Mike Devine/Kurt Woerpel

The 2016 Encyclopedia Of Controversies

Because we know that you wanted to relive every ... special moment of this election

There have been no shortage of things to get angry about during the 2016 election. Some moments have burned hot and fast like nitrate film stock, only enraging the internet for an afternoon. Other moments that feel more consequential have been pushed to the back of the drawer by the piles of junk that Donald Trump always has at the ready to keep our attention spans as short as his.

We’ve compiled scandals and controversies, both from this year and from the candidates’ histories, into an outrage-pedia so we can keep track of the more frustrating parts of Trump and Hillary Clinton’s history — and compare the eye-catching controversies that captured our attention for weeks to some of the stories that went under the radar.


Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and the Plaza of Secrets

Back when Donald Trump was getting ready to build Trump Tower and some of his other early construction projects, the concrete business in New York was mostly controlled by the mafia. When mobster Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno was finally brought down by a federal investigation in 1988, “the nearly $8 million contract for concrete at Trump Plaza, an East Side high-rise apartment building, [was listed] as one of the acts establishing that S&A was part of a racketeering enterprise,” Politico reports. Additional revelations about Trump’s alleged ties to the mob appeared after he got a license for a casino in Atlantic City. When asked about this subject by the Wall Street Journal, Trump said that the contractors “were phenomenal. They could do three floors a week in concrete. Nobody else in the world could do three floors a week. I mean they were unbelievable. ... But a lot of them were supposedly associated with the mob.”


Ban Everything

Shortly after the mass shooting in San Bernardino last December, Trump called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims coming to the United States. In the months since, he has recalibrated the words he uses to describe said ban, but the policy has not disappeared from his platform. If anything, it has become even bigger. In late July, he told CNN, “I actually don’t think it’s a rollback. In fact, you could say it’s an expansion.” Fifty-eight percent of Trump supporters have an unfavorable view of Islam. Along with the Muslim ban, Trump is also adamant that he is going to convince Mexico to pay for a wall. You can learn more about how he thinks this is possible at his website.

Building a Wall ... Around the Presidential Campaigns

Both candidates have gotten in trouble for their relationship with the press. Trump has blacklisted entire news organizations from covering his events, while Clinton avoided holding any press conferences for about half a year. Both Trump and Clinton have found the internet to be a useful way to bypass the press and get their message out. However, Trump’s distaste for reporters does have limits. “I hate some of these people, I hate ’em,” he said last December. But “I would never kill them. I would never do that.”


The Curious Case of the Free Cabinets

USA Today published a story in June revealing that Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits over his career — and that many of the people suing him were workers wondering why their money had disappeared. One company in Philadelphia never received a much-needed $83,600 owed by Trump — and later filed for bankruptcy. Bartenders, dishwashers, lawyers, and servers have all sued Trump for missing wages. It’s an ongoing problem; this summer, most of Trump’s policy staffers left the campaign after reportedly not getting paid.

The Crackpot Gnome Scandal

Mike Devine/Kurt Woerpel

Trump’s career as a celebrity know-nothing politician and cable news aggregator began back in 2011, when he became the face of the birther movement. He would like for everyone to forget that ever happened, as he told reporters in September: “I don’t talk about it because if I talk about that, your whole thing will be about that. So I don’t talk about it.” Trump is a collector of all sorts of conspiracies, including the idea that China invented global warming, that Ted Cruz’s father may have helped kill JFK, that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City cheered when the World Trade Center fell, that the Clintons had Vince Foster murdered, and that vaccines cause autism.


The Donald Scares Prada

Models who worked for Trump Model Management told Mother Jones that they illegally worked in the U.S. on tourist visas — and were treated horribly by the agency, too. Senator Barbara Boxer is calling for an investigation into the alleged violations.


End Times at Trump Rallies

Violence became a rote feature of Trump’s campaign events this year, mostly because the candidate himself kept inciting it. “Get him out,” he said at a rally in March, while a protester was being removed from the premises. “Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.” A month earlier, he told a crowd, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously.”


For-Profits and a Funeral

The Washington Post reported in September that Bill Clinton was paid $17.6 million to serve on the board of a for-profit university for five years. Laureate International Universities’ founder donated money to the Clinton Foundation but received no money from the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure. It’s no scandal, but it’s not the best look for a presidential campaign that has promised to fight some of the bad for-profit colleges in the U.S.


Give Me Pneumonia or Give Me Death

The person who wins this election will be among the oldest politicians to ever land the presidency, which means that people have been more curious about the candidates’ health records than usual. The fact that both nominees have been recalcitrant when it comes to giving out medical information hasn’t helped. Trump is scheduled to go on Dr. Oz to talk more about his health. The only medical information he has released so far is a note that his doctor wrote in five minutes that says he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Sure.

The state of Clinton’s health has stoked many a conspiracy theory, and it briefly became a bigger deal this month when she stumbled into a car after leaving a 9/11 memorial ceremony. After a few hours of silence, Clinton’s team announced that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday. A few days earlier, the National Enquirer had published a cover in which they claimed that Clinton’s medical file was “REVEALED AT LAST!” Judging from the photoshopped picture they used, it appears that Clinton’s major problem is that she is a zombie, but the Enquirer, which often wrote about Clinton’s adopted alien child in the ’90s, posits that she has Alzheimer’s and “liver damage from booze.” Clinton plans to release more medical documents now, and Trump will show everyone the results of his latest physical.

Grey Lady, Meet Mr. Trump

The first story ever published about Trump in the New York Times made it all the way to the front page. It appeared in 1973, and was titled, “Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City.” Trump responded to the allegations by noting that “They are absolutely ridiculous” and “We never have discriminated, and we never would.” The Times wrote another story about the Trumps and housing discrimination this August, reporting that “A former Trump superintendent named Thomas Miranda testified that multiple Trump Management employees had instructed him to attach a separate piece of paper with a big letter ‘C’ on it — for ‘colored’ — to any application filed by a black apartment-seeker.”


How to Win Friends and Influence People (Without Looking Suspicious)

Mike Devine/Kurt Woerpel

The controversy over the Clinton Foundation’s conduct during Clinton’s time at the State Department stems from the fact that the simultaneous existence of a nonprofit and a governmental entity affiliated with the political family just seems shady and prone to conflicts of interest to many people who already assume that all of the Clintons’ motives should seem suspect. That perception isn’t helped by many of the donors who clearly thought their gifts would get them access to the Clintons — even if emails seem to show that many of these requests were ignored or rebuffed. The number of stories about the Foundation have piled up in the past few years, and detail problems with its tax returns, how Bill was able to make more money when his wife was at the State Department, donations from foreign governments, the fate of the organization after the election, and how its transparency efforts compare to that of other organizations.


The Invisible Philanthropist

Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold has spent months trying to track down personal charitable donations that Trump supposedly made. Fahrenthold was able to prove just one donation since 2008, given to the Police Athletic League of New York. Trump insists that he has given away millions. The most recent report from Fahrenthold shows that Trump is most charitable when it comes to other people’s money, and that he once used his Foundation’s money — $20,000 of it — to buy a large painting ... of himself.


Judging a Judge by His Cover

Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel is overseeing the case against Trump University, and the Republican nominee is convinced that he’s doomed to an unfair trial. He later explained to TV reporters that he was worried because of Curiel’s “Mexican heritage.”

“I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” he added. Curiel is an American citizen.


The Khizr Khan Cabal

During the 2016 Democratic convention, Khizr Khan unleashed the most blistering condemnation of Trump yet devised. His son, an American Muslim, died while serving his country. “If it was up to Donald Trump,” Khan said, “he never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities — women, judges, even his own party leadership. … Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. … You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

Trump, who has never seen an insult that he was able to ignore, responded.

And responded.

And kept finding new ways to defend himself, keeping one of the toughest attacks against his campaign alive.

When asked by ABC News to name some of the sacrifices he’s made, he responded, “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”


Loaded Words

In August, Trump added another beat to his argument for why Clinton shouldn’t be able to pick the next Supreme Court justice — and why doing so would infuriate gun-rights people. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” Like most things Trump says, this did not go over well.

Loaded Words 2: The Past Called, It Wants Its Talking Points Back.

Clinton gets in trouble for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time too (see: Quiz: How Many People Fit in a Basket of Deplorables?), and because the missteps happen less frequently, they often take up far more oxygen. Back in March, after Nancy Reagan’s death, Clinton said that “because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular, Mrs. Reagan — we started a national conversation” on AIDS. That is definitely not true. Clinton apologized. She has also struggled with figuring out how to talk about the 1994 crime bill signed by Bill Clinton.


The My Little Pony Affair

Mike Devine/Kurt Woerpel

Melania Trump’s speech was quickly named one of the best of the Republican convention — partly because it was positive and didn’t inspire cheers of “Lock her up!” However, it was also not conservative in borrowing liberally from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, which helped all the praise about her remarks evaporate. One RNC official tried to defend Melania by saying that parts of her speech sounded a lot like dialogue from a certain anthropomorphic equestrian. “I just quoted Twilight Sparkle from ‘My Little Pony.’ She said something similar too, so did Mrs. Obama plagiarize her too?” Melania hasn’t spoken publicly since the convention.

The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Hillary R. Clinton

Clinton has refused to share the transcripts for the many paid speeches she made for banks and corporations after leaving the State Department. She earned an average of $225,000 per speech, and the fact that no one has been able to see the speeches became a big issue during the Democratic primary. Clinton often said that she would release her speech transcripts when other candidates did the same. This argument does not work that well when you are the only candidate who happens to be a former cabinet official, senator, and first lady affiliated with a charitable organization who can command such high fees.

Questions about those speech transcripts have dissipated since the primary ended, which probably makes Clinton think that she’s done a decent job Marie Kondo–ing that part of her campaign. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones theorizes that “it’s vanishingly unlikely Hillary said anything in these speeches that’s truly a bombshell … [but] when you give speeches to any industry group, you offer up some praise for the vital work they do.” And when you’re trying to convince voters that you’d be tough on Wall Street, those aren’t the types of quotes you want to get out. Politico talked to some people who listened to the Goldman Sachs speech, and Drum’s prediction seems true enough. “It was pretty glowing about us,” one said. “It’s so far from what she sounds like as a candidate now. It was like a rah-rah speech. She sounded more like a Goldman Sachs managing director.”


Nothing Is Certain, Except Death and Trump Never Releasing His Tax Returns

Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns, which means that it is hard to write the same sorts of critical stories about income regarding Trump that have been done on Clinton. No modern president has avoided releasing their tax returns. Trump has various excuses, including “people don’t care” and “I’m being audited.” Neither of these things prevent him from releasing his tax returns. More compelling reasons probably include the fact that he doesn’t want the world to know how much he’s actually worth — his latest estimate is $10 BILLION — or how many charitable donations he’s given. It would also make clear how much he pays in taxes — some observers think he may not be paying any income tax at all — and if any of his income comes from outside the United States. Since he refuses to release any of this information, all we can do is guess and assume he must be trying to hide something.

“Now It’s the Tallest”

On September 11, 2001, Trump was not watching footage of dozens of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City, because such footage does not exist. There is, however, footage of Trump talking to a local news station on 9/11. Trump, who says he lost hundreds of people during the attacks but has yet to name even one, talked about his 71-story building 40 Wall Street, which “actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest — and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.” He also accepted recovery money intended to help small businesses downtown — despite the fact that he also said his building was unharmed.


The One Where Donald Only Hires the Best People

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired after the Trump campaign pressure-cooked a few weeks of controversies prior to the Republican convention. He was not fired immediately after being arrested for grabbing a reporter’s arm at a campaign event in March.

The One Where Donald Still Hires the Best People

Campaign manager Paul Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign after multiple stories about his shady dealings in Ukraine were published. Trump hired a Republican pollster, as well as the former head of Breitbart News, who was once called “the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement,” to replace Manafort, who had the impossible job of convincing America that Trump was capable of pivoting to the general election.


Pants on Fire

All politicians lie. Trump lies more than most. Seventy-one percent of Trump’s statements graded by Politifact this election cycle have been rated “Pants on Fire,” “Mostly False,” or “False.” Twenty-eight percent of Clinton’s statements have earned the same rating.

Putin and Donald Sitting in a Tree: S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H

Conservatives have made no secret of the fact that they think Russian President Vladimir Putin is the platonic ideal of the image of a leader. “Look it, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” Sarah Palin said a few years ago. “They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.” When they later helped nominate a man who has few political skills beyond projecting bravado, they finally tried to import their admiration to the States. Trump also likes Putin’s ability to be appreciated for looking strong, as well as the fact that the totalitarian keeps complimenting the GOP nominee. Establishment Republicans are somewhat horrified by the fact that their nominee keeps saying nice things about a guy who is mucking up international politics and whose enemies keep disappearing. After praising Putin during a foreign-policy forum, Trump gave an interview on a TV network funded by the Russian government.


Quiz: How Many People Fit in a Basket of Deplorables?

During a fundraiser in September, Clinton said the words, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’ Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.” She went on to offer context, but the Dickensian description of bushels of wastrels captured enough attention to make sure no one paid much attention to the rest. Clinton soon said she regretted “saying ‘half’ — that was wrong,” and Trump quickly cut an ad using the line.

Polling — and footage from Trump rallieshas made it clear that many Trump voters discriminate against people of color and immigrants, and that his candidacy has probably made many Americans feel far more comfortable about sharing these views. However, Clinton’s comment fails to note that some of the Trump voters she mentioned who are suffering hold racist views too — these are not mutually exclusive traits, and viewing them that way tends to miss the point. But Clinton’s words have become controversial not because of the content, really, but because people are unsure of whether she should have said them at all.


The Reaganing Subplot

Trump appears to have appropriated one of his campaign strategies from the fifth episode of the fifth season of 30 Rock. Not the main plot of the episode, in which Jack Donaghy makes it 24 hours without making a single error — a feat only achieved by Ronald Reagan, Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, and Saddam Hussein — but the C plot in which Jenna Maroney and Kelsey Grammer make money by buying ice cream cakes with a Carvel “Ice Cream for Life” card and then returning them to a different store. Trump’s businesses have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign after constantly being rented for events or office space. The amount of money being spent on these expenditures jumped after Trump’s campaign started receiving more money from Republican donors. As the Daily Beast reported, Trump’s campaign also spent $55,000 on buying copies of his latest book to give to convention attendees. Trump’s children have also benefited from campaign spending. “Any way you slice it, this level of self-dealing looks bad,” Paul S. Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center told the Huffington Post. “It looks like a candidate who is pocketing donors’ money.”


Scamming 101

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“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” That was the testimony from a former Trump University salesperson. The business venture told poor people to max out credit cards to pay for the expensive classes that were not, it turned out, taught by people who had been “hand-selected” by Trump. Students never got the opportunity to meet Trump, no matter how much money they spent. A similar seminar business bearing the nominee’s name — Trump Institute — used plagiarized content that was marketed as wisdom right from Trump Tower. A federal lawsuit against Trump is ongoing and will go to trial.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Before releasing the emails in her private server to the public, Clinton’s staffers deleted 32,000 that were said to deal with personal matters, like her yoga schedule. Her team was in charge of deciding which emails were work-related and which were not, leading to endless questions about whether any work-related emails had also gotten erased, perhaps ones not as boring as the tens of thousands of emails that have already been revealed.


The Unexpected Frozen Connection

Back in July, Trump tweeted an anti-Semitic meme that called Clinton “the most corrupt candidate ever.” The meme had first been posted on a white supremacist message board. Trump later tried to defend himself by saying that the image also shared characteristics with a coloring book for the movie Frozen.

In September, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted another white supremacist meme.


Very Important Information Right Here: [REDACTED]

The FBI decided that there was no reason to pursue legal action against Clinton for her use of a private email server at the State Department, but that doesn’t mean that her team wasn’t “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” The FBI released a report in late August that showed that Clinton wasn’t thinking too much about email security — many of the BlackBerrys she no longer used were discarded and no one knows where they are — and that hackers did try to get into the server. A handful of emails contained top secret information, and some were marked classified retroactively. Nearly 15,000 emails will be released later this year, perhaps as early as October. One email released in early September by the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee revealed that Colin Powell had given Clinton advice on how he tried to avoid the State Department servers — and thus the requisite disclosure requirements.

The slow trickle of information about the server has provided undying hope for Clinton’s detractors that something criminal might eventually be uncovered, but it has mostly just functioned as a perpetual reminder that Clinton’s fear of transparency has done nothing but backfire.



The original Clinton scandal. Whenever someone invokes Whitewater — which involved real estate and never led to any charges against Hillary, but did eventually lead to the investigations into Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky — they usually are referring to the entire universe of controversies that took place in the ’90s.


The Checks Fly Free Affair

The Washington Post reported in September that Trump was forced to pay a $2,500 fine after his Foundation made a $25,000 donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s political organization Justice For All. Bondi had asked Trump for the donation, and shortly after, she decided not to investigate Trump University for fraud. Both sides of the donation say that the timing was a coincidence, and that the fact that the donation came from Trump’s charitable organization instead of his personal bank account was an error. A few months ago, reporters in Texas found out that Governor Greg Abbott — previously the state’s attorney general — received $35,000 in donations from Trump after deciding not to sue Trump University. A former consumer protection official at the attorney general’s office told the Houston Chronicle that he assumed it was a “political decision,” while Abbott’s office says that they did the right thing — and that the donations meant nothing: “Trump U was forced out of Texas and consumers were protected.”

Trump, however, has said in the past that he only donates to politicians in order to exact something from them at a TBD date: “When they call, I give. And you know what, when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me.”


“You Have to Treat ’Em Like Shit

In May, the New York Times published a story about Trump’s treatment of women. It came out 10 months after the first primary debate, in which he said that Rosie O’Donnell is the only woman he calls a fat pig or a disgusting animal and which prompted him to say that Megyn Kelly has “blood coming out of her whatever.” When the Daily Beast published a story about Ivanka Trump accusing her husband of rape in 1989, Trump’s lawyer responded that “You cannot rape your spouse.” The Boston Globe did a story on Trump’s brief work with pinup competition American Dream Calendar Girls in April. The couple who ran that competition later sued him, accusing him of sexual misconduct and backing out of a deal. During a deposition in 2011, Trump reportedly got angry when a lawyer requested to go pump breast milk. The lawyer told CNN, “He got up, his face got red, he shook his finger at me and he screamed, ‘You’re disgusting, you’re disgusting,’ and he ran out of there.”




No one’s






About Benghazi anymore, because this scandal has gone on for a long time, and has yet to sink Hillary Clinton’s career. However, enough of the Republican base cares about the aftermath of the 2012 attack that an entire night of the GOP convention was devoted to it.