Group seeks ethics investigation into Madison Cawthorn

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A political action group is asking for an ethics investigation of North Carolina Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, citing his pattern of bringing weapons into banned spaces and a possible inappropriate financial relationship with a staffer.

It's the latest conflict to erupt for the freshman lawmaker, once a rising star in the GOP, who has found himself at odds with his colleagues and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The group, American Muckrakers PAC, wrote to the Office of Congressional Ethics on Wednesday asking for an investigation after Cawthorn was cited — but not charged — for attempting to bring a loaded gun through security at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. The PAC also cited four occasions when he brought a dagger onto North Carolina public educational property, and said that Cawthorn has provided more than $250 worth of free housing and travel to his aide, Stephen Smith, in violation of House rules.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent, nonpartisan entity established by the House and is charged with investigating any allegations of wrongdoing by members of Congress and their staff. It can refer its investigations to the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, conduct its own investigations and dole out fines as punishment for violations. OCE did not respond to a request for comment, but Muckrakers PAC published a screenshot of an email from the office confirming that it had received the request for an investigation.

Cawthorn has accused “RINOS” — an derisive acronym meaning “Republican in name only” — of working to try to defeat him.

“I've never folded in Washington and the swamp hates me,” he said in a video released Friday. “They want someone who will make backroom deals and sell out our values, and someone who will abandon America first principles.”

Aside from weapons, the Muckrakers PAC complaint focuses on Cawthorn's relationship with Smith, a young staffer. The provide documents that appear to show Smith lives in a house owned by Cawthorn without any repayment. They also suggest the two may have an inappropriate personal relationship – which is prohibited between a lawmaker and a member of their staff — citing, among other things, the fact that Smith accompanied Cawthorn on his honeymoon to Dubai in April 2021 and a video that appears to show Smith placing his hand on Cawthorn's crotch.

American Muckrakers is also requesting that OCE investigate whether Cawthorn violated a ban on insider trading with a recent cryptocurrency purchase, which was the subject of a Washington Examiner investigation this week.

Cawthorn's office did not have a statement in response to the allegations, but instead pointed CBS News to the congressman's recent tweets. One tweet posted Thursday evening after the complaint and the video of Cawthorn and Smith were reported by the Daily Mail reads, “Many of my colleagues would be nowhere near politics if they had grown up with a cell phone in their hands.”

The North Carolina congressman's  behavior has drawn some criticism from his fellow Republicans in the House. McCarthy, who rarely admonishes his members in public, said at a recent press conference that Cawthorn was “wrong” to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug.”

And less than two weeks later, McCarthy said the young lawmaker had “lost my trust” after Cawthorn made unfounded claims on a podcast that colleagues in Congress had used drugs and invited him to an orgy, a remark that drew complaints from several Republicans. The minority leader said Cawthorn conceded that some of his claims were exaggerated.

McCarthy's office did not respond to a request for comment about the latest allegations against Cawthorn.

In her press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was up to Republicans to punish Cawthorn for any misbehavior.

“We have a responsibility to have an ethical standard here,” she told reporters. “They have to take care of their own house. If not, there will be ethics complaints. But I'm not spending my time on them in this meeting.”

Nikole Killion contributed to this story.

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