The Unfortunate History of Presidential Investigations

June 8, 2017

Inscribed on the fireplace mantel in the dining room of the White House is a prayer from former president John Adams.

I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.

We hold our elected officials to a high standard–as we should. But then the dirty business of politics gets in the way. The result? Officials, even our presidents, who mess up. It’s nothing new. In fact, history often repeats itself.

So, when a journalist claims something is “unprecedented” or “unheard of” it often only takes a little research to realize that almost nothing is “unprecedented” when it comes to our government.

trump comey

Trump greets Comey at a reception earlier this year

The latest FBI investigation into the Trump administration (well, his campaign staff) has reporters claiming all of those things.

Out of the loop?

Let’s rewind a bit to catch you up on the latest:

Remember that crazy presidential election a few months back? How could we forget. Well, today former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate. He’s the same FBI Director who led an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. This time though, he testified about President Trump.

It’s part of the Senate’s investigation into whether President Trump’s team was involved with Russia to interfere in those memorable elections. Not only is the Senate looking into the possible Russia ties, but the House and FBI have investigations happening too… which brings us to today’s Senate hearing.

Just last month, Pres. Trump fired FBI Director Comey. Trump initially said it was over the way Comey conducted the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Then the President said it may have also been about the investigation into his possible Russia ties. Since the firing, a bunch of memos were leaked to the press about meetings Comey had with Trump prior to losing his job (Comey today admitted to leaking those memos).

Those memos brought to light whether Trump tried to interfere in the FBI’s investigation over this whole Russia thing. So, Comey took the hot seat in the Senate today to clarify those interactions and what they meant exactly. During the hearing, Comey clarified that Trump wasn’t under investigation, but that could always change.

We may have a president who likes to do things his own way, but President Trump’s administration is hardly the first to be investigated by the FBI. Sure, you’ve heard of Nixon and Watergate and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, but you may be shocked to know other now-revered presidents in the last few decades have also come under review.

Here’s a little breakdown of other presidents and their administrations who’ve been in the hot seat too:


This one is a no brainer. We all know this FBI investigation in the 1970’s eventually became the downfall of President Nixon’s presidency. The ten second version is this: The covering up of a break-in into the Democratic National Committee led to the discovery of multiple abuses of power by members of the Nixon administration, and thus the resignation of Nixon himself.


Back in 1986, the FBI investigated Iran-Contra, the scandal over arms sales to Iran, that were under an arms embargo at the time. It was organized by Reagan officials to finance the Contras (right-wing militants in Nicaragua). A National Security Council staffer and National Security advisor were both indicted for their involvement, as well as several other members of the Reagan administration (including the Secretary of Defense). During the investigation, FBI Director William Webster said that President Reagan likely told the truth about being unaware of the scheme to divert funds to the Contras.

Whitewater/Filegate/both Bill and Hillary Clinton:

During the Clinton administration, several scandals were investigated by the FBI. We’ll start with Whitewater first. The Whitewater scandal had to do with a failed real estate venture both Clintons had invested in. This scandal spun off several others, including Filegate. This one had to do with the White House’s improper possession of FBI files on prominent Republicans. The White House reportedly claimed incompetence and not malice.


You all know the story of the White House intern, Monica Lewinsky that happened in the 90’s. This case was heavily investigated by the FBI, and brought to a grand jury. President Clinton became the first sitting president to testify before a grand jury investigating his conduct. It also went to trial for impeachment in Congress. The House of Representatives voted to issue Articles of Impeachment against him which was followed by a 21-day trial in the Senate, where he was acquitted.

Valerie Plame/George W. Bush

In 2003, the George W. Bush administration became under FBI investigation for the leaking of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Scooter Libby, an adviser to Vice President Cheney, was ultimately convicted in this scandal for lying to FBI agents during the investigation.


The bottom line is this: We always hope those who sit in the highest office in the land, and those associated with them, would hold themselves to higher standards. But that’s just not always the case. And, sadly, it’s a big part of our country’s history.

For Kids:

Many of the presidents involved in these “scandals” could argue that they weren’t directly involved in the controversy being investigated. In many cases, it was their staff or other officials who were part of their team. However, this is a good opportunity to remind your children that the company we keep is often just as important as our own actions, as poor behavior by close friends or associates often taints our own reputations as well. So, indeed the friends we choose matters–in some cases an awful lot.



Author: Brittany

Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.

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