New Matt Schlapp Subpoenas Target Document-Shredding at CPAC

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
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As the once-storied Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off the 50th anniversary of its inaugural national gathering, the organization is finding itself increasingly anchored to the sexual assault allegations leveled a year ago against its longtime leader, conservative activist Matt Schlapp.

On Wednesday, the opening day for CPAC 2024, the Alexandria City Courthouse posted a batch of eye-popping new filings in the sexual battery and defamation lawsuit against Schlapp—including a subpoena to a CPAC official alleged to have overseen document destruction days after the accusations were first publicly reported. Schlapp was on notice at the time about potential legal action.

The court records show subpoenas to other key witnesses, as well, including CPAC officials and other alleged victims. Two young men who previously reported unwanted physical advances from Schlapp have been deposed, including in connection with an alleged incident where the conservative icon, drunk and stripped to his underwear, rubbed his crotch on a young man at a fundraising event months before the alleged assault at the center of the lawsuit.

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The accusations surfaced last January, when The Daily Beast first reported that a conservative political operative claimed that Schlapp sexually assaulted him in his car in October 2022. The accuser, Carlton Huffman, provided text messages and other real-time communications to support his account. He followed up on those claims with a multimillion-dollar sexual battery and defamation lawsuit against Schlapp, his wife Mercedes Schlapp, and CPAC itself, which is headed for a jury trial in June.

The Schlapps—through various attorneys, court filings, and surrogates—have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

The alleged shredding incident, however, could be a major new development, as Huffman and a separate but sympathetic chorus of former CPAC officials seek to illustrate what they have painted as a scorched-earth conspiracy to protect Schlapp and expend his alleged victim.

Three sources familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that the recently subpoenaed CPAC official—manager of strategic initiatives, Lynne Rasmussen—directly oversaw interns shredding documents in or near her office shortly after The Daily Beast published Huffman’s allegations.

Shredded items allegedly included some personal documents belonging to Schlapp, according to communications from a CPAC employee at the time, which were reviewed by The Daily Beast. Specifically, the communications single out parking tickets as well as business records related to Schlapp’s private lobbying outfit, Cove Strategies.

The summons is one of four previously unreported subpoenas submitted last week by Schlapp’s accuser—Huffman—who was a Herschel Walker campaign staffer at the time of the alleged incident.

Other subpoenas targeted CPAC board member Carolyn D. Meadows, along with two of Walker’s top former officials—campaign manager Scott Paradise and in-house counsel Stefan Passantino—who both offered Huffman support when he first came forward the morning after the alleged assault, The Daily Beast previously reported. A subpoena also went out to CPAC adviser, Turner Johnson.

Paradise and Passantino, along with the other Walker officials who were informed at the time, had both taken Huffman’s initial claims at face value when he came forward the morning after the October 2022 incident. And Huffman has provided communications with campaign officials that morning as evidence that he came forward with private but detailed allegations immediately.

Those communications, along with interviews with campaign officials, show that the Walker team immediately pulled Huffman from Schlapp’s personal detail, and offered him options for legal, professional, and mental health support.

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For her part, Meadows was one of two CPAC officials to sign a joint statement avowing that they “stand squarely behind Matt Schlapp” have “full confidence in his leadership of the organization.” The statement cited “Schlapp’s heart and his character” as reason to dismiss the allegations, implying that The Daily Beast and NBC News—which corroborated Huffman’s allegations—had teamed up with “the Left” in an attempted “character assassination” on their “quest to cancel those with whom they disagree.” (Huffman is a lifelong Republican.)

As the case proceeded, however, the second official on that statement—then-vice president Charlie Gerow—reversed his analysis. Gerow ultimately resigned in protest, submitting a scalding final letter to the CPAC board in August that trashed Schlapp for financial mismanagement, runaway egotism, and demands of “blind loyalty” from the board in the face of what Gerow saw as increasingly compelling allegations that could create objectively serious risks for the nonprofit.

“Tragically, for those who are encouraging Matt to ‘fight this to the end’ the costs are already staggering,” Gerow wrote the board. He mocked the prospect of appealing to Schlapp’s “heart” and scoffed at the initial promises to “blow this case out of the water” within a month.

“That obviously did not happen,” Gerow wrote. “Instead huge legal bills continue to mount.”

Months after Gerow resigned, Huffman tacked CPAC on to the case as a third defendant. The Daily Beast sent comment requests to Paradise, Passantino, Meadows, Rasmussen, Gerow, CPAC counsel, and Schlapp’s attorney, but did not receive a reply. Huffman’s attorney declined comment.

While the full scope of Schlapp and CPAC’s costs from the case is still unknown—as are the sources of those funds—current and former officials estimate that those bills long ago blew past the million-dollar mark. Court records indicate the two sides have engaged in intense, granular running battles usually associated with steep costs.

Huffman’s original lawsuit last January castigated Schlapp as a “sexual predator,” and accused him of battery and defamation—with that second charge also leveled at Mercedes Schlapp for her alleged role in a retaliatory smear campaign against Huffman. In the weeks after coming forward, Huffman was tarred over his former affiliations with white supremacists—revelations that forced him out of his job as a GOP aide with the North Carolina legislature. (Huffman acknowledged those past statements and ties, roundly denouncing them and noting they were more than a decade old.)

But Huffman—who turned down an early settlement offer from Schlapp—has since upped the stakes. Two months ago, he added CPAC itself as a defendant in his lawsuit, claiming the organization knew of another alleged sexual assault months prior to Schlapp “groping” and “pommeling” Huffman’s crotch against his will.

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The new complaint charged CPAC with negligent retention of an official and conspiracy. Huffman seeks a combined judgment of more than $13.5 million, with a parallel federal defamation suit against Jan. 6 fundraiser and far-right gadfly Caroline Wren. (Wren has denied any wrongdoing.)

The alleged CPAC document destruction took place soon after the first public reports of Huffman’s accusation, according to three people familiar with the matter and communications reviewed by The Daily Beast. The communications—coming from a person in the CPAC office, and written the day of the event—even provide an exact date: Jan. 11, 2023, five days after the allegations were first publicly reported.

The shredding was allegedly carried out by interns, supposedly under the supervision of Rasmussen and CPAC general counsel David Safavian, according to the communications, which also speculate about Schlapp’s personal involvement. The interns disposed of a large quantity of records, according to the sources, even though early reports had already noted that Schlapp’s accuser—who was anonymous at the time—was clear that legal action against Schlapp was very much still pending.

Huffman filed his lawsuit just five days after the alleged shredding incident. It is unclear if there was any shredding after the suit was filed.

The disposal of documents, however, was apparently not a one-off.

Three sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast that CPAC offices had by that time already seen a flurry of new activity and policies related to record-retention. The policies started a few weeks earlier, in December 2021, after Huffman first tagged Schlapp in a social media post alluding vaguely to inappropriate drunken behavior. Following Huffman’s post—which was shared at the time by former CPAC official Ned Ryun—some CPAC higher-ups launched an informal, searching inventory of organization records, these sources said, while imposing new non-disclosure agreements for all office employees and docking pay for any non-compliant staff.

Court records obtained by The Daily Beast also confirm that a summons has gone out to Tim Miller, an openly gay political strategist who told independent outlet 24Sight this weekend that the subpoena is likely because Huffman contacted him for advice the night of the alleged assault.

24Sight also reported that Huffman subpoenaed Fox News star Sean Hannity, whose deposition is set for March 22, along with former CPAC communications chief Ian Walters, who will be deposed next Tuesday.

The Hannity subpoena stems from an alleged email between the late night host and Schlapp, referenced in Huffman’s amended complaint, 24Sight reported. After Huffman came forward, Fox News allegedly blacklisted the Schlapps—both of them regular on-air contributors—and the network has still not re-upped its longtime CPAC sponsorship. A person close to Hannity told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Hannity had not yet received formal notice, adding that he has not used email for years. (Court records also show that Rasmussen was originally subpoenaed in September, though her deposition was put off.)

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This fall, Huffman’s counsel subpoenaed two other young men who reported inappropriate sexual advances from Schlapp, court records show. One of them—who was deposed in November, according to court records—allegedly claimed that Schlapp, in his underwear, rubbed his crotch on the young man while drunk at a Palm Beach fundraising event sometime around February 2022. That claim appears in the sealed version of Huffman’s amended complaint, The Washington Post previously reported.

Huffman has also subpoenaed recently departed CPAC brass, including former vice president Charlie Gerow and Bob Beauprez, the longtime treasurer who torched the organization’s management in a resignation letter last spring. Additionally, two sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast that FBI agents have over the last six months spoken with multiple former CPAC officials about the organization’s finances.

As the lawsuit’s discovery phase steams ahead, with a jury trial now only months away, the docket has hummed with volleys of subpoenas, letters, and motions—many still under seal. At the same time, Schlapp and the CPAC team have busied themselves with organizing this year’s annual conference, which opened on Wednesday at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland’s National Harbor. The centerpiece of the conference this year will once again be a keynote from Trump, who chalked last year’s lackluster lineup up to fears of rebuke from his die-hard following.

The event has in years past been a magnet for conservative stalwarts and rising stars alike, a staple for Beltway Republicans looking to make inroads with the party’s most well-wired players. However, with the arrival of Trump and the MAGA movement, CPAC’s star began to dim. Recent years have seen notable shifts in attendance, as CPAC scrapped its mainstream conservative bona fides and instead embraced fringe and frivolous figures on the far right—celebrating the likes of Jan. 6 insurrectionists and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, while platforming authoritarian leaders across the globe.

It’s unclear how much of that branding pivot was pre-planned and how much was simply an inability to forestall Trump, leading Schlapp and his crew to adopt a “sour grapes” attitude that recast MAGA critics within the GOP as scurrilous political enemies. Regardless, the shifts have led to declines in attendance, revenue, and influence, a trend the Schlapp allegations exacerbated last year.

This year, the cost of general admission dropped by $200, with full weekend passes priced at just $95. And the list of 23 conference sponsors features no less than five entities that are actually just CPAC itself—including the Center for Fundamental Rights, the organization’s arm in Hungary.

Reese Gorman contributed reporting.

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