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House ethics panel opens Cawthorn probe over cryptocurrency, 'improper relationship'

The investigation focuses on allegations of promoting cryptocurrency and engaging in a relationship with a congressional staffer.

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee said Monday it is investigating whether scandal-plagued GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina may have improperly promoted a cryptocurrency and engaged in a relationship with a congressional aide.

The panel announced it had unanimously voted earlier this month to establish a subcommittee to look into whether Cawthorn “improperly promoted a cryptocurrency in which he may have had an undisclosed financial interest, and engaged in an improper relationship with an individual employed on his congressional staff.”

The ethics committee emphasized that it has not accused Cawthorn of any wrongdoing and that initiating the probe — led by Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas, with Rep. Michael Guest, R-N.J., as ranking member of the subcommittee — did not indicate that a violation had occurred.

The American Muckrakers PAC last month filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics citing a Washington Examiner article that named “multiple watchdog groups” suggesting the first-term lawmaker may have violated insider trading laws in an alleged cryptocurrency scheme. In its complaint, the PAC also accused Cawthorn of having a relationship with one of his aides, citing various social media posts that it said “indicate a personal relationship between them, separate and apart from the professional relationship of employer and employee.”

When asked if the House probe stems from the American Muckrakers complaint, the committee said it had no comment.

Blake Harp, Cawthorn's chief of staff, said, “We welcome the opportunity to prove that Congressman Cawthorn committed no wrongdoing and that he was falsely accused by partisan adversaries for political gain."

The investigation announcement comes nearly a week after Cawthorn, who was backed by former President Donald Trump in this year's GOP primary, lost his bid to be renominated.

The 26-year-old lawmaker caused an uproar this year when he claimed on a podcast that unnamed, older congressional colleagues were using drugs and said some of those colleagues had invited him to a “sexual get-together.”

The committee on Monday also said it will not investigate recent misdemeanor charges filed against Cawthorn over driving with a revoked license and speeding in North Carolina. A spokesperson for the congressman said in response to the charges at the time that his office "expects the traffic matters to be resolved quickly."

“The Committee believes that the handling of this matter by local authorities is sufficient given the facts of the matter,” the committee said in a news release.