From the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump and his supporters tried to accuse Biden of nepotism and various kinds of corruption involving his son Hunter Biden’s checkered business career. Almost six months into Biden’s presidency, his administration has come under criticism for the appearance that family members and other relatives of senior staffers have been given jobs in the federal government.
There’s nothing new about that in politics, and it’s certainly not unique to either party: John F. Kennedy appointed his own brother as attorney general. But the Trump administration, which faced more charges of rampant corruption and blatant nepotism than any in recent political history, was poorly positioned to make such charges. According to a Salon investigation, two prominent Republicans in Washington — one a Trump ally, the other much less so — seem particularly compromised on this issue. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before that a congressman from North Carolina, have an extensive history of self-dealing and doling out perks to family members.
Blake Meadows, the former congressman’s son, was awarded a competitive internship with the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the summer of 2013, shortly after his father had been appointed to the committee. That was at least a plausible violation of House Ethics rules which state: “Members and staff should not do any special favors for family members.” That internship was only the beginning of a process that included Blake obtaining a free ride to law school. Meadows also hired Blake’s girlfriend (now his wife) and Blake’s best friend and college roommate as paid interns in his congressional office.
McCarthy likewise hired his son’s girlfriend (also now his wife) as a paid intern, as well as the children of his friend and ally Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who interned the summer before their senior years in high school. Denham’s daughter went on to intern under former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney at the Office of Management and Budget in 2017, when Denham was still a sitting member of Congress. (He lost his seat in the 2018 midterms.) While McCarthy’s son was an undergraduate at Georgetown University, he worked for Capitol Counsel, a lobbying firm that contributed to McCarthy’s campaign, supporting “partners on healthcare and tax policy work.”
Blake Meadows’ experience on the House Foreign Affairs Committee undoubtedly helped him obtain a highly competitive 2014 Emory Law School Woodruff Scholarship, which includes a full ride through law school valued at $160,000. Blake’s 2014 bio on the Robert W. Woodruff Scholars and Fellows Program website outlines his experience as “an intern for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations; a regional congressional campaign manager; and a property manager at Connarista Camp, a conservation and outreach program focusing on land conservancy and wildlife management.”
In addition, Blake’s profile claimed that he was “a paleontology enthusiast, having led four excavations in Colorado, one of which uncovered the fourth known Allosaurus skull worldwide.”
Blake description of his time with the Foreign Affairs Committee appears truthful, but the rest of that profile is questionable at best. He definitely did not lead an expedition that uncovered an allosaurus skull. Blake Meadows was 9 years old in 2001, when the skull in question was excavated by a fossil hunter named Joe Taylor, as detailed in a lengthy 2019 report by Charles Bethea of the New Yorker.
Blake and his family did, however, later participate in a home-school “adventure” based on “creation science” at the Colorado site of the excavation. That became the basis for a controversial and widely mocked documentary called “Raising the Allosaur,” which not only claimed that a group of children had found the fossil but that they had identified evidence of “a relatively recent and catastrophic event similar to that described in the Bible as the Flood of Noah’s day.” Even within the world of Biblical fundamentalism, that preposterous scenario was going too far. The film has largely been withdrawn from circulation, and the claim that home-schoolers found the dinosaur has been abandoned.
Blake Meadows’ alleged employment experience at “Connarista Camp” also appears dubious, and no mention of it appears on his LinkedIn profile or his professional biography. An extensive search by Salon could not find any company or organization with that name. Blake may have been referring to the 80-acre parcel of land owned by Mark Meadows’ LLC, Sound Investments of WNC, in Bertie County, North Carolina, adjacent to a tiny unincorporated community called Connaritsa. (Note the different spelling.) No camp of any description has ever operated on that property.
Blake’s longtime girlfriend and now wife, Phoebe Bermudez, was an intern in Meadows’ congressional office from January through May of 2013. Furthermore, Blake’s best friend and college roommate, Ben Williamson, was also an intern for Meadows’ congressional office in the summer of 2014 and became Meadows’ legislative correspondent in May 2015 after graduating from Patrick Henry College. He later worked for Meadows in the Trump White House.
Emily Norris, the longtime girlfriend and now wife of Connor McCarthy, the House minority leader’s son, was a paid intern in Kevin McCarthy’s congressional office during the summer of 2014. Her LinkedIn profile confirms that, identifying her as a “Congressional Intern for the U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Majority Leader” from June to August that year. Her sister Elise Norris was also an intern there in the summer of 2012 before going onto work for Fox News as a booker and later joining the Washington-based news outlet Axios as a director.
House rules prohibit members from hiring their own family members in their congressional offices, but other members can hire them, which likely explains why McCarthy hired both of Jeff Denham’s children as paid congressional Interns. Austin Denham worked for McCarthy in the summer of 2013 and Samantha Denham did so in the summer of 2015, in both cases just before their senior years in high school. As mentioned above, Samantha went on to intern for former Rep. Mick Mulvaney at the Office of Management and Budget in 2017, while her father was still in Congress.
Connor McCarthy, meanwhile, landed a gig with lobbying firm Capitol Counsel while working on his 2016 philosophy degree at Georgetown. His father is consistently listed as one of the top recipients of Capitol Counsel’s campaign contributions. As individuals, the principles, partners, attorneys and consultants at Capitol Counsel have given more than $40,000 to Kevin McCarthy’s campaigns since 2013.
According to an online bio, Connor worked as a research assistant at the firm, largely on health care issues and tax policy. In 2015, Kevin McCarthy took out a federal parent loan of between $50,000 and $100,000 to pay for Connor’s final year at Georgetown.
Kevin McCarthy’s congressional office didn’t return Salon’s request for comment, and Mark Meadows, now a private citizen, could not be reached for comment.
In a March 2020 interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, discussing the supposed Hunter Biden scandal, McCarthy criticized elected officials “who use their office or has children who use their office to get economic gain … and you have no experience whatsoever, and the only reason you have that job is because of your father.”
In a now-deleted Medium post, Connor McCarthy wrote about his father: “I’ve undoubtedly benefitted from my proximity to this political power.”