Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington said Thursday that an anonymous accuser’s allegations against CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp of making unwelcome sexual overtures aren’t casting a shadow over the annual event.
Sergio de la Pena, a 2021 Virginia GOP gubernatorial primary candidate, said he did not think the lawsuit has affected this year’s conference.
“[Has] there been any proof? You’ve got to take into account that if you make an accusation, then you need to come up with proof. And there’s no proof,” he said. “I’ve known Matt Schlapp for a long time, and it doesn’t really jive with what the guy said.”
But another CPAC attendee told The Washington Times that even if people believe the accusations against Mr. Schlapp, it should not affect the conference itself.
“I think the majority of the people here probably believe that anyway — the accusations,” said Paul Brintley of the North Carolina Faith and Freedom Coalition. “I don’t know if it’s going to really impact CPAC. Some people are probably going to bring it up, but I don’t think it’s going to impact it.”
A group of reporters chased Mr. Schlapp down a hallway Thursday at the convention site and peppered him with questions about the anonymous GOP aide who accused him in a $9.4 million lawsuit of making unwelcome overtures. Mr. Schlapp wouldn’t comment.
Mr. Schlapp‘s wife, Mercedes, a former Trump White House official, also is named as a defendant. On Thursday, she called the lawsuit against them a “search and destroy mission” on CPAC, on CPAC leadership and their family. She said it is an attempt “to destroy the conservative movement.”
The Schlapps have previously denied the allegations from the accuser, a man in his 30s who worked for the Herschel Walker Senate campaign in Georgia. The sexual battery civil lawsuit, filed last month in Virginia Circuit Court in Alexandria, also accuses both Schlapps of defamation and of conspiracy to impugn the accuser.
Attorney Charlie Spies, representing the Schlapps, said the anonymous complaint “demonstrates the accuser’s real agenda, working in concert with Daily Beast to attack and harm the Schlapp family.” The Daily Beast first reported the allegations.
“The complaint is false and the Schlapp family is suffering unbearable pain and stress due to the false allegation from an anonymous individual,” Mr. Spies said in a statement to The Washington Times. “No family should ever go through this and the Schlapps and their legal team are assessing counter-lawsuit options.”
Longtime CPAC attendee Bruce Majors, a resident of the District of Columbia, told The Washington Times that he has not heard many people talk about the story much beyond Washington media outlets.
As for affecting turnout, Mr. Majors says that is more likely an issue related to which Republicans are running in 2024, and the struggling economy.
“I kind of thought about whether I wanted to spend money on buying a ticket, and I only have to drive here and then pay parking fees, because I live in D.C.,” he said. “So for people who were coming farther away, especially the younger ones — if like, Ron Paul isn’t subsidizing your tickets and things like coming all the way across the country to go to CPAC, they might want to do it, but they might not have their money.”
This may be the case, as many CPAC guests are first-time attendees who likely have not heard of the lawsuit against the Schlapps and the story behind it.
Mr. Schlapp told The Washington Times previously that the accusations have brought reporters to his home late at night and prompted journalists to call CPAC staffers nonstop. He said they are “trying to find any piece of dirt that they can on the person running this organization.”
He said the drama and intrigue from the lawsuit will not eclipse the conference, the most influential gathering of conservatives ahead of the 2024 Republican presidential primaries.
— Susan Ferrechio contributed to this report.