Jones Cuts Aide Loose

Posted July 29, 2005 at 6:34pm

An aide to Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) was forced to resign last week after he allegedly misled the Congressman about an incident with an intern working in a nearby office, according to Jones’ chief of staff. [IMGCAP(1)]

Jones knew that police arrested Sam Jernigan, whose parents are constituents of the six-term lawmaker, and escorted the aide from his fourth-floor Cannon House office February 15. Jernigan was charged with and later pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court to providing alcohol to a minor.

The Congressman had decided to let Jernigan keep his job, until he read details of the police report. After HOH made repeated inquiries to Jones’ office, Chief of Staff Glen Downs decided to review the court files, including the police report, himself. After reviewing it, he and Jones concluded Jernigan had not been forthright about what really happened on the night of Nov. 10, 2004, when he took the young intern out for pizza and wine.

“Given that the full extent of the details in this matter were withheld from Congressman Jones, the relationship between Mr. Jernigan and this office had to come to an end,” Downs said in a written statement to HOH.

Jernigan’s lawyers declined to comment for the record.

According to a police report, on the night in question, Jernigan, who was 23 at the time, and the 18-year-old intern, who was working two days a week for Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), met at Union Station after work. They walked a few blocks to Jernigan’s apartment, where they each had a glass of wine, according to the arrest record. Then they headed to Matchbox, where they each had another glass of wine, some calamari and pizza.

The waiter at Matchbox told police that “initially the complainant was lucid,” but then he noticed her “leaning back looking into the air and was stumbling when she got up from her chair.” Another waiter, according to police, was taking a pizza upstairs “at which point he noticed a female stumbling down the stairs at which point he helped her walk down.”

The former Gutknecht intern, whose name HOH is withholding, claimed to police that after Jernigan gave her two glasses of wine — one at his apartment, the other at a restaurant — she “began to feel strange.” The next thing she remembered, according to the arrest warrant, was “waking up in the defendant’s bed nude.”

The intern told police she got dressed while Jernigan was asleep, left his apartment building and called a cab to take her home. She reported the incident to police, but declined to go to the hospital to be examined. She did not pursue charges. Jernigan was charged with two counts, one of providing alcohol to a minor and one of “selling” alcohol to a minor. The latter count was dropped, but he pleaded guilty to the count of providing alcohol to a minor on March 21. He was placed on unsupervised probation for one year and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Originally, Jones’ chief of staff said that while Jernigan’s behavior was “wrong” and “not excusable” it was “not a firing offense.” He changed his mind after reading the full police report.

The Gutknecht intern did not return to work. But sources close to the Congressman say he was “very concerned” and felt personally responsible for the young woman. He spoke to her about the incident and called her parents.

Gutknecht would not discuss the matter with HOH. He issued a statement through his spokesman, Bryan Anderson, saying, “This is a pending legal matter. Our office will not comment at this time.”

Lott: Catboy Not Cowboy. Get ready, political bookworms. Sen. Trent Lott’s book, “Herding Cats, A Life in Politics,” is finally due to hit bookstores with a bang and a few shots across the bow at — read it to find out — on Aug. 23.

The foot-in-mouth former Majority Leader tells HOH he’ll have plenty to say about his fall from grace over his Strom Thurmond comments. “Here’s what I really felt: Shocked,” Lott told HOH on Friday, adding that he’ll have “a lot of analysis of why” on that point.

But to find out who he’ll be zinging and what sweet nothings he has to say about the White House’s role in his demise, “That you have to read the book to find out!”

As for the concept of herding cats, the Mississippi Republican said, “You ever try to do that? You can’t do it. They got a mind of their own. They got their tails up in the air, go walking off in different directions.” And 99 other Senators are no different than cats.

The excitement he shows about his book does raise the question: Is Trent Lott running to get his old job back? “I hadn’t decided that yet,” Lott said. But he at least flirted with the idea, when HOH suggested the trains don’t run as smoothly as they used to. Lott said he hears that from his colleagues. “Yeah, they come over and say, ‘Where are you when we need you?’”

Lott’s life in politics included four years as a staffer to then-Rep. Bill Colmer (D-Miss.) — yes, a Democrat — before going on to become a House Member and a Senator. Lott will begin a tour to promote his book, published by Regan Books/Harper Collins, on Aug. 23 in New York.

Gotcha; Oh No You Don’t. It’s hard to hook and reel in that crafty Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). But, hey, a reporter has to try!

Congressional reporters tried their darndest at a Friday news conference that DeLay had with other House conservatives to bash Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) over his newfound centrist position on embryonic stem-cell research. DeLay was less strident than other Members in their attacks on Frist, even calling the Majority Leader “a good man … advocating a bad policy.”

But scribe after scribe went fishing for a nasty quote from that biting, acid tongue that DeLay has employed with aplomb over the years. New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick thought he had found the perfect bait, asking DeLay whether Frist’s watered-down position would make it less likely that he would support the Majority Leader for president in 2008.

DeLay paused, stared the reporter in the eye, and formed that kind of admiring-yet-loathsome smile that a warrior has for a worthy opponent. “That’s right up there with, ‘When’s the last time you beat your wife?’” DeLay quipped.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.