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Justice Department Scandal

Undoubtedly one of Harding’s worst appointments was that of Harry M. Daugherty as attorney general. Daugherty was a lawyer, political advisor and friend of the president dating to earlier times in Ohio. Daugherty was suspected of profiting from the sale of government alcohol supplies, failing to enforce prohibition statutes, and the selling of pardons. Embarrassment was delivered to the administration's doorstep through the actions of Jesse W. Smith, a friend of the attorney general and a member of the so-called Ohio Gang. Smith had received an appointment from Daugherty, but his subsequent unsatisfactory performance included corrupt involvement with the Alien Property Custodian and taking bribes to settle matters before the Justice Department. Harding asked that Smith be sent back to Ohio, but Smith committed suicide in May 1923, which caused considerable discomfort for the administration. Daugherty was dismissed by Calvin Coolidge in March 1924. The new president showed only moderate interest in pursuing the perpetrators of the Harding scandals, but made certain that his administration was not guilty of similar infractions. Daugherty was later charged with defrauding the government. In his 1927 trial, he asserted his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and was eventually acquitted.

See other domestic events during the Harding administration.