executive branch criminal acts by administration

I am curious about the accuracy of the numbers quoted. In particular, are the Republican numbers inflated or Democratic numbers deflated?

The original source says:

The chart below only includes people who served in the administration, and excludes others (like members of Congress and private individuals) who may have also been swept up and indicted for the same scandal. The “Convictions” list includes both those who went to trial and were found guilty as well as those who plea bargained and pleaded guilty.

Chart from original version of question, for those interested:

executive branch criminal acts by administration

  • 20
    The executive branch includes over 4 million people. All the numbers for indictments, convictions and sentences are way too low.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 14:39
  • 8
    The notable claim here appears (to me) to be that Republican administrations are significantly more criminal than Democratic, which implicitly disregards crimes by those members of the executive branch that aren’t a part of the administration (as a rough metric, ignoring those posts that are unaffected by presidential elections).
    – alex_d
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 15:15
  • 6
    @alex_d I would recommend replacing the current chart with one of the ones provided by the original source. That article has a lot of information about the methodology and data used to reach the presented numbers, while the current image does not. Even if you aren't specifically focused on Trump, including that image from an unknown source makes the claim seem less notable than using an image from the linked article. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 16:00
  • 9
    @alex_d "More indictments" doesn't necessarily mean "more criminal." It can also mean that the government is more willing to prosecute wrongdoers in the administration instead of protecting them, for example. For example, there were several instances of both Clinton herself and her aides lying under oath, but none were ever prosecuted (even aside from the mishandling of classified information, of which they were also deemed by the FBI to be guilty, but not charged due to lack of evidence that they understood proper handling protocol.)
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 19:55
  • 2
    @probably_someone right, but OP means that the blue and red chart was the chart the question originally asked about (and I originally answered) and then the other chart was added.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 12:09

3 Answers 3


Wikipedia has a list of American federal politicians convicted of crimes. This list is broken down first by administration, and then by branch of government.

For the executive branch this list has:

In addition to the Wikipedia list:

Obama appointee William Mendoza

Mendoza pleaded guilty to attempted voyeurism ... and was sentenced to ninety days incarceration (suspended), one year of supervised probation and a $100 dollar assessment for the Victims of Violent Crime Act.

W. Bush appointee James Steven Griles

Clinton appointee Henry Cisneros

Clinton administration Agriculture Chief of Staff Ronald H. Blackley was convicted and sentenced to 27 month. The judge said this is the second highest position in the Department of Agriculture, but I don't see any evidence the he was a presidential appointee.

Reagan appointee Thomas Demery

Reagan appointee Philip D. Winn (later pardoned by Clinton)

Reagan appointee Robert McFarlane

Reagan appointee William Paul Thayer

Reagan appointee Rita M. Lavelle

If the entire executive branch is considered, there are multitude of other people that have been convicted.


The original source of the table actually lists the names of the people being included, with the exception of Nixon people, where only 19 of the supposed 76 people are listed.

A double standard was used. For example Eric Holder and Anne Gorsuch Burford were both held to be in contempt of congress, but neither was prosecuted. The original source of the table doesn't mention Eric Holder at all, and falsely states that Anne Gorsuch Burford was convicted. It was stated that only appointees were being considered for Obama, but non-appointees were included for other presidents. The source falsely states that J. Lynn Helms was convicted, when in fact he merely signed a consent order agreeing not to, in the future, do a certain municipal bond activity, and insisting that his signature had been forged, and 3 years latter the forger was convicted of the forgery.

Roughly, considering just political appointees + Spiro Agnew, for crimes while appointed, including people pardoned after conviction, the "convicted" column of the table should be:

Obama (2)
G.W.Bush (9)
Clinton (3) [excluding Blackley]
G. H. W. Bush (1)
Reagan (9) [excluding Dean, Gaines and Cohen]
Carter (0)
Ford (0)
Nixon (10)

  • 1
    Instead of saying "There are some possible interpretations for which this chart is wrong" can we consdier those that might be right? How about starting this by restricting it to "presidential appointees"? And let's exclude misdemeanors while we are at it. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:49
  • 1
    @DJClayworth Sure, you could give an answer that says that if we select just the right subset of the executive branch, just the right subset of "crimes", and add in just the right people who were never even in the executive branch but were "people who worked with the President before they ran, during their campaign, and after inauguration", then the chart is right! But I don't give those kinds of answers.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:58
  • It'd be nice to have a summary that indicates whether these numbers are (broadly?) consistent with the graphics in question.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 3:52
  • 1
    @Oddthinking ok, I added a summary
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 19:14

The chart frames the discussion around different administrations; so the discussion is about what is unique to an administration (this is the only interpretation I can make in good-faith). The image draws attention to the fact that in recent history, there have been several administrations with much more criminal activity than others, and what these administrations have in common is that they are Republican.

Wikipedia has a quick summary of notable political scandals at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_federal_political_scandals_in_the_United_States . Here's a quick tally without finessing the data: count the number of bullet points for each administration. This overcounts by including data points that aren't in the OP image, like the Niger uranium forgeries (no one was indicted, arrested, or served jail time). Additionally, data is skewed towards the present (older administrations have fewer entries). But this should give a rough comparison by "degree of scandal" in a administration. Sub bullets on the list include notable individuals that were convicted or pardoned (e.g., in Watergate) so I've included a count of those as well.

Administration                Party Bullets sub-bullets total
Barack Obama (2009–2017)      D     8       2           10
George W. Bush (2001–2009)    R    37      27           64
Bill Clinton (1993–2001)      D     5       0            5
George H. W. Bush (1989–1993) R     3       6            9
Ronald Reagan (1981–1989)     R    20      31           51
James E. Carter (1977–1981)   D     1       0            1
Gerald Ford (1974–1977)       R     1       0            1
Richard M. Nixon (1969–1974)  R     8      16           24  

You can start debating items on the list, like how much of Iran-Contra should be under Reagan vs Bush. But I think this wikipedia list at least corroborates the general message that Nixon, Reagan, and W. Bush have had more political issues than other presidents.

But this wikipedia list isn't perfect. It doesn't include things like Nixon sacrificing 22,000 American lives to win the election (no one was indicted, arrested, or served jail time). Or the first US-ordered drone killing of a US citizen, under Obama (no one was indicted, arrested, or served jail time). I also came across an unmentioned incident under Clinton: "Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros was indicted by a federal grand jury" ( cnn ).

The book Corruption and American Politics highlights these scandals:

  • Nixon: Watergate (in three incidents)
  • Reagan: "the list of administration luminaries who were in ethical trouble is quite long"
  • (no mention of H. Bush)
  • Clinton: "serial affairs and dishonesty", "Starr Investigation"
  • "a good case can be made that George W. Bush deserves to be ranked among the most corrupt in American history..." (but thinks it's still too soon in 2010 to give an accurate reflection of the presidency)

I'm not sure that Clinton should really be in the same category as Nixon and Reagan, but I wanted to include this perspective.

(Sorry for not being definitive in this conclusion, but that's my inner skeptic.) I think that the source for the image spends a lot of time discussing methodology and data sources, something a lot of internet meme posts don't do. At a high level, the methods and data are sound. Second, the original image is broadly supported (again, at a high level) by data from wikipedia. (Note: I am not citing a single statement as fact, but aggregating a set of statements; this should be more accurate). This broadly agrees with the book Corruption and American Politics, though perhaps the Clinton administration should be perceived as less pristine than initially portrayed in the source image.

Closing thoughts: It's true that Nixon, Reagan, and W. Bush had more political scandals than other presidencies; on the low end of "scandalness," are Clinton and H. Bush. I don't think the (R) next to their names is a sign of correlation to scandal though. For instance, Ford and H. Bush both had fewer problems than other Republican administrations.

  • 2
    I'm uncomfortable about confounding "scandals" with "arrests". There are plenty of examples of scandals that are not crimes. [ e.g. ]
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 3:43
  • @Oddthinking The true original story (dailykos.com/stories/2017/1/11/1619079/…) containing the chart, expressly states "I ultimately relied on Wikipedia’s list of federal political scandals in the U.S., but limited it to only the executive branch scandals that actually resulted in a criminal indictment" where the list is the list in this answer. So the source is important to the history of graph, but doesn't fully address the degree of truth of the graph.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 16:50

No, the graphics are incorrect.

The graphic talks about "Executive Branch Criminal Activities". The Executive Branch is a well-defined term of the US Government, and includes many departments and government corporations.

Nidal Hasan was a member of the executive branch (in particular, the United States Army Medical Corps) during Barack Obama's presidential administration. He was convicted of 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder for his November 5th, 2009 attack. He was sentenced to death.

However, the graphics suggest no members of the executive branch received indictments, convictions or sentences during the Obama administration.

Therefore, they are technically incorrect by official definitions.

  • 58
    It is clear from context that in this chart "Executive Branch" means presidential appointees and members of the White House staff, rather than all members of the executive branch. Referencing Nidal Hasan as a counterexample is facetious.
    – antlersoft
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 15:52
  • 6
    @antlersoft the OP's linked source admits that the graphic is wrong and that the numbers include "individuals associated with each President’s private business, campaign, or appointed executive office". It also admits that people in foreign countries are included only for the current administration.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 16:04
  • 3
    @DavePhD, -1. Since you quoted the linked source you must have missed the part where he said he "used the term 'Administration' to include both White House officials as well as other Cabinet and Executive Branch officials..." and this does not include "civil service or career federal employees, ... unless they have a direct relationship with the candidate." Hasan fits none of these criteria.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 20:27
  • @CramerTV The original source of the graph doesn't say that dailykos.com/stories/2017/1/11/1619079/… You are quoting from a later story written almost 2 years after the graph was made.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 17:05

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