Inside the Alleged Conspiracy to Defame Matt Schlapp’s Accuser (2023)

Just hours after CNN confirmed The Daily Beast’s report that a former Herschel Walker campaign staffer had accused conservative powerbroker Matt Schlapp of sexually assaulting him, a Schlapp ally was trying to malign the accuser—publicly and privately.

In a text message to this reporter just after midnight on Jan. 12, a Republican fundraiser who’s been working for the Schlapps asked what she thought was a damning question about the accuser: “How’s his marriage going?”

The fundraiser, Caroline Wren, who has worked for Lindsey Graham, Donald Trump, organizers of the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, Kari Lake, and Caitlyn Jenner—and who now appears by name in the accuser’s $10 million sexual battery and defamation lawsuit against the Schlapps—likely knew the answer to that question.

But the answer may be damning for reasons that Wren did not comprehend. Rather than a point of shame, it may be an indication of the toll that the alleged assault has taken on the accuser and his wife—and an indication of the web of smears that Schlapp and his network are propagating against them.

    The accuser previously told The Daily Beast that he and his wife were getting a divorce, which his wife confirmed in an interview with The Daily Beast last week.

    But during that interview, the accuser’s wife blamed one person for the state of her marriage: Matt Schlapp.

    “I think what this man did to him fucked us over,” the wife said.

    “If that situation never happened, I don’t think we’d be getting divorced,” she told The Daily Beast. She added that she had “made peace” with the pending divorce, but noted she believes “in my heart” that the alleged sexual assault and the additional stress that came with it caused their marriage to unravel.

    “I’ve been assaulted and I know how bad that can fuck with you,” she said. “And on a campaign, when you’re working with a bunch of strangers and you go back home to your bedroom, you’re lonely a lot, and then you add something like what happened to him on top of all of that, and if you already have a difficult situation in your marriage—that is literally what did it.”

    The accuser, a lifelong conservative operative and former mid-level staffer with Walker’s Senate campaign, did not dispute his wife’s characterization. He told The Daily Beast he would “let her words speak for themselves.” Their divorce is now working its way uncontested through the courts.

    Asked for comment for this article, Wren—who has boasted about raising millions of dollars for the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C.—replied in a text message: “Exciting.”

    “Please be sure to include my tweets,” she wrote, noting she was about to take off for a “5 hour flight.”

    “Any statement I give you will include [the accuser’s] name. So if you intend to keep him anonymous then an on the record statement from me is pointless,” Wren wrote, making it clear in a subsequent text that she wanted as many people to know his name as possible.

    Wren has outed the staffer by name in tweets, but The Daily Beast and all other media outlets covering this story continue to honor the staffer’s request to remain anonymous out of privacy concerns; he has said he will come forward publicly if Schlapp does not apologize.

    While Schlapp has issued a general denial through his attorney, he has still not directly addressed the allegation, and his attorney’s denials have not specified what exactly is false.

    “To be clear, I only asked about his marriage because any 39-year-old adult straight male I know would punch another adult male if they tried to touch them against their will, not go home and record a series of tik tok videos to release to the press three months later while claiming to want to be ‘anonymous,’” Wren wrote in one text.

    (The videos, which the staffer recorded to memorialize the alleged assault while the details were still fresh, were first shared with The Daily Beast two months after the alleged incident, not three; they were not posted to TikTok or any other social media platform.)

      The accuser’s legal complaint, which he filed last week, alleges in part that Wren had been “acting in concert” with the Schlapps and unnamed others to “impugn” the accuser’s reputation, and that she had “peddled false information to reporters.”

      Wren, whom the accuser has served with a records retention notice, also texted this reporter a list of “Things I’m excited to add to the preservations request.” The list included claims that were factually false—his position with the Walker campaign, for instance—along with other disparaging remarks about his past, which she has echoed in tweets that the lawsuit called “defamatory,” and which the accuser says are lies.

      Wren also claimed in the texts that she herself had never asked Schlapp whether the accusation was true. “I’m quite certain that Matt’s side of things will come out in court,” she said. (The staffer filed his lawsuit about six days later.)

      But it also turns out that the accuser’s wife was one of the first people to hear about the allegation. She awoke the morning after the alleged incident to a video memo her husband had recorded when he got home and sent her via text message.

      “He was doing what he called ‘babysitting,’ driving a VIP around from event to event. I knew he was with a VIP at the time, but didn’t know who it was, just they were going out for drinks and to talk,” the wife told The Daily Beast. “When I woke up the next morning, I checked my text messages and I had a video from him.”

      She shared that video with The Daily Beast, along with text messages and call logs confirming she had been in communication with the accuser that day as he came forward with his account to supervisors and the campaign’s attorney.

      The Daily Beast reviewed a copy of that same video before publishing the initial accusation earlier this month. In the video, the staffer memorialized events “in regard to Matthew Schlapp, chairman of CPAC, who approximately two hours ago put his hands on me in a sustained and unsolicited and unwanted manner.”

      After she watched the video, the accuser’s wife said she “spent the next hour or two trying to get him on the phone.”

      “It was difficult to get it out of him, because he was very upset. I had to calm him down to understand what he was telling me,” she said. She also told The Daily Beast he was “clearly distressed” and “talked a lot about how disgusting he felt, that he couldn’t believe somebody would do something like this to another person.”

      “I explained that everything he was feeling was OK, that he had the right to feel what he was feeling, that it was normal. I told him that it’s OK to be angry,” she said.

      Inside the Alleged Conspiracy to Defame Matt Schlapp’s Accuser (1)

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      Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

      “If you want to scream, you can scream. If you want to cry, you can cry, whatever you need,” she recalled saying. “I want to help you with that.”

      His biggest concern, she said, was that he was still scheduled to drive Schlapp to a campaign event that morning.

      Schlapp—who invited the staffer up to his hotel room after allegedly “pummeling” the staffer’s crotch in the car while the staffer drove him home from a bar—had called afterwards to confirm that the staffer would still be driving him the next morning, The Daily Beast previously reported. Schlapp then texted the staffer at 7:26 a.m., saying, “I’m in the lobby.”

      “I said absolutely fucking not. You need to get a hold of somebody you work with. If you haven’t reported this, you need to report it,” the wife recounted. She says she instructed the staffer to take screenshots of all of his texts and call logs, which he did. “He pulled himself together to get done what he needed to get done.”

      The wife said she drew on her own experience with sexual assault to help her husband.

      “At least my bad experience could help somebody else get through their bad experience. It’s an uncomfortable situation in general. You have to go to your superior and tell them something that makes you feel disgusting. What the hell are they going to say?” she told The Daily Beast.

      But when the wife Googled Schlapp’s name and discovered how influential he was within the Republican Party—former White House political director under George W. Bush, top Trump ally, perennial media commentator, and the chair of the American Conservative Union and CPAC, the most influential conservative gathering in the country—she grew nervous.

      “Once I found out who this person was and understood who they really were, I knew it would be a potentially scarier situation if he put it out there,” she said.

      “This is politics. Let’s be real. This kind of stuff doesn’t normally happen with people treating you kindly. People lose their jobs when they make accusations like this. You hear stories of people getting fired when they go to their boss with these kinds of accusations,” she said. “But it’s worse because he’s got to tell the campaign, and it’s about somebody very powerful who is supporting their guy.”

      The Walker campaign, however, responded quickly, pulling the staffer off of the driving duty and offering legal counsel and other avenues of support. Those events were first reported by The Daily Beast and have since been confirmed by NBC News, CNN, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Politico, and The New York Times.

        “What made it better was they believed him and they supported him immediately,” the wife said, noting that the campaign was “setting him up with a lawyer to speak to for guidance on his options, and supported him 100 percent whatever route he wanted to go.”

        That lawyer is particularly relevant to counterclaims from Schlapp allies—Wren and ACU board members among them—who have attempted to undermine the staffer’s accusations as politically motivated.

        That’s because the Walker campaign’s lawyer was Stefan Passantino, a top Republican attorney and acquaintance of Schlapp, who has handled many cases on Trump’s behalf, including related to the Jan. 6 congressional investigation. A person familiar with the events confirmed Passantino’s personal involvement to The Daily Beast.

        Passantino is currently on a leave of absence from his firm, following reports that he may have improperly tried to influence testimony from star Jan. 6 witness Cassidy Hutchinson. Passantino has denied wrongdoing.

        According to the accuser, Passantino offered a range of options, including pressing criminal charges.

        “I told him that this is what happened, and he walked me through what it would look like moving forward in terms of filing anything, and I felt completely at liberty to make my own decisions,” the staffer told The Daily Beast. “He said there could be ramifications or repercussions to moving forward in a public way, which I took at the time as not a dissuading thing, but an acknowledgment of reality.”

        The staffer declined to go public at the time, saying he didn’t want to create a political distraction with the election just two weeks away.

        But in that conversation, Passantino also disclosed that he had a close relationship with Schlapp, and—if the staffer wanted—could use that relationship to get Schlapp to stop contacting him.

        After informing Schlapp in a text that morning that he had felt “uncomfortable” the previous night—and that the campaign had already arranged for a private driver—Schlapp called the staffer several times and sent a text asking him to “look in your heart” and respond by the end of the day.

        “It was a disturbing situation that fucked me up. This man touched me, and I wanted nothing at all to do with him,” the staffer told The Daily Beast, saying it would make him “almost physically shake” and “borderline physically ill” whenever Schlapp called.

        “Stefan disclosed that he knew Matt really well, and was in a position from a legal perspective and with first-hand knowledge of Matt that he could make the contact stop if I wanted,” he said. “I agreed, but I do not know for fact what Stefan did. But there’s been no contact since.”

        The accuser said that while Schlapp has not reached out to him, Passantino did call him again, two days later, to inform him that people in the Georgia GOP had caught wind of the allegation.

        Passantino did not reply to multiple detailed requests for comment from The Daily Beast.

        After The Daily Beast and other outlets ran the allegations, the Schlapps and their inner circle embarked on a campaign to discredit the accuser, according to the lawsuit the staffer filed last week.

        The complaint includes a text message from Mercedes Schlapp, a conservative commentator and former Trump White House communications strategist, which she allegedly sent to a neighborhood group chat, calling the accuser a “troubled individual” who had been fired “for lying and lying on his resume”—a claim the lawsuit says is false and defamatory.

        The staffer’s wife said that while she was furious with Matt Schlapp—“it makes me want to punch him”—she understands why her husband chose to wait to move forward.

        “There was never a point where he said I’m not pursuing this. It was more like it wasn’t the right time, and he wasn’t ready to face it yet, and on top of that there was everything the campaign was facing,” she said.

        “He really believed in what he was doing, really believed in the campaign and didn’t want anything he was going through to affect it. It kind of made me mad, honestly, that he put his job before himself, but that’s who he is. He works for people he believes in and puts 100 percent into his job,” she said.

        And even though the couple is proceeding with their divorce, she said she will continue to stand by him.

        “I just want him to get justice. He wants this man to acknowledge the wrong he did. Be a man and admit what he did and apologize,” she said.

        “I promised him I would be there through the situation and I remain true to that,” she added. “That’s what I signed up to do when I got married.”

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