Republicans frustrated with GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn over unsubstantiated sex, drug claims

“This is unacceptable. There’s no evidence to this,” Kevin McCarthy said.

April 1, 2022, 9:02 PM

Republicans on Capitol Hill appeared frustrated with the weeklong controversy sparked by Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who made unsubstantiated claims in a recent interview that some of his colleagues invited him to sex parties and used cocaine.

"It's pretty clear to me that Madison must have a far more active social life than any other member of Congress that I'm aware of," Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., said Friday on Capitol Hill. "What he's saying can't possibly be true."

The 26-year-old freshman Republican lawmaker from North Carolina was asked by a podcast host if his experience in Washington comported with the dark drama depicted in Netflix's "House of Cards," the story of an ambitious lawmaker's murderous and cutthroat climb to the presidency.

"I look at all these people, a lot of them that I've always looked up to through my life, always paid attention to politics, guys that, you know -- then all of the sudden you get invited to, like, 'Oh hey, we're going to have kind of a sexual get-together at one of our homes. You should come.' And I'm like, 'What? What did you just ask me to come to?' And then you realize they're asking you to come to an orgy," Cawthorn said during a podcast interview with the "Warrior Poet Society."

Cawthorn continued on the podcast: "Or the fact that, you know, there's some of the people that are leading on the movement to try and remove addiction in our country, and then you watch them do a key bump of cocaine right in front of you. And it's like, this is wild."

Cawthorn's Republican colleagues have been quick to distance themselves from his comments and have denounced the allegations.

At least one lawmaker, Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, expressed his frustrations about Cawthorn's comments during a closed-door GOP conference meeting on Tuesday.

Womack told his colleagues that he has been forced to face questions about "orgies" and "drug parties" from his constituents, per sources familiar with his comments.

Late Friday, Cawthorn released a statement blasting "the left and the media" for "falsely" insinuating his remarks about sex parties and cocaine were about members of Congress.

"My comments on a recent podcast appearance calling out corruption have been used by the left and the media to disparage my Republican colleagues and falsely insinuate their involvement in illicit activities," Cawthorn tweeted.

Cawthorn added that he spent "several days" considering how to "best address this controversy."

His statement comes two days after he was called in for a meeting with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican leaders.

During this meeting, Cawthorn himself told Republican leadership that a member of Congress had invited him to a sex party, but when pressed for more details, he refused to identify the lawmaker and "backpedaled" his claims, per a source familiar with the discussion.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gives a tribute to Rep. Don Young as he lies in state in Statuary Hall at the Capitol, March 29, 2022.
Greg Nash/AP

The meeting, which lasted 30 minutes, was attended by Cawthorn, McCarthy, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise and GOP Rep. Mike Johnson, who had been assigned to mentor the freshman lawmaker last year.

Politico first reported details of the meeting.

McCarthy told reporters following the meeting that Cawthorn "did not tell the truth" and that he had admitted to exaggerating his claims. McCarthy said he told Cawthorn to change his behavior, otherwise there would be consequences.

"This is unacceptable. There's no evidence to this," McCarthy said. "That's not becoming of a congressman. He did not tell the truth."

"In the interview, he claims he watched people do cocaine. Then when he comes in, he tells me, he says he thinks he saw maybe a staffer in a parking garage from 100 yards away and tells me that he doesn't know what cocaine is basically," McCarthy said.

"The Constitution gives you the age when you could serve in Congress. But when you're in Congress, you should respect the institution and you should focus on the work that you should do," McCarthy said.

He said he told Cawthorn that he had to "earn his trust" back, or else he could lose his committee assignments or face other punishment.

"He's got a lot of members very upset," McCarthy said, adding, "You can't make statements like that, as a member of Congress; it affects everybody else and the country as a whole."

Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, July 9, 2021.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

During his remarks to reporters, McCarthy pointed to other transgressions the young lawmaker had committed in recent months, including driving with a suspended license, inviting a congressional candidate on the House floor without permission and then lying about it and referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a "thug."

Cawthorn's office did not return multiple requests for comment to ABC News, nor has Cawthorn provided proof to back up his claims.

Sources familiar with the meeting told ABC News that the Republican leaders asked Cawthorn to issue a public apology and clarify his remarks.

Cawthorn has not publicly apologized, but he did send a letter to constituents and even issued a new campaign ad, in which he defiantly said, "I will never bow to the mob."

"There are many who despise the great work we're doing to represent western North Carolina, but I promise, I will stay focused on the work that still needs to be done in Washington for my beautiful district," Cawthorn said.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, who appeared visibly frustrated with Cawthorn during an interview with ABC News on Friday, called the allegations "irresponsible."

"If you say something like that, you corroborate that with other people," Nehls said. "Listen, we all make mistakes in our lives."

Rep. Don Bacon, a veteran GOP lawmaker from Nebraska, told ABC News that Cawthorn's recent comments have reflected poorly on Congress as an institution.

"Allegations like that, if they're not true, hurt the whole institution," Bacon said. "I think the view of the conference is, if they're true, name names."

"Congress has got a low favorable rating, we've got to do better than this," he said.

Former President Donald Trump enters the stage during a rally for Georgia GOP candidates at Banks County Dragway in Commerce, Ga., March 26, 2022.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Both of North Carolina's Republican senators -- Richard Burr and Thom Tillis -- said they won't back Cawthorn in his upcoming primary race.

"On any given day, he's an embarrassment," Burr told reporters.

Democrats also pounced on the controversy.

"Not sure why Republicans are acting so shocked by Cawthorn's alleged revelations about their party," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted. "One of their members is being investigated for sex trafficking a minor and they've been pretty OK w/ that. They issued more consequences to members who voted to impeach Trump."

It's been a dizzying week for Cawthorn, who is thought to have ambitions for higher office after unexpectedly winning a seat in Congress vacated by former GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, who left to serve as former president Donald Trump's chief of staff at the White House.

Cawthorn has embraced Trump since taking office -- saying he has called him up for advice in the last year.

The former president is clearly still on his side.

On Friday, Trump announced Cawthorn would be a guest at his rally in North Carolina next weekend.

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