The most outrageous US presidential acts you've likely forgotten about

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·6-min read

Donald Trump has become known for his outrageous behaviour during his four-year tenure as President of the United States.

In a recent stunt the president left the Walter Reed National Military Center to wave at “patriots” while still infected with Covid-19, has been branded as “insanity”.

“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” Dr James Phillips, who is an attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted.

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“They might get sick. They may die. For political theatre. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theatre.”

President Trump in a car waving at supporters while wearing a mask.
On Sunday President Trump emerged from Walter Reed Hospital in a car to wave at supporters gathered outside. Source: AAP

But it’s not just Mr Trump who has committed some outrageous acts during his leadership.

Here’s a look at some of the other unbelievable exploits of other American presidents you may have forgotten about.

Richard Nixon plotted to kill journalist Jack Anderson

Richard Nixon was known for his dislike of journalists, but he had a particular vendetta against Washington columnist Jack Anderson who had made it his mission to dig up dirt on the then-president since his early days in politics.

Former US president Richard Nixon in the Oval Office in the 1970s.
Richard Nixon in the Oval Office in the 1970s. Source: Getty Images, file

In the 1950s, Anderson uncovered the story of Nixon using money from party donors for personal reasons, which Nixon claimed “permanently and powerfully” affected his attitude towards the press.

When Nixon became president in 1969, he ordered his staff to never speak to the journalist, but when he realised Anderson could help him undermine other governors, he started leaking classified documents to him.

This played into Anderson’s hands though – he now knew the President had committed an impeachable offence.

Nixon talked to his senior advisor, Charles Colson, about how to deal with the troublesome journalist, and Colson discussed with two aides how they could assassinate Anderson, Timeline reported.

Ideas included using a special poison that couldn’t be detected during an autopsy, or smearing LSD on his steering wheel so he would hallucinate while driving and crash his car, journalism professor Mark Feldstein wrote in his book, Poisoning the Press, according to NBC.

Although the aides admitted to the plan under oath, it never eventuated. The White House staff got distracted when they were asked to bug the Democratic Party HQ at the Watergate building.

Lyndon B Johnson urinated in public

President of the United States from 1963 to 1968, Lyndon B Johnson had no shame when it came to his personal ablutions.

He was regularly seen urinating in the car park at the House Office Building, and he would happily invite colleagues into the bathroom with him if he hadn’t finished a conversation, according to The New York Review of Books.

A weary-looking President Johnson looks at documents on his desk in the Cabinet Room of the White House in 1968. He is preparing an address on Vietnam.
A weary-looking President Lyndon B Johnson pictured in 1968. Source: Getty Images, file

“He just didn't want the conversation to stop,” his biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, recalled on C-SPAN’s White House Week.

“If you were in the bedroom holding back when he went into the bathroom, he would just call you in and say, ‘Come on in, I haven’t finished what I'm saying.’”

Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter claimed they saw UFOs

During his 1976 presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter talked about seeing a UFO in the sky outside Georgia, describing it as a red and green orb.

Pictured left to right are Jimmy Carter, wife Rosalynn, Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan.
Republican president-elect Ronald Reagan (right) and wife Nancy (second from right) standing with president Jimmy Carter (left) and wife Rosalynn outside the White House. Source: Diana Walker/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images, file

“I don’t laugh at people anymore when they say they’ve seen UFOs. I’ve seen one myself,” he was reported as saying by The Washington Post.

Perhaps it was a common occurrence at the time as Mr Carter’s successor Ronald Reagan also claimed to have seen a UFO outside California.

“I looked out the window and saw this white light,” Mr Reagan said, according to the UK’s The Telegraph.

“It was zigzagging around… I said to [the pilot], ‘Let's follow it!’’

Mr Reagan was also a firm believer in astrology, and employed an astrology consultant to advise on the best time to schedule important meetings and events.

He was forced to confirm his astrological beliefs hadn’t influenced any of his policies, the New York Times reported.

John F Kennedy had several affairs

Although his wife, Jackie, was a worldwide style icon, JFK had multiple affairs during his time in office, including dalliances with prostitutes, spies, and women linked to the mafia.

At a party, Marilyn Monroe stands between Robert Kennedy (left) and John F. Kennedy, New York, New York, May 19, 1962.
Marilyn Monroe stands between Robert Kennedy (left) and John F Kennedy in 1962. Source: Cecil Stoughton/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

One of his alleged lovers was a 19-year-old intern, Mimi Alford, who claimed in her autobiography she lost her virginity to the president in his and Jackie’s bedroom, the Daily Mail reported.

Other reported dalliances included two of his secretaries known as “Fiddle” and “Faddle” who were hired specifically to accompany the president on overseas trips, actress Marlene Dietrich who also had an affair with his father, and the rumoured coupling with Marilyn Monroe.

Mr Kennedy reportedly hired a special assistant to find him beautiful women to sleep with and also used his Secret Service detail to bring women into the White House, so his wife wouldn’t find out.

“Everybody thought you were risking your life, and you were actually out there to see that he’s not disturbed while he’s having an interlude in the shower with two gals from Twelfth Avenue,” a former Secret Service agent recalled, according to the NY Daily News.

Bill Clinton lost the nuclear codes

During his time in the White House between 1993 and 2001, Bill Clinton misplaced the personal ID code, which is essential to launch nuclear weapons, according to then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Bill Clinton speaks onstage during the TIME 100 Health Summit at Pier 17 on October 17, 2019 in New York City.
Former US president Bill Clinton speaks onstage during the TIME 100 Health Summit at Pier 17 on October 17, 2019 in New York City. Source: Brian Ach/Getty Images for TIME 100 Health Summit

When a defence department official arrived at the White House to check the codes, which are meant to be renewed every 30 days, he was told Mr Clinton was in a meeting and couldn’t be disturbed, General Hugh Shelton wrote in his autobiography, Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, according to Business Insider.

The same thing happened the following month. When he finally managed to speak to the President, it turned out Clinton had no idea where the codes were, and assumed a staff member had them.

The codes had to be changed and a new system was set in place so whoever visited the White House from the defence department to check the codes was obliged to wait to see the President – however long it took.

“This is a big deal – a gargantuan deal – and we dodged a silver bullet,” Gen Shelton said.

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