The one key problem with the new Madison Cawthorn ethics probe

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It’s been a month to forget for Rep. Madison Cawthorn. It was, after all, just last week when the North Carolina Republican narrowly lost in a primary. Soon after, the scandal-plagued congressman raised the specter of seeking vengeance against members of his own party through “Dark MAGA,” which generated some mild mockery from Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel.

Yesterday, however, things went from bad to worse for the young lawmaker. NBC News reported:

The House Ethics Committee said Monday it is investigating whether scandal-plagued GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina may have improperly promoted a cryptocurrency and engaged in a relationship with a congressional aide.

The House panel said in a written statement that it had voted unanimously to further scrutinize whether Cawthorn “improperly promoted a cryptocurrency in which he may have had an undisclosed financial interest, and engaged in an improper relationship with an individual employed on his congressional staff.”

Part of these allegations probably sounds familiar. As we discussed a month ago, it was late last year when Cawthorn posed with a hedge fund manager who’d helped create an anti-Biden cryptocurrency. The GOP congressman, who’d already said publicly that he’d invested in the cryptocurrency, declared on Instagram on Dec. 29, “Tomorrow we go to the moon!”

Sure enough, a day later, the cryptocurrency announced a deal that caused its value to spike by 75 percent. It later collapsed, but that did not make what transpired any less controversial.

Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, the government affairs manager for Project on Government Oversight, a federal watchdog group, told The Washington Examiner, “This looks really, really bad …. This does look like a classic case of you got some insider information and acting on that information. And that’s illegal. “

Sen. Thom Tillis, a fellow North Carolina Republican, called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate. As of yesterday, we now know that’s exactly what will happen.

As for allegations that Cawthorn “engaged in an improper relationship with an individual employed on his congressional staff,” that appears to be a new controversy, for which there are no public details.

His office issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Time will tell what, if anything, comes of the ethics probe, but there’s a problem hanging overhead that has nothing to do with the merits of the statements: Cawthorn’s congressional career will come to an end in seven months. At that point, the House Ethics Committee will no longer have any authority to investigate the North Carolinian, since he’ll be a private citizen.

In other words, Cawthorn’s primary defeat might very well be the one thing that saves him from further punishment after allegedly taking part in a pump-and-dump cryptocurrency scheme.

That said, there’s a difference between congressional ethics scrutiny and legal scrutiny. If law enforcement were to take an interest in the congressman’s activities, it would not matter whether the Republican was in office or not.

CORRECTION (May 24, 2022, 11:30 am ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Rep. Madison Cawthorn lost his primary race. It was last week, not two weeks ago.

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