The Republican political strategist who accused conservative leader Matt Schlapp, the influential chairman of the American Conservative Union, of sexual assault is revealing his identity after a judge ruled Wednesday that he cannot move forward with his lawsuit anonymously.
Carlton Huffman, 39, was working for Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign in Georgia when Huffman said Schlapp groped and fondled his groin without his consent as he drove the ACU president back from two area bars to an Atlanta hotel several weeks before the November midterm election.
Huffman, who gave CNN permission to use his name ahead of the court’s decision being made public, plans to proceed with his civil lawsuit, which is seeking more than $9 million in damages for alleged sexual battery, defamation and conspiracy to impugn the accuser.
In a statement given to CNN, Huffman said, “On Oct 19, 2022, Matt Schlapp attempted to take my dignity but he did not take my voice. Today, I reclaim that voice and for every victim of sexual assault, I am here to say there is justice and there will be accountability. I look forward to our day in court.”
Benjamin Chew, the Schlapps’ lawyer, told CNN, “The Schlapps are gratified by the Court’s decision.”
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Schlapps, said in a separate statement, “We are confident that when his full record is brought to light in a court of law, we will prevail. Out of respect for the court, we have no further comment at this time.”
An attorney for Huffman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Schlapp, best known for his role in hosting the ACU’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference, has denied Huffman’s allegations. But some Republicans linked diminished interest and attendance at the CPAC gathering last week in Maryland, which was also riven by internal divisions over former President Donald Trump, to allegations against Schlapp.
“It’s a scandal,” one Republican operative who has worked on several presidential campaigns told CNN. “If you are thinking about running for president and you’re not Donald Trump, you can’t afford a misstep. You can’t afford to be linked to a scandal.”
Huffman was working for the Georgia GOP and Walker’s campaign at the time and had been assigned to drive Schlapp to campaign events in the Atlanta area.
Huffman, who was listed as John Doe in the initial lawsuit, alleges that after he came forward with his accusations, Schlapp and Mercedes Schlapp, his wife, partook in “dishonest efforts” along with “others associated with and acting in concert with them, to discredit Mr. Doe.”
The lawsuit goes on to claim that, as a result of the Schlapps’ alleged conspiracy, Huffman “suffered damages, including and without limitation embarrassment, humiliation, stress, and reputational harm.”
Despite occasionally butting heads with Trump before the 2016 presidential election, Matt Schlapp and the ACU have since become fierce loyalists of the former president. Schlapp, who served in the George W. Bush White House as director of political affairs, took over the organization in 2014. Mercedes Schlapp worked as Trump’s communications director for nearly two years, from 2017 to 2019.
ACU leadership defended Schlapp after the allegations became public earlier this year, calling the initial report an attempt at “character assassination.” The group’s first and second vice chairs added, “We stand squarely behind Matt Schlapp, and the ACU Board of Directors has full confidence in his leadership of the organization.”
Huffman said he had agreed to meet Schlapp for a beer in October because he was “eager to make a connection” due to Schlapp’s prominence within the Republican Party. The men met up for drinks at two Atlanta bars, and while at the second bar, the lawsuit says Schlapp “sat unusually close to Mr. Doe, such that his leg repeatedly contacted and was in almost constant contact with Mr. Doe’s leg,” making him uncomfortable, according to the lawsuit.
Huffman alleged that as he drove Schlapp to his hotel, Schlapp “began aggressively fondling (his) genital area in a sustained fashion,” the lawsuit says, causing Huffman to freeze with “fear and panic from what was happening.”
Later that evening, Schlapp called Huffman, according to a call log reviewed by CNN, to confirm that Huffman would be driving him to another Walker event the next morning. After receiving the call, Huffman said he broke down and memorialized what happened by recording videos of himself describing the alleged assault.
“Matt Schlapp, of the CPAC, grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length. And I’m sitting there (in the car) saying, ‘What the hell is going on that this person with a wife and kids is literally doing this to me, from Manuel’s Tavern to the Hilton Garden Inn there at the Atlanta Airport,’” Huffman said in one of the self-recorded clips, which CNN reviewed. “He literally has his hands on me. And I feel so f**king dirty. Feel so f**king dirty. So I don’t know what to do in the morning.”
Huffman ultimately decided to tell top Walker campaign officials about the alleged incident. They immediately directed him not to drive Schlapp and to pass on a phone number for a car service.
Senior Walker campaign officials confirmed to CNN that they spoke with Huffman and immediately notified campaign lawyers. One source told CNN that Huffman was offered options, including legal counsel, contacting law enforcement, a therapist, or if he wanted, to speak to reporters. The source added that he thought Huffman was angry and mortified by the situation.
The suit also stated that, in the wake of the sexual assault accusations first becoming public earlier this month, Mercedes Schlapp allegedly sent a message to a neighborhood group “chat or text” claiming the accuser was a “troubled individual” who had been fired from multiple jobs, including for “lying and lying on his resume.”
Huffman, in the filing, said he has never been fired from a job for lying or lying on his resume and alleged that the Schlapps have engaged in “a campaign to impugn” him.
Tim Hyland, an attorney for Huffman, said in an earlier statement that, “Because Mr. Schlapp has refused to own up to his misbehavior, this suit aims to make Mr. Schlapp, and those who lie for him, accountable for their actions.”
This story has been updated with additional information.