Republicans are mostly ignoring a $9.4 million sexual assault lawsuit against the Trump-aligned head of CPAC

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp, and Sen. Ted Cruz at CPAC Texas in Dallas in August 2022.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp, and Sen. Ted Cruz at CPAC Texas in Dallas in August 2022.Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • A GOP staffer accused CPAC head Matt Schlapp of sexually assaulting him, filing a $9.4 million lawsuit.

  • "I will never forget the look on Matt's face as he did what he did," the staffer told Insider.

  • Republicans in Congress — who typically flock to CPAC — are pleading ignorance on the issue.

In just over one month, the Conservative Political Action Coalition is set to hold a large gathering of influential Republicans at its annual conference near Washington, DC.

Dozens of GOP members of Congress are likely to attend, if previous years offer any indication, and the conference's chief organizer — American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp — has already begun to roll out scheduled speakers.

That's despite Schlapp being the subject of a $9.4 million lawsuit: a man who worked as a mid-level staffer on Herschel Walker's Senate campaign has accused Schlapp of sexually assaulting him after a night of drinking in October, as first reported by The Daily Beast.

"I will never forget the look on Matt's face as he did what he did," the staffer told Insider in a recent interview, describing Schlapp's "smug look of satisfaction" as he allegedly groped and fondled the man's genital area at length. "That's something that will be burned into my mind for the rest of my days."

As with other media outlets, Insider is maintaining the anonymity of the accuser, who's worked in Republican politics for over 10 years, in order to protect his livelihood.

The staffer's complaint filing, a copy of which was obtained by Insider, also includes defamation and conspiracy charges that implicate Schlapp's wife and fellow CPAC employee, Mercedes Schlapp. And it threatens to cast a shadow over what is typically a marquee event in conservative politics.

Mercedes Schlapp and Matt Schlapp speak at CPAC Texas in August 2022
Mercedes Schlapp and Matt Schlapp speak at CPAC Texas in August 2022Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

In interviews with nearly a dozen Republican members of Congress on Capitol Hill, most professed ignorance on the details of the lawsuit or sought to draw a distinction between Schlapp and the conference, where Republicans typically give red-meat speeches before an audience of highly-engaged conservative activists.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was the only Republican willing to offer an outright defense of Schlapp when asked about the allegations.

"I've known Matt a long time. He's a friend, I like and respect him," said Cruz. "I find it very hard to believe these allegations are true, and I'm confident the legal system will adjudicate them fairly."

Others suggest that Schlapp, who's only issued a denial through his lawyer, Charlie Spies, has more explaining to do.

"I think if people are coming forward with serious accusations like this, then it does need to be looked into," said Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who has prioritized combatting sexual assault, particular in the military, in her work as a senator. "Understand that I feel very strongly about those types of accusations."

'Uncomfortable with what happened last night'

According to both the staffer and an account included in the lawsuit filed in the Alexandria Circuit Court in Virginia earlier this month, Schlapp assaulted the man on the evening of October 19, while in Georgia to campaign for Walker.

The lawsuit alleges that as the staffer drove Schlapp back to his hotel after a night of drinking at two different bars — where Schlapp "sat unusually close" to the staffer and "repeatedly" made physical contact with his leg at the second bar — Schlapp "began aggressively fondling" the staffer's genital area in a "sustained fashion."

The staffer later declined Schlapp's invitation to go to his hotel room, the suit alleges. Later that night, the staffer described the encounter in a series of recordings he made at home and informed friends of what had happened.

The following morning, the staffer declined to pick Schlapp up and drive him to the next Walker campaign event, telling him in a text message that he was "uncomfortable with what happened last night" and giving him the number of an alternative driver. Schlapp then attempted to call the staffer three times in the span of 20 minutes, according to the lawsuit, later asking the staffer to call him back "if you could see it in your heart."

A screenshot of the staffer's texts with Matt Schlapp on the morning after the assault on October 20, 2022.
A screenshot of the staffer's texts with Matt Schlapp on the morning after the assault on October 20, 2022.Walker campaign staffer

Officials with the Walker campaign were made aware of the allegations the following morning, and sought to assist the staffer with counseling and assessing legal options. According to one report, Walker himself was eventually made aware of the allegations.

In addition to the sexual battery charge, the lawsuit implicates Mercedes Schlapp, a former Trump administration official, and her husband in a series of defamation and conspiracy charges. According to the suit, Mercedes Schlapp told neighbors in a group chat that the staffer is a "troubled individual" who had been fired from a previous job for "lying and lying on his resume."

The suit also names Caroline Wren, an organizer of the "Stop The Steal" rally ahead of the January 6 riot, as a co-conspirator with the Schlapps in seeking to defame the staffer.

For now, the staffer is choosing to remain anonymous.

"I had a private life before Matt Schlapp, and I want to have that life post-Matt Schlapp," he said. "It is my personal desire that it does not become the defining experience in my life."

The suit also points to concerns about threats from political adversaries, noting that the Schlapps are "well known, and in some quarters revered, amongst a portion of the population that has demonstrated a proclivity for threatening violence against those with whom they disagree."

The Schlapps have until early February to formally respond to the suit, though they could seek an extension. A trial, if it occurs, could take place sometime during 2024.

'That doesn't affect CPAC as a whole'

For now, most Republicans on Capitol Hill are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"Tell you what, you know, after what I've been through, I try to not draw quick judgments based on headlines," said Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who's been under a federal sex trafficking investigation for over two years. "I'm eager to go to CPAC."

Career prosecutors have reportedly recommended no charges against Gaetz, though no final decision has been announced.

Rep. Matt Gaetz at CPAC in Orlando, Florida in February 2022.
Rep. Matt Gaetz at CPAC in Orlando, Florida in February 2022.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"I'm not sure I can get into it, I don't know what's going on," said Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas.

"Those are simply allegations, and I'm not going to comment on them," said Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee.

"I'm aware of the allegations, and now I'm aware it's 9.4 million," said Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was careful to hedge when asked if he would be comfortable going to the conference.

"Oh, I don't know. I didn't say that," said Hawley. "I just said that I don't know if I've been invited or not. I'll let you know what we decide to do, if we get invited."

Others spoke favorably of the conference itself, or sought to draw a distinction between Schlapp and CPAC.

"Well, ACU, I'm sure they'll do something with that," said Republican Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, whose planned appearance at the conference was recently announced by Schlapp himself. "CPAC is a conference where we go, and we talk to other conservatives, and that's what I want to do."

"I actually don't know Matt Schlapp. I've probably been in the same room with him two or three times over the last eight years," said Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who added that he said he would still feel comfortable attending the conference. "CPAC's a good organization."

"Obviously, they're going to work that out on the legal side," said Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma. "But that doesn't affect CPAC as a whole."

"From what I saw, they're claiming it's a smear job against them, and an attack," said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. "But you know, we'll let that play itself out."

"But I don't think that has anything to do with the organization," Rubio added. "They've had other chairmen before, they'll have a future chairman at some point."

'Nobody is sitting there saying that nothing happened'

For the staffer, the suit is largely personal; having worked in Republican politics since 2012, he says there's nothing political about what he's doing.

"I remain devoted in the political positions and principles that I hold, and have held, for over a decade," he told Insider.

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at CPAC in Orlando, Florida in February 2022.
Sen. Marco Rubio speaks at CPAC in Orlando, Florida in February 2022.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In fact, he says he waited months to come forward because he didn't want to negatively impact Walker's chances of winning Georgia Senate seat; incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock ultimately prevailed in the December 6 run-off election.

"I was not going to let my situation, no matter how bad it was, distract from the opportunity for Georgia to have a conservative United States senator," he said.

Walker himself has been accused by multiple former romantic partners of threatening physical assault. His ex-wife said in 2008 that he held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her, and former girlfriends have similarly accused him of threatening violence against them.

As for whether Republican elected officials should attend CPAC, the staffer says he would "leave those decisions to them personally" and says he hopes that people "are able to separate how they look at CPAC versus how they look at Matt and Mercedes."

"All matters pertaining to CPAC, I leave to CPAC internally," he said when asked if Matt Schlapp should remain atop the organization.

And in the weeks since he first went public with his allegations, the staffer says he's largely satisfied with the response — or lack thereof — from the conservative world, primarily because there's been no major closing of ranks behind Schlapp, who still has yet to directly address the allegations publicly.

"Nobody is sitting there saying that nothing happened," he said. "That has probably been my biggest takeaway from everything."

Correction: January 30, 2023 — An earlier version of this article misstated Josh Hawley's title. He is a senator, not a representative.

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