Madison Cawthorn's scandalous freshman term: 12 controversial moments since joining Congress

Cawthorn has been involved in so many scandals since his 2020 election that we need a timeline to keep up

Published May 3, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)
Updated June 16, 2022 9:55AM (EDT)
Madison Cawthorn at the RNC (Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)
Madison Cawthorn at the RNC (Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)

North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn has been involved in so many scandals since his 2020 congressional election that we need a timeline to keep track. Just last week, an ethics complaint against the freshman congressman was filed . Cawthorn failed to disclose gifts and loans he provided to Stephen L. Smith, his cousin and scheduler. In a video, Smith gropes Cawthorn's crotch. And Venmo transactions between the two in 2018 and 2019 contain messages such as "getting naked for me in Sweden" and "the quickie at the airport." 

Cawthorn is facing a raft of Republican challengers, so North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis called for an investigation into Cawthorn's insider trading involving a pump-and-dump cryptocurrency scheme. On April 26, he was caught — again — carrying a loaded firearm through airport security. And just last month, he claimed to receive an invite to an orgy in Washington D.C. Later, he admitted he made it all up. 

In case you're having trouble keeping up, here's a comprehensive timeline of Cawthorn's scandals:

1 Jan. 6, 2021: Pushes false claims of election fraudulence at a "Stop the Steal" rally 

Looking over a crowd of impassioned January 6th rioters touting red MAGA signs, Cawthorn announced the 2020 presidential election was a fraud. "This crowd has some fight in it," Cawthorn said. "The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice. Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard." Later, he stated that if elections are stolen, there would be "more bloodshed."

2 Feb. 4, 2021: Cawthorn defends his Jan. 6 inciting speech

While on January 23, Cawthorn did admit in an interview with CNN that the 2020 presidential election was "not fraudulent," two weeks later, he backtracked. In an interview with Youtube host Carlos Watson, Cawthorn later refused to apologize for the "Stop the Steal" rally and for advocating violence at the riot.

"I don't regret it, actually," Cawthorn said. "I was specifically trying to get across to the people that, 'Hey, I am in Congress, I am going down to the Capitol right now to speak on your behalf.'"

3 February 6, 2021: Details emerge about Cawthorn's sexual harassment during college

In February 2021, Buzzfeed News released a bombshell report. More than a dozen former students described instances of sexual harassment Cawthorn allegedly perpetrated while attending Patrick Henry College, a small Christian university in Virginia. Cawthorn is accused of calling women derogatory names on campus, forcing them to sit on his lap and touching them without their consent. 

His "fun drives" became notorious among female students. Women described feeling trapped as he lured them on off-campus drives and asked them intrusive questions regarding their virginity and sexual experience. "It didn't take long for women on campus to start warning one another: You don't want to be alone with him, especially in his car," Buzzfeed described

4 Aug. 30, 2021: Cawthorn calls jailed Jan. 6 rioters "political hostages"

At a Republican event in North Carolina, Cawthorn compared jailed January 6th rioters to "political prisoners" and claimed he wanted to "bust them out of jail." He also reiterated claims of election fraudulence and told attendees to "defend their children" from the Covid vaccine. "I'll tell you, anybody who tells you that Joe Biden was dutifully elected is lying," he declared.

5 Feb. 1, 2022:  Cawthorn sues North Carolina over the effort to disqualify his reelection 

In January, the nonprofit organization Free Speech for People filed a challenge with the North Carolina State Board of Elections to remove Cawthorn's name from the re-election ballot. Cawthorn's support for January 6th rioters, they claimed, made him an "insurrectionist." Cawthorn swiftly retaliated. He sued the state of North Carolina, claiming the State Board of Elections did not have the power to take him off the ballot. 

"Running for office is not only a great privilege, it is a right protected under the Constitution," Cawthorn said in a statement. "I love this country and have never engaged in, or would ever engage in, an insurrection against the United States."

Though a federal judge allowed Cawthorn to run for re-election in North Carolina's 11th congressional district, his odds at winning remain precarious — he retains only 38% Republican support in the district. 

6 March 9, 2022: Cawthorn is caught driving with a suspended license

For a second time, Cawthorn was pulled over for driving with a revoked license — a misdemeanor that had the potential to land him in jail for 20 days. A few months prior, he racked up two speeding tickets across three North Carolina counties. Former North Carolina Senator Richard Burr commented, "On any given day, he's an embarrassment." 

7 March 9, 2022: Cawthorn calls Zelensky a "thug"

On March 9, 2022, shortly after Russia launched its full-scale, bloody invasion of Ukraine, Cawthorn decided to weigh in on Ukrainian president Zelensky. "Remember that Zelensky is a thug," Cawthorn said, addressing a group of supporters in Asheville, North Carolina in a video. "Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and it is incredibly evil and it has been pushing woke ideologies."

Even Republicans were horrified. "Like 90% of the country is with Ukrainians and is opposed to Putin," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. "So when you see a member of Congress say things like this, the one thing I want you to know: they're outliers."

8 March 28, 2022: Cawthorn says he's been invited to a Washington D.C. "orgy"

During a podcast interview with host John Lovell, Cawthorn compared the political system of Washington D.C. to the corrupt fictitious universe of "House of Cards." "All of a sudden you get invited -- 'We're going to have a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come.' …" he said. "What did you just ask me to come to? And then you realize they're asking you to come to an orgy. ... Some of the people 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."

Several Republican senators had questions for Cawthorn. "I think it is important, if you're going to say something like that, to name some names," Rep. Scott Perry said.

But of course, Cawthorn couldn't name any names. In an interview with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Cawthorn provided little evidence to back up his podcast allegations. According to McCarthy, he "maybe" saw a staffer doing cocaine in a parking garage 100 yards away. 

A Freedom Caucus leader told Politico that there were responses from "across the political spectrum … saying 'what the hell?'"


9 April 22, 2022: Photos emerge of Cawthorn partying in lingerie

On April 22, Politico obtained exclusive photos of Cawthorn wearing a lacy black bra, a sheer white lingerie top and large silver hoop earrings. Given Cawthorn's public defense of hypermasculinity and opposition to Washington's culture of "sexual perversion," the photos seemed jarring. "I was raised on Proverbs and pushups," Cawthorn said in a 2020 podcast.

Cawthorn defended the photos on Twitter.

"I guess the left thinks goofy vacation photos during a game on a cruise (taken waaay before I ran for Congress) is going to somehow hurt me?" he tweeted. "They're running out of things to throw at me... Share your most embarrassing vacay pics in the replies."

10 April 26, 2022: Cawthorn brings a loaded gun to an airport — again

For the second time in 14 months, airport security found a loaded gun in Cawthorn's luggage in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport. He was issued a misdemeanor for possession of a dangerous weapon on city property, a charge that carries a fine of up to $13,900. The incident prompted Democratic leaders to write a letter to TSA Administrator David P. Pekoske concerning the increasing number of firearms discovered by TSA officers.

"Those who break the law and endanger the safety of other passengers — and especially repeat offenders such as Rep. Cawthorn — must be held to account," Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., wrote.

11 April 27, 2022: Cawthorn called out for alleged involvement in insider cryptocurrency trading

Cawthorn's arch-nemesis in the Senate, North Carolina's Thom Tillis, piled on in the final days before Cawthorn's primary, calling for an investigation into Cawthorn's support for the "Let's Go Brandon" cryptocurrency, a meme coin created in opposition to President Biden. In an Instagram post on December 29, Cawthorn stated he owned the currency and that it would "go to the moon" the following day.

It did. NASCAR driver Brandon Brown announced the currency would be his primary sponsor during the 2022 racing season. On December 30, the "Let's Go Brandon" coins soared in value to $570 million. 

"Insider trading by a member of Congress is a serious betrayal of their oath, and Congressman Cawthorn owes North Carolinians an explanation," Tillis said in a tweet. "There needs to be a thorough and bipartisan inquiry into the matter by the House Ethics Committee."

Cawthorn's non-disclosure could result in an investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

12 May 4, 2022: Video clip shows Cawthorn nude in bed with another man

A political action committee campaigning against Cawthorn released a graphic video clip that appears to show the Republican naked in bed with another man. Cawthorn defended himself and described the incident as, "Being crass with a friend" and "acting foolish."

By Paige Harriss

MORE FROM Paige Harriss

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