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GOP operative comes forward as accuser in sexual misconduct claim against CPAC head

Carlton Huffman, a longtime aide to Republican campaigns, outside his home in Raleigh, N.C. (Eamon Queeney for The Washington Post)
11 min

The man who has accused Matt Schlapp, the influential leader of the Conservative Political Action Conference, of sexual misconduct came forward publicly Wednesday after a judge said he must use his real name to proceed with a lawsuit.

Carlton Huffman, 39, a longtime aide to Republican campaigns who lives in Raleigh, N.C., said he plans to amend the previously anonymous lawsuit, which seeks $9.4 million in damages for alleged sexual battery and defamation.

“I’m not backing away,” Huffman said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’m not going to drop this. Matt Schlapp did what he did and he needs to be held accountable.”

Schlapp, 55, has denied Huffman’s claims that he groped his crotch and invited him to his hotel room during an October trip to Atlanta to campaign for Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker. Schlapp’s lawyer argued Wednesday that by proceeding anonymously, Huffman was trying to avoid scrutiny of his own record — including expressing extremist views on a white-supremacist blog and radio show more than a decade ago.

“I strongly believe we cannot defend this case — and it’s a multimillion-dollar case — without being able to use his name,” said Benjamin Chew, Schlapp’s lawyer.

Alexandria Circuit Court Chief Judge Lisa Bondareff Kemler described “balancing” the request for anonymity with the public’s interest in knowing the accuser’s identity and the ability of Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, to defend themselves. Mercedes Schlapp is also accused of defamation in the suit.

Kemler noted an absence of specific threats against Schlapp’s accuser.

“The plaintiff has not established I think the heavy burden of establishing both a concrete need for secrecy and identifying the consequences that would likely befall him if forced to proceed in his own name,” she said. The judge said she would issue an order requiring Huffman to add his name to the suit.

By putting his name on the record, Huffman will test anew Schlapp’s support with the board of CPAC’s parent organization, the American Conservative Union, and with other Republican allies at a time when he faces a wide range of challenges, including heavy staff turnover and reduced turnout at CPAC’s flagship conference in the Washington area last week. The Republican power broker and leading booster of former president Donald Trump has declined to respond to questions from The Post about those issues and Huffman’s allegations.

“We are confident that when his full record is brought to light in a court of law, we will prevail,” Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Schlapp, said in a statement on Twitter, hours after Wednesday’s hearing. “Out of respect for the court, we have no further comment at this time.”

In interviews with The Post in the weeks before the judge’s ruling, Huffman added new detail to his claims against Schlapp and provided texts, phone logs and videos that broadly match his accounts of quickly sharing the allegation. Six family members and friends and three Walker campaign officials confirmed to The Post that Huffman told them about the alleged incident that night or the next day.

But Huffman’s reputation suffered a major blow earlier this year, when his past racist writings were exposed by an anonymous email account. Huffman had frequently glorified the Confederate flag, blamed Black people and illegal immigrants for violent crime, and called for “preserving the European American culture of the United States.” Huffman immediately resigned from his job with the North Carolina General Assembly in late January after the email with links to his commentary was circulated.

“That was an ugly chapter of my life that I am personally ashamed of,” Huffman said. “That is not who I am anymore.”

Schlapp’s allies have dismissed the sexual misconduct allegation as an attack from the political left. Republican fundraiser Caroline Wren, a Schlapp ally who named Huffman on Twitter weeks ago, tweeted that he has been “spreading false allegations against conservatives.” A formal statement from two ACU members posted on the organization’s website cast the accusation against Schlapp as a plot by liberals “to scorch the earth in their quest to cancel those with whom they disagree.”

Huffman also has been an outspoken critic of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, texting White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that day to say he’d “earned a special place in infamy.” Huffman had worked on Meadows’s 2012 congressional campaign.

Other Republicans have vouched for the conservative bona fides of Huffman, a lifelong Republican who has spent his entire career working in GOP politics.

“Carlton is known by many Republicans in North Carolina as a hardworking campaign professional who has helped elect conservatives across our state and country,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who has known Huffman for more than a decade, said in a statement to The Post released before Huffman’s past extremist commentary was revealed.


Huffman had been working for Walker’s campaign as a regional field director for more than two months when he was asked to drive a VIP campaign supporter from out of town on Oct. 19.

This account of what Huffman says happened next is based on multiple interviews with him, his confidants and Walker campaign officials, as well as phone logs, texts and social media reviewed by The Post. Some people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private matters or because of a fear of retaliation. In court filings, Schlapp admits texting and calling Huffman and spending time with him at two bars but denied the rest of Huffman’s claims.

On that day in October, Huffman rented a sedan because he didn’t want to drive his guest in his disheveled 2018 Ford Focus. Schlapp, that morning, tweeted a photo of himself and Walker on the campaign bus.

The two men met after Schlapp spoke at Walker’s rally that day in Perry, Ga., and Huffman drove Schlapp to his Atlanta hotel.

In a text later that afternoon, Schlapp thanked Huffman for the ride and invited him to meet for a drink at the Capital Grille in the city that night.

Huffman had to return the rental car, so he took his own car to get washed. “I found a seat at the bar to watch the ball game,” Huffman texted at 8:30 p.m.

Huffman said they talked sports over drinks and on Schlapp’s suggestion, moved to another bar called Manuel’s Tavern. At that bar, Huffman alleged, Schlapp’s leg made what felt like intentional contact with his own. Schlapp also bumped into his side, where Huffman was carrying a Sig Sauer pistol under his jacket.

After Huffman said Schlapp suggested another drink, he told Schlapp it was time to get back to his hotel.

A few minutes into the drive back to his hotel, Schlapp rested his hand on Huffman’s leg, Huffman said.

Huffman’s mind raced as Schlapp’s hand remained on his thigh for most of the ride to his hotel. “What do I say to this guy?” Huffman recalled wondering. “Or is he going to get pissed and say something bad about me because he’s Matt Schlapp and I am John Q staffer for Herschel Walker?”

Before getting out of the car, Schlapp rubbed Huffman’s genitals, Huffman said. Then he invited Huffman to his hotel room.

Huffman said he declined, as waves of shame and revulsion were starting to wash over him. At 11:26 p.m., he started texting an acquaintance with years of experience in Republican politics for advice.

“Matt Schlapp … He literally just fondled my junk … Like I’m Over here shaking ... Idk what to do.”

A couple of minutes after midnight, Schlapp called Huffman to confirm a ride the next morning to another rally. Huffman said he was in shock when he agreed.

By 12:30 a.m., Huffman was home and called a close friend. He told her he needed to record a statement to document what happened with Schlapp.

In the seven-minute video, a visibly anguished Huffman says it’s about 12:45 a.m., gives his full name and describes the incident. Huffman also sent the video to a college friend, who watched it and spoke to him a few hours later, and to his wife, Jessica Huffman, whom he separated from last year.

“You can’t make up the emotion he recorded in the video — the way he reacted and the shame he felt,” his wife said in an interview weeks ago. “He knows that I was the victim of a sexual assault, and he would never make something like that up.”

The next morning, Schlapp texted Huffman that he was in the hotel lobby. Huffman quickly shared his account of the night before with three Walker campaign officials. In the early-morning rush before the day’s events, the campaign team conferred about the situation.

“None of us had any reason to believe that he would make this story up,” said one of the campaign staffers involved in the discussion. “We believed him then, and we believe him now. ... We were going to have his back.”

On Oct. 19, 2022, Carlton Huffman recorded his account of an alleged encounter with Matt Schlapp, the leader of the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Video: TWP)

Huffman was told he did not have to pick up Schlapp for the one-hour drive to that day’s rally in Macon, Ga., and the campaign arranged for an outside chauffeur. Huffman was advised to send Schlapp the driver’s contact information and tell him why he would not be picking him up.

“I did want to say I was uncomfortable with what happened last night,” Huffman texted Schlapp at 7:46 a.m.

“Pls give me a call Thx,” Schlapp replied immediately. Schlapp also called him three times: twice at 7:53 a.m. and a third time at 8:09 a.m. Huffman didn’t answer.

At 12:12 p.m., Schlapp sent a final text to Huffman. “Carlton If you could see it in your heart to call me at end of day. I would appreciate it,” he wrote. “If not I wish you luck on the campaign and hope you keep up the good work.”

Campaign staffers that day asked Huffman if he wanted to talk to a lawyer, therapist or law enforcement. He was worried about disrupting the Walker campaign, which was already in crisis over an allegation that the candidate had paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009. Huffman talked to the campaign’s lawyer but decided that if he did come forward, it would be after the election. He did not file a police report for the same reason.

“They never questioned my honesty,” he said of the Walker staffers. “They listened to my story and reacted in a very human way to it.”

That evening, Huffman spoke to his parents. “He was a basket case,” said his mother, Pamela Huffman, in an interview last month. “I was so hurt because he was so hurt.”

Four days after Walker lost, Huffman lashed out on social media. “Don’t let @mschlapp get too many vodkas in him. It doesn’t end well,” he wrote in a tweet he later deleted. Less than two weeks later, Huffman tweeted directly at Schlapp, writing, “you know exactly what you did.” He also deleted the Dec. 23 post because, he said, he wasn’t ready for “all hell to break loose before Christmas.”

About two weeks later, the Daily Beast published Huffman’s allegations without identifying him by name. Huffman’s lawyer, Tim Hyland, had argued in court papers that Huffman filed the lawsuit anonymously out of fear of “an undue risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm.”

Alice Crites, Dylan Wells and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.