10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals
10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals

10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals

Khalid Elhassan - June 12, 2018

10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals
The wedding of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom in 1886. Wikimedia

Grover Cleveland Groomed a Child To Be His Wife

Raping a date and fathering an illegitimate child upon his victim was the worst thing (that we know of) about Grover Cleveland. However, it was not his only pervy act. Another item from his personal life, which would amount to an icky sex scandal if it happened today, was the iffy relationship between Cleveland and his eventual wife, Frances Folsom (1864 – 1947).

Frances Clara Folsom, was born in Buffalo, New York, the only surviving child of Oscar Folsom, a lawyer and longtime close friend of Cleveland. At age 27, the future president met his future wife and future First Lady shortly after she was born. Cooing over the newborn, Cleveland took an interest in baby Frances while she was still in swaddling clothes. He bought her a pram, used to babysit her as “Uncle Cleve”, and doted on her.

Frances’ father was killed in an accident while racing his carriage in 1875, and left no will. So a court-appointed Cleveland to administer his deceased friend’s estate. That brought him in even closer and more frequent contact with Frances. Cleveland became her new father figure and her hero. Unlike Frances’ real father, who had been notoriously careless of both his life and his family, “Uncle Cleve” was dependable, quite attentive, and doting. He continued to dote on her as she grew up, and at some point, things went from doting to grooming: Cleveland took to sending her flowers, with notes saying “I am waiting for my bride to grow up“.

People thought Cleveland was kidding, but as things turned out, he was in deadly earnest. After Cleveland was elected president and while Frances was in college, he sent her a letter proposing marriage and sweated her reply like a schoolboy. She agreed, and on June 2nd, 1886, as the Marine Band was conducted by John Philip Sousa, 21-year-old Frances Folsom wed the 49-year-old president in the White House’s Blue Room. To date, it is the only time a president was married in the White House or while in office.

10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals
George H.W. Bush and Jennifer Fitzgerald

George H.W. Bush Kept a Long Term Mistress For Decades

George Herbert Walker Bush (1924 – ) served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, before succeeding him in the Oval Office, serving a single term as America’s 41st president. Before that, his public service life included stints as a Congressman, an ambassador, and as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Throughout his public career, few knew that Bush, whose campaign platform included a family values plank, and who had been endorsed by The Moral Majority, had kept mistresses.

Unlike some other presidents on this list, Bush was never a compulsive womanizer – certainly nowhere close to the indiscriminate skirt-chasing levels of a JFK or LBJ. Instead, Bush maintained a few discrete relationships, which his wife Barbara tolerated because he was the soul of discretion, never humiliated her, and usually carried on his affairs out of town so as not to jeopardize his marriage. But he did carry on affairs – and they tended to be long-term ones. An example would one he carried out with an Italian woman, whom he kept in a New York City apartment in the 1960s.

However, the keeping mistresses far away routine changed when he came across Jennifer Fitzgerald, a 42 year old short and pretty blond divorcee. She worked as a personal assistant to one of Gerald Ford’s aides, and Bush was smitten when he met her. In 1974, Bush was appointed ambassador to China, and he arranged to have Fitzgerald join him there as his secretary.

Bush told friends that he chose Fitzgerald to act as a buffer between him and Henry Kissinger’s State Department, but few bought it. As one embassy staffer put it: “I don’t know what skills she brought to the job. She certainly couldn’t type“. Fitzgerald arrived in Beijing on December 5th, 1974, and the following day, Bush took her for a 12 day “diplomatic conference” in Hawaii.

Unlike his previous affairs, which Barbara Bush had turned a blind eye to, the situation with Fitzgerald was way more than a dalliance. As described by a close family friend: “It wasn’t just another woman. It was a woman who came to exert enormous influence over George for many, many years. … She became, in essence, his other wife … his office wife“. Barbara ended up burning her love letters with Bush, which she had treasured since World War II and went into a severe depression.

Bush did not stay in Beijing for long, and the following year, President Ford asked him to become his CIA Director. Bush accepted, but only on the condition that he be allowed to bring Fitzgerald with him to the CIA as his confidential assistant. A memo in Ford’s Presidential Library, dated November 23rd, 1975, states: “Please advise me as soon as you have completed office space arrangements for George Bush and Miss Fitzgerald“.

Bush traveled around the world as head of the CIA, and took Fitzgerald with him, while Barbara Bush spiraled into a deep depression that brought her to the brink of suicide on multiple occasions. The affair continued, even as Bush indulged in other dalliances, such as an intense but brief affair with a young photographer during the 1980 presidential campaign.

When the Reagan-Bush ticket won in 1980, Fitzgerald was brought along as a member of the vice-presidential staff. Tongues wagged, but Bush was deaf to them, and he kept his mistress by his side during his 8 years as vice president. When he ran for president in 1988, Bush appointed Fitzgerald as his liaison to Congress, and upon winning the election, he made her his chief of protocol. The affair finally ended after The New York Post exposed it during Bush’s failed 1992 reelection campaign.

10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals
Thomas Jefferson. Wisconsin Gazette

Thomas Jefferson Engaged in Rape, Pedophilia, and Incest With His Dead Wife’s Lookalike Sister

Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) was the other American president, aside from Grover Cleveland, whose sexual conduct involved what would count as clear-cut violent sexual criminality today. The Founding Father and leading member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence was a complicated man, to put it mildly. On the one hand, he penned some of the most stirring words in advocating freedom, liberty, and equality. Jefferson’s phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has moved and inspired idealists for centuries. On the other hand, Jefferson pursued his happiness in a hilltop plantation, Monticello, leading a life of luxury, that was only made possible by the labor of hundreds of chattel slaves.

He also had a creepy relationship with his slave, Sally Hemmings (1773 – 1835) – although calling it a “relationship” might be misleading: today, it would be considered straightforward rape. Sally Hemmings was a slave, kept in bondage by a brutal system in which violence, including deadly violence, was used to coerce its victims and secure their compliance. She had as much choice in submitting to Thomas Jefferson’s sexual demands as does a modern kidnapped victim, who finds herself chained for years in some psychopath’s basement.

Even if she had not been a slave, there would still have been something super creepy about the age disparity between Sally Hemmings and the famous Founding Father. Thomas Jefferson was 44 years old when he started having sex with Sally. She was all 13 or 14 years old. Even if she had been a willing participant, it would be considered statutory rape today: children that young simply lack the maturity to consent to sex.

Another layer of creepiness is that Thomas Jefferson’s child concubine was also his dead wife’s sister and lookalike. Sally Hemmings was the daughter of a slave woman and John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law. That made her the biological half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748 – 1782). Sally, who was 9 when her half-sister died, bore a striking resemblance to the deceased Martha, and the resemblance only increased as she grew. Jefferson missed his dead wife, so when her lookalike sister was 13 or 14, he slept with/ raped her.

In short, Thomas Jefferson having sex with Sally Hemmings would be an epic scandal if it had happened today, hitting just about every icky button there is. Pedophilia? Check. Incest? Check. Violence, coercion, and rape? Check, check, and check. Adding another layer to it all is that Jefferson fathered six children upon Sally, and kept them as slaves. He eventually got around to freeing his children, but he never freed his concubine: Sally Hemmings was still Thomas Jefferson’s slave when he died in 1826.

10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals
Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe. TMZ

John F. Kennedy, His Brother Bobby, and Marilyn Monroe

As seen in a previous entry, John F. Kennedy was a sex addict who had extramarital affairs more frequently than many people go grocery shopping. However, of all of JFK’s numerous affairs, none would probably produce as great a scandal and media firestorm today as his affair with Marilyn Monroe. It would make the media circus surrounding Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, or Trump and Stormy Daniels, look tame.

Monroe caught Kennedy’s eye after she made a spectacular entrance at a New York dinner party held in his honor in early 1962. He was immediately attracted to her, and they hooked up in Palm Springs soon thereafter. However, she took it more seriously than he did, and did little to hide what was going on. Her sultry “Happy Birthday” performance for JFK during a fundraising event in Madison Square Garden – in the presence of his wife, no less – fueled the rumor machines.

Tongues wagged about the barely concealed affair between the president and the blond bombshell. However, JFK was lucky in that the media of his day was nothing like today’s. Nonetheless, the gossip caused Kennedy to back away from Monroe and end things – to him, she was just one among dozens of pretty (and discrete) women he had slept with. To Monroe, he was the only president she had slept with, and she was not about to give up that easy. She kept calling the White House, trying to rekindle the affair, until JFK sent somebody over to convince her that it was over and that she needed to stop.

The affair’s aftermath would have made for a spectacular scandal in of itself had it taken place today. After JFK was done with Marilyn, he basically passed her on to Robert F. Kennedy, his younger brother and the United States’ Attorney General. RFK’s image was that of a happily married and devoted husband, raising a large and steadily increasing family that would eventually number 11 children. He was viewed as the most family-oriented and straitlaced of the Kennedy brothers, so there would have been a jarring contrast between that public perception and an affair with the iconic sex symbol.

Marilyn’s unexpected death a few months later would have made things even more explosive. The coroner ruled Monroe’s 1962 death a probable suicide via barbiturates, but conspiracy theories abounded, alleging that JFK or RFK had been involved. The sudden death of a former mistress of the president, who then became the mistress of his brother, the Attorney General and the president’s right-hand man? That would have made for a nonstop media-feeding frenzy today.

10 Historic Presidential Affair Scandals
Washington Times front page, re the Bush White House homosexual prostitution ring scandal. Veterans Today

A Gay Prostitution Ring Reached Into George H.W. Bush’s White House

The scandal of George H. W. Bush’s mistresses pales in comparison to the Bush White House’s gay prostitution ring scandal. The recent Pizzagate conspiracy theory, alleging that Hillary Clinton and high ranking Democrats ran a child prostitution ring in the basement of a Washington, DC, pizzeria (which had no basement) is pretty batsh*t. However, there was a time when a prostitution ring actually did reach into the White House – that of George H. W. Bush.

On June 29th, 1989, Washington’s conservative newspaper, The Washington Times, dropped a bombshell by running a story describing a gay prostitution ring that reached into Bush Senior’s White House. With a headline taking up the entire front page’s top, the Washington Times announced: “Homosexual Prostitution Inquiry Ensnares VIPS With Reagan, Bush: ‘Call Boys’ Took Tour of the White House“.

The details were just as salacious as the headline, describing a federal investigation into a gay prostitution ring whose clients included key officials of the Reagan and Bush administration, and US military officers. Some of the clients had the kind of access that enabled them to arrange 1 AM White House tours for their friends, including male prostitutes.

In a nutshell, during Bush’s time in office in the 1980s, both as vice president and as president, male and female prostitutes were routinely waltzing in and out of the White House. Even if Bush himself had not partaken – and the Washington Times dropped titillating hints that he actually might have – it is highly unlikely that he was unaware of what was going on. Especially considering that Bush had once headed the CIA.

Pentagon officials told the Times that, throughout the 1980s, military and civilian intelligence were worried that “a nest of homosexuals” high in the Reagan and Bush administrations might have been penetrated by Soviet agents. The concern was that young male prostitutes were being used to compromise high-ranking officials, and render them vulnerable to blackmail.

It was a huge story, and then… just like that, it disappeared. The US Attorney running the inquiry, who had initially cooperated with The Washington Times, suddenly clammed up, and the newspaper’s access to details about the inquiry dried up. The investigation was allowed to quietly gather dust before it was finally shelved, and just as quietly, dropped. It was an illustrative example of Washington, DC, effectively circling the wagons to snuff out a scandal that threatened to splatter dirt far and wide.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Cheat Sheet – Shocking Sex Scandals of Former US Presidents

Daily Beast, May 23rd, 2011 – Grover Cleveland’s Sex Scandal: The Most Despicable in American Political History

Guardian, The, January 22nd, 2018 – Why Lyndon Johnson, a Truly Awful Man, is My Political Hero

Monticello – Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemming: A Brief Account

Your Tango, November 21, 2013 – 11 Things You Didn’t Know About JFK’s Love Life

Politico, November 19th, 2013 – Sex in the Senate: Bobby Baker’s Salacious Secret History of Capitol Hill

Ranker – 16 Presidents You Never Knew Did Insanely Perverted Stuff

Rumpus, The, February 21st, 2011 – On This Presidents’ Day: A Brief History of Presidential Sex

Times, The, September 19th, 2004 – Mistress of Influence: Bush’s ‘Other Wife’

Washington Post, July 3rd, 2014 – The First Celebrity First Lady: Frances Cleveland

Wikimedia – Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston

History Collection – Scandals the US Founding Fathers Tried to Keep Secret

History Collection – 5 Political Scandals of the 1950s

History Channel – Historic Presidential Affairs That Never Made it To the Tabloids

History Collection – Terrible Facts about the American Founding Fathers that Didn’t Make it to the History Books

History Collection – Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers

Politico – America’s Horniest President