Mark Sanford: The South Carolina governor's steamy affair with his Argentine mistress seemed like a made-for-TV plot. First, Mark Sanford went missing for several days, supposedly on a hiking trip along the Appalachian Trail. Then a reporter caught him at an airport on a return flight from Argentina. Then came the confession. From there, Sanford gave some of the strangest post-affair interviews in political history as he detailed his complicated overseas romance and its importance to him.
This was no ordinary fling. Sanford declared that his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, was his "soulmate." He confessed that he "crossed lines" with other women and continued to expose himself to the press. In the end, Jenny Sanford filed for divorce, but her husband kept his job as governor.
Throughout it all, he may have endeared himself to more than a few onlookers with his cringe-inducing honesty.
"There was kind of a sweetness to it, if you're not his family," said Ellis Henican, Fox News contributor and Newsday columnist. "It was one of the only ones that really seemed to be about love."
Rod Blagojevich: The then-Illinois governor was accused of trying to sell a vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. And not just any seat. Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell off President Obama's seat. And the allegations against him, which broke at the end of 2008, painted the picture of an elaborate and irreverent scheme to extract the best possible deal out of one of a slew of potential Senate replacements.
Instead of seeking cover after his arrest, Blagojevich went on a full-scale, sensational media campaign to clear his name. In his last breaths as governor, he even defied hundreds of lawmakers by appointing Roland Burris to the vacant seat.
"I can't think of a comparable case," Henican said.
Since his impeachment and removal from office, Blagojevich and other defendants have been indicted in federal court on corruption charges. And Burris, who faced persistent questions about the terms of his appointment, announced that he will not run for the seat in 2010.
John Edwards: It started with a 2007 National Enquirer story about an affair with a campaign worker. Then a story about a love child. Then the tabloid published what it claimed were images of the former senator, vice presidential nominee and presidential candidate visiting his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and child in a Los Angeles hotel. John Edwards denied it all.
But then, he finally confessed in a televised interview to having the affair -- though not to fathering the child. Questions continue to swirl about the affair, Edwards' paternity and the role of campaign money through it all, but the North Carolina lawyer makes the list without any of that. Part of what was so shocking was that Edwards was one of the top three candidates for the Democratic nomination -- if he won, the scandal would have likely wrecked his general election campaign. But Edwards also had the affair after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It's pretty disgusting," Republican strategist Andrea Tantaros said. And, in a sign of real bipartisanship, you'll find nary a Democrat who disagrees.
Eliot Spitzer: The revelation in March 2008 that the New York governor was frequenting a high-end prostitution service was so politically damaging that he was out of office in a matter of days. But the press coverage would last months. Salacious details about the personal preferences of "Client 9" and photo spreads of the woman at the center of the scandal, Ashley Dupre, seemed like they would forever overshadow Spitzer, who once was his state's attorney general.
"The hypocrisy was glaring," Tantaros said. "This guy was the chief law enforcement officer of the Empire State."
Yet Spitzer may be making a comeback. He's given a handful of lectures and has joined the faculty at the City College of New York.
Larry Craig: In one of the vaguest and most bizarre sex scandals of the decade, then-Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was arrested in June 2007 for lewd conduct in a bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The arresting officer claimed Craig was in a bathroom stall, trying to use his foot to touch the officer's foot, and the cop interpreted this and other behavior as a well-known homosexual advance.
The married senator claimed he merely had a "wide stance" -- but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct anyway.
When the incident became public two months later, Craig announced his resignation. But then he changed his mind and served out his term, which ended in 2008.
The D.C. Madam: Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the Heidi Fleiss of Washington, seemed poised to name names and take down the D.C. elite with their dirty secrets as the scandal surrounding her prostitution ring unfolded.
In the end, only a handful of political figures were connected to Palfrey's agency, including former Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter.
But the scandal and its aftermath were not without tantalizing twists and turns. Vitter's 2007 admission of infidelity came after Palfrey publicized her service's phone records. He's still in office and running for re-election this year, but he faces a potential challenge from, of all people, a porn star.
Palfrey was convicted last April on racketeering and money laundering charges, though she denied her service was involved in prostitution. Shortly before she faced sentencing, Palfrey was found hanged in a shed outsider her mother's home. Police ruled it a suicide.
Mark Foley: The then-Florida congressman's scandal couldn't have come at a worse time for his Republican colleagues. Foley resigned quickly in September 2006 following allegations that he sent sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to teenage male congressional pages. But the scandal came just weeks ahead of a midterm election where the party was already facing criticism over the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war.
With Foley and other scandals, Republicans lost the moral high ground as well, Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill said. Democrats swept into the majority in Congress in November.
"That was one of the key points that sparked the return to power of the Democrats," Hill said.
After leaving Congress, Foley checked into a rehabilitation clinic for alcoholism and admitted that he was a homosexual. He later got into the real estate business, but his most recent gig is as a radio talk show host in North Palm Beach.
Jack Abramoff: By the time former lobbyist dynamo Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty in early 2006 to conspiracy and fraud charges, the scandal surrounding his influence peddling in Washington had already rippled through the nation's capital and implicated a slew of top Republican officials and aides. As part of his plea, Abramoff agreed to cooperate in a broad corruption investigation and political figures fell steadily from then on -- including former Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, former Bush administration official David Safavian and former Interior Department Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles. Abramoff was sentenced again on separate charges in 2008.
Christopher C. Hull, senior vice president at public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, said the Abramoff scandal stands as one of the most significant of the decade because it "criminalized business as usual."
"What is a scandal about Washington is not what's illegal. It's what's legal," he said. "They were doing things that were only different in scale and scope from what everyone else was doing. ... It shone a white-hot spotlight on the way influence was traded inside the Beltway, and people didn't like what they saw."
Abu Ghraib: The accounts of sexual abuse and psychological torment out of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 were just as damaging for the Bush administration as they were for the U.S. officers charged in connection with the prisoner treatment. The shocking images, first published by The New Yorker and CBS News, only chipped away at the public perception of a war that was already starting to lose popularity.
Henican said the scandal had a "huge impact" around the world, by shaking allies' confidence in the United States and galvanizing enemies.
"That was such a symbolically potent event. It really did undermine our credibility as a beacon of freedom ... and handed our worst and most dangerous enemies the club that they proceeded to spend the next year beating us over the head with," he said.
The Plame Scandal: At first, the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent seemed, to many Bush administration critics, like a deliberate attempt to discredit and punish her husband for speaking out against the Iraq war and claiming that he found little evidence in Africa that Iraq was trying to buy uranium. The late columnist Robert Novak first revealed that Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA agent in a 2003 column.
But in the fascinating investigation that followed, only Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, ended up getting convicted -- on perjury and other charges unrelated to the leak. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was later revealed as Novak's primary source -- and he claimed he had no idea Plame was a covert agent.
The scandal may be most memorable for what it was not.
"I thought when it first broke that it was going to be the Watergate of the Bush administration. And in the end, it didn't turn out to be that at all," Hull said.
The first decade of the 21st Century was chock full of salacious, riveting, sometimes repulsive, sometimes gratifying political scandals. They are too numerous to list here, but some of them rose to the top. So what made these scandals truly memorable? In some cases, it was the sheer shock value. In others, it was their ability to influence public policy and public attitudes. In others, it was the fact that, well, somebody got caught on tape -- and you can't argue with that. So here they are, FoxNews.com's top 10 political scandals of the decade.