Hours before House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) abruptly announced Thursday that he was dropping out of the race for House speaker, a GOP donor reportedly confronted him in an email about an alleged affair with a congressional colleague.
The Huffington Post reported that the email, which it obtained from an anonymous source, was sent by a Chicago-based GOP donor named Steve Baer.
“Kevin, why not resign like Bob Livingston?” the email’s subject line read, according to HuffPost. The reference was to a Louisiana Republican who resigned in 1998 over an extramarital affair after being designated as the successor to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).
Notably, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) sent a letter Wednesday to the chair of the House Republican caucus, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), urging that any leadership candidate take himself out of the running “if there are any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself, the Republican Conference and the House of Representatives if they become public.”
Fox News anchor Shepard Smith confronted Jones about the connotations of that letter in a Thursday interview after McCarthy dropped out of the race for speaker.
“What do you know about Kevin McCarthy I don’t know?” Smith asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” Jones replied. “This was written primarily because I’ve been here 20 years, and I remember the night that Newt stepped down, the next night Bob Livingston stepped down, and the chaos it put the Republican Party in.”
Smith wasn’t buying that Jones’ letter was a general entreaty to the Republican caucus at large. He asked Jones repeatedly why he would write the letter if he didn’t have a particular member of Congress’ transgressions in mind, but Jones repeatedly dodged that line of inquiry.
“Well anything you want to read into it, you’re welcome to read into it,” Jones eventually answered. “I gave you an honest answer. That’s all I can do.”
Conservative pundit and RedState.com founder Erick Erickson noted Thursday that an email circulated to more than 90 people, including members of Congress, referencing an affair between McCarthy and Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) had preceded Jones’ ominous letter.
The rumor about a relationship between McCarthy and Ellmers, who are both married, dates back to at least January. Right-wing rabble-rouser Chuck Johnson detailed the alleged affair on his news site but the allegations didn’t pick up any steam until McCarthy’s surprise exit from the speaker race. (Johnson said this week that an attorney for Ellmers sent him a cease-and-desist letter about his articles on the alleged affair.)
An Ellmers spokesperson told The Daily Mail on Thursday that the affair allegations were “unequivocally and indisputably false.”
Asked in a press conference whether Jones’ letter played a role in his sudden withdrawal from the race for speaker, McCarthy said it did not have an impact on his decision.