The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
Madison Cawthorn, a 25-year-old Republican nominee, will become one of the youngest members of Congress in history if voters in western North Carolina elect him in November.
Political pundits have declared him the new face of the GOP. He campaigns on a platform of conservative values and calls himself “pro-Trump, pro-life, and pro-Second Amendment.” His emphasis on “faith, family, and freedom” has so far resonated in his district: In a June primary, he bested his Trump-endorsed opponent, Lynda Bennett, in a race for the congressional seat of former Rep. Mark Meadows. Afterward, Cawthorn scored an Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump.
Cawthorn, who turned 25 on Aug. 1, has no previous political experience and describes himself as a Christian. He also uses a wheelchair: A car accident when he was 18 left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite the accident, he’s an athlete: His Instagram shows him lifting weights and working out. His campaign message is powerful: Having overcome personal tragedy, he can now challenge inside-the-Beltway politicians.
Is Cawthorn the great representative of family values his campaign indicates? Several women, citing his behavior toward them, say no. The women say Cawthorn exhibited sexually or verbally aggressive behavior toward them when they were teenagers.
Two women say he forcibly kissed them. One woman told me he grabbed her thigh and moved his hand an inch or two beneath her dress. WORLD has corroborated each woman’s account with at least one other individual.
I contacted Cawthorn’s campaign to ask about the women’s claims. Cawthorn’s campaign turned down my initial request to interview him and did not respond to three subsequent requests. The campaign did email me a statement addressing one woman’s claims.
The first incident, which occurred in 2014, became public on Thursday. Katrina Krulikas posted on Instagram a statement describing a date she had with Cawthorn when she was 17 and he was 19. During the date, she said, Cawthorn—who is now engaged—tried forcibly to kiss her, although she had rejected his earlier attempt to do so.
When I contacted Cawthorn’s campaign with questions about the incident, a spokesman replied that Cawthorn had previously reached out to Krulikas and “apologized if his attempt to kiss her when he was a teenager made her feel uncomfortable or unsafe.” The spokesman, John Hart, claimed Democrats were using Krulikas in a political attack on Cawthorn.
I interviewed Krulikas earlier this month—before her Instagram post—after learning about her claims. I also spoke with people to whom she described the incident before Cawthorn announced his run for Congress. I obtained screenshots of text messages in which Cawthorn confirmed some details about Krulikas’ account.
Krulikas was a high-school senior at the time of the fall 2014 incident in Asheville, N.C. She was part of the same Christian homeschool community as Cawthorn, and she described the community as one where parents organized activities such as sporting events, dances, and co-operative classes.
Nineteen-year-old Cawthorn was popular at the time. When he contacted Krulikas over social media, she says she had no misgivings. She said Cawthorn told her she was pretty and complimented her green eyes. He asked her for a date. She agreed.
Krulikas says the date occurred on a cool fall day and that she had dressed warmly. She drove to meet Cawthorn at Biltmore Park—a town center with a movie theater, restaurants, stores, and businesses—at around 6:30 to 7 p.m. Cawthorn, who drove a handicap-accessible vehicle, invited Krulikas to get into his car, and the two rode together about 20 minutes away to a secluded field for a campfire.
Krulikas does not remember the exact location and or many details of the drive because it was already dark. Here’s what she does remember: Once they arrived, Cawthorn lit the fire. She sat next to him in a chair he had brought for her. The date soon took an uncomfortable turn. He asked her a series of intimate questions: whether she had had sex, when she was planning to have sex, and why she hadn’t had sex. He asked her to sit on his lap. Krulikas tried to laugh the request off, but Cawthorn insisted: “I felt pressured and unsure of how to say no.” She sat in his lap and felt tense and unsure of how to get out of the situation.
Krulikas says she was sheltered and naïve at the time: “Sex was just not something that I talked about often or really at all. … I’m not sure I even knew anybody who was having sex because I was so sheltered at that point.” Here’s more of her recollection: Cawthorn tried to kiss her. She turned her head away. After an awkward moment, they continued talking. A few minutes later he tried again, this time grabbing her face: “He was much stronger than me.” As Cawthorn tried to kiss her on the mouth, Krulikas pulled away and attempted to jump out of his lap. While doing so, her hair, which reached midway down her back, caught in Cawthorn’s wheelchair: “I had to pull out some of my own hair just to free myself.” She describes herself as panicked. She remembers leaving a tangled chunk of her hair in his wheelchair.
Krulikas doesn’t remember how long the remainder of the date lasted and doesn’t remember Cawthorn saying anything during the drive back to her car. That night she texted a friend to say the date had gone horribly and left her feeling unsettled.
Since 2014, Krulikas said, she has not spoken to Cawthorn again about the incident, but she told three Asheville-area friends about it. I interviewed two of them. They confirmed that Krulikas told them about the date with Cawthorn.
One, Lizbeth Sherill, a childhood friend of Krulikas, confirmed that Krulikas called her and told her about the date a few weeks after it occurred. A second, Madison Jamieson, learned about the incident while exchanging Instagram messages with Krulikas in August 2019. In one of the messages, which WORLD has seen, Krulikas told Jamieson he tried to “forcibly grab” her after she declined to kiss him.
Earlier this year, Sherill received a text message from Cawthorn’s campaign asking if he could count on her vote. Assuming it was an automated message, she texted back, saying she would not vote for Cawthorn because of what he had done to her friend.
Soon after, on Feb. 3, Krulikas received two texts from someone who identified himself as Madison Cawthorn. The texts said his campaign had heard from someone claiming Cawthorn had “sexually assaulted [my] friend Katrina in high school.”
The texts, which WORLD has viewed, added: “I remember you and I went on a date to that campfire years ago and I remember I asked if I could kiss you, you said no, but I thought you were just being coy and then I really quickly kissed you and that’s all I can remember. I can see in hindsight how that was over the line and I am sorry.”
While the texts described a quick kiss, Krulikas told me she doesn’t remember an actual kiss—only an attempted one. Krulikas says she didn’t respond to the messages and blocked the number. The apparent apology from Cawthorn, she said, struck her as insincere, coming after the launch of his campaign for Congress: “This message came six years after the fact, when … he faces the possibility of public scrutiny.”
John Hart, the campaign spokesman, said in a response to this account that voters in North Carolina should “process this unfounded allegation with common sense and grace ... This was one of Madison’s first dates after he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life ... When an anonymous person brought this matter to the campaign’s attention, Madison personally reached out to Katrina Aldona [Krulikas] and apologized if his attempt to kiss her when he was a teenager made her feel uncomfortable or unsafe. He was relieved when Ms. [Krulikas] shared that she does not feel like a victim. It’s unfortunate that she is now being used by Democrats to further their political agenda.”
Asked about the campaign’s response, Krulikas told me by text, “I have not been used/put up by any Democrats.” Krulikas has described herself on social media as a Democrat but says she no longer lives in Asheville and will not be voting for either Cawthorn or his opponent.
In her statement posted to Instagram Thursday, Krulikas said she did not feel like a victim, but that she was concerned that “while the media portrays Madison as a role model for Christian, family values, my experience with him leads me to believe otherwise.”
Krulikas isn’t the only person who tells of sexual aggression.
Francesca McDaniel, who grew up in the same community as Cawthorn, describes a similar incident that occurred several months later, on May 29, 2015. She was at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, N.C., for her homeschool graduation ceremony. Cawthorn was the featured speaker for the ceremony.
McDaniel had a boyfriend at the time, and although he attended the ceremony, he left immediately after it following an awkward exchange with McDaniel’s father. Before his speech, McDaniel said, Cawthorn began sending her flirtatious Facebook messages complimenting her appearance. After a reception, Cawthorn—a friend of McDaniel’s brother—tagged along with her family to dinner at Papa’s and Beer, a Mexican restaurant about 10 minutes from Biltmore Baptist.
After the dinner, McDaniel planned to go to a friend’s house for a graduation party. Initially, her parents were going to drive her. Instead, McDaniel said, Cawthorn offered her a ride.
Here’s what McDaniel remembers: The friend’s house was a 15-minute drive away, but Cawthorn pulled onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and took what seemed to be a longer route. She asked, “Where are we going?” Cawthorn said he wanted to go stargazing. During the drive, he asked why she seemed not to like him. McDaniel responded, “I don’t like you because I think you’re a huge player.” He asked other personal questions: whether she was a virgin and why she was with her current boyfriend.
Here’s what else McDaniel remembers: he talked about his genitalia and said he could still have fun. Cawthorn pulled off the road and into the Walnut Cove Overlook on the parkway. He leaned toward her seat, reached for her face with both hands, pulled her in, and kissed her. McDaniel resisted: “No, I have a boyfriend.” Cawthorn persisted. He told her nobody had to know. He kissed her again. She pushed him away with two hands to his chest. She turned and tried to grab the passenger door handle. At that moment the lock snapped shut, but at the same time he assured her that they would head to the party.
McDaniel remembers him then leaning in for another kiss, putting one hand around her head and his other on her left thigh: “I felt, like, pressured to give in to it because he started being aggressive, and he is a strong guy. He had buff arms and worked out his upper body a lot.”
McDaniel says they kissed for perhaps one minute. Her nervousness did not subside. She told him she didn’t want her parents, who were strict, to learn she wasn’t at her friend’s house. They could track her location using the smartphone app Life360, and she told Cawthorn she needed to send them her location. At that point, she says, Cawthorn agreed they should leave and drove her to the party.
Before they reached the house, McDaniel remembers, Cawthorn asked to take her out again. She gave Cawthorn her number and had several text conversations with him: In one she expressed remorse because she felt the kiss constituted cheating. She did not go out with Cawthorn again and tried to avoid him after that.
McDaniel told childhood friend Julie Maxwell about the incident a few days after it happened. Maxwell remembers, “She was upset because he was forcefully—wasn’t letting her out of the car and he kept saying, no one would find out. She had a boyfriend at the time, she was freaking out.”
McDaniel agreed to share her story after reading Krulikas’ Instagram statement on Friday and realizing the scenario was similar to hers.
Cawthorn entered Patrick Henry College (Purcellville, Va.) in fall 2016 and stayed there for part of one academic year. He initially made a good impression on fellow students, many alumni told me. (I am also a graduate of PHC.) At one point, while speaking to the student body during corporate chapel time, Cawthorn told of his accident and recovery, and the lessons he had learned: “Whatever your gift is, I want to challenge you to take that gift to the ends of the earth for Christ and for liberty, to make His name known.”
But some students’ impressions soured. One PHC alumna said Cawthorn grabbed her thigh while the two talked in the school’s dining hall. WORLD is withholding the woman’s name because speaking to media would jeopardize her current job in the federal government.
The alumna was 19 years old at the time. Here’s what she remembers: She walked into the dining hall, wearing a brown dress that hit around 6 inches above her knees. Cawthorn waved her over to his table. He asked her whether she thought one of her girlfriends would go out with him on a date. Suddenly Cawthorn placed his hand on her upper left leg near the hem of her dress: “His hand was on the side, and his fingers were on the back of my leg.”
She remembers nothing like that happening to her before at PHC: “Going to a Christian school—no one does stuff like that … He was talking to me and then he moved his hand up my skirt. Not significantly but enough to where it was under my skirt and not appropriate … It was in public where people could see … It was a super weird situation where we were talking about another girl that he liked, but he was touching me.” After that, she avoided him. She did not report the incident to school officials but told her roommate. The roommate confirms that.
WORLD repeatedly asked for an interview with Cawthorn to discuss these accounts but has not yet heard a response. WORLD will update the story as more information becomes available.
“I do not know who Madison Cawthorn is today,” Katrina Krulikas said in her Instagram statement Thursday. “But I do know how threatened and belittled he made me feel six years ago.”
—This story has been corrected to identify the Walnut Cove Overlook as the one where Francesca McDaniel says Cawthorn took her.
Nearly three hours after WORLD published its story on Madison Cawthorn on Sunday, a campaign spokesman contacted WORLD asking to speak to the editors who oversaw the piece. When reporter Harvest Prude and deputy editor Michael Reneau refused to go off the record in a conversation with campaign spokesman John Hart, he said he would respond publicly to WORLD’s story.
Later on Sunday, a reporter with the Daily Caller News Foundation asked WORLD for a response to a statement from the Cawthorn campaign.
In the Daily Caller story, the Cawthorn campaign called WORLD’s story a “mix of half-truths, untruths and potentially fabricated allegations based on double anonymous sources.” Hart also said that it is “shocking and disappointing that WORLD would participate in left-wing, campaign season character assassination.” The statement also said WORLD didn’t provide details to Cawthorn’s campaign about the second two accusations prior to publication.
In his statement to the Daily Caller, Hart said Cawthorn has “no recollection of the anonymous accusation and denies being forceful in the other two circumstances. … Sadly, in the Kavanaugh age, nothing will satisfy a woke mob that decides someone is guilty of sexual misconduct until proven innocent. … There is a big difference between a failed advance and being forceful, to the extent that’s possible when you’re a paraplegic. If being guilty of an awkward, failed advance is a disqualifying event every male in public office should resign.”
Below is the full statement WORLD gave to the Daily Caller:
“We first requested an interview with Madison Cawthorn Friday afternoon to ask about the Katrina Krulikas accusation. The campaign sent a written response, and we again requested an interview. The campaign said he was unavailable Friday night, so we asked when he would be available. The campaign did not respond. At 2:02 p.m. Saturday, we requested another interview and received no response. Just past 10 p.m. Saturday night, we requested another interview and told the campaign we wanted to question Cawthorn about additional accusations from several other women. We also told the campaign if we did not get a response by noon Sunday, we would publish the story without the interview. The campaign did not respond. Three hours after our story published Sunday, campaign spokesman John Hart contacted us. In a phone conversation, when Deputy Editor Michael Reneau and reporter Harvest Prude wouldn’t agree to an off-the-record conversation, Hart hung up without answering our questions.
“The story included two named sources citing Cawthorn’s aggressive sexual behavior that they personally experienced, and three additional sources corroborating their accounts. We granted anonymity to one source to protect her job but corroborated her account with another student. We ask the campaign to be specific: Which of the stories we published is untrue? Which is fabricated?”
So far the campaign has not answered those questions. —The Editors