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Walter Jones Says Rumors Helped Prompt Letter

Jones wrote a letter that had House Republicans talking ahead of McCarthy's exit from the race for speaker. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Walter B. Jones acknowledged to CQ Roll Call Friday that he wrote a letter asking leaders to attest they had not committed any embarrassing misdeeds in part because he had seen rumors published of an affair between fellow North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.  

On Thursday, McCarthy denied Jones' letter had an impact on his decision to abruptly quit the race for speaker, and Ellmers released a statement Friday addressing what she called "completely false accusations and innuendo" and praying for those who bear false witness . Jones said he hopes his letter didn't effect McCarthy's decision.  

"I hope it didn't, I really do," he said.  

But while he has mostly been cagey about what exactly prompted him to write it, when asked by CQ Roll Call, he said Friday that the rumors played a role.  

"Yep — and what I have seen in the past. That was part of it. ... It was a combination of different things that have happened over the years and this was one of them. ... I had a sense that the conference should ask each one running for majority leader, for whip and speaker, 'Is there anything that you've got in your closet that could be embarrassing.'"  

He noted in particular the episode when Rep. Bob Livingston withdrew his speaker bid in 1998 and resigned after acknowledging an affair.  

"This was part of a multitude of things that have made me come to the decision that we need to show the American people that we do care about integrity in Washington," he said.  

He noted he doesn't use the Internet, nor does he have a BlackBerry, but he had read blog posts about a year ago from a North Carolina blogger about "the two people," whom he acknowledged were Ellmers and McCarthy.  

"I wondered many times since why she with her family were not offended by that," he said of the publication of the rumor. "I think that if someone implies something improper that is a lie, I would call my attorney. ... I would have called my attorney and said, 'Look, I want you to write this editor and tell him, no more. I'm not going to put up.' In fact, the guy reprinted the story a month ago, the same one who wrote a year ago. I don't understand that. I'm not saying that means you're guilty either," Jones said. "I just would not let it linger."  

Ellmers' spokeswoman, however, confirmed to CQ Roll Call that the congresswoman has an attorney who has sent cease-and-desist letters about the postings.  

Jones also added that at a recent event he held back home in North Carolina, a Marine colonel had urged one of Jones' staff members to tell the congressman not vote for McCarthy because of the rumors.  

Jones said he has no regrets about sending the letter. And he said if he is re-elected, he hopes to have a requirement inserted into House rules requiring leaders to attest that they have not committed any embarrassing misdeeds during their time in office.  

Related: Renee Ellmers Says She's Praying for People Bearing False Witness See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.