House Ethics Committee probes Rep. Madison Cawthorn for cryptocurrency promotion, relationship with staffer


Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., arrives for the House Republican leadership elections at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, November 17, 2020.
Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

The House Ethics Committee is investigating controversial Rep. Madison Cawthorn for his possibly improper promotion of a cryptocurrency in which he may have had an undisclosed financial interest, the panel revealed Monday.

The committee is also investigating the North Carolina Republican over questions about whether he had an “improper relationship” with a person employed on his congressional staff, the panel said.

The Ethics Committee authorized the probe by a unanimous vote on May 11. But the panel only disclosed it six days after the 26-year-old congressman narrowly lost a GOP primary, denying him a nomination for a second term.

The loss followed an embarrassing series of events for Cawthorn. He was charged by police in North Carolina with carrying a loaded handgun at an airport and with driving with a revoked license. He also claimed he was a victim of “blackmail” following the release of a video that appeared to show him naked in bed with another man.

Cawthorn also infuriated fellow Republicans in Congress earlier this year by claiming some of his older colleagues had invited him to orgies and used cocaine in front of him.

“We welcome the opportunity to prove that Congressman Cawthorn committed no wrongdoing and that he was falsely accused by partisan adversaries for political gain,” said Cawthorn’s chief of staff, Blake Harp, in response to the Ethics probe.

Harp said that the inquiry, which will be conducted by an investigative subcommittee assembled for that purpose, “is a formality.”

“Our office isn’t deterred in the slightest from completing the job the patriots of Western North Carolina sent us to Washington to accomplish,” Harp added.

Cawthorn later tweeted: “Wow – I must still be a problem for the swamp! They’re still coming after me!”

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in late April called for the Ethics Committee to investigate Cawthorn for possible insider trading related to cryptocurrency. The Washington Examiner reported that Cawthorn may have broken laws barring investors from profiting on nonpublic information.

The cryptocurrency at issue is the Let’s Go Brandon coin named for a derogatory phrase toward President Joe Biden.

In a Dec. 29 reply to an Instagram post featuring a photo of him with the co-founders of the coin, Cawthorn wrote, “Tomorrow we go to the moon.”

The next day, the team for NASCAR driver Brandon Brown announced that the Let’s Go Brandon coin had been signed as the team’s primary partner for the 2022 season. After the announcement, the price of the cryptocurrency rose by more than 75%.

Soon afterward, the Let’s Go Brandon coin collapsed in price when NASCAR rejected its sponsorship deal with Brown.

Around the same time that Tillis urged a probe of Cawthorn, the president of a political action committee filed an ethics complaint against him for allegedly failing to file financial disclosures of gifts and loans made to his scheduler, Stephen Smith.

David Wheeler, president of the American Muckrakers PAC, also said in the complaint that, “Mr. Smith apparently lives with Rep. Cawthorn and various social media postings by them indicate a personal relationship between them, separate and apart from the professional relationship of employer and employee.”

Cawthorn’s spokesperson has said that Smith is Cawthorn’s cousin.

The House Ethics Committee separately said Monday that on May 11 it voted against empaneling an investigative subcommittee to probe Cawthorn over misdemeanor charges for driving with a revoked license and speeding in North Carolina.

“Representative Cawthorn informed the Committee he has paid a fine to resolve one of the charges and intends to pay any fines associated with the remaining charges,” the committee said in a report.

“The Committee believes that the handling of this matter by local authorities is sufficient given the facts of the matter,” it added.

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