A spectator holds up a sign at the Academy Awards, April 1974 –

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Watergate was a huge deal that shaped politics for decades after. In response to Watergate and other political scandals of the time, an act was passed by Congress in 1978 that allowed for a prosecutor called the Independent Council who “could investigate allegations of any misconduct, with an unlimited budget and no deadline” regarding government officials and presidential election campaign organizations that only the Attorney General or a special panel could dismiss. The idea was that because the president couldn’t dismiss the Independent Council from investigating the executive branch, any reports on the president would be impartial.

While the Office of the Independent Council handled many large investigations including the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986 and the Lewinsky scandal in 1998, it ultimately led to a lot of costly, time-consuming political witch-hunts and media circuses. Probably the most controversial investigation handled by the Independent Council was the Whitewater scandal involving the Clintons in 1994, which cost $60 million and created a huge amount of political fallout despite never actually prosecuting the Clintons themselves.

The results of the Whitewater investigation ultimately led to the law providing for The Office of the Independent Council being allowed to expire in 1999. (Kenneth Starr, the IC at the time, even favored this outcome.)

So all this to say, yes, corruption was at (or at least near) the forefront of American national politics for a long while, especially where it involved the President, but (and this is entering into conjecture here) I think both parties got burned by the IC mechanism at one point or another in the decades post-Watergate and the public got tired of seeing their tax dollars wasted on massive, confusing scandals without any solid convictions. I think it lead to politicians adopting a more reserved stance on that sort of finger-pointing and more realistic caps on the size and scope of investigations. On top of that, two years after the IC was allowed to expire, the political landscape drastically changed with 9/11 – politicians and the public were occupied with foreign policy issues and later, the recession. Not that political corruption doesn’t still get attention – IL governor Rod Blagojevich was the center of a big scandal in 2008 which eventually led to him being jailed in 2012.

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