From the impeachment of former President Donald Trump to the downfall of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 2021 wasn’t short on political scandals as the coronavirus pandemic continued to grip the world.
Here’s a look back at the political scandals that rocked the country:
President Biden’s haste in ending the war in Afghanistan faced widespread global backlash in August after the Taliban retook the country in a matter of 11 days, 20 years after their ouster by U.S.-led forces.
On Aug. 18, three days after Taliban insurgents completed their takeover by seizing the capital of Kabul, President Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that the U.S. military would stay in the country until we “get them all out,” referring to the remaining Americans and Afghan allies and their families. The State Department revealed last week that more than 500 U.S. citizens had been left behind in the Taliban-controlled country.
On Aug. 26, during the U.S. military’s chaotic mass evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, suicide bombers killed at least 183 people, including 13 U.S. service members. The U.S. retaliated by launching two drone strikes against suspected ISIS-K terrorist, one of which ended up killing ten Afghan civilians, including seven children.
The U.S. military completed its evacuation on Aug. 30, one day ahead of deadline, leaving U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghan allies behind. The State Department said last week that nearly 500 U.S. citizens had been evacuated in the months following the withdrawal and that a handful still remain today.
Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump impeachment
On Jan. 6, an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an apparent effort to halt the certification of President Biden’s Electoral College win.
One of the rioters was fatally shot by Capitol police, another person died after suffering a drug overdose and two others died naturally from medical events. One Capitol police officer died from a stroke the day after responding to the riot, and four other officers who responded to the riot committed suicide in the months following.
Trump, who still claims the election was stolen from him, was impeached by the House one week after the riot for “incitement of insurrection,” with ten Republicans voting in favor, the most pro-impeachment votes ever from a president’s party. Trump left office on Jan. 20 and was acquitted by the Senate more than three weeks later.
The Jan. 6 riot is still being investigated by a House select committee.
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace on Aug. 23 amid multiple scandals, including allegations that he sexually harassed numerous female staffers and created a hostile work environment, that he purposely underreported the number of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths for political purposes, and that he improperly used state personnel and resources to develop his book. The New York state Assembly Judiciary Committee concluded its impeachment investigation last month, saying it found evidence to support the allegations.
The former governor, who was charged with a misdemeanor in October for allegedly groping a female aide, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, Cuomo was ordered by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to relinquish $5.1 million in proceeds from his book to the state attorney general’s office after deciding he violated state ethics laws to publish it.
The scandal also cast a light on Cuomo’s younger brother, Chris Cuomo, a former CNN primetime host who was fired this month after a second woman came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.
CNN had already placed the younger Cuomo on leave on Nov. 30 for his role in aiding his brother’s defense against the sexual harassment allegations plaguing the then-governor.
The younger Cuomo had admitted to an earlier allegation in September by another woman who said he inappropriately grabbed her in 2005.
Biden’s border crisis
Democrats wailed over the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration. During the 2016 presidential election, Biden described “horrifying scenes” at the border of “kids being kept in cages” and federal agents “ripping children from their mothers’ arms.”
Vice President Kamala Harris at the time accused Trump of “putting babies in cages” and committing “human rights abuse.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was famously photographed weeping outside a migrant detention facility in Tornillo, Texas.
But the “cages,” or chain-link indoor enclosures to hold migrants at the border facilities, were built by the Obama administration, under which Biden served as vice president — and they are still being used today by the current president. In fact, the Biden administration reopened several facilities that were closed under Trump to deal with the surge of illegal immigration since he took office.
And yet Democrats have remained noticeably silent. Harris, who was appointed border czar in March, was criticized for not taking a trip to the border for nearly 100 days after her appointment, raising eyebrows after she finally took a trip to Guatemala to address the root causes of the border crisis instead of the actual border.
She finally traveled to El Paso, Texas, in June for her first visit, which some critics blasted as a photo-op. She had previously repeatedly laughed off questions about whether she would take the trip.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of migrants continue to flood over the U.S.-Mexico border without being vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Biden mandates vaccines for Americans who work in the federal government, including Border Patrol agents, and for large private businesses.
The Andrew Cuomo scandal highlighted the shortcomings of the anti-sexual harassment #MeToo and #TimesUp movements after an explosive report by New York state Attorney General Letitia James said executives of Time’s Up, a group that supports victims of sexual harassment, helped the then-governor draft a letter that smeared one of his accusers and “impugned” her credibility.
Roberta Kaplan, who co-founded the Time’s Up legal defense fund with CEO Tina Tchen during the height of the #MeToo movement, resigned from the organization after being named in James’ report. Tchen resigned weeks later after she, too, was implicated in the report.
Time’s up announced last month that it is laying off most of its 25-member staff at the end of the year and its interim CEO will depart, as the women’s rights organization looks to be “rebuilt from the ground up” in light of its mismanagement.
The Lincoln Project has faced a rash of scandals since it was founded by disgruntled ex-Republicans in late 2019.
In January, allegations surfaced that the left-wing PAC’s co-founder John Weaver sexually harassed a number of young men, including minors, and that a number of the co-founders were warned about his predatory behavior. A law firm hired by the group later found that there was no evidence any employees knew about the inappropriate communications. Critics have questioned the independence of the investigation, given multiple firm members had financial ties to the Lincoln Project.
The group also faced questions about its finances and funneling of donor money to co-founder firms, the posting of private messages by co-founder Jennifer Horn with a reporter investigating the group, and accusations of a toxic and sexist work environment.
Most recently, the group was heavily criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for a bizarre stunt in which it planted fake protesters outside the campaign bus of then Virginia-gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in outfits similar to those worn by “Unite the Right” demonstrators at the notorious 2017 Charlottesville rally.
Under the Trump administration, congressional Democrats fervently hyped the infamous dossier by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele but have been noticeably silent, even defiant, after Special Counsel John Durham further discredited the already debunked document by arresting Igor Danchenko, the Russian analyst believed to have been the dossier’s primary sub-source, for allegedly making false statements to the FBI.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, dramatically read some of the most explosive claims from the dossier into the Congressional Record during the March 2017 House Intelligence Committee hearing, including the now-debunked claim that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia.
The dossier, which has been thoroughly debunked, including by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, served as the basis for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and it was originally commissioned by a research firm hired by Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias.
Schiff remained defiant on ABC’s “The View” last month for his longtime promotion of the dossier, saying his team “couldn’t have known” that Danchenko had allegedly lied to Steele.
On Monday, The New York Times podcast “The Daily” broke down the history of the “profoundly flawed” dossier, with host Michael Barbaro commenting the document should never have had the level of media and political impact it did.
Kamala Harris’ office
Vice President Kamala Harris’ communications director, Ashley Etienne, and senior adviser to the vice president and chief spokesperson Symone Sanders recently announced their departures, fueling reports of a toxic work environment that have plagued the vice president since she took up the post less than a year ago.
One former staffer who worked for Harris before she was vice president told The Washington Post earlier this month that Harris is a “bully” who subjects her employees to “a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism.”
“People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses and it’s an abusive environment,” one person with direct knowledge of how Harris’ office is run told Politico back in June. “It’s not a healthy environment and people often feel mistreated. It’s not a place where people feel supported but a place where people feel treated like s—.”
Politico reported this month that other key members in Harris’ office are “eyeing the exits” after Etienne and Sanders called it quits.
The White House has downplayed the departures, with Biden press secretary, Jen Psaki, saying it’s “natural” for staffers to be ready to “move on.”
Democrats and media figures were quick to condemn what they described as a racist and homophobic attack against actor Jussie Smollett in 2019, blaming it on a culture of hate fostered by then-President Trump. Their words came back to bite them this month after a jury found Smollett guilty of five of six charges in connection to allegations that he staged the attack on himself in downtown Chicago nearly three years ago.
Smollett originally told police that on Jan. 29, 2019, two masked men attacked him outside his apartment at 2 a.m. in Chicago, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, threw chemicals on him, looped a noose around his neck, and told him he was in “MAGA country.” Smollett spent a night in the hospital following the incident and was released without any serious injuries.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates immediately condemned the alleged attack. Harris, then a California senator, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., expressed solidarity with Smollett at the time and both blasted the alleged attack as “an attempted modern-day lynching.” Biden, also a candidate at the time, tweeted, “We are with you, Jussie,” and that “homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki hedged on a question about whether there are any “lessons learned” from rushing to judgment on the Smollett case, saying during a Dec. 10 press briefing, “I think there are lessons learned perhaps for everybody who commented at the time, including former President Trump.”
A Wisconsin jury’s acquittal last month of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men during a Black Lives Matter riot in Kenosha last year, drew left-wing condemnation after he was found to have acted in self-defense. The trial was highly politicized and the criticism from progressives stemmed, in part, from Rittenhouse’s open carrying of a semi-automatic rifle and the fact that he is White. While the men Rittenhouse shot were also White, critics argued the teenager received more lenient treatment from law enforcement than any Black teen would.
Democrats, including Biden, have repeatedly tried to accuse Rittenhouse of being a White supremacist, even though there has been no evidence linking him to any racist groups or ideologies. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden shared an image of Rittenhouse in a video he tweeted attempting to link Trump to White supremacists. He also attempted to paint Rittenhouse as a White supremacist during a CNN appearance before the election.
Still Psaki recently defended Biden’s characterizations of Rittenhouse, saying, “President Trump … didn’t just refuse to condemn militia groups on the debate stage, he encouraged them throughout his presidency. So what we’ve seen are the tragic consequences of that – when people think it’s OK to take the law into their own hands instead of allowing law enforcement to do its job.”
After Rittenhouse’s acquittal, Biden struck a somber tone, saying he was “angry” and “concerned” about the verdict.
Rittenhouse has since said he is exploring all legal options against those he believes have defamed him.
Gamestop trading halt
Robinhood drew widespread outrage on Jan. 28 after it temporarily blocked traders from purchasing several volatile stocks touted on Reddit’s “WallStreetBets” forum, including GameStop, AMC Entertainment and Nokia.
GameStop was one of the most-shorted stocks on Wall Street before the sudden interest caused the stock price to surge. The trading frenzy triggered a “short squeeze,” costing hedge funds that bet against the stock billions of dollars. The stock surged more than 200% before Robinhood and other brokerages like Webull enacted a buying halt. Robinhood began accepting buys again the next day, but enacted a limit of just one share per user as of the close of trading. The stock’s value substantially declined in the following days.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, immediately called for an investigation into Robinhood’s decision to halt buying.
On Feb. 18, Robinhood CEO Vladimir Tenev testified before the House Committee on Financial Services, defending his company’s actions, saying it did not have the capital required by regulators to cover the requested trading volume.
In its IPO filing with the SEC in July, Robinhood disclosed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had executed a search warrant for Tenev’s cell phone as part of an ongoing probe into the GameStop short squeeze.
Last month, a Florida federal court dismissed one part of a proposed three-part class action lawsuit against Robinhood and other brokerages over the Gamestop saga, but two more tranches of the litigation, which combines claims from across the country, is forthcoming. Robinhood has moved to dismiss the claims, The New York Times reported.
Fox News’ Thomas Barrabi and Brandon Gillespie contributed to this report.