A lawsuit was filed Tuesday by an anonymous accuser against Matt Schlapp and his wife Mercedes, two prominent Republican insiders in Washington, DC, alleging sexual battery and defamation. The two are a conservative power couple at the intersection of the conservatism of the mainstream movement and the MAGA wing of the GOP.
The lawsuit originates in October 2022, when Schlapp allegedly groped and propositioned a male staffer in Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign while appearing at events for the Georgia Republican. The accident, first reported by the Daily Beastit was promptly reported to senior officials about Walker’s campaign, which Vox was able to confirm.
The lawsuit doesn’t just target Schlapp for what it describes as “aggressive petting [the plaintiff’s] genital area in an alleged manner,” but for what it describes as an organized effort by Schlapp and his wife to discredit and defame the accuser. The lawsuit also alleges that the accuser was defamed by Charlie Spies, Schlapp’s attorney, and Caroline Wren, a Republican operative involved in the infamous January 6, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C., as well as the Schlapps.The lawsuit includes text Mercedes Schlapp sent to a neighborhood group chat that falsely described the accuser as “a problematic individual who was fired for lying”.
Who is Matt Schlapp?
Schlapp is at the center of Washington’s conservative establishment. Former political director in George W. Bush’s White House, in 2014 he became head of the American Conservative Union (ACU), the right-wing group that organizes the annual conference of the highly influential Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC). Schlapp’s prominence grew during the Trump administration as he became a vocal ally of the former president, appearing regularly on Fox News, and Mercedes Schlapp became a top staffer inside the Trump White House. At the same time, Schlapp, a father of five, has maintained an active lobbying presence through his firm Cove Strategies and has raised millions during the Trump administration. As authors Lachlan When And Asawin Suebsaeng described them in their critically acclaimed book Sink in the swamp, “The Schlapps have carved out a niche for themselves as a Trump-era power couple, wielding influence in the president’s inner circle and translating that influence into lucrative lobbying deals.”
Because it’s important?
Schlapp is important because of the ACU and CPAC. There are many well-connected Republicans within the Beltway, and certainly a number of Trump allies, who have sought to leverage their ties to the former president to become right-wing media personalities. But what separates Schlapp from your average Tom, Dick, or Seb Gorka is his control over the CPAC. The conference is the annual yardstick of the identity of the conservative movement and has followed the the drift of the right in Trumpism how figures once banned from the conference as the extremists are now featured speakers. It’s the place that establishment politicians appear when they need to court conservatives and where conservative politicians show up to get noticed.
The CPAC is also a profit center where sponsors try to get the conservative movement to embrace their political goals. In the Trump era, traditional corporate sponsors they backtracked for more MAGA-inclined groups and companies. The fights over what topics are and aren’t discussed at the CPAC are heated. More recently, traditional social conservatives have complained about abortion had been diverted in favor of MAGAworld favorites like targeting big tech and “wokeism.”
Finally, CPAC is a scene. It attracts Republican officials, would-be officials, agents, consultants, con artists, and just plain weirdos from all over the country. It’s a place where attendees show up dressed as George Washington, a disgraced congressman a hot tub party, and where much of Washington’s networking sausage-making is made. While other conservative groups like TPUSA have also staged more interesting events with high-profile speakers, the CPAC still maintains unique convening power on the right.
The lawsuit raises questions about whether Schlapp will be able to maintain his senior role as head of the ACU and comes just weeks before the CPAC’s annual conference in early March, which typically draws international attention. The conference has partnered with conservative LGBT groups in the past, such as GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans, although it has also hosted speakers such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who denounced same-sex marriage on stage at last year’s conference in Texas.
What’s up now
In a statement to Vox, Tim Hyland, an attorney for the accuser, said: “Our client is a victim of a sexual assault by Mr. Schlapp … Mr. Schlapp has not directly denied our client’s allegations and with good reason – they are unequivocally true and corroborated by ample contemporary evidence.Instead, through his friends and colleagues he initiated a whisper campaign and leveled the social media attacks by spreading lies about our client.
“We intend to maintain a singular focus on proving that Matt Schlapp is a sexual predator who assaulted our client. Since Mr. Schlapp has refused to admit to his behavior, this lawsuit aims to hold Mr. Schlapp and those who lie for him accountable for their actions. The suit asks at least $9.4 million in damages.
In a declaration posted by Schlapp on Twitter, Spies said, “This anonymous complaint demonstrates the accuser’s true agenda, working in concert with [the] Daily Beast to attack and harm the Schlapp family. The allegation is false, and the Schlapp family is suffering unbearable pain and stress as a result of an anonymous individual’s false claim. No family should ever have to go through this, and the Schlapps and their legal team are weighing counter-lawsuit options.
Neither Schlapp nor Spies responded to Vox’s subsequent requests for comment.
Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2019. Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images