2014: The year in political scandals

From 'Bridgegate' to the furor over missing IRS emails, 2014 was chock-full of political scandals. Here's a look back at the controversies that rocked the headlines this year.

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    ‘Missing’ IRS emails

    The IRS scandal first erupted in 2013 when the agency acknowledged agents had improperly targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups. But an offshoot of that controversy took on a life of its own this year, when it was revealed the agency supposedly had lost a trove of emails connected to key figure Lois Lerner.  Lerner has refused to testify before Congress, and GOP investigators had wanted to obtain those emails -- but the agency claimed in June that a 2011 computer crash rendered many of those messages "unrecoverable." This admission, slipped into the bottom of a letter to Senate committee leaders, prompted outrage among Republicans.  But the emails might still be out there. In November, investigators told Congress they had recovered data that may include the "lost" Lerner emails and are looking into it. The Senate Finance Committee expects to complete its bipartisan investigation of the IRS early next year.
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    Like the IRS scandal, the controversy over closed bridge lanes in New Jersey dates back to 2013. But it didn't become a political crisis for Gov. Chris Christie until early this year, when fresh documents gave credibility to claims that the closures -- which caused massive traffic jams -- were politically motivated.  It turned out Christie's former deputy chief of staff and his former campaign manager participated in the scheme, along with others. Emails and text messages suggested the closures might have been retribution for the Democratic mayor not endorsing Christie's reelection.  The scandal struck a blow to Christie's claims all along that the lanes were shut down as part of a traffic study. But he promptly fired his deputy chief of staff, and insisted he knew nothing of the scheme. So far, investigations have backed up the potential 2016 presidential candidate's claims. The U.S. attorney's office, though, still is conducting a criminal probe.
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    Crisis at the VA

    Long-simmering complaints about Veterans Affairs' treatment of patients exploded this spring when it was reported that dozens died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA facility. This led to questions about treatment at other facilities, and ultimately accusations that managers across the country were covering up lengthy wait times.  After initially vowing to stay and tackle the problem, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stepped down under crushing criticism at the end of May, as investigations continued.  One Senate report released in June claimed more than 1,000 veterans may have died over the span of a decade as the result of misconduct and mismanagement. A White House review released a few days later found the VA health system is plagued by a "corrosive culture" of mismanagement.  New VA Secretary Bob McDonald has since announced a complete restructuring. At the end of November, nearly seven months after being placed on administrative leave, Sharon Helman, head of the troubled Phoenix hospital, was fired.
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    White House break-in

    A breaking and entering ... at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?  The seemingly unthinkable breach shook the Secret Service to its core this year, when on Sept. 19 an intruder climbed a fence, evaded several agents and entered the White House through an unlocked door. Federal agents who searched Omar Gonzalez's car after arresting him in the White House found more than 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete.  Gonzalez was indicted later that month, but the incident raised deep questions about the state of security at the White House complex and about the competence of Secret Service agents. Director Julia Pierson, who had only recently been installed after a prior scandal, took "full responsibility" for the failures at her agency and ultimately stepped down. 
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    McDonnell trial

    This scandal started brewing in 2013 but boiled over this year. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were accused of illegally promoting dietary supplement firm Star Scientific, in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from its chief executive Jonnie R. Williams.  The federal corruption trial kicked off in August and quickly turned nasty as it aired private details of the frayed state of the McDonnells' marriage. McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted on a range of charges. Bob McDonnell's attorneys have asked that he be ordered to do community service -- in lieu of prison -- ahead of sentencing next month.
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    Grimm state of affairs

    For New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm, a former FBI agent, his PR and legal problems got increasingly worse as the year dragged on. First, he was caught on camera in January threatening to “break” a reporter asking unwelcome ethics questions “in half.” He later apologized. Then, Grimm was indicted in April on 20 counts of alleged tax fraud and other charges. He was accused of evading the IRS and making over $1 million in revenue "disappear," as well as hiring undocumented workers, at a Manhattan restaurant he owned. Despite the indictment, Grimm won re-election to his Staten Island congressional seat in November. This past week, though, he pleaded guilty to a single tax evasion charge. So far, he has resisted calls to resign as he awaits sentencing. 
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    Plagiarism case

    Democrats were already having a tough time in the Montana Senate race this year, but Democratic Sen. John Walsh's plagiarism scandal pretty much obliterated their hopes of keeping the seat blue. The New York Times in July revealed the extensive use of unattributed material in his master's degree thesis from the U.S. Army War College. Passages were taken word-for-word from previously published papers. Initially, Walsh suggested medication he took for post-traumatic stress disorder after service in Iraq may have been to blame. He later said he was not blaming PTSD. The U.S. Army War College went on to revoke Walsh's master's degree in October. And Walsh, who had been appointed to the seat in February, dropped out of the race; the Republican candidate won.
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    'I think we can make some money'

    Of all the scandals this year involving state lawmakers, this one stands out. California state Sen. Leland Yee was arrested in March on firearms and corruption charges. The arrest of him and more than two-dozen other Californians was the result of an "American Hustle"-style sting where agents posed as East Coast Mafia members. Yee, a pro-gun control Democrat, was accused of conspiring to traffic in firearms and trade favors for bribes. The criminal complaint included rich details about the case. It described a January meeting where Yee met with an undercover agent, allegedly discussing a firearms deal. "Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money," Yee allegedly said. In November, a federal judge put the case against Yee on a fast track to trial for early next year.
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    ‘Marriage of convenience’

    Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was dealt a big surprise in October, as his fiancée tearfully admitted to having a green-card marriage to an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant. The admission came after a newspaper first reported that Cylvia Hayes – who despite being engaged goes by the title “first lady” in the state – had been married, and divorced, three times before. She admitted having a "marriage of convenience" to the man who needed a green card. She said she accepted $5,000 in return for marrying him; they had since divorced. But the juicy details didn't stop there. It also emerged that Hayes had lived on land meant for a marijuana operation. Despite the controversy, Kitzhaber went on to win a fourth term as governor.
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