CNN Exclusive: Conservative bigwig Matt Schlapp agreed to hefty settlement to end sexual assault lawsuit

The Republican operative who accused American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp of sexual assault last year received a significant financial settlement in exchange for dropping his lawsuit against Schlapp, multiple sources familiar with the case told CNN.

The $480,000 settlement was paid to Carlton Huffman through an insurance policy, according to a source familiar with the details. Schlapp’s legal team did not respond for comment when asked about the financial settlement, but on Tuesday said that Huffman dropped the lawsuit and Schlapp claimed he had been exonerated.

“From the beginning, I asserted my innocence,” Schlapp said in a statement. “Our family was attacked, especially by a left-wing media that is focused on the destruction of conservatives regardless of the truth and the facts.”

Schlapp’s lawyers also released a statement by Huffman, the language of which was part of their private agreement.

“The claims made in my lawsuits were the result of a complete misunderstanding, and I regret that the lawsuit caused pain to the Schlapp family,” Huffman said, according to that statement. “Neither the Schlapps nor the ACU paid me anything to dismiss my claims against them.”

But multiple sources familiar with the allegations and legal proceedings told CNN that Huffman did, in fact, receive a financial settlement via an insurance company.

When reached for comment, Huffman told CNN, “I am only legally allowed to say five words, and that is ‘We have resolved our differences.’ Those are the only five words that I’m legally allowed to say.”

His lawyer, Tim Hyland, also declined to comment on any financial settlement terms or other details of the case, saying only, “The parties have resolved their differences.”

Asked whether there had been a settlement, the spokesman for Schlapp’s legal team, Mark Corallo, told CNN, “We refer you to Mr. Huffman’s statement.”

Schlapp initially touted the end of the lawsuit on social media with a link to a Washington Examiner story headlined, “CPAC’s Matt Schlapp cleared in assault case, accuser apologizes.” The post included a pointer-finger emoji directed at the headline. The original story is still online, but Schlapp’s tweet has since been deleted.

The original lawsuit filed by Huffman against Schlapp asked for more than $9 million in damages.

Schlapp runs the ACU, the organization most widely known for staging the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. Schlapp and the group occasionally butted heads with Donald Trump before he was elected president in 2016, but have since become fierce loyalists. After serving in the George W. Bush White House as director of political affairs, Schlapp took over the ACU in 2014. His wife, Mercedes Schlapp, who was also named in the lawsuit, worked as Trump’s communications director for nearly two years, from 2017 to 2019.

At the time of the alleged assault, Huffman was working for the Georgia GOP and Republican Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign. Huffman told CNN that Schlapp made unwanted sexual advances, including groping and fondling his groin without consent, on the ride back from two Atlanta-area bars on October 19, 2022. Schlapp then allegedly invited Huffman, who was assigned to drive the ACU chairman, to join him in his hotel room. Huffman said he had declined the offer, and hours later reported the incident to senior campaign staff.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in early June. By agreeing to the deal now, Schlapp and his lawyers prevented potentially damaging testimony from becoming public, including a deposition by Charlie Gerow, a former vice chair of CPAC and ACU board member who expressed serious concerns about Schlapp’s behavior in his resignation letter, as well as two witnesses who had previously accused Schlapp of sexual misconduct.

Schlapp will also be spared from having to testify in open court.

In addition, the settlement headed off new testimony from multiple witnesses who were scheduled to be deposed, including former officials from Walker’s 2022 Senate campaign and other witnesses with similar, contemporaneous knowledge about the alleged assault.

A former official on the Walker campaign told CNN he does not believe the settlement exonerates Schlapp.

“As far as I know the facts were never disputed,” the Walker campaign official said. “I had no indication that Carlton fabricated his story, then or now. Matt (Schlapp) knew me well enough to call me, he never called me” to contest Huffman’s claims.

Another source, who has been in contact with Huffman, said that the case would not have been dropped without a financial settlement.

“He wouldn’t have dropped it, his name and reputation were already public, he was ready to go to court,” the source said. “I know (Huffman) definitely got paid.”

During the course of the lawsuit, Huffman’s own personal conduct came under scrutiny.

In March of 2023, it was revealed that Huffman himself had been accused of sexual assault. According to court documents filed in Raleigh, North Carolina, the two alleged victims, women aged 19 and 22, said that Huffman performed unwanted sexual acts on them.

Huffman denied the allegations and no criminal charges were filed.

A source familiar with the conversations going on inside the ACU when the lawsuit against Schlapp was first filed said several colleagues encouraged Schlapp to use his homeowner’s insurance policy to pay for a settlement, but Schlapp resisted, telling them he was concerned it would lead to a hike in his premiums.

Asked why Schlapp ultimately settled, the source told CNN that they believed that Schlapp and his wife “did not want this to go to trial, they simply did not want the testimony that would come out.”

“It’s not exoneration,” the source said, “if you paid the guy off.”

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