The Biggest Donald Trump Scandals (So Far)

White House Insiders Describe an Administration in Chaos

Donald Trump on the White House grounds
President Donald Trump walks to the White House from the South Lawn in June 2017. Alex Wong/Getty Images

It didn't take long for Donald Trump's presidency to become mired in scandal and controversy. The list of Donald Trump scandals grew long soon after he took office in January 2017. Some had their roots in his use of social media to insult or attack political enemies and foreign leaders. Others involved a revolving door of staffers and senior officials who either quick or were fired. The most serious Trump scandal, though, emerged from Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the president's efforts to undermine the investigation into the matter. Some members of Trump's own administration grew concerned about his behavior. Here's a look at the biggest Trump scandals so far, what they're about and how Trump responded to the controversies surrounding him. 

The Russia Scandal

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied his country sought to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. : Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images Contributor

The Russia scandal was the most serious of the controversies surrounding the Trump presidency. It involved a number of key players besides the president himself, including the national security adviser and the FBI director. The Russia scandal had its origins in the general election campaign between Trump, a Republican, and former U.S. Sen. and onetime Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. Both the FBI and CIA said hackers who targeted the Democratic National Committee and the private emails of Clinton’s campaign chairman were working for Moscow. U.S. intelligence agencies said later that Russia was working to sow dissent and confusion among American voters in an attempt to undermine its democratic institutions.

What the Scandal Is About

At its core this scandal is about national security and the integrity of the American voting system. That a foreign government was able to interfere in a presidential election to help one candidate win is an unprecedented breach. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it had "high confidence" the Russian government sought to help win the election for Trump. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary (Hillary) Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report stated.

What Critics Say

Critics of Trump have said they are troubled by the connections between the Trump campaign and Russians. They successfully called for an independent special prosecutor to get to the bottom of the hacking. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was later appointed as a special counsel to handle the investigation into campaign ties between Trump and Russia.

Some Democrats began talking openly about the prospect of impeaching Trump. “I know that there are those who are talking about, ‘Well, we’re going to get ready for the next election.' No, we can’t wait that long. We don’t need to wait that long. He will have destroyed this country by then," Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California said. In 2018, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly suggested he secretly record Trump in the White House to "expose the chaos consuming the administration" and was said to have discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amenment, which allows for the forceful removal of a president. Rosenstein denied the reports.

What Trump Says

The president has said the allegations of Russian interference are an excuse used by Democrats still smarting over an election they believed they should have been able to win easily. "This Russia thing - with Trump and Russia - is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won," Trump has said.

The Firing of James Comey

James Comey
Former FBI Director James Comey leaves a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in 2017. Drew Angerer/Getty Images News

Trumped fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 and blamed senior Justice Department officials for the move. Democrats had viewed Comey with suspicion because, 11 days before the 2016 presidential election, he announced he was reviewing emails found on a laptop computer belonging to a Hillary Clinton confidant to determine whether they were relevant to the then-closed investigation of her use of the personal email server. Clinton later blamed Comey for her loss. Wrote Trump to Comey: “I ,,, concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."

What the Scandal Is About

At the time of his firing, Comey was directing the investigation into Russians interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether any of Trump's advisers or campaign staff had colluded with them. Trump's firing of the FBI director was seen as a way to halt the investigation, and Comey later testified under oath that Trump asked him to drop his investigation of the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn had misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. 

What Critics Say

Critics of Trump clearly believe Trump's firing of Comey, which was abrupt and unexpected, was a clear attempt to interfere with the FBI's investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 election. Some said it was worse than the cover-up in the Watergate scandal, which led to President RIchard Nixon's resignation. “Russia attacked our democracy and the American people deserve answers. President Trump’s decision to make this move ... is an attack on the rule of law and raises more questions that demand answers. Firing the FBI Director does not place the White House, the President, or his campaign above the law," said Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Even Republicans were troubled by the firing. Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee."

What Trump Says

Trump has called coverage of the Russia investigation "fake news" and said there is no evidence Russia changed the outcome of the presidential election. The president tweeted: "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" Trump has said he looked forward to "this matter concluding quickly. As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity."

The Resignation of Michael Flynn

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is pictured here in Washington, D.C. Mario Tama/Getty Images News

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was tapped by Trump to be his national security adviser in November 2016, just days after the presidential election. He resigned the position after just 24 days on the job, in February of 2017 after The Washington Post reported that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his meetings with a Russian ambassador to the United States.

What the Scandal Is About

The meetings Flynn had with the Russian ambassador were portrayed as being potentially illegal, and his alleged cover-up of them concerned the Justice Department, which believed his mischaracterization made him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. Flynn was said to have discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the ambassador. 

What Critics Say

Critics of Trump saw the Flynn controversy as further evidence of the presidential campaign's ties to Russia and its possible collusion with Russia to damage Clinton.

What Trump Says

The Trump White House was more concerned about leaks to the news media that about the actual nature of Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador. Trump himself reportedly asked Comey to drop his investigation of Flynn, saying, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” according to The New York Times.

Public Service and Private Gain

Donald Trump inaugural ball
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump dance at the Freedom Ball on January 20, 2017. Kevin Dietsch - Pool / Getty Images

Trump, a wealthy businessman who operates country clubs and resorts, has reportedly profited from at least 10 foreign governments during his time as president. The include the Kuwaiti Embassy, which booked the Trump hotel for an event; a public-relations firm hired by Saudi Arabia that spent $270,000 on rooms, meals and parking at Trump's hotel in Washington; and Turkey, which used the same facility for a government-sponsored event.

What the Scandal Is About

Critics argue Trump's acceptance of payments from foreign governments violates the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which bans elected officials in the United States from accepting gifts or other valuables from foreign leaders. The Constitution states: "No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

What Critics Say

Dozens of lawmakers and several entities have filed suit against Trump alleging violations of the clause, including the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Trump is the framers’ worst-case scenario — a president who would seize office and attempt to exploit his position for personal financial gain with every governmental entity imaginable, across the United States or around the world,” Norman Eisen, the chief White House ethics lawyer for Obama, told The Washington Post.

What Trump Says

Trump has dismissed such claims as being "without merit" and has remained defiant about maintaining ownership of his vast network of real estate and business holdings.

Trump's Use of Twitter

Donald Trump on Twitter
One of President Donald Trump's tweets is on display in a museum. Drew Angerer/Getty Images News

The most powerful elected official in the universe has an army of paid spokesmen, communications staffers and public-relations pros working to craft the messages coming from the White House. So how did Donald Trump choose to talk to the American people? Via the social-media network Twitter, without a filter and often in the wee hours of the night. He's referred to himself as "the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters." Trump was not the first president to use Twitter; the microblogging service came online when Barack Obama was president. Obama used Twitter, but his tweets were carefully vetted before being broadcast to millions of people.

What the Scandal Is About

There is no filter between the thoughts, ideas and emotions held by Trump and the expression of them on Twitter. Trump has used tweets to mock foreign leaders in times of crisis, hammer his political foes in Congress and even accuse Obama of bugging his office in Trump Tower. "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" Trump tweeted. The claim was unsubstantiated and quickly debunked. Trump also used Twitter to attack London Mayor Sadiq Khan shortly after a terrorist attack in 2017. "At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is 'no reason to be alarmed!'" Trump tweeted.

What Critics Say

The idea that Trump, whose bombastic and brash manner of speaking is off-putting in diplomatic settings, is posting what amount to be official statements without being advised by White House staff or policy experts worries many observers. “The idea he would tweet without anyone reviewing it or thinking about what he’s saying is frankly pretty frightening,” Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., told Wired.

What Trump Says

Trump has no regrets about any of his tweets or even using Twitter to communicate with his supporters. “I don’t regret anything, because there is nothing you can do about it. You know if you issue hundreds of tweets, and every once in a while you have a clinker, that’s not so bad,” Trump told a Financial Times interviewer. “Without the tweets, I wouldn’t be here . . . I have over 100 million followers between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Over 100 million. I don’t have to go to the fake media.”