The Biggest Scandals Surrounding The Clinton Family

For anyone who has followed American politics for the last 40 years, the names of Bill and Hillary Clinton are likely very familiar. Bill first entered public office in 1976, when he was elected to the Attorney General's office in his home state of Arkansas (via the White House). From 1978–1980 and 1982-1992, he served as Arkansas' 40th and 42nd governor, vacating the office upon winning the 1992 presidential election against incumbent George H.W. Bush. In 2001, Bill left the presidency and has since retired from public office.

Bill married Hillary in 1975, and their daughter Chelsea was born five years later in 1980. The couple met at Yale Law School a few years prior and have been together ever since (per the White House). Hillary served as first lady of Arkansas and of the United States during her husband's tenure. Following Bill's retirement, she entered public office herself, serving as the junior Senator for New York from 2001–2009. She left the Senate in 2009 to become a member of President Barack Obama's cabinet, serving as Secretary of State until 2013.

Though they have been two of the most influential politicians of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Clintons have not been strangers to controversy. Since Bill Clinton became president in 1992, they have been implicated in a number of questionable incidents. Though it's not all of them, these are the biggest scandals surrounding the Clinton family.

The Whitewater controversy

Of all the scandals surrounding Bill and Hillary Clinton, the most infamous besides his impeachment is probably the alleged Whitewater controversy. It all leads back to 1978, when Bill and Hillary bought 220 acres of land in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas (via The Washington Post). Their plan was to build vacation homes, and to do so they created the Whitewater Development Corporation with James and Susan McDougal. They worked together for a few years and James even loaned Hillary $30,000 in 1980.

In a separate business affair, James also opened a small bank called Madison Guaranty. Madison Guaranty was involved with Bill's presidential campaign, and Hillary also worked for them as an attorney. However, in 1986, McDougal ran into trouble from federal investigators and, in 1989, he was indicted on fraud charges. Though he was ultimately acquitted, a 1992 report from the Federal Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) alleged the Clintons may have benefited from his shady dealings at the bank.

During his first year as president, the RTC investigated Bill over Whitewater and his ties to McDougal. The following summer there were official Senate hearings on the matter, but the Clintons were exonerated of any wrongdoing. An independent counsel's report in 2000 also showed them to be innocent of any criminal allegations (via ABC News).

Vince Foster's suicide

One of the more tragic controversies involving Bill and Hillary Clinton was the suicide of Bill's longtime friend and White House aid Vince Foster. According to The Washington Post, Foster had worked with Hillary at her law firm before Bill became president, and, when he did, Foster signed on as his deputy counsel. However, less than six months into his tenure, Foster committed suicide not far from the White House. It was soon revealed that Foster was potentially second guessing his time in the Clinton White House, and police were initially stopped from gaining access to his private papers.

Though it appeared to be a suicide, and a few months later an investigation by the Justice Department concluded that Foster's death had been self-inflicted, conspiracy theories about the Clintons' potential involvement immediately came out. Another investigation by Robert Fisk in 1994 also pointed to suicide, but there was still yet another investigation done by independent counsel Kenneth Starr following Fisk's report.

The results of Starr's report, which was partly investigated by future Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, were released in 1997. Once again, Foster's manner of death by suicide was affirmed, but unfortunately conspiracy theories regarding the incident continued to circulate for years (via the Associated Press).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The Paula Jones lawsuit

On January 17, 1994, less than a year into Bill Clinton's presidency, a state clerk from Arkansas named Paula Jones accused him of sexual assault and filed a $700,000 lawsuit (via History). The allegations involved Clinton's time as Governor of Arkansas and Clinton initially tried to get the suit dismissed. The scandal was an issue leading up to his 1996 re-election campaign, which he ended up winning.

However, what was most damaging about the Jones lawsuit actually had nothing to do with Jones herself. During the discovery portion of the lawsuit, it emerged that Clinton had engaged in an extra-marital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Revelations of the affair led to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton and subsequent Senate trial, thoroughly damaging his image and the legacy of his time in office.

The Jones lawsuit went on for almost five years, until Clinton finally settled with her for $850,000 in late 1998 (per The Washington Post). As part of the terms of the settlement, Clinton did not have to admit to any wrongdoing.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The Monica Lewinsky affair and impeachment

If there is a single scandal you can credit with destroying the image of Bill Clinton, it was his affair with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent impeachment. According to History, the affair began in 1995 when Clinton was still in his first term as president. Lewinsky was an unpaid intern working at the White House at the time and was almost 30 years Clinton's junior. She later admitted to nearly a dozen different sexual encounters with the president over a period that lasted almost two years.

While working at the Pentagon, one of Lewinsky's coworkers, Linda Tripp, secretly recorded Lewinsky speaking about her liaisons with Clinton. Soon, the lawyers working on the Paula Jones lawsuit got wind of the tapes, but both Lewinsky and Clinton denied the affair to them. Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation, also got word of the affair and he began an investigation too. The sex scandal broke publicly in January 1998, and Clinton infamously went on TV and publicly denied the affair to the nation.

That September, Starr released his now famous report, which recommended Clinton be impeached on charges including perjury and obstruction of justice. A month later, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton on two charges, but he was ultimately acquitted during his Senate trial. The Clinton impeachment was the first in over 100 years, and he is one of just three presidents to be impeached, including Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump.

The Filegate scandal

Even though it was Bill Clinton who was serving as president, the first lady, Hillary Clinton, was not immune from scandals during his time in office. In 1999, Hillary was accused of violating the Privacy Act for illegally requesting and releasing information about former presidential appointees from the prior Bush and Reagan administrations (via the Associated Press). According to Judicial Watch, the group who represented those suing her over violating the act, Hillary released personal letters of Kathleen Willey after she alleged during a televised interview that Bill had sexually assaulted her.

The former staffers sued Hillary for $90 million, and she signed a declaration swearing to no wrongdoing (per Judicial Watch). However, in March 2000, federal Judge Royce Lamberth found that Hillary had in fact broken the Privacy Act. Hillary immediately appealed the decision, arguing that the president's office was immune to such violations. Clinton was involved in the lawsuit until 2009, when it was finally dismissed (via Jurist).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The 2012 Benghazi attacks

The 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks were some of the most shocking and tragic instances of violence in recent memory. At the time of the attacks, Hillary Clinton was a member of Barack Obama's cabinet, serving as the Secretary of State. Immediately after the attacks, she gave a press conference where she seemingly connected the attacks with protests that were also occurring at other U.S. embassies throughout the world, including in Cairo, Egypt (via the State Department). 

However, the very next day, her own State Department publicly disagreed with her, saying the protests and attack were completely unrelated (per CNN). Republicans in Congress immediately seized on this discrepancy, and they also alleged that she and the State Department had not done enough to stop the attacks from happening in the first place (via The New York Times). 

There were several investigations of Hillary and her actions, including a specially created House Select Committee on Benghazi, which was spearheaded by Trey Gowdy. The committee investigated Hillary and the incident for two years, at a cost of millions, but ultimately found no new evidence of intentional wrongdoing on her part.

The controversial Clinton Foundation

In 2001, following the end of his time as president, Bill and Hillary Clinton created the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation (per The Washington Post). The foundation was immensely successful, raising almost $2 billion in donations between then and 2015. The $2 billion was raised in part by contributions from Wall Street, as well as many foreign donors. According to the Post, foreign donors were some of the biggest contributors to the foundation, giving millions in donations.

The Clintons have argued that the foundation is solely used for philanthropic purposes, but others accused them of using it to acquire wealth. Many of the foreign donors were connected with foreign governments, some of whom Clinton worked with during her time as Secretary of State (via The Washington Post). Groups connected with donations were also found to be linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin (via The New York Times).

In 2018, the Clinton Foundation was subjected to an investigation by the Justice Department, which the Clintons claimed was the result of bad blood between them and President Donald Trump (via the BBC). However, the investigation had petered out two years later and the Clintons were never charged with any criminal wrongdoing (per The Washington Post).

The private email server debacle

During her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton came under fire for numerous scandals. However, the most politically damaging of all was probably the debacle over her private email server. According to Politico, the whole thing started when Hillary was informed that she was not allowed to have her personal email account on her government-issued phone due to security reasons. Instead of simply carrying two devices, or not having her personal email on her phone, Clinton created a private email server to run both government and personal emails from her personal phone.

Nobody found out about Clinton's duplicity at the time, and it wasn't until The New York Times reported about it in early 2015 that the public became aware. There was widespread public outrage at the time, though she was officially cleared of criminal wrongdoing, but not carelessness. Overall, there were more than 60,000 emails sent on the server (via the BBC), only half of which were initially turned over to the State Department.

Then, in October 2016, just prior to the election she ultimately lost to Donald Trump, FBI Director James Comey announced that there were further investigations into Clinton's emails (via The New York Post). According to The Times, some hold this as the reason why Clinton lost the election, though that's widely disputed. Following a 2019 investigation, 38 former staffers were cited for violations, but Clinton herself has never been charged with any wrongdoing (per the Associated Press).

The 1993 Travelgate controversy

One of the first controversies of Bill Clinton's presidency began within months of his taking office in 1993, and actually involved his wife Hillary Clinton. As per the Christian Science Monitor, shortly after the inauguration, the Clinton White House let go of several longtime staffers in the travel office due to personal reasons rather than professional. It was seen as a relatively minor scandal at the time and was easily overshadowed by the Vince Foster suicide.

However, in 1996, The New York Times reported on a draft of a memo that seemingly implicated Hillary in their firings. This completely contradicted the White House's official statement on the matter from 1993, and they characterized the new report as misleading. David Watkins, the former White House aide, had penned the draft memo, but was somewhat ambiguous in his response to it being released three years later.

An independent counsel was appointed to look into the matter, Robert W. Ray, and in 2000 he released a report. According to the Los Angeles Times, his report largely argued that Hillary had given false testimony, but the likelihood of a prosecutorial victory was slim, so he did not recommend any charges.

Hillary's false sniper fire comment

In 2008, while serving as Senator of New York, Hillary Clinton gave a speech at the prestigious George Washington University. During the speech, Clinton recalled her trip to Bosnia in 1996 while serving as first lady. As The Washington Post reported, Clinton claimed that she had landed in Bosnia "under sniper fire" and was in danger of being killed while being taken from the airport to the military base. 

However, her claim was almost immediately questioned by reporters, some of whom had been in Bosnia at the same time and did not recall any such event happening. CBS News immediately released footage of Clinton's landing in Bosnia, which showed her meeting with dignitaries instead of fleeing from a hail of bullets. 

Clinton later claimed that she had probably conflated the incident with another one by accident and had no intention of being purposefully misleading. It's unclear which incident Clinton may have been confusing it with, as any story of the president and the first lady dealing with live enemy snipers would most certainly have been front page news. In the end, the "sniper fire" comment was relatively minor, if not deeply embarrassing.

The Furnituregate scandal

In 2001, Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House after nearly a decade of service. They took with them cherished memories, lifelong friendships, oh, and about $190,000 worth of furniture and gifts. According to The Washington Post, when they left Washington, D.C., the Clintons took with them various gifts from their former residence, like furniture and artwork, to their new houses. Many of the donations had been given by celebrities, including Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen, Sylvester Stallone, and Steven Spielberg.

Eventually, the Clintons gave back or reimbursed more than $100,000 in gifts to the White House after immense public pressure (via ABC News). First, they made a statement saying they would pay back $86,000 worth of gifts, less than half of what they actually took. However, they later ended up returning further household goods a few months later. Clinton was the subject of intense criticisms from both Republican and Democrat politicians and had just recently been sworn in as the junior Senator for New York when the scandal was breaking.

Clinton Body Count

While both Bill and Hillary Clinton have been implicated in many legitimate scandals, they have also been subjected, at times, to rather bizarre conspiracy theories. One of the most questionable, but widespread, of these theories is known simply as the Clinton Body Count. As Snopes explains, the theory is that Bill has secretly been having people, like political opponents, murdered in cold blood on his behalf. There is absolutely no evidence to support any of these allegations against the Clintons, and most people have never seriously given it any credence.

Yet, those who believe in the Clinton Body Count posit him as responsible for the death of White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster in 1993, even though it has been investigated and determined to be a suicide multiple times. They also somehow hold him responsible for the death of James McDougal by heart attack in 1998 while McDougal was in prison. There are nearly 50 murders in all that have been variously attributed to the Clinton Body Count saga, but none of them have any significant evidence tying the Clintons to their deaths. The Clinton Body Count is definitely No. 1 on our bizarro Clinton scandals.

The Troopergate conundrum

In 1992, just after winning the presidential election, Bill Clinton found himself involved in a scandal relating to him having extra-marital affairs. It wasn't Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, or any of his other accusers, but instead the allegation revolved around his use of Arkansas state troopers to help him engage in the affairs.

According to The Washington Post, Roger Perry and Larry Patterson, two former troopers, claimed that during their time as Clinton's security detail, they helped him meet women in various locations, including the governor's mansion. Clinton denied the allegations immediately, and there were suggestions that the troopers had been paid to make false statements. It was also alleged that Clinton and his staff tried to silence public reports involving the scandal.

Years later, David Brock, the reporter who broke the original Troopergate scandal, basically recanted the story, calling his sources "greedy" and "slimy," and saying he wrote the story only to hurt Clinton politically (via the Los Angeles Times). Paula Jones used the original story in her lawsuit against Clinton, and it was later revealed that Brock had written the article as part of what essentially amounted to a conservative campaign to damage Clinton in the eyes of the American public (per the Los Angeles Times).

Bill's connection with Jeffrey Epstein

Of all the public relationships that Bill Clinton has had over the years, one of the most controversial is undoubtedly that with now disgraced former New York financier Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein, who died by suicide in 2019 while awaiting charges on sex trafficking minors, was previously one of the most successful investment bankers in New York. He had a ton of celebrity clients, but things came crashing down in 2008 when he was sentenced to just over a year in jail for child sex crimes, though he avoided what could have been a lengthy federal prison sentence due to a controversial deal with the district attorney.

Following revelations about the plea deal and his crimes, Epstein's former associates began to come under scrutiny, which included former President Clinton. It's unclear when they first got to know each other, but between 2002–2003 they took several international trips together on Epstein's private jet, which Clinton claims were connected with the Clinton Foundation, and they also visited each other's houses in New York.

While Clinton has strongly denied any wrongdoing or any connections with inappropriate behavior, on January 3, 2024, a host of documents relating to Epstein's case were released, and Clinton was named in them. According to one deposition, Johanna Sjorberg testified that Epstein had told her that "Clinton likes them young," though she did not elaborate. Clinton himself has not faced any direct accusations or prosecutions, but Sjoberg's testimony was certainly disturbing.