Minutes after the Kevin McCarthy left a hurried press conference announcing his unexpected departure from the race to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House on Thursday, Fox News' Gretchen Carlson asked his Republican colleagues about an ominous note sent to the GOP House caucus urging candidates to drop out if "there are any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself."
North Carolina Republican and 20-year veteran of the House Walter Jones wrote a letter on Tuesday calling on any candidate for leadership to "withdraw" if such unspecified "misdeeds" could cause further distrust of Republicans among the American electorate.
"With all the voter distrust of Washington felt around the country, I am asking that any candidate for Speaker of the House, majority leader, and majority whip withdraw himself from the leadership election 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," Jones wrote in a letter to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the Republican conference.
Jones was of course referring to the tumult that engulfed House Republicans nearly 20 years ago when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign after revealing an affair with a Congressional aide only to be followed up with the sudden resignation of the unanimously elected Bob Livingston just as his own extramarital affair had been revealed by Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine fame.
Considering that House Republicans were simultaneously attempting to impeach President Bill Clinton, the entire Republican conference came under immense public scrutiny before finally settling on Dennis Hastert as speaker. Hastert has since been indicted on illegal payments to cover up sexual misconduct.
Scribbled in Jones' handwriting at the bottom of the letter read, "I believe this question is important to the integrity of the House.”
That same day, the Texas delegation of House Republicans met with McCarthy about the letter.
“They said, ‘Do not let me support you and find out later once we elect you, you did” commit a misdeed, said one senior Texas lawmaker who was in the meeting. “I was satisfied with Kevin’s answer," one source told The Hill.
Then on Thursday morning, a Chicago-based GOP donor and known gadfly, Steve Baer, sent an email to at least eight GOP lawmakers, including the personal account of Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, another female Western lawmaker, the wife of one GOP Rep. and Kevin McCarthy, threatening to expose an alleged affair.
“Kevin, why not resign like Bob Livingston?” the email's subject line read. From the Huffington Post:
In the email, Baer linked to a Washington Examiner story published earlier Thursday with the headline: “Specter of sex scandal injected into GOP leadership race.” The article referenced Jones’ letter in the context of Speaker-elect Bob Livingston abruptly resigning in 1998 following a sex scandal.
Baer urged McCarthy to spare his family and congressional colleagues the ordeal of the allegations being raised, and suggested that concealing an affair would be a national security risk because of the possibility of extortion.
Few news organizations have touched the affair allegations, beyond the Drudge Report and conservative media. Charles Johnson, the conservative provocateur behind GotNews.com,reported them back in January. (Johnson, who is currently banned from Twitter, took a victory lap Thursday on Facebook.)
The rumors gained more traction in the last week in conservative circles, perhaps partly due to Baer’s multiple emails over that time, sent to a string of high-powered Republicans.
RedState editor-in-chief and radio host Erick Erickson wrote Thursday that someone sent links to blog posts about the alleged affair a few days ago to 91 people, including members of Congress and “highly influential conservatives outside Congress.” Erickson added that “there’s no evidence of the rumor being true.”
McCarthy broke the news of his withdrawal to his Republican colleagues hours later, citing his inability to reach the 218 votes necessary to secure the speakership.