Ex-Walker aide files lawsuit accusing prominent conservative of groping him

Credit: Stephen M. Dowell/TNS

Credit: Stephen M. Dowell/TNS

A former staffer for Republican Herschel Walker’s U.S. Senate campaign filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing conservative activist Matt Schlapp of “aggressively fondling” him while they were alone in a car after a campaign event in Georgia.

The lawsuit was filed anonymously in the Virginia Circuit Court in Alexandria by the staffer, who cited privacy concerns and fear of retaliation. The aide detailed his allegation in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month.

The complaint, which seeks at least $9.4 million in damages, also accuses Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, of coordinating a campaign to discredit the aide.

Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, has denied the allegation. His attorney, Charlie Spies, said the family is “suffering unbearable pain and stress due to the false allegation from an anonymous individual.”

“No family should ever go through this, and the Schlapps and their legal team are assessing counterlawsuit options,” Spies said.

In the lawsuit, the aide accused Schlapp of fondling his “genital area in a sustained fashion” in October as he drove Schlapp from a late-night stop at Manuel’s Tavern to his hotel near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

“It’s to my shame that I didn’t say anything,” the aide told the AJC. “I wish I had said, ‘What the hell — stop!’ ”

The AJC does not identify victims of sexual assault. The aide said he shared his story to expose what he described as predatory behavior by Schlapp and to ensure he faces accountability.

The aide informed senior leaders of the Walker campaign immediately after the alleged incident, the campaign confirmed to the AJC.

A senior staffer for Walker said the campaign ensured that the aide had no more contact with Schlapp after the alleged incident and connected him with the campaign’s lawyer and other support. The senior staffer asked not to be named because he was discussing a sensitive personnel matter involving a claim of sexual assault.

“We found the allegation credible, and given the seriousness of the allegation, we wanted to make sure it was handled appropriately,” the Walker official said.

The aide said the incident took place on Oct. 19 as Walker was traveling the state to promote his unsuccessful challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. The aide, a midlevel staffer in his 30s, was tasked with driving Schlapp from an event in the Middle Georgia town of Perry.

After he dropped Schlapp at the hotel, he received a text inviting him for drinks that night at the Capital Grille in Buckhead. The aide said he accepted the request because “I figured it would be a good chance to network. I quickly realized it wasn’t about that.”

He described Schlapp’s behavior at the restaurant as “weird” but not menacing. He wanted to head to a livelier bar, so the aide suggested Manuel’s Tavern, a Midtown Atlanta watering hole known as a popular haunt for Democratic politicos.

He said around 10 p.m. the outing turned more uncomfortable, as Schlapp’s leg “was in almost constant contact” with his leg, according to the complaint. Schlapp also repeatedly asked the aide why he wouldn’t look at him, the lawsuit said.

On the drive back to Schlapp’s hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn near the airport, the aide said Schlapp reached over and fondled his crotch for at least 5 seconds.

“I think I mentally blocked out the look on his face at first,” the aide said. “He then asked me to go up to his room, and I said no.”

The aide said he called two friends to let them know what happened, and the next day, he informed other Walker staffers. He also recorded a video on Oct. 20 that he didn’t post publicly but was confirmed by the AJC.

“To my shame, I did not say ‘no’ or ‘stop,’ " the aide said in the video. “God knows it was not a wanted advance.”

In a text message shared with the AJC, the aide told Schlapp the next morning that he was “uncomfortable with what happened last night” and that another staffer would drive him that day.

Schlapp responded: “If you could see it in your heart to call me at the end of the day. I would appreciate it. If not I wish you luck on the campaign and hope you keep up the good work.”

The American Conservative Union previously issued a statement from two of its leaders saying they “stand squarely behind Matt Schlapp” and have full confidence in him.

“We know Matt Schlapp’s heart and his character,” said the statement from the group, which organizes the influential annual CPAC conference, a mainstay on the GOP political calendar. “And we believe this latest attempt at character assassination is false.”