It’s hard to blame Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., for allegedly trying to take a loaded gun on a flight Tuesday. It’s the second time in nine months police have accused the rising GOP star of violating this particular law.
Same goes for Cawthorn’s being charged in March with driving with a revoked driver’s license — again, the second time he has been charged with this offense — or, for that matter, his two recent speeding tickets for driving nearly 90 mph. Add to that the reporting this week that Cawthorn may have violated federal insider trading laws in December with his hyping of a cryptocurrency that was part of an alleged “pump and dump” scheme.
Cawthorn seems to believe that he — like other powerful people in his party — is above the law. And why shouldn’t he? Look at what Cawthorn has seen since he took office January 2021 and tell me: If you were in his shoes, why would you think otherwise?
Cawthorn seems to believe that he — like other powerful people in his party — is above the law.
He, like so many in the GOP, has clearly taken his cue from the top. Former President Donald Trump attempted a brazen coup to overturn the 2020 election and then, days after Cawthorn was sworn in, incited the Jan. 6 attack on our Capitol.
We have audio of the call in December 2020 in which Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to help him “find” one more vote than President-elect Joe Biden so he could claim victory. All that we’ve seen in response — a full 16 months after Trump’s phone call — is that the Fulton County district attorney is going to convene a special grand jury next month to investigate Trump’s actions. Who knows if that leads to any charges?
Two longtime prosecutors in New York City investigating Trump’s possible financial crimes wrote in their March resignation letter that there was “evidence sufficient to establish Mr. Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” if he were charged with falsifying financial statements to secure loans. But even so, the new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has not only refused to seek an indictment of Trump; CNN reported this week that the grand jury convened to investigate Trump will expire Friday with no plans to extend its work — which typically means no charges will be coming any time soon, if ever.
U.S. District Judge David Carter wrote in a March opinion that Trump "launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history." After laying out Trump’s strategy to use an alternate slate of state electors and pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to accept those alternates or send the decision back to the states, he wrote bluntly that the "illegality of the plan was obvious.” Carter even wrote that Trump’s actions were most likely a crime, given that the former president "attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress."
Despite all that, not only has Trump not been charged; he is also holding rallies across the country where thousands of his supporters cheer him as he repeats the election fraud lies that led to the Jan. 6 attack. Republican candidates like Mehmet Oz and others beg Trump for his endorsement. And the GOP base has donated massive amounts of money since he left office, resulting in Trump’s now sitting on over $110 million campaign donations he can dole out to help Republicans candidates this year — or himself if he runs in 2024.
So why wouldn’t Cawthorn, 26, believe he is likewise above the law?
So why wouldn’t Cawthorn, 26, believe he is likewise above the law? After all, his observations most likely tell him that there are two sets of rules: one for powerful Republicans, under which they escape accountability, and another for the rest of us, under which we are punished for our wrongs.
This would help explain why Cawthorn has followed the Trump mold in various other ways. He has parroted Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Worse, he warned in August that if our elections continue to be “rigged,” then “it’s going to lead to one place, and it’s bloodshed.” Like Trump, Cawthorn makes outlandish comments that attract media coverage, such as saying at the outset of Russia’s attack of Ukraine that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a “thug” and calling the Ukrainian government “evil” for “pushing woke ideologies.”
What has Cawthorn seen in response? He has raised over $3.5 million since he was sworn in last year — an amazing amount for a first-term member of the House. Plus, he’s feted by conservatives, such as being a featured speaker at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, where he slammed all things “woke.”
In contrast, the 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack have been subject to relentless backlash from Trump and his supporters. The result is that four of them have announced their retirements instead of running again in November and the six others — including Liz Cheney of Wyoming — face Trump-backed primary challengers.
Ultimately, Cawthorn is responsible for his own actions. And — as opposed to the first time he tried to take a loaded gun into an airport and wasn’t charged because he claimed the weapon had been “erroneously stowed” in his carry-on luggage — this time he received a citation and could be fined up to $13,900.
Ultimately, Cawthorn is responsible for his own actions.
Cawthorn is also scheduled to appear in court next month on a charge of driving with a revoked license, which carries penalties like a possible loss of license, fines and even a short prison stay. (Cawthorn was previously charged in 2017 with driving with a revoked license, but that charge was dismissed.) And on Wednesday, GOP Sen. Thom Tillis — who is also from North Carolina — called for a bipartisan inquiry by the House Ethics Committee into allegations that Cawthorn engaged in insider trading, saying Cawthorn owes the people of the state an explanation.
So far Cawthorn’s response has been an Instagram post Tuesday in which he slammed his critics as “Rino senators and establishment pawns [who] want us to go back to the days before Trump.” And on Wednesday, he posted another video on social media saying he made a “mistake” taking his gun to the airport, joking that at least on Wednesday he made it through airport security: "Really good news! "Just went through TSA, no major alarms, nothing bad happened."
The irony is that Cawthorn faces more potential punishment than his beloved Trump, who did far, far worse. But then again, given what we’ve seen with Trump, don’t be surprised if Cawthorn once again avoids punishment. After all, he is a Republican.