|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from South Carolina's 6th district
January 3, 1975 - December 10, 1980
|Edward Lunn Young|
|John Light Napier|
|Member of the |
South Carolina House of Representatives
from Horry County
|City Attorney of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina|
|William E. Cameron|
Mark C. Garner
|Judge of the Myrtle Beach Municipal Court|
John Wilson Jenrette Jr.
May 19, 1936
Conway, South Carolina, U.S.
(m. 1976; div. 1981)
|Alma mater||Wofford College (B.A.)|
University of South Carolina (LL.B.)
John Wilson Jenrette Jr. (born May 19, 1936) is an American former politician from South Carolina, best known for his involvement in the ABSCAM corruption scandal, and being the husband of Playboy model Rita Jenrette. He served 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 operation.
Jenrette was born in Conway, South Carolina in 1936 and grew up in Loris, South Carolina. He graduated from Loris High School, in 1954. He then earned a B.A. at Wofford College in 1958. After graduating from law school at the University of South Carolina, worked as a city attorney, then a judge, as he attempted to reach higher office.
Jenrette was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1964, where he represented his native town of Myrtle Beach. He retired from the state house to run for a seat in the U.S. House in 1972.
Jenrette defeated seventeen-term Congressman John L. McMillan in the primary, but lost the general election to Republican Edward Lunn Young. Undaunted, Jenrette again ran for the same seat in 1974. In part because of the extreme unpopularity of Republican Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, Jenrette won.
Jenrette, a liberal, seemed out of place representing his rather conservative waterfront congressional district. However, he was locally well-known, and the South Carolina Republican Party was not especially well-organized at the time in that part of the state. Jenrette easily defeated Young again in 1976 and was unopposed in 1978.
Jenrette is most famous for two things during his days as a Congressman. First, he allegedly 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 their name from this escapade.)
Second, he was charged with and convicted of accepting a $50,000 bribe in the FBI sting operation known as Abscam which was conducted in 1980. He was recorded saying he had been given a cash bribe by an associate. Jenrette was sentenced to two years in prison, of which he served 13 months.
His wife, Rita, separated from him in January 1981 and the two divorced later the same year.
Jenrette was defeated for reelection 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., in his native Myrtle Beach, and developed property in nearby Cherry Grove.
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. 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 cigarettes in Eastern Europe immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union."