John Jenrette

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John Jenrette
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 6th district
In office
January 3, 1975 – December 10, 1980
Preceded byEdward Lunn Young
Succeeded byJohn Light Napier
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives
from the Horry County district
In office
Preceded byMulti-member district
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
John Wilson Jenrette Jr.

(1936-05-19)May 19, 1936
Conway, South Carolina, U.S.
DiedMarch 17, 2023(2023-03-17) (aged 86)
Conway, South Carolina, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Sarah Louise Jordan
(m. 1960; div. 1975)
(m. 1976; div. 1981)
Rosemary Long
(m. 1992)
EducationWofford College (BA)
University of South Carolina (LLB)

John Wilson Jenrette Jr. (May 19, 1936 – March 17, 2023) was an American lawyer, businessman, and politician from South Carolina, best known for his involvement in the Abscam corruption scandal, and being the husband of actress and model Rita Jenrette. He was in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from January 1975 until December 1980. He was convicted of accepting a bribe in the FBI's Abscam sting operation, serving more than a year in prison.


Jenrette was born in Conway, South Carolina, in 1936, the son of Mary Herring and John Wilson Jenrette.[1] He grew up in Loris, South Carolina. He was a descendant of French Huguenot refugees who settled in northeastern South Carolina in the 1700s.[2] Jenrette graduated from Loris High School, where he was a three-sport athletic star, in 1954. He then earned a B.A. at Wofford College in 1958. He served on active duty as a U.S. Army officer and then served several years in the South Carolina National Guard. After graduating from law school at the University of South Carolina in 1962, he founded an influential law firm in Ocean Drive, which soon became part of the newly formed City of North Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina House of Representatives[edit]

Jenrette was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1964, where he represented Horry County, South Carolina, which includes Myrtle Beach. He retired from the state house to run for a seat in the U.S. House in 1972. While in the state legislature, he spearheaded the transformation of a small two-year University of South Carolina branch into a full-service four-year college that is now Coastal Carolina University. He initiated the effort to convert the old post office building in Columbia into a facility for the State Supreme Court, and persuaded the U.S. Air Force to allow commercial air traffic at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. This marked the beginning of what is now Myrtle Beach International Airport.

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

In the 1972 contest Jenrette defeated the seventeen-term Congressman John L. McMillan in the primary, but lost the general election to the Republican, Edward Lunn Young. Undaunted, he again ran for the seat in 1974. This time he won, in part because of the extreme unpopularity of Republican Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.

Jenrette was fairly liberal by South Carolina standards of the time. He seemed out of place representing a rather conservative and mostly rural congressional district in northeastern South Carolina. However, he was locally well-known and benefited from enthusiastic African-American support. Additionally, the South Carolina Republican Party was not especially well-organized at the time in that part of the state. Jenrette performed well in his first two years in Congress and easily defeated Young again in 1976. In 1978, he received only token primary opposition and faced no major-party opposition.

Jenrette was selected to join the House Majority leadership team as a Deputy Whip shortly after arriving in Washington in 1975, and he served on the Democratic leadership team as a Deputy Whip for all six years he served in Congress. He served first on the House Agriculture Committee and then on the prestigious House Appropriations Committee. He was the founder and first Chairman of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus. Jenrette placed great emphasis on constituent service, and he and his staff were widely recognized as the most responsive office the Sixth District had ever seen. Among his many constituent services was securing federal funding for a high span bridge over the Sampit River in Georgetown, South Carolina, allowing sea-going vessels to travel upstream. Jenrette was the first Member of Congress to endorse Jimmy Carter for President. Carter campaigned in South Carolina for Jenrette, and Jenrette campaigned for Carter in South Carolina and elsewhere, and persuaded a large number of congressional colleagues to support Carter during the nominating process.

Jenrette is most famous for two things during his days as a Congressman. First, he allegedly[3] had sex with his then-wife, Rita Jenrette, behind a pillar on the steps of the Capitol Building during a break in a late night session of Congress (The comedy group "Capitol Steps" take its name from this escapade). Rita later posed nude in Playboy and published a tell-all memoir.[4]

Second, he was charged with and convicted of accepting a bribe in the FBI sting operation known as Abscam which was conducted in 1980. He was recorded saying he had been given a cash loan by an associate.[5] Jenrette was sentenced to two years in prison, of which he served 13 months.[6]

Later career[edit]

Jenrette was defeated for re-election in 1980 and resigned from Congress on December 10, just days before the end of his term. He subsequently ran a public relations firm called Lehuguenot, Ltd.,[7] in Myrtle Beach and developed property in nearby Cherry Grove.

His wife, Rita, separated from him in January 1981 and they divorced later the same year.

In 2017, the book Capitol Steps and Missteps: The Wild, Improbable Ride of Congressman John Jenrette was published. It was written by two of Jenrette's former aides, John F. Clark and Cookie Miller VanSice. While promoting the book, Jenrette described his years since Congress as including "marketing an experimental balloon-operated flotation device; running (and then folding) a national chain of timeshares; breeding horses in Bulgaria; and selling Phillip Morris cigarettes in Eastern Europe immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union". He also imported wine from Hungary and antique furniture from Eastern Europe.[8] He became a developer of major coastal property in North Myrtle Beach, and lived with his third wife Rosemary in a beachfront home in Myrtle Beach.


After several years of declining health, Jenrette died in Conway on March 17, 2023, at the age of 86.[9][10][11] South Carolina congressman James Clyburn issued a statement of tribute following Jenrette’s death.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Who's who in the South and Southwest. 1980. ISBN 9780837908175.
  2. ^ Burbage, John M. (September 2, 2017). "Ex-congressional aides take a new look at John Jenrette". The Post and Courier. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  3. ^ Roberts, Roxanne (28 November 2011). "Rita Jenrette's new take on an old sex scandal: That night on the Capitol steps". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  4. ^ Schuyler Kropf (March 18, 2023). "Former SC congressman John Jenrette has passed at 86". Charleston Post and Courier.
  5. ^ "EX-REP. JENRETTE GETS TWO YEARS IN ABSCAM CASE". The New York Times. UPI. December 10, 1983.
    - Judi Hasson (October 7, 1980). "Rep. John Jenrette, D-S.C., an admitted alcoholic who said..." UPI.
  6. ^ "JENRETTE FREED AS JUDGE CRITICIZES ABSCAM PROBE". The Chicago Tribune. United Press International. May 14, 1986.
  7. ^ "Lehuguenot, Ltd". Manta.
  8. ^ Chloe Johnson (February 3, 2018). "Former U.S. Rep. John Jenrette discusses life after politics, new book". The Post and Courier.
  9. ^ Accettulla, Kevin (18 March 2023). "Former US Rep. John Jenrette dies". WBTW News 13.
  10. ^ Schuyler Kropf (March 18, 2023). "Former SC congressman John Jenrette has passed at 86". Charleston Post and Courier.
  11. ^ Sandomir, Richard (21 March 2023). "John Jenrette Jr., Congressman Nabbed in Abscam Sting, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  12. ^ Schuyler Kropf (March 18, 2023). "Former SC congressman John Jenrette has passed at 86". Charleston Post and Courier.

External links[edit]


  • ""Destination Scandal" tour of DC". The Washington Post.
  • The Hill, May 29, 2002
  • The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), November 17, 1999
  • The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), July 22, 2000

"Capitol Steps and Missteps; The Wild, Improbable Ride of Congressman John Jenrette," by John F. Clark and Cookie Miller VanSice, 2017.

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by