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Best of the Decade: Dana Milbank's favorite political scandals

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Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, December 14, 2009; 1:15 PM

After a decade full of political scandals, which ones had the right mix of salaciousness, corruption and absurdity to make Post columnist Dana Milbank's top 10 list?

Dana was online Monday, Dec. 14 at 1:15 p.m. ET to discuss his selections and share your fond reflections.

Read the archived discussions and subscribe to this discussion.

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washingtonpost.com: Dana is running a little late and will be online at 1:15. We apologize for the delay.

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Dana Milbank: Sorry for the delay. Was just out in the White House driveway for a couple of hours looking for fat cats. Am back in the office now and the fingers are still cold and moving a bit slowly. But I am warmed by all the interest in scandals this afternoon.

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McLean: Dana, is your tardiness due to some personal tawdriness? Is there something you'd like to share with us?

Dana Milbank:

In part, yes. While I was awaiting fat cats, I was also discussing with colleagues in the White House press corps a terrible disgrace that has befallen me. For the first time in a decade or so I have not been invited to the White House Christmas party for the press, which occurs this evening. I am thinking of attempting a Salahi. What do you think, dear readers?

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South Carolina: Mark Sanford anyone? Or am I still hiking the Applacian Trails?

Dana Milbank: Very tough call. He was actually my #11. I did not put him higher because I think he is more in our minds because the scandal is so fresh, but over time it will not seem so nefarious.

Here are all my runners-up:

Mark Sanford

David Vitter

Tom DeLay

Trent Lott

Ted Stevens

Washingtonienne

George Allen

Cynthia McKinney

Jeff Gannon

John Ensign

Jim McGreevy

Don Sherwood

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Los Angeles: Why shouldn't George W. Bush be considered one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history and a scandal? Bush entered office with a budget surplus, cut Federal taxes especially for the rich and increased unfunded spending (e.g., Medicare Part D) adding billions to the deficit, fought two wars (one unnecessary) without increasing taxes or expanding the Military, used Federal money for mercenaries (so-called contractors) to do things the US Military could/should do, and left office with the U.S. facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. And now he is being as a motivational speaker. Go figure.

Dana Milbank:

On the positive side, he did invite me to the White House Christmas party.

Scooter Libby is my stand-in for the GWB scandals. It is a heavy burden to bear but I believe he is up to the task.

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Alexandria, Va.: Even though Spitzer got all the press, I'm still voting for Vitter (R-Madam) and Ensign (R-$Mommy)

Dana Milbank: Vitter got quite a run, but I do think one of the most underappreciated scandals of the decade was Ensign, for precisely the reason you sort of mention: his parents' money being paid to benefit the mistress. Indeed, if not for the Sanford scandal overtaking it, he would have won much more of the nation's attention.

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Downtown DC: My favorite scandals aren't the heavy-duty ones like Abramoff that ruined people and careers and affected laws. They're the juicy ones where someone(s) was completely stoopid. Like Condit going all the way to Old Town to sneakily drop a watch box in a trash can, or Spitzer dissing our homegrown call girls in favor of those from his own state, or Edwards yapping about booking the Dave Matthews band once his wife dies (ouch). It's all in the details.

Dana Milbank:

Yes, let us pause to admire Spitzer in particular. I think he was doing just what he should have done as New York governor. He wanted to promote New York products -- so he had a New York prostitute come down to service him in the Mayflower hotel. And, guardian of the pursesprings that he was, he had her take the Amtrak regional, not the shuttle or even the Acela.

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William Jefferson Clinton: I think it is tribute to something that Bill Clinton, who was the 1990s scandal king, didn't even make your 2000s also-ran list.

Dana Milbank:

But he has been a regular Boy Scout this decade, as far as we know (heh, heh). Other than his heart giving out and him starting a race war in South Carolina, he's been dull, dull, dull.

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"I am thinking of attempting a Salahi.": This is the most inadvertently dirty thing you have said in a chat since that time you mentioned "Olympia Snowe and the Gang of Six."

Dana Milbank:

True, that. But do you think I should do it? Or would this only call more attention to my disgrace?

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Scandal: I'm going to have to go with Abramoff, because of the extent of his influence and the collateral damage, and the symbolic value (end of Republican rule, etc.). Though it does lack titillation. (Wait, was he at all tied to that CIA guy who was involved with those poker and hooker parties? Or am I crossing scandals?)

Dana Milbank:

You are thinking of the Duke Cunningham scandal. That was the one involving the defense contractors and the prostitutes at the hotel and a guy named Dusty Foggo at the CIA. I think that scandal is a finalist solely on the basis of having somebody named "Dusty Foggo" involved. Also Dukester was the one with the yacht, the house, the Rolls Royce and the commodes.

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Arlington, Va.: How about the C Street house that had Ensign and Sanford and countless other good Christians who were overseen by Sen.r Coburn acting as both a lay deacon and their friendly gynecologist?

Dana Milbank: Possibly we could combine Ensign and Sanford under the C Street House, thus moving the combined scandal up in the rankings. Another resident in the house was Bart Stupak, who is tying Democrats in knots right now over the abortion amendment to health care legislation.

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Chesire: Did any of the fat cats want to kiss the president's hand? Or did they just slowly fade away, leaving only their grins?

Dana Milbank: They came out and said:

1. It was a very productive meeting.

2. It was a very productive meeting.

3. It was a very productive meeting.

4. It was a very productive meeting.

5. He did not call us any names.

Talk about scandalous.

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RE: Your Response to Los Angeles: Did you attend that Christmas Party and if so where are the pictures of you snuggling next to Laura after George went to bed?

Dana Milbank:

Of course! Photos every year. Same forced grin. In each, my hand is somewhere behind the first lady but not visible.

Actually I hear there's no receiving line tonight, so no photos with potus for anybody. Maybe they can bring in cardboard cutouts?

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Scandal: How could you forget Michael Phelps smoking pot? Or Mackenzie Phillips confessing incest and drug abuse with her father?

Dana Milbank:

Political scandals only, I'm afraid. American political scandals -- although, it must be said, Berlusconi made a strong entry in the contest by having the nude young ladies in his swimming pool.

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New Haven: I guess sex trumps all...otherwise, your list would include Charlie Rangel.

Dana Milbank: I think Charlie Rangel's voice is sexy.

Good one: He should be in the honorable mention category. I think once his scandal fully flowers he will be a strong early entry in the scandals of the '10s.

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Your contest sponsor: Purell, the product used regularly by more scandal-plagued politicians.

Dana Milbank: Good thought. I am also hoping to land Mr. Clean for this, assuming he drops his relationship with Tiger like Accenture did.

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Downtown: You forgot to add Kwame Kilpatrick to your list.

Dana Milbank: Honorable mention.

Detroit, like Louisiana, suffers from the relatively low level of scandal difficulty.

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Unlikely scandal magnets: I would have said Max Baucus, but hey, people can surprise us. Which of the folks on your top ten list genuinely surprised you with their involvement in unsavory doings (of any kind)?

Dana Milbank:

Mark Foley. That one was stunning, not just because of how awful it was but because I wouldn't have thought he had it in him. Blago, on the other hand. . .

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Parsing the scandals: What part does sheer bad taste have in elevating a minor pecadillo to a major scandal? Sheer buffoonery played such a large role Governor Rod's downfall, and it certainly didn't help Duke Cunningham.

Dana Milbank:

If sheer buffoonery were the standard it would be very difficult to keep this to a manageable list. For example, Roland Burris is considered part of the Blago scandal, but he is a walking scandal unto himself.

Anyway, got to go get my red sari for tonight's party. Has been great chatting with my fellow scandal aficionados.

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