From Stormy Daniels to Russia: A Guide to President Trump's Biggest Scandals
“Grab ’em by the p—y” was only the beginning. From the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election meddling to the porn star who refuses to be silenced, a whiplashing — and never-ending —string of scandals trail after Donald Trump.
Here’s a look back at some of Trump’s biggest controversies since launching his presidential campaign in June 2015.
The president is embroiled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election — a probe that has gradually been closing in on Trump’s inner circle. Democrats and other critics have called for Trump’s impeachment over the alleged collusion, and for the president’s alleged obstruction of the Mueller probe. The president has repeatedly denied accusations of collusion and obstruction.
‘Very Fine People’ in Charlottesville
Last August, Trump stirred a firestorm of lingering criticism for his comments blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“You look at both sides – I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either,” Trump said of the clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters, which ultimately resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer. He also repeatedly said there were some “very fine people” on both sides.
Critics said Trump did not go far enough in condemning white supremacy, but he stood by his comments and even doubled down on them in the weeks that followed.
Just days after the president was inaugurated on Jan. 20, the nonprofit legal watchdog group CREW filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump’s business dealings violated a constitutional provision prohibiting officeholders from accepting “emoluments or presents” from foreign governments.
Democratic Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and other critics have said that Trump should be impeached for violating the clause.
“I mean, on day one he was – on day one he was in violation of the Emoluments Clause,” Ellison said last February. “This is a part of the Constitution that says as the president you can’t get payments from a foreign power. The day people checked into his hotel and started paying him, who were foreign dignitaries, he was in violation of that law.”
Since then, Trump has continued to promote his hotels and golf courses. And the sons to whom he turned over operations of the family business—Don Jr. and Eric—have been criticized for mixing official business with company business. Government watchdogs faulted Don Jr.’s recent trip to India to promote a Trump condominium project and give a foreign-policy speech as “Trump’s company is literally selling access to the president’s son overseas,” according to The Washington Post.
President Trump on Tuesday fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a surprise Twitter announcement. Just two weeks earlier, White House communications director Hope Hicks handed in her resignation after Trump reportedly “berated” her for telling the House Intelligence Committee she had told “white lies” for the president. A source told PEOPLE at the time that “she had enough.” Those are just the latest oustings in a long line of resignations and firings that include White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned after accusations of domestic abuse from both of his ex-wives came to light (Porter has denied the allegations); Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, who resigned amid a scandal involving his use of private jets to travel for government business; and chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was fired not long after Charlottesville, as Trump faced mounting pressure to remove the controversial alt-right figure from his staff.
As a private citizen, Trump frequently criticized then-President Barack Obama for his golfing habits.
But according to Politifact’s Trump Golf Tracker, the president has already far outpaced Obama in the amount of time he spends on the green. As of Dec. 28 in the first year of both men’s presidencies, Trump played golf 84 times to Obama’s 26, at a cost of at least $42,493,519 to taxpayers.
In the wake of the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Trump visited the U.S. territory and sparked backlash by tossing rolls of paper towels to a crowd of survivors. Critics, including San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, called the moment “abominable” and insensitive.
Caught on Tape: Boasting About Sexual Assault
In early October 2016, The Washington Post published a now infamous Access Hollywood tape revealing Trump boasting to Billy Bush in 2005 about sexually assaulting women.
“Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he said in the 2005 conversation. “Grab ’em by the p—y.”
Shortly after the recording was leaked, Trump acknowledged his comments and apologized for them, but then went on to repeatedly dismiss the remarks as “locker room talk.”
A year later, in November 2017, The New York Times reported that Trump had claimed the leaked tape was fabricated — prompting Access Hollywood to remind the world that the tape was “very real.”
“We wanted to clear something up that has been reported across the media landscape,” host Natalie Morales said on the show at the time. “Let us make this perfectly clear — the tape is very real. Remember his excuse at the time was ‘locker-room talk.’ He said every one of those words.”
In the weeks that followed the Access Hollywood scandal, multiple women alleged on the record that Trump had touched, grabbed or kissed them without their permission.
Over the course of his campaign, more than 10 would come forward, including former PEOPLE writer Natasha Stoynoff, who alleged that Trump attacked her at Mar-a-Lago during a 2005 interview. Trump has denied all of the allegations.
Though Trump has thus far avoided consequences for his alleged actions, Stoynoff told PEOPLE in February, “I feel this issue has been ‘on hold’ all year, but not forgotten. It’s been simmering on the stove with the lid on, like a pressure cooker. But now the heat’s on and it’s going to boil and the lid is going to blast off.”
The sexual misconduct claims continued to dog Trump after his election, and dominated headlines again when accuser Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s reality TV series The Apprentice, sued Trump for defamation just days before his January 2017 inauguration.
Zervos, who alleged Trump kissed her very aggressively and put his hand on her breast without her consent in 2007, argued in the suit that he defamed her and other accusers by calling their claims “lies” and “total fabrication.”
Trump’s lawyers have so far managed to keep the case from going to trial. The Washington Post reported on Feb. 13 that a New York judge was expected to rule “any day” on whether the case should proceed.
RELATED VIDEO: PEOPLE Writer Natasha Stoynoff Breaks Silence, Accuses Donald Trump of Sexual Attack
Alleged Affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal
On Jan. 12, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen had arranged a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 so she’d keep quiet about an alleged sexual relationship she had with Trump in July 2006 — less than four months after Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron, now 11.
Cohen and the White House have denied the allegation of an affair, with a Trump official telling the Wall Street Journal in January: “These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”
After initially denying that such a payment had been made, Cohen later admitted to paying Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket just days before the 2016 election. He called the payment a “private transaction” and said it didn’t violate any campaign finance laws. A recent Wall Street Journal report said Cohen later complained to friends that he hadn’t been reimbursed for the payment.
Daniels is still fighting to tell her story. The New York Times reported Monday that Daniels’ lawyer sent a letter to Cohen offering to return the $130,000 payment in exchange for dissolving a so-called “hush agreement.”
But now Trump’s lawyers are reportedly considering legal action to stop 60 Minutes from airing an interview with Daniels that’s slated to air March 18.
Daniel isn’t the only one who allegedly had an affair with the president in 2006.
The report detailed an elaborate coverup system Trump allegedly set up to hide and protect his extramarital affairs before his presidency, claiming he used “clandestine hotel-room meetings, payoffs, and complex legal agreements to keep affairs — sometimes multiple affairs he carried out simultaneously — out of the press.”
Trump’s campaign denied he had an affair with McDougal when it was first reported in 2016.