WASHINGTON — Matt Schlapp, one of the nation’s most prominent conservative leaders and a top ally of former President Donald Trump, is being accused of sexually groping a male aide on Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s campaign in October.
"He reached in between my legs and fondled me," the former Walker staffer told NBC News in a telephone interview Thursday night. "To my shame, I didn’t say anything" to stop Schlapp. NBC News is withholding the staffer’s name at his request because he fears the allegations against a powerful Republican could harm his own career in GOP politics.
Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, is married to former Trump White House aide Mercedes Schlapp. His organization hosts the Conservative Political Action Conference, a crucial proving ground for Republican presidential hopefuls.
Schlapp did not respond to text messages seeking comment, including one detailing each point of his accuser’s story. His lawyer, Charlie Spies, did not immediately return a call from NBC News seeking comment on the allegations. But Spies did tell The Daily Beast, which first reported on the staffer’s story, that Schlapp had denied them.
On Friday evening, after this story was published, two ACU board members issued a statement standing by Schlapp.
"We stand squarely behind Matt Schlapp, and the ACU Board of Directors has full confidence in his leadership of the organization," said Charlie Gerow and Carolyn Meadows, the first and second vice chairs of the board.
"We have both known Matt and his wife, Mercedes, for decades. We know Matt Schlapp's heart and his character. And we believe this latest attempt at character assassination is false," they added. "Unfortunately, the Left and its note takers in the media routinely choose to scorch the earth in their quest to cancel those with whom they disagree. Whether it involves conservative judicial nominees or good people like Matt Schlapp, they will sink to any depth to destroy them and their families."
A senior official on the Walker campaign confirmed that the aide shared the allegation with his supervisors at the time.
"I was made aware of the incident the morning after," said the official, who described top campaign aides conferring on the matter and coming up with a plan to spare the aide from having to pick up Schlapp again.
On Oct. 19, Schlapp hit the hustings for Walker at an event in Perry, Georgia, about 100 miles south of Atlanta. The mid-level Walker aide was assigned to chauffeur Schlapp, who invited him to meet for drinks that night at the Capital Grille restaurant in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, the staffer said. He believed the extra face-to-face time could help him solidify a professional connection with one of the party’s most influential figures.
As the two men began to drink, the staffer said, Schlapp apologized for the bar "being dead." The staffer took Schlapp to Manuel’s Tavern, a well-known haunt for Georgia politicos — particularly Democrats — about 15 minutes away.
Schlapp, who drank Tito's vodka during the night, began "intruding into my personal space" at the second bar, the staffer said. At one point, Schlapp bumped into the staffer's gun while their legs touched, the staffer said, prompting Schlapp to ask what he was carrying.
"Sig Sauer," the aide said, surprised to find that Schlapp seemed unfamiliar with the name of the gun given CPAC's emphasis on Second Amendment rights. Schlapp, who grew up in Wichita, a sizable city in Kansas, explained that he didn’t have a background with firearms, the staffer said.
"Are you uncomfortable looking at me?" Schlapp asked later, making the aide even more uncomfortable than he already was, he said. In short order, he told Schlapp that they had an early morning and it was best to call it a night.
As the staffer drove from Manuel’s Tavern down the John Lewis Freedom Parkway toward the junction of Interstate 20 and Interstate 85, Schlapp began fondling his leg, he said. That progressed, the staffer said, as the two men made their way toward the Hilton Garden Inn at the Atlanta airport, a ride of about 15 minutes with little traffic.
"From Manuel’s Tavern to the Hilton Garden Inn there at the Atlanta airport, he literally had his hands on me," the staffer said in a video he recorded early in the morning of Oct. 20, just a couple of hours after the alleged incident. "Matt Schlapp of the CPAC grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length." The staffer did not post the video publicly but shared it with NBC News.
"To my shame, I did not say 'no' or 'stop,'" the staffer said in the video, a recollection he repeated in the interview with NBC News. "God knows it was not a wanted advance."
When the two arrived at the hotel, Schlapp invited the staffer to his room, the staffer said. The staffer declined. Within a couple of hours, around 12:45 a.m., the staffer began recording videos of himself recounting what he said had happened, which he shared with NBC News. He reached out to senior campaign staff later that morning to relay the story, and they advised him how to respond the next morning when Schlapp texted to say he was in the lobby ready to be chauffeured.
"I did want to say I was uncomfortable with what happened last night," the staffer texted, according to screen shots he shared with NBC News. "The campaign does have a driver who is available to get you to Macon and back to the airport." The aide shared the name and phone number of his colleague.
"Pls give me a call," came the reply from Schlapp, according to the screen shots. The staffer provided NBC News with Schlapp's phone number to verify that the text came from Schlapp. Schlapp repeatedly called the staffer, who did not answer, according to screen shots of the staffer’s phone log, including twice at 7:53 a.m. and once at 8:09 a.m.
The senior campaign official said that Schlapp did not attend the event the following morning and did not communicate with the Walker campaign about getting another ride to the airport.
"The whole thing makes me physically ill," said the senior Walker campaign official.
Both the staffer and the senior campaign official said the Walker campaign made legal counsel available to the staffer to discuss his legal options and indicated the campaign would support whatever decision he made. He has not pursued legal action against Schlapp, he said.
The staffer said he was speaking to the news media to make others aware of what he described as predatory behavior by Schlapp.
"If he had made a polite pass at me and left it that," the staffer said, "only me, Matt and God would know about that."