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Cawthorn blames ‘the left and the media’ after intra-GOP furor over sex-and-drugs comments

Amid a burgeoning congressional controversy, Rep. Madison Cawthorn on Friday blamed Democrats and the media for amplifying his comments that some of his fellow GOP members engage in orgies and use cocaine.

“My comments on a recent podcast appearance calling out corruption have been used by the left and the media to disparage my Republican colleagues and falsely insinuate their involvement in illicit activities,” Cawthorn said in a statement without addressing the substance of his own comments directly.

“The left and the media want to use my words to divide the GOP. … I will not back down to the mob, and I will not let them win.”

Cawthorn has faced widespread public criticism from congressional Republicans and within the North Carolina GOP following his comments on a podcast that his colleagues seemingly invited him to an orgy and that he watched at least one fellow lawmaker consume cocaine.

Cawthorn, when raising “sexual perversion” in Washington, pointed to colleagues aged in their 60s-70s that he said he used to look up to. House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, viewed that as a clear suggestion Cawthorn was referring to members of the GOP.

Following a closed-door meeting with Cawthorn, McCarthy said Wednesday the freshman lawmaker “lost my trust.” Cawthorn has also faced criticism from the hardline Freedom Caucus, while North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr called him an “embarrassment.”

One key issue McCarthy raised in the meeting was Cawthorn’s problems telling the truth, according to a Republican familiar with the discussion who requested anonymity to discuss the private meeting freely. McCarthy sought to argue publicly that Cawthorn had lied about the cocaine claims, but sources tell POLITICO the freshman firebrand doubled down that he was invited to join a member and his wife for a tryst.

McCarthy pushed Cawthorn to put out a statement clarifying his remarks to tamp down intraparty recriminations or face further sanctions. It is unclear if this will be enough for either the GOP leader or upset rank-and-file members.

“There’s a lot of different things that can happen. But I just told him he’s lost my trust. He’s going to have to earn it back,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “I mean, he’s got a lot of members very upset.”

Cawthorn faces a crowded primary for reelection as he seeks to retain his western North Carolina seat.

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