In recognition of a truly landmark year of stunning scandals and betrayals of the public trust, it’s time to unveil TPM’s nominees for the 11th Annual Golden Dukes!
These awards are named in honor of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, whose enormous bribery schemes made him the poster boy for modern scandal (well, for now). Every year, we select the most outrageous moments of corruption and general dipshittery in this fine nation’s political arena to see who has raised the bar for utter shamelessness.
Last year, we said 2016 would make Duke proud. This year, he may have actually found his heroes.
Our esteemed judges have the challenge of deciding each category’s “winner,” and we’ll publish their picks on December 31st.
This year’s categories:
Best Scandal — General Interest
Best Scandal — Local Venue
Meritorious Achievement In The Crazy
Most Heartwarming On-The-Record Quote From A Trump Associate
Literary Achievement in 140 Characters (or Instagram) By A Public Official
Best Shameless Cartoon Villain Move By An Administration Official
Best Moment From A Press Conference
Meet our judges:
Erin Ryan, senior editor at the Daily Beast
Katherine Krueger, politics writer-editor at Splinter and TPM alum
Simon Maloy, senior writer at Media Matters
Susie Bright, feminist sex columnist and author
AND THE NOMINEES, AS SUGGESTED BY TPM READERS AND STAFF, ARE…
Best Scandal — General Interest
James Comey Firing: Trump’s firing of the former FBI director in May had the White House scrambling to contain backlash it somehow didn’t anticipate. The firing landed with all the hallmarks that are central to the Trump admin: mass confusion, tone deafness and incorrect assumptions about the way D.C. operates. Trump at first dispatched aides and top Justice Department officials to say the dismissal stemmed purely from Comey’s controversial handling of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. Days later, Trump let slip to NBC that this whole annoying “Russia thing” prompted his decision. The chaos boiled down to logistics with Comey reportedly first finding out the bad news on TV screens and canceling a speaking engagement as news choppers chased him down an LA highway.
Tom Price’s Resignation: Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September after the hefty price tag for his jet-happy habits was uncovered. Politico found that he racked up a total of more than $1 million in private and military flights on taxpayers’ dime. Price pledged to pay for his transgression—but only some $50,000, the cost of his seat on those trips. Price thought he had the President’s confidence as a number of probes were launched into the private travel, but Trump hung Price out to dry as questions swirled about the jet-setting practices of other admin officials like Interior Secretary Zinke and EPA head Scott Pruitt.
Roy Moore’s Alabama Senate Run: In a saner world, a Senate race between a racist alleged pedophile twice kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court and a man who prosecuted the KKK would be a no-brainer. But hey, it’s 2017. Despite his past ties to neo-Confederate and white nationalist groups—plus his known homophobic, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic views—Roy Moore was considered a shoe-in until multiple women came forward with allegations that he sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers. The scandal split the GOP into pro- and anti-Moore factions until Doug Jones eked out a narrow win, bringing Alabama its first Democratic senator in 25 years. But Moore’s not a complete loser in this race—images of the wannabe senator riding his horse, Sassy, to the polls, will provide the Internet with meme fodder for a lifetime.
Michael Flynn’s Turkey Dealings: The extremely short-lived National Security Advisor’s scandals were just beginning when he resigned in March over reportedly made false statements about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. As we later learned, Flynn also worked as a foreign agent for Turkey during and after the 2016 election, allegedly involving himself in a plot to kidnap an extradited Muslim cleric and fly him to an island prison in Turkey in return for $15 million. These are just a few of the kind of mind-bogglingly sketchy foreign dealings that forced Flynn to agree to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Rep. Trent Franks’ Surrogacy Disaster: Talk about a modern-day Handmaid’s Tale. The Arizona congressman initially announced he would resign in Jan. 2018 after learning that the House Ethics Committee planned a review of a “discussion of surrogacy” Franks said he had with “two previous female subordinates.” But Franks hit the gas pedal on his departure after reports came out detailing how he asked aides to have intercourse with him and serve as surrogates for his and his wife’s children.
Best Scandal — Local Venue
Whitefish’s Fishy Puerto Rico Contract: Two-year-old, two-employee-strong Montana utility company Whitefish Energy Holdings raised eyebrows when it won a $300 million contract to help restore Puerto Rico’s electrical grid after Hurricane Maria. As it turned out, the firm happened to be based in Secretary Zinke’s hometown and its general partner maxed out donations to the Trump primary and general election campaigns. FEMA expressed “significant concerns” over the deal even as Zinke denied having anything to do with it. Just five days after the contract was announced, Puerto Rico said it was scrapping the deal for “negatively impacting the work” already being done.
Gianforte Bodyslams Reporter: Nowadays, the concept of politicians wrestling with journalists extends beyond the written or even spoken word. The day before a special election in Montana to fill its lone U.S. House seat, then-candidate Greg Gianforte “bodyslammed” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for the outrage of…asking about the House GOP’s health care bill. Gianforte then lied about the incident, placing the blame on Jacobs, until the reporter’s audiotape of the encounter was made public. Montana voters were undeterred, electing him to the House the following evening.
Alabama Gov’s Sexy Talk: Ex-Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s personal Watergate cost him not only his 50-year marriage, but his political office. The governor’s downfall began in 2015 when his wife filed for divorce after finding incriminating text messages and phone recordings between the then-governor and his top political advisor (“Bless our hearts…and other parts,” anyone?). Trouble followed Bentley into this year when in April the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that the then-governor violated both ethics and campaign finance laws to carry out and conceal the extramarital affair. Bentley resigned hours after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor crimes, and as part of a plea deal, agreed to accept a lifetime ban from ever seeking public office in Alabama again.
Cy Vance’s Questionable Attitude Toward Donors: The Manhattan district attorney seems to have a habit of letting thoroughly-disliked high profile figures off the hook—if they have the bank account for it. In 2013, Cy Vance—up for re-election—overruled his own prosecutors in dropping a criminal probe of Ivanka and Trump Jr. for misleading potential buyers of Trump SoHo condos after accepting—and returning—a $25,000 contribution from Donald Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz. Just two years later, money talked again to Vance when he decided to shut down a groping investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Vance’s campaign records show his donor list includes his former private-practice law partner, Elkan Abramowitz, who was hired by Weinstein in 2015 to successfully fend off a molestation allegation.
Convicted Ex-Rep Jumps Onto The #MAGA Train: All aboard! Disgraced Staten Island congressman and convicted felon Michael Grimm hitched onto the #MAGA train to usher in his comeback tour. Grimm, who is best known for threatening to throw a NY1 reporter off a balcony and serving a seven-month stint in prison for tax evasion, apparently fit the bill of anti-establishment anger so well that he earned a thumbs up from #MAGA conductor Steve Bannon in his efforts to retake his seat representing New York’s 11th District. Heading into the 2018 race, Grimm has gathered more Trump allies, including former 2016 campaign adviser Michael Caputo, to his side.
Meritorious Achievement In The Crazy
Hannity’s Anti-Keurig Crusade: There are probably few things more American than finding ways to protest via consumerism. Soon after Keurig announced it was pulling ads from Hannity’s show over his coverage of sexual misconduct allegations against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, diehard fans began posting videos of themselves smashing their coffee makers. Hannity cheered on the destruction, but urged fans to leave their Keurigs intact after the company’s CEO said it was “unacceptable” for the social media team to broadcast the company’s decision to yank ads. The Hannity-Keurig saga concluded with the Fox News host giving away 500 Keurig machines to fans who “look forward to enjoying a nice cup of apolitical Joe.”
Ryan Zinke’s General Weirdness: How has Trump not nicknamed his Interior secretary “Zany Zinke” by now? When he’s not busy carving out exceptions for shrinking national monuments for his home state of Montana or trying to justify his taxpayer-funded private plane travel, Zinke can be found advocating for a redesign of the Interior’s flag, having a special flag raised when he’s at the department’s headquarters, demanding special coins with his name on them, increasing admission prices at “highly visited” national parks, and redecorating his office with taxidermied animals.
Trump’s Puerto Rico Trip: Trump set the stage for his post-Hurricane Maria trip to Puerto Rico by attacking San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Twitter for criticizing his administration’s characterization of relief efforts as “a good news story.” During his visit to the hurricane-ravaged territory, the President told survivors to “have a good time” and tossed rolls of paper towels into a crowd of “great people” with “a lot of love.” Staying focused on what matters, Trump chastised Puerto Rico for throwing “our budget a little out of whack” and said residents should be “very proud” that the death toll at the time of his visit was below that of Hurricane Katrina.
Project Veritas’ WaPo Sting Fail: After the Washington Post broke the first allegation of Alabama Republican Roy Moore preying on teenage girls, fake news factory Project Veritas attempted to discredit the news outlet via one of their “sting” operations. An undercover operative claimed Moore impregnated her and forced her into an abortion when she was 15. Diligent reporting from the Post team swiftly proved that the woman pressing them to publish bogus allegations was a plant. (She could’ve at least deleted the GoFundMe page to support her work in the conservative media!)
Farenthold Threatening GOP Senator With Gun Duel: GOP infighting has just about escalated into a Western-style showdown. Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold was quick to point a finger at Republican women, specifically Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), over the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare. Lashing out at “some female senators from the Northeast,” Farenthold suggested that if a man from his state were blocking the bill, he might ask him to “step outside and settle this Aaron Burr style.” He’s due to depart Congress soon after facing a slew of sexual misconduct and verbal harassment allegations from former staffers.
Most Heartwarming On-The-Record Quote From A Trump Associate
“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” – Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications director
Who could forget the iconic, utterly off-the-rails New Yorker interview in which (since fired) communications director Scaramucci ranted about (also fired) White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s allegedly impressive attempts at self-pleasure? Scaramucci then lashed out at reporter Ryan Lizza for publishing his on-the-record comments because the man hired to manage the White House’s media response apparently had no grasp of the basic principles of journalism. The interview cemented the Mooch’s status as one of the White House’s most memorable staffers, though it also prompted his termination after only 10 days on the job.
“If being complicit is wanting to – is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.” – Ivanka Trump, senior White House advisor and daughter to the President
Once seen as a small beacon of hope for progressives looking desperately for a neutralizing force in Donald Trump’s White House, Ivanka Trump soon proved perfectly willing to go along with Dad’s far-right agenda. Critics slammed the First Daughter as “complicit,” a term she tried to address in a CBS interview. Unfortunately, Ivanka didn’t have a firm grasp on the definition of the word, leading her to declare on live television that she was, in fact, definitely complicit with the President’s incendiary actions and remarks. Fun fact: “Complicit” was named Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year for 2017.
“Deport the whole family.” – Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of Trump’s shady voter fraud panel
Trump’s announcement that he was rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) left thousands of young undocumented immigrants suddenly facing deportation to countries they hadn’t stepped foot in since childhood. Taking a quick break from whatever Breitbart column he was writing, Kobach promptly went on CNN to express his delight and suggest that the whole family get the boot, too. Don’t try to come at him with any talk of “compassion” because Kobach is very serious about adhering to the laws of this nation (unless those laws allow certain voters to actually cast votes).
“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, they were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre.” – Kellyanne Conway
Please take a moment of silence to remember the (nonexistent) victims of the (fictional) Bowling Green massacre who died at the hands of (imaginary) radicalized Iraqis. Conway, indignant at how the media totally ignored a massacre that never happened, brought it up during a spirited on-air defense of Trump’s travel ban. #Neverforget the hypothetical horrors of Bowling Green. Anyway, let’s ban Muslims.
“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.” – Reince Priebus, former White House chief of staff
During Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, a totally normal thing happened where the agency chiefs went around in a circle of adoration to shower the President with glowing praise. None could compare to Priebus, who sadly only experienced six months of “opportunity” and “blessing” serving the radiant Donald J. Trump before losing his job. No hard feelings though; Priebus even thanked his saintly former boss after his less-than-dignified ouster, saying it was “actually a good thing” for the administration.
Literary Achievement In 140 Characters (Or Instagram) By A Public Figure
Don Jr. Doxxing Himself
After several days of insisting that his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer was just about adoption, Don Jr. was informed that the New York Times was about to publish his emails on the meeting. Realizing that those messages would poke more than a few holes in his story, the eldest Trump son beat the Times to the punch and just…tweeted out the emails himself in the name of “transparency.” Oh, Junior.
Mnuchin’s Wife’s Instagram Beef
Louise Linton, actress and wife of billionaire Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, posted an Instagram photo of the pair stepping off a government jet during a jaunt to Kentucky that just happened to coincide with the solar eclipse. Linton adorned the post with hashtags for the high-end fashion brands she was wearing, in case her followers had forgotten that they’re very rich. When a commenter snarked about their questionable use of taxpayer funds for the trip, Linton went nuclear, calling the commenter “out of touch” and asking if she had “given more to the economy than me and my husband.” The Marie Antoinette-esque sneers were not well received, and Linton was forced to apologize for her “highly insensitive” comments. Subsequent photos of her and Mnuchin posing with freshly-printed $1 bills at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing did little to rehab her image.
Early one morning, Trump whipped out his phone, ready to let loose on the “crooked” media yet again. He tweeted, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”…and that was it, leaving the world to wonder if POTUS had had some kind of stroke. The tweet was left up for several hours until he deleted and replaced it with a bizarrely gleeful message: “Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!” While it’s pretty obvious Trump meant to type “coverage,” why he tweeted out the mangled would-be rant and didn’t immediately delete it remains a mystery. Sean Spicer, of course, denied that a mastermind like Trump could ever just make a typo, telling reporters that “the President and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”
Scaramucci Post’s Holocaust Denial Survey
The Scaramucci Post, a still-undefined project borne of Anthony Scaramucci’s post-White House career, took it upon itself to pick Twitter’s brain with a poll asking “How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?”. After the social media network responded with a collective “WTF?”, this Holocaust denial crowdsourcing was taken down with an apology “if anyone was offended.” The poll’s stated purpose was “to highlight ignorance of the basic facts of the Holocaust”—facts that several former members of the administration could apparently afford to brush up on.
Eric Trump’s Thoughts On “Pocahontas” As A Slur
The irony of an ABC reporter (whose parent company Disney has profited nearly half a billion dollars on the movie “Pocahontas”) inferring that the name is “offensive” is truly staggering to me.
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) November 28, 2017
ABC’s Johnathan Karl questioned why Trump used an offensive slur to attack Sen. Elizabeth Warren, prompting a pipin’ hot take from yet another of POTUS’ large adult sons. It’s hard to know where to begin with this one. Was Eric aware that Pocahontas was a real person? Or that ABC News reporters generally don’t take Disney movies into account when doing their jobs?
Best Shameless Cartoon Villain Move By An Elected Official
Chris Christie’s Beach Day: With no possibility of re-election and his poll numbers deep in the mud, Gov. Chris Christie was darn well going to have himself a sunny July 4 weekend with his family at a beach nobody else had access to because of a New Jersey government shutdown.
Trump Admin. Lifting The Trophy Ban: In this extremely polarized political climate, it’s rare for the Trump administration to enact a policy that pisses pretty much everyone off. Yet they managed to do exactly that when the Interior Department’s U.S Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was lifting an Obama-era hunting ban on elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Both liberals and conservatives slammed the move as needlessly cruel and inhumane, and both Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke scrambled to put the decision on hold.
Gorka’s Special Nazi-Affiliated Attire: Self-described “counterterrorism expert” Dr. Sebastian Gorka wore to a White House inaugural ball a medal associated with the Order of Vitéz, a Hungarian knightly order that collaborated with the Nazis and whose founder oversaw the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. While Trump’s campaign was awash with racist talking points, Gorka’s medal was the most brazen indicator of the new administration’s embrace of the far right.
LePage Ignoring His Constituents’ Medicaid Vote: Maine Gov. Paul LePage really, really hates Obamacare and its Medicaid expansion, and tried to convince his state to vote against it by (unsuccessfully) attempting to call it “welfare” on the ballot. Maine voted overwhelmingly to expand the program during a November referendum anyway, but LePage wasn’t about to let pesky democracy tell him what to do. He defiantly announced that he refused to implement Medicaid until the program “has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels DHHS has calculated.”
Best Moment From A Press Conference
SHS’ Story Time With “Pickle”: Several days after replacing Sean Spicer as White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders kicked off a press briefing by sharing a heartfelt letter to the President from a nine-year-old named Dylan Durban, better known as “Pickle.” In it, the child describes his Trump-themed birthday party and laments, “I don’t know why people don’t like you.” It was a bizarre display of self-promotion that led several people to wonder if “Pickle” was even real (he is).
Spicer’s Inauguration Crowd Size Debacle: It was the first White House press briefing of the Trump administration, and Sean Spicer wanted to make something extremely clear. “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer thundered. “Both in person and around the globe.” Trump was clearly smarting over less-than-flattering photos comparing his inauguration crowd size to that of President Barack Obama, and needed Spicer to set the record straight on the nation’s adoration for their new commander-in-chief. But Spicer’s claims ran contrary to the cold, hard numbers, and the ex-press secretary found himself mercilessly lampooned by SNL (and everyone, really) for his efforts.
Trump Assuming All Black People Are Buds: Trump, supposedly making good on a campaign promise to rescue black people from the dystopian urban hellholes he thinks they all live in, said he had “great people lined up to help with the inner cities” during a press conference. American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan, who is black, asked if the President was going to include the Congressional Black Caucus. He interrupted to ask if she was friends with CBC members and told her to set the meeting up herself.
John Kelly’s Civil War History Lesson: Amid a growing movement to take down Confederate statues after the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, the White House stood firmly in the pro-statue “heritage” camp. The chief of staff took it one step further, calling Robert E. Lee an “honorable man” and arguing that a simple “lack of an ability to compromise” led to the Civil War. Few slaves or their descendents would probably agree that the man who fought to keep them in chains was a cool guy, or that the North should’ve been flexible with its slavery-is-wrong stance.
Sanders On Trump Sharing Islamophobic Snuff Vids: After the President retweeted several Islamophobia-stoking videos falsely purporting to show violence from Muslims migrants, the White House press secretary insisted that Trump was “elevating the conversation.” Did it matter if the videos were exactly the kind of “fake news” POTUS is always ranting about? No, says Sanders, because “the threat is real.” Okay, Sarah.