21 scandals that rocked the Trump administration in 2018

Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
  • The Trump administration has provided no shortage of controversy and scandal in 2018.
  • From Trump reportedly referring to several nations as “s–thole countries” and multiple cabinet members implicated in ethics scandals, it was an eventful year for the White House and the administration broadly.
  • Here are the 21 biggest scandals that roiled the Trump administration in 2018.

It’s been a long and eventful year in the administration of President Donald Trump, with nearly every day bringing with it a new controversy or scandal.

Between the release of two tell-all books that described the West Wing as dysfunctional, five cabinet members either ousted or mired in scandal, and several bombshell revelations in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference, there’s been no shortage of scandal.

Here are the 21 of the biggest scandals that rocked the Trump administration in 2018:


Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” left aides scrambling to do damage control.

In early 2018, a controversial tell-all book about the Trump administration written by Hollywood Reporter columnist Michael Wolff raised tensions among White House staffers as they tried to minimise the damage.

Among the book’s most salacious allegations were that former White House advisor Steve Bannon called Trump’s oldest daughter Ivanka “dumb as a brick” and his son Donald Jr. “treasonous,” that Trump repeatedly tried to have sex with his friends’ wives, and that “everyone around him” questions his intelligence and fitness for office.

While the book’s claims were treated with cautious scepticism by other members of the media, Trump slammed Wolff and blamed “weak libel laws” for the book’s allegations.


Staff secretary Rob Porter resigned after his two ex-wives accused him of domestic violence.

Rob Porter, a White House staff secretary and right-hand man to chief of staff John Kelly, resigned in early February after two of his ex-wives came forward with allegations of domestic abuse, sending the West Wing into chaos.

Many of Porter’s White House colleagues stuck by him even as the women came forward with disturbing accounts of physical assault, photographs of black eyes, and protective orders they filed against Porter. The allegations were considered serious enough to deny Porter a security clearance, according to reports.

While Kelly publicly stated he was “shocked” by the claims, multiple news reports asserted the White House was aware of the allegations for months before they became public.


The Washington Post reported that Trump referred to a number of nations as “s–thole countries” in a meeting.

Paul Kitagaki Jr./Getty ImagesRight-wing violence is on the rise under President Donald Trump, a new report shows.

In a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress, Trump reportedly referred to nations including Haiti, El Salvador, and a number of African nations as “shithole countries,” and lamented why the US wasn’t seeing more people immigrate from places like Norway.

The remarks garnered heavy backlash from figures in Washington and the media.

“I don’t know how to break this to you, but I think the president might be racist,” Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show,” said.

“Sir, they’re not shithole countries,” joked “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert. “For one, Donald Trump isn’t their president.”


Ronny Jackson, Trump’s personal physician, withdrew from consideration as Secretary of Veterans Affairs over medical misconduct allegations.

After Trump’s first Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin resigned following an internal investigation showed he used taxpayer money on flights to Europe and accepted improper gifts, Trump nominated his personal physician Ronny Jackson to the post.

But Jackson’s nomination was derailed when his White House colleagues accused Jackson of over-prescribing opiates and drinking heavily on the job, which contributed to him allegedly sexually harassing female colleagues and drunkenly “wrecking” a government vehicle.

Amid the misconduct allegations and questions over his qualifications to lead a federal agency as large and complex as the VA, Jackson withdrew from consideration.


Press aide Kelly Sadler was caught mocking deceased Sen. John McCain’s terminal cancer diagnosis.

On May 10, White House sources told The Hill that press aide Kelly Sadler mocked deceased GOP Sen. John McCain’s terminal diagnosis, joking that his opposition to CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel “didn’t matter” because “he’s going to die soon anyway.”

McCain died of a rare, aggressive form of brain cancer in August 2018. While Sadler left the White House after her remarks leaked, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told CNN Sadler would be welcome to apply for other roles in the administration.


The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border.

John Moore/Getty ImagesA Mission Police Dept. officer (L), and a U.S. Border Patrol agent watch over a group of Central American asylum seekers before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. Local police officers often coordinate with Border Patrol agents in the apprehension of undocumented immigrants near the border. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants’ country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status.

In May 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled out a “zero tolerance” policy to prosecute all adults who crossed the border illegally with children, departing from the practice of previous administrations which only prosecuted parents accused of other crimes.

While adults were jailed and prosecuted for misdemeanour illegal entry, their children were placed in shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and put into a completely separate process.

The policy resulted in months of chaos and confusion at the border, as the Department of Homeland Security found themselves with no coherent plan to reunite families despite orders to do so from federal judges.

Hundreds of parents were deported back to their home countries without their children, many of whom remained in shelters, were placed with foster families, or even adopted out. The separations were denounced as cruel by politicians on both sides of the aisle, every living former First Lady, and the United Nations.


EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned after months of federal investigations into his alleged misuse of taxpayer funds, excessive spending, and conflicts of interest.

In July 2018, embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned from his position after being plagued by a series of ethics scandals over abuse of government resources and his lavish spending habits.

Pruitt reportedly enlisted his government staff to carry out a variety of personal errands, including helping him procure a used Trump Tower mattress, discounted Rose Bowl tickets, Ritz-Carlton lotion, and a new apartment. He also reportedly used his office to help secure a Chick Fil-A franchise for his wife and a White House internship for his daughter.


Trump received bipartisan backlash for publicly doubting his own intelligence agencies beside Russian president Vladimir Putin

Chris McGrath/Getty Imagesresident Donald Trump stunned observers in July when he rebuffed the US intelligence community in favour of Russia in Helsinki.

On July 16, Trump shocked and angered Democrats and Republicans alike during his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, when he slammed his political foes and sided with Russia over the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.

When asked by a reporter whether he believed the unanimous consensus of the US intelligence community that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election, the president responded, “My people came to me … they said they think it’s Russia” that interfered. Trump added, “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

He added that he had “great confidence” in his “intelligence people” but that Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his denial” of Russian interference.

In the wake of his remarks, a slate of intelligence and national security veterans told INSIDER they believed Trump acted exactly like a “controlled asset” beside his handler.


Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman made several bombshell claims against members of the administration in her book “Unhinged.”

MSNBCFormer White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman appears on MSNBC’s ‘Velshi & Ruhle’ on August 13, 2018.

Former White House advisor and “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who was fired in December 2017, resurfaced in the public eye this summer to promote her book “Unhinged.”

Aside from releasing a tape she recorded of Chief of Staff John Kelly firing her in Trump’s situation room, Manigault-Newman made a number of claims against members of the administration.

She said tapes of Trump using the n-word on the set of “The Apprentice” do indeed exist, that Trump had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks releasing hacked emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, and that she walked in on him eating paper in the Oval Office.

Trump and press secretary Sarah Sanders vehemently denied Maginault-Newman’s claims, with Trump calling her a “dog” who “cried and begged” for a job.


In a move that stunned military and intelligence veterans, Trump revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan and threatened to do the same for other former officials who had criticised him.

Screenshot via NBCFormer CIA Director John Brennan.

Citing “erratic conduct and behaviour” as the reason for Brennan’s clearance being revoked, the White House also accused Brennan – who has frequently criticised Trump since leaving the CIA in 2017 – of using his clearance to “make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and television, about this administration.”

The move stunned intelligence and military veterans, who saw the revocation as a politically motivated abuse of power.

Sanders also announced the administration was considering revoking the clearances of other officials who had publicly criticised Trump, including former DNI James Clapper, former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden, FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and former national security advisor Susan Rice.


An explosive report in Forbes magazine accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of swindling his associates out of $US120 million.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesUS Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

The bombshell report accused Ross, who managed a private equity firm before joining the administration, of pathologically swindling his business associates out of their share of profits and misleading investors for decades.

The article also charged Ross, whose net worth is estimated at $US700 milion, with failing to follow through on his pledges to charity, not paying his domestic staff, and even swiping hundreds of Sweet’N Low packets from a local restaurant.

In response, the Department of Commerce called the article “petty nonsense.”


Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time lawyer and “fixer” pleaded guilty to federal crimes he says he committed at Trump’s direction.

Yana Paskova/Getty ImagesMichael Cohen.

On August 21, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in a federal court in Manhattan to a series of felony crimes involving Trump.

Cohen entered guilty pleas to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, one count of making an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an illegal campaign finance contribution on October 27, 2016 – the day a $US130,000 payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels was finalised.

During his plea entry, Cohen said he had made the illegal campaign and corporate contributions “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election.”

He did not identify said candidate by name, but the criminal complaint, which refers to said candidate as “individual 1,” said that person became President of the United States in January 2017 – meaning it can be only be President Donald Trump.

On December 12, Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in prison.


Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted of eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and becomes a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe.

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesFormer Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (2nd R) arrives with his wife Kathleen Manafort (R) at the Albert V. Bryan US Courthouse for an arraignment hearing.

Also on August 21, a jury in Virginia convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on eight counts of federal tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign bank accounts after a dramatic weeks-long trial.

Manafort was prosecuted and tried as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. A mistrial was declared on an additional 10 charges filed against Manafort after the jury failed to come to a consensus.

“It doesn’t involve me, but it’s a very sad thing that happened,” Trump said in response to the conviction. “This has nothing to with Russian collusion…this has absolutely nothing to do – this is a witch hunt.”


An anonymous White House staffer published a New York Times op-ed claiming to be part of an anti-Trump “resistance” in the administration

Andrew Burton/GettyTrump supporters have been calling the New York Times en masse.

On Sept. 5, The New York Times opinion section published an anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump administration official who claimed to be part of a “silent resistance” of White House staffers reining in Trump’s “more misguided impulses.”

“Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” the unnamed person wrote of President Donald Trump. “I would know. I am one of them.”

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, that the paper chose to publish this pathetic, reckless, and selfish op-ed,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in response.

“This is a new low for the so-called ‘paper of record,’ and it should issue an apology, just as it did after the election for its disastrous coverage of the Trump campaign,” she added, despite the fact The Times never apologised for its 2016 coverage. The Times also did not apologise for publishing the op-ed.


The New York Times reported that former White House counsel Don McGahn provided over 30 hours of testimony in the Mueller probe.

In August, The New York Times reported that top White House lawyer Don McGahn voluntarily provided over 30 hours of testimony in the Mueller probe as a self-protection measure out of fear that Trump would make him his “fall guy.”

McGahn was present for a number of moments crucial to the Mueller probe’s inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice.

These include his firing of FBI Director James Comey, his efforts to force attorney general Jeff Sessions to oversee the Russia probe after recusing himself, his knowledge of Michael Flynn’s criminal offenses, and reported attempts to fire Mueller himself.

McGahn has since left the administration.


Trump reportedly sought to compel the Department of Justice to investigate James Comey and Hillary Clinton, two of his political opponents.

In November 2018, the New York Times and CNN reported that Trump wanted to order the Department of Justice to open investigations into James Comey and Hillary Clinton, two of his political foes.

Trump reportedly raised the prospect of investigating Comey and Clinton with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who took over following Jeff Sessions’ ouster.

The idea was shut down by former White House counsel Don McGahn, who told Trump he didn’t have the authority to order a DOJ investigation and the move would appear to be a politically motivated abuse of power.


The White House was ordered by a judge to re-instate CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass after revoking it.

The White House took the extraordinary step of revoking CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s hard press pass after releasing video that sought to portray him “putting his hands” on a press aide, which independent experts said was intentionally doctored.

CNN took the White House to court, and a federal judge ruled in Acosta’s favour, granting his request for a temporary restraining order to have his pass restored.

The White House then decided to fully restore Acosta’s press pass, prompting CNN to drop their lawsuit. They also issued new, stricter rules for the media to follow during briefings.


The Washington Post reported Ivanka Trump conducted government business with a private, unsecured email account.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Post reported that White House adviser Ivanka Trump regularly used a private email account using a domain shared with her husband Jared Kushner for official government business, sending “hundreds” of mainly logistical and scheduling emails to other officials from the private email address.

“She was the worst offender in the White House,” a former senior government official familiar with the review of Ivanka’s emails told The Post about her email usage, which could violate the Presidential Records Act.

While Trump frequently attacked his opponent Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email address and server while she was secretary of state, he defended his daughter Ivanka’s conduct.

“Ivanka did some emails, they weren’t classified like Hillary Clinton, they weren’t deleted like Hillary Clinton … she wasn’t doing anything to hide her emails,” Trump said.


The US Border Patrol faced backlash for using tear gas on a group of migrants seeking entry at the United States border, including women and children.

US Customs & Border Patrol faced backlash after using tear gas on a group of Central American migrants attempting to storm the border at the Tijuana port of entry, including several young children.

“We ran, but when you run the smoke asphyxiates you more,” Ana Zuniga, a 23-year-old woman from Honduras, told the AP while holding her 3-year-old daughter.

The use of tear gas against unarmed migrants was slammed by civil and human rights groups around the world.

Trump defended the border patrol’s actions, calling it “a very minor form of the tear gas itself” that he said was “very safe.”

“Why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed and they were running up with a child?” he added, asserting without evidence that many of the women gassed were not real parents but “grabbers” who came to the border with children who were not their own.


An explosive Miami Herald investigation revealed that Labour Secretary Alex Acosta played a role in giving billionaire child molester Jeffrey Epstein a lenient sentence as a federal prosecutor.

The Herald revealed that current US Secretary of Labour Alex Acosta played a key role in securing a drastically reduced sentence for billionaire financier and sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein while serving as the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Prosecutors and law enforcement had enough evidence to put Epstein behind bars for life for molesting at least 80 underage girls in what one detective described as a “sexual pyramid scheme” that went on for years.

But Acosta struck a deal with Epstein’s lawyers for Epstein to serve just 13 months in his own private jail cell, register as a sex offender, and pay restitution to victims. Epstein also provided testimony against two former Bear Stearns executives for their role in the 2008 financial crisis.


Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s business deals with Russia, and becomes a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe.

Yana Paskova/Getty ImagesMichael Cohen.

On Nov. 29, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal courtroom on one count of lying to Congress about the time during which the Trump Organisation actively pursued a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and entered into a formal cooperation agreement with Mueller.

Cohen pleaded guilty to misleading the House Select Committee on Intelligence when he said in September 2017 testimony that the talks to build a Trump Tower ended in January 2016.

In reality, prosecutors said, they continued well into June 2016 after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee. Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress after testifying that he never agreed to travel to Russia and had not been in contact with Russian officials.

In a sentencing memorandum, lawyers for Cohen said he gave 70 hours of testimony to the special counsel’s office and met with prosecutors in New York pursuing other Trump-related inquiries.

Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in prison on December 12.

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