Madison Cawthorn’s omnidirectional questionable behavior is starting to catch up with him. Less than a week after losing the Republican primary in his western North Carolina district, the House Ethics Committee announced it would investigate Cawthorn for his promotion of a cryptocurrency “in which he may have had an undisclosed financial interest” and claims that he had an “improper relationship” with someone on his congressional staff.
Cawthorn’s cryptocurrency situation reveals just how easily representatives can find themselves in an entirely new world of ethics scandal. The allegations concern a coin called Let’s Go Brandon — an inside joke that feigns support of NASCAR driver Brandon Brown but actually just means “fuck Joe Biden.” In early December, Cawthorn purchased an unknown amount of the security without filing any disclosures that he had done so. On December 29, at a party at Peter Thiel’s compound in Miami Beach — once the set of a season of MTV’s The Real World — Cawthorn posed for a picture with fellow LGB supporters, including the coin’s main promoter, James Koutoulas. In an Instagram comment below the picture, he wrote: “LGB legends … Tomorrow we go to the moon!” The next day, the coin announced that it would have its logo on Brandon Brown’s stock car for the entire NASCAR season, prompting trading to soar and its market cap to briefly rise to $570 million.
Months later, several watchdog groups told the Washington Examiner that Cawthorn’s involvement may have constituted the promotion of an alleged pump-and-dump scheme; days after the LGB deal was announced, it fell through, causing the value of the meme coin to crash. Koutoulas, both a coin holder and a Cawthorn friend, told New York earlier this month that it was “pretty obvious” that the deal between LGB and Brandon Brown was coming hours after Cawthorn’s post on December 29. “Madison did everything ethically with regards to LGBcoin and this is all seems to be retaliation for him touching a nerve calling out the DC orgy scene,” Koutoulas wrote in a text. He is referring to the deluge of opposition research released after Cawthorn described “perversion” and cocaine use among Republicans in D.C., as well as frequent invites to pol-run sex parties.
The House Ethics Committee’s other focus, an “improper relationship” between Cawthorn and a member of his congressional staff, appears to concern Stephen Smith, Cawthorn’s scheduler and distant cousin. In late April, a PAC with seeking to oust Cawthorn filed an ethics complaint claiming that Smith and Cawthorn live together and that they have a friendship that is inappropriate for “the professional relationship of employer and employee.” In a video leaked as part of an oppo dump in late April, Smith is allegedly shown groping Cawthorn as a joke.
In a statement on Monday, the House Ethics Committee wrote that an inquiry “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.” In response, Cawthorn’s chief of staff told The Hill, “We welcome the opportunity to prove that Congressman Cawthorn committed no wrongdoing and that he was falsely accused by partisan adversaries for political gain.” Two more Republican lawmakers are also being investigated by the Ethics Committee: Ronny Jackson, for his alleged use of campaign funds to pay for “unlimited access” to a private dining club, and Alex Mooney, who took an $11,000 trip to Aruba allegedly paid for by one of his campaign vendors.