Right from politicians losing their positions over sexual-misconduct allegations to concerns of voter fraud in multiple midterm elections, 2018 was not without its share of political controversies.
Continue reading for a look at the most notable political scandals of the past year.
THE RUSSIA PROBE
Michael Cohen was once a trusted member of the Trump Organization and personal attorney and “fixer” to the president. But by year’s end, the man who once said he would “take a bullet” for President Trump had flipped on his former boss, cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Sometime In December, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress about a Trump real estate deal in Russia. Ahead of his sentencing, Cohen blamed his actions on “blind loyalty” to Trump, which he said led him “to take a path of darkness instead of light.” He told the judge he felt it was his duty to cover up the president’s “dirty deeds.”
Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing was nearly derailed after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct from when he was in high school and college.
Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor, alleged Kavanaugh attacked her at a house party in the early 1980s, claiming he pinned her to a bed, attempted to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming. At the time, Ford was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17 and allegedly intoxicated, she said.
Both Ford and Kavanaugh gave emotional testimony before the Senate in September. Ford detailed how the alleged assault has continued to impact her life; Kavanaugh tangled with Democratic lawmakers and vehemently denied the accusations.
Aside from Ford, two other women came forward with allegations of misconduct, although they did not testify before lawmakers. Deborah Ramirez claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while at a Yale University dorm party in the 1983-84 academic year; Julie Swetnick, represented by attorney Michael Avenatti, alleged she would often witness Kavanaugh and his friend “drink excessively and engage in highly inappropriate conduct, including being overly aggressive with girls and not taking ‘No’ for an answer” at parties.
Kavanaugh also denied these accusations. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley ultimately referred Avenatti and Swetnick for criminal investigation for a “conspiracy” to provide false statements to Congress. Senate Republicans would later release a report stating “there was no evidence to substantiate any of the claims of sexual assault made against Justice Kavanaugh.”
Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice in October.
All eyes turned to Florida during the midterm elections after razor-thin margins in Florida’s bitter Senate and gubernatorial races triggered recounts, with Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis winning, respectively.
Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes found herself at the center of the contentious election for her handling of the process. She had been elected three times, and her current term was not scheduled to end until 2020.
Scott accused Snipes of being “unwilling to disclose records revealing how many electors voted, how many ballots have been canvassed and how many ballots remained to be canvassed,” during the uncertainty about the races. Trump called for Snipes to be removed from office.
And she’s no stranger to controversy; earlier this year, Scott’s administration said it was monitoring her office after a judge ruled the county broke federal law by destroying ballots in Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s 2016 Democratic primary race against Tim Canova.
In 2016, Broward County was found in violation of the law when it posted early voting results online before polls closed; and in 2014, Snipes’ office had to scramble to send out new absentee ballots after it said some 58,000 voters did not receive them despite requesting them.
After the elections, Snipes first agreed to resign in early January. But Scott, Florida’s governor, suspended her from office at the end of November as he accused her of misfeasance and incompetence. Snipes later filed suit against Scott.
He was once seen as an advocate for the #MeToo movement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in May after four women accused him of physical and emotional abuse.
In a wide-ranging New Yorker report by Ronan Farrow, Schneiderman was accused of hitting and choking women without their consent.
Schneiderman, a vocal Trump critic, said he “strongly contests” the allegations but still resigned his position in light of the accusations.
Michelle Manning Barish told The New Yorker that Schneiderman “would get absolutely plastered five nights out of seven” and would slap her without her consent during sex. He also wanted to take her Xanax and would mock her appearance, she said.
“Taking a strong woman and tearing her to pieces is [Schneiderman’s] jam,” she said.
Another woman, Tanya Selvaratnam, alleged Schneiderman repeatedly called her his “brown slave” and required her to tell him she was “his property.” She, too, said he was physically abusive during sex.
Controversy after controversy followed Scott Pruitt, the former Environmental Protection Agency chief, during his time in the Trump administration. Pruitt served in the Cabinet role from February 2017 until July 2018.
The former Oklahoma attorney general was criticized for renting a Capitol Hill condo that was tied to a prominent fossil-fuels lobbyist for just $50 per night. He also spent millions of taxpayer dollars on security and travel expenses after he took over the EPA.
Another point of contention with Pruitt’s leadership at the EPA was the substantial pay raises two of his close aides received, despite the White House’s refusal to sign off on them. His chief of staff eventually took the fall for the raises.
Aside from Pruitt, multiple other Trump administration officials left this year. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his departure by the end of the year, after dealing with his own set of controversies. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is also leaving.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also left their positions in 2018.
While Tillerson’s departure from the Cabinet was initially lackluster, the former ExxonMobil chief and the president clashed hard in December. In a rare public appearance, Tillerson said he and Trump did not share a “common value system” and divulged he would often have to remind the president some of his plans would “violate the law.” Trump fired back, calling his former secretary of state “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”
VOTERS FRAUD CLAIMS
Accusations of fraud and ballot irregularities have bedeviled the House election in the 9th congressional district in North Carolina. Republican Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes out of nearly 283,000 cast in the district, but the race still has not yet been certified.
North Carolina election officials could decide to scrap the initial results and put together a new primary and general election. According to affidavits provided to the state elections board, one woman said she turned over a partially completed ballot, and the person who collected it said “she would finish it herself.”
Another woman said she voted early in person but still received an absentee ballot in the mail despite not requesting one.
McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County man who worked for the Harris campaign, has been flagged as a “person of interest” in the state elections board’s investigation.
Harris, a Baptist minister, has maintained he was “absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing” but is open to a new election if there is proof any irregularities could have influenced the outcome of the race. McCready initially conceded but retracted it later in December.
STORMY DANIEL’S LAWSUITS
Adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, sued Trump earlier this year over a nondisclosure agreement she signed regarding her relationship with the president. She has since become a household name.
Daniels has alleged she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney, said he paid Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket during the 2016 campaign in exchange for her silence about the alleged relationship. Trump has repeatedly denied the affair.
In March, Daniels sued Trump and Cohen for defamation over a tweet in which he denied her claims of being threatened by a man in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011. However, a federal judge ultimately tossed the suit.
Daniels has been ordered to pay Trump $293,000 in legal fees.