair with the mistress of one of the country's most notorious mobsters.

Lyndon B. Johnson: Released a misleading report on his personal finances, seriously understating the extent of his fortune; leaked secret FBI files on a businessman who alleged LBJ had taken a kickback; misled Congress on the Vietnam war.

Richard Nixon: Authorized illegal wiretaps; used the Internal Revenue Service to go after his enemies; covered up the break-in at the Democratic headquarters in Watergate; waged a secret war in Cambodia.

Ronald Reagan: Told the country that he had not authorized the trading of arms for hostages when he had.

George Bush: Gave a pardon to a former Secretary of Defense suspected of perjury in the Iran-Contra investigation.

Compiled by Richard Shenkman, author of "Presidential Ambition: How the Presidents Gained Power, Kept Power and Got Things Done," scheduled to be published this month by HarperCollins. Pub Date: 01/24/99

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