I missed this when the news broke a few days ago and I regret it, as it sure looks like there’s a genuine ethical issue here.
Tucker Carlson attacked McCarthy on Monday for being pals with Frank Luntz, whom he now has it in for because Luntz has been chummy for decades with the GOP establishment and used to work for Google and is busy these days trying to persuade Americans to get vaccinated or for some other unknown reason. Someone tipped Carlson off last weekend that not only are Luntz and McCarthy friends, they were roommates for a time. Apparently at one point McCarthy rented a room from Luntz at an apartment he owns in D.C. McCarthy confirmed that the next day but emphasized that he no longer rents there.
Either way, Carlson had a point in wondering whether McCarthy was paying fair market value for the room or whether his friend Frank gave him a sweetheart deal. Given that Luntz has worked before with Republicans and may work with them again, that could be considered a sort of bribe to the probable next Speaker of the House to ensure that McCarthy keeps him in mind for business opportunities.
WaPo’s Glenn Kessler dug around for details on McCarthy’s lease from Luntz. What he found does sound awfully sweethearted.
So what kind of apartment is this?
It’s a 7,000-square-foot space — a combination of four penthouse apartments — with what appear to be homeowner’s association (HOA) fees of nearly $5,000 per month.
In August and September of 2018, Luntz purchased four adjoining penthouse units in the Clara Barton building in Penn Quarter for a total of almost $4.3 million. Combined, the units totaled 6,960 square feet and had 12 bedrooms, 12 full bathrooms and four half-baths. The HOA fees alone on the units are $4,976 per month, according to Redfin.com…
Besides the “room” he rented, McCarthy would have had access to a 24/7 concierge, a rooftop pool, a fitness center, a media room, a business center, and a party room with a bar and pool table.
It’s a mansion inside an apartment building. One of McCarthy’s spokesmen told the Daily Wire how much he paid for access: “McCarthy rented a room of approximately 400 square feet, and under House Ethics guidelines, calculated the fair market amount at $1,500/month by comparing what other members of Congress were also paying to live in the building and additional comparables for the space in the building and neighborhood.”
Fifteen hundred per month for use of a mansion? Was Luntz even there while McCarthy was renting or did he have the run of the place to himself? Is there some separate entrance in which McCarthy could only access his bedroom and not the rest of the residence? It’d be weird if there was, given that Luntz apparently undertook renovations to make the whole thing a single residence.
“This is quite a deal, especially considering that Luntz has talked about how he’s on the road all the time,” sniffed Politico. I’ll say. Washingtonian looked at other recent apartment listings in D.C. to see what $1,500 per month will get you and found you could rent a single room for that price in a three- or four-bedroom home — if you’re willing to put up with roommates. Or you could get a small 400-sq-ft studio in Adams Morgan.
They didn’t find anything mansion-sized, curiously enough. Kessler asked around and the cheapest studio or one-bedroom apartment he heard of in that building was $2,300 per month. In “premium” buildings nearby, a one-bedroom might run you five grand. And although you might enjoy similar building amenities that McCarthy enjoyed, you obviously wouldn’t have access to a 7,000-sq-ft interior space.
Reporter Lachlan Markay remembered that one of the reasons Trump’s former EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, was ultimately pressured into resigning was the below-market rent he paid on a D.C. apartment owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist whose firm was doing business before Pruitt’s agency. He had an unusual deal in which he only had to pay for nights in which he actually slept in the apartment. His rate: $50 per day, or … $1,500 per month. A former federal ethics official told the NYT at the time that “employees should consider declining gifts when they believe that their integrity or impartiality would be questioned if they were to accept the gift.” That was clear enough in Pruitt’s case because the lobbyist had a financial interest in EPA regulations. It’s not as clear with Luntz doing McCarthy a favor — unless Luntz has some business with Congress or the GOP.
But even if he doesn’t, given his history of working with Republicans, he’s apt to have some eventually, right? Kessler pointed out that House rules do allow politicians to receive gifts from personal friends but that they should seek the approval of the Ethics Committee for any gift valued at more than $250. Did McCarthy seek approval of his rent deal with Luntz? Or is he really going to pretend that a bedroom in a mansion should be valued at the same rate as a random studio apartment?
I still want to know who tipped off Carlson about this. There’s no shortage of suspects. It could be Liz Cheney allies wanting to make trouble for McCarthy as revenge for his willingness to depose her. It could be Trump allies wanting to make trouble for him as revenge for standing by Cheney initially and criticizing Trump over the insurrection. It could be Steve Scalise allies wanting to push McCarthy out, clearing Scalise’s path to the Speakership in 2023. Or it could be enemies of Frank Luntz, who want to create trouble for him for whatever reason. Stay tuned.