By Jamie Gangel, Gregory Krieg and Elizabeth Stuart, CNN
A Republican strategist alleges that Matt Schlapp, the influential chairman of the American Conservative Union, groped and fondled his groin as he drove Schlapp back to an Atlanta hotel several weeks before the November midterm election.
The strategist, a male in his late thirties who was working for the Georgia GOP and Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign at the time, told CNN that Schlapp made the unwanted sexual advances on the ride back from two area bars on October 19. Schlapp allegedly invited the strategist, who was assigned to drive Schlapp, to join him in his hotel room. The staffer declined the offer, and hours later reported the incident to senior campaign staff.
Schlapp, through his attorney, denies this claim. “The attack is false and Mr. Schlapp denies any improper behavior,” Schlapp attorney Charlie Spies told CNN. “We are evaluating legal options for response.”
The staffer says he called and texted friends in real time to tell them what happened. CNN reviewed a text exchange between the staffer and a friend in politics, where the staffer is clearly upset and wondering how to tell the campaign that one of their surrogates had allegedly assaulted him. The exchange is being made public for the first time.
“He’s pissed I didn’t follow him to his hotel room,” the staffer wrote.
“I’m so sorry man,” the acquaintance responded. “What a f**king creep.”
The staffer later texted, “I just don’t know how to say it to my superiors thst heir [sic] surrogate fondled my junk without my consent.”
The staffer, an experienced political strategist who has worked on a number of high profile national and statewide campaigns has asked that his identity be withheld because of concerns over professional backlash. However, he says he will come forward if Schlapp publicly refutes his claims, which were first reported by the Daily Beast last week.
Schlapp runs the ACU, the organization most widely known for staging the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. Both Schlapp and the group occasionally butted heads with Donald Trump before he was elected president in 2016, but have since become fierce loyalists. Schlapp, who served in the George W. Bush White House as director of political affairs, took over the ACU in 2014. His wife, Mercedes Schlapp, worked as Trump’s communications director for nearly two years, from 2017 to 2019.
ACU leadership defended Schlapp in a statement that called the initial report an attempt at “character assassination.” The group’s first and second vice chairs added, “We stand squarely behind Matt Schlapp, and the ACU Board of Directors has full confidence in his leadership of the organization.”
Details of the alleged assault
According to text messages reviewed by CNN, Schlapp suggested meeting the staffer for drinks.
“I have a dinner at 7. May grab a beer after if you want to join let me know,” Schlapp texted the staffer. The staffer told CNN he joined Schlapp because of the ACU leader’s standing in conservative political circles.
Once at the bar, the staffer says Schlapp began to inappropriately invade his personal space. After leaving the bar, the staffer alleges Schlapp sexually assaulted him as he was driving Schlapp back to his hotel. The staffer said he did not respond in the moment because he was stunned into silence and was focused on getting Schlapp out of the car as quickly as possible.
Later that evening, Schlapp called the staffer, according to a call log reviewed by CNN, to confirm the staffer would be driving him to another Walker event the next morning. After receiving the call, the staffer says he broke down and memorialized what happened by recording videos of himself describing the alleged assault.
“Matt Schlapp, of the CPAC, grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length. And I’m sitting there (in the car) saying, ‘What the hell is going on that this person with a wife and kids is literally doing this to me, from Manuel’s Tavern to the Hilton Garden Inn there at the Atlanta Airport,'” the staffer says in one of the self-recorded clips, which CNN reviewed. “He literally has his hands on me. And I feel so f**king dirty. Feel so f**king dirty. So I don’t know what to do in the morning.”
The next morning, the staffer told top Walker campaign officials about the alleged incident and they immediately directed him not to drive Schlapp and to pass on a number of a car service.
Senior Walker campaign officials confirmed to CNN that they spoke with the staffer and immediately notified campaign lawyers. One source told CNN the staffer was offered options including legal counsel, contacting law enforcement, a therapist, or if he wanted, to speak to reporters. The source added that he thought the staffer was angry and mortified by the situation.
Unaware that the alleged incident was being reported to the campaign, Schlapp texted the staffer again to inform him that he was “in the lobby,” awaiting a ride.
The staffer responded, via text, telling Schlapp, “I did want to say I was uncomfortable with what happened last night. The campaign does have a driver who is available to get you to Macon and back to the airport.”
Schlapp texted back asking the staffer to call him and then, according to a phone log reviewed by CNN, repeatedly tried calling the staffer, who did not answer. Several hours later, Schlapp reached out again by text, addressed the staffer by name, and asked, “if you could see it in your heart to call me at the end of the day. I would appreciate it. If not I wish you luck on the campaign and hope you keep up the good work.”
The staffer says he is coming forward to discuss the alleged incident because he wants to prevent someone else from being victimized. The staffer is also motivated, by what he described as CPAC’s hypocrisy in hosting guests hostile to LGBTQ rights.
Early in his time overseeing CPAC, Schlapp faced some backlash over efforts to be more inclusive of gay conservatives. But CPAC has become increasingly welcome ground for political leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has targeted his country’s gay community as part of its Christian-conservative agenda.
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