Celebrities who were investigated by government

Typically, a government investigation into anyone is serious business. For some celebrities who Uncle Sam looked into pretty closely, it was very scary — but for some, including one who was investigated for alleged threats to the life of then-President Barack Obama, it was "adorable." These stars were all investigated by the government … with varying results.

Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin posed for a photo shoot with a Donald Trump mask covered in ketchup to give the impression of a beheading video. Griffin's controversial snaps went viral on May 30, 2017, and she didn't expect the flood of backlash she received.

Griffin apologized in a Twitter video, telling her followers, "I sincerely apologize. I am just now seeing the reaction of these images. I am a comic, I cross the line. I move the line, and then I cross it. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn't funny, I get it. I've made a lot of mistakes in my career, I will continue … I ask your forgiveness."

It was too little too late: Griffin's tour dates were pulled from venues, she lost an endorsement deal with Squatty Potty, and CNN fired her from their annual New Year's Eve broadcast. In a press conference on June 1, 2017, Griffin revealed that she was being investigated by the Secret Service over the photo and alleged that Trump and his family were trying to ruin her life. However, it may comfort her to know that the Secret Service also investigated Ted Nugent for off-the-cuff remarks about Barack Obama as well as Eminem for his song "Dead Presidents," which is slang for money. Basically, it's their job to look into anything that might possibly someday maybe be interpreted as a threat … and chances are she won't face any actual legal consequences.

Ted Nugent

At an National Rifle Association rally in April 2012, outspoken Republican and avid hunter Ted Nugent made several hyperbolic declarations, including "If Barack Obama becomes President in November again, I will either be dead or in jail" and "We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November." However, hyperbole or not, his language triggered a Secret Service investigation.

"In this environment, when you have the conditions of our government, no, I'm not surprised," Nugent told CBS News of the investigation. He met with Secret Service agents at a hotel in Oklahoma, where he was on tour. Nugent said the exchange was both pleasant and professional.

"They sat down and said, 'There's some questions we have to ask you,' and they asked me if I'd threatened anyone. I said, 'Never. Couldn't, wouldn't waste a breath threatening,'" Nugent recalled, later adding that the 35-minute meeting was "Adorable! They did their job perfectly. I answered their questions perfectly."

He told Reuters (via Rolling Stone), "[It was a] good, solid, professional meeting concluding that I have never made any threats of violence towards anyone. The meeting could not have gone better."

The Secret Service agreed, telling press, "The Secret Service interview of Ted Nugent has also been completed. The issue has been resolved. The Secret Service does not anticipate any further action."

Madonna

In January 2017, Madonna gave a speech at the Women's March on Washington denouncing President Donald Trump.

"Yes, I'm angry. Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House," she said. "But I know that this won't change anything. We cannot fall into despair … I choose love."

A spokesman for the Secret Service confirmed to Gateway Pundit that they'd opened an investigation into the Queen of Pop's remarks, but that the decision to prosecute the singer would be left in the hands of the Attorney General, who declined to take the matter any further.

For her part, Madonna wrote on Instagram, "I want to clarify some very important things. I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it's important people hear and understand my speech in it's entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context."

Eminem

The Secret Service investigated Eminem in 2003 when his track "We As Americans" leaked online. The song, which was an unfinished demo not intended for public release, featured the lyric, "F**k money / I don't rap for dead presidents / I'd rather see the president dead / It's never been said / But I set precedents."

"Dead presidents" is hip-hop slang for money (because, with the exceptions of Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, those are the faces you see on dollar bills). CNN reported that the Secret Service was aware of the song and would look into whether the Real Slim Shady was into assassination. Days later, however, MTV News reported that the Secret Service declined to dig too deep into Marshall Mathers' work — and since he hasn't assassinated anyone in the nearly 14 years since the song leaked, it's safe to say that was a good call.

Lucille Ball

There's a reason Lucille Ball's classic show was called I Love Lucy and not FBI Loves Lucy … because the Federal Bureau of Investigation weren't fans of the redheaded comedienne.

The Washington Post reports that Ball was investigated for her alleged ties to communism during the McCarthyism heyday and Cold War, when many entertainers and average citizens were investigated (in a movement led and popularized by Sen. Joseph McCarthy) for their ties to the party. Ball insisted that she registered to vote as a Communist in 1936, but that it was only to appease a pesky Socialist grandfather and that she was never an actual active member of the Communist party.

While the FBI denied any formal investigation into the flame-haired funny lady, the Bureau did have a paper trail: Then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover kept files on Ball, as well as on her onscreen and sometimes-off-screen husband Desi Arnaz. These included a copy of communist newspaper The Daily Worker from 1951 that claimed Ball spoke out against Sen. McCarthy, a file claiming that Arnaz appeared in a show sponsored by the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (a group the FBI accused of being a cover for communists), a note from an unnamed Hollywood writer who claimed that she attended a Communist meeting at Ball's home (though she admitted Ball wasn't present), and a clipping of an Associated Press story about Arnaz's 1959 public drunkenness bust.

Rock Hudson

Files from the FBI vaults revealed that the Bureau investigated old Hollywood hunk Rock Hudson in 1966 for a "name check," which is essentially a really intense background check — and though the Bureau found no crimes, they did report on "homosexual tendencies." In Hudson's 34-page file, it is reported that confidential informants reported to the FBI that "it was common knowledge in the motion picture industry that Rock Hudson was suspected of having homosexual tendencies … It is to be noted in May 1961, a confidential source also stated that Hudson definitely was a homosexual."

Leonard Bernstein

Composer Leonard Bernstein had a whopping 800-page FBI file due to the Bureau's suspecting him of having Communist ties, the New Yorker reported. In 1951, Bernstein was listed in the "Prominent Individuals" section of the Security Index, which is defined as "a list of those individuals, citizen or alien, whom the FBI believed dangerous to have at large in the event of a war or major confrontation with the Soviet Union." As a result of the FBI and McCarthy's interest in Bernstein's politics, the music legend was unable to renew his passport in 1953 until he submitted an 11-page affidavit assuring authorities that he wasn't, in fact, a Pinko.

He wasn't out of the woods after that: Bernstein and his family reportedly hosted a fundraiser for Black Panther party associates who'd been accused of criminal activity, which launched another investigation into the composer, but his most intense scrutiny came after he composed "Mass" in 1971 at the behest of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. FBI investigators insisted that Bernstein would embarrass then-President Richard Nixon if the POTUS attended a presentation of "Mass" at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Nixon skipped the performance, but he and his ilk continued to side-eye and scrutinize Bernstein for various perceived offenses, including kissing other men, including dancer Alvin Ailey, on the mouth in greeting.

Steve Jobs

In 1991, Steve Jobs was being considered for a position on then-President George H. W. Bush's Export Council. As a result the FBI led a deep investigation into Jobs' background. In his nearly 200-page file, it is noted that "several individuals questions Jobs' honesty, stating that [he] will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals," as well that Jobs experimented with LSD and mind-altering drugs, something he later admitted publicly.

Pete Seeger

Singer Pete Seeger's FBI file is nearly 1,800 pages long.

The FBI began looking into Seeger in 1943 after he wrote a letter bashing plans for mass deportations of Japanese citizens. "If you bar from citizenship descendants of Japanese, why not descendants of English? After all, we once fought with them too," Seeger wrote. "America is great and strong as she is because we have so far been a haven to all oppressed. I felt sick at heart to read of this matter." 

The investigation conjured up chestnuts including that Seeger dressed in a "Bohemian" style in high school, had "fair" grades at Harvard when he studied there for a year, and was engaged at the time to a Japanese American women named Toshi Ohta, who was also investigated. Despite everything coming up clean, J. Edgar Hoover and Co. were still suspicious of Seeger's alleged left-wing, supposedly Communist tendencies.

In 1955, Seeger was questioned by the House Committee On Un-American Activities (yes, that was a thing), where he said, "I am not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs or how I voted in any election or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked." He was charged with contempt of Congress, for which he was sentenced to a year in prison, but his conviction was overturned while he was out on bail.

Anna Nicole Smith

The Guardian reports that Anna Nicole Smith was targeted by the FBI in 2000 and 2001 for an alleged murder for hire plot against Pierce Marshall, the son of her late husband J. Howard Marshall. In her file, which exceeds 100 pages, an agent wrote that when they questioned the late buxom beauty, "Smith began crying and denied ever making such plans … Smith adamantly denied ever contemplating such a crime." A prosecutor later "determined that there is insufficient evidence to establish that there was a murder-for-hire plot by Ms. Smith to kill Pierce Marshall."

John Lennon

The FBI compiled nearly 300 pages for John Lennon's file, which the Bureau began keeping because of his political activism, which largely focused on opposition to the Vietnam War. NPR reports that the Bureau's official investigations into Lennon began in December 1971, when Lennon and wife Yoko Ono performed at a rally in support of White Panthers leader John Sinclair, who was sentenced to a decade in prison for selling two marijuana cigarettes.

In February 1972, when Lennon planned a tour to encourage young people to vote, government officials, including Sen. Strom Thurmond, sought to terminate the rock legend's visa. A month later, Lennon was threatened with deportation over a 1968 misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession. Lennon cancelled his tour plans to be able to stay in the country with Ono. 

By August 1974, then-President Richard Nixon had resigned, and the battle to deport Lennon came to an unofficial close. About a year later, the New York State Supreme Court overturned the order to deport Lennon; in 1976 he finally got his green card back.

Charlie Chaplin

The FBI was somehow convinced that silent film icon Charlie Chaplin was a Communist — even though their estimated 1,900 pages of files on the actor didn't prove it. The New York Times reports that the FBI received most of their "intelligence" on Chaplin from gossip columnists and even a self-described clairvoyant. The Bureau went as far as to bug hotel rooms and investigate into the actor's sex life after a young actress claimed Chaplin was the father of her child, a claim which turned out to be false.

Walt Disney

While Walt Disney was never formally investigated by the FBI, the Bureau had a substantial file on the Mouse House creator … because he served as an informant for them.

The New York Times reports that Disney reported to J. Edgar Hoover and his associates about the activities of Hollywood personalities, many of whom were suspected of having Communist ties. In exchange for his dirt, Disney was allowed to film the original Mickey Mouse Club at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.