In another step toward Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s withdrawal from public life well before the end of his first and perhaps only term in office, the Republican lawmaker has disbanded the 11th Congressional District’s federal service academy selection board, leaving western North Carolina applicants uncertain of their prospects.
The panel of experts recommended candidates for acceptance into West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the nation’s other service academies. The disbanding of the panel, created to guard against members of Congress using their nominating power to reward political allies, is the latest example of Cawthorn severing ties with his home district since he lost his primary election May 17 to fellow Hendersonville Republican Chuck Edwards.
Cawthorn has closed his office on Capitol Hill, shuttered his congressional offices in western North Carolina, laid off staff, bought a $1.12 million house and boat in Florida, and largely disappeared from both his home district and the halls of Congress — even though his term and his Congressional salary of $174,000 continue until Jan. 3, 2023.
He has filed to vote by proxy — giving his vote to other far-right allies including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz — more than a dozen times since May, most recently last week, when he wrote to the clerk of the House that he was “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.” At the time, Cawthorn’s social media postings show, he was at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort attending Trump’s 2024 presidential candidacy announcement — apparently the only sitting member of Congress to attend.
Rejected by Naval Academy
The federal service academy selection board’s members were told Nov. 15 that, in place of the apolitical process established in 2015, Cawthorn himself will choose the young women and men from western North Carolina he will recommend for admission to the elite, taxpayer-supported schools.
Cawthorn, who was home-schooled, sought and received a nomination to the Naval Academy from then-Congressman Mark Meadows, a family friend. Despite the nomination from Meadows the Naval Academy rejected Cawthorn’s application. A few months later Cawthorn was severely injured in an automobile crash, which left him a paraplegic.
In his 2020 campaign for the Republican nomination to succeed Meadows, Cawthorn falsely and repeatedly implied that he had been on track to attend the Naval Academy until the auto crash prevented him from pursuing a military career. As reported by Asheville Watchdog, Cawthorn admitted under questioning in a lawsuit stemming from the crash that the Naval Academy had rejected him prior to the accident.
Board Created to Limit Political Influence
Meadows created the current review board in 2015 and named retired Air Force Major Gen. Rick Devereaux as its head. Devereaux was joined by five other retired or former military officers, each with direct ties to one of the academies.
In an interview with Asheville Watchdog, Devereaux explained that the board used a rigorous process to evaluate potential nominees based on criteria including high school class ranking, test scores, writing and math abilities, physical fitness, and leadership potential. The board then forwarded a list of the top applicants to Meadows for his nomination, with assurance from Meadows that the list would be passed to the academies for their final review without further intervention.
Some members of Congress prioritize their nominees before forwarding individual names to the academies, but Meadows didn’t do so, Devereaux said, enabling the academies to make the final selections without politicization.
“You can’t afford to politicize the service academy process,” Devereaux, an Air Force Academy graduate, said. “And this committee was set up to avoid the perception of politicizing.”
The academies typically offer admission to one of every 10 nominees on a lawmaker’s list, making them among the nation’s most highly selective colleges and universities.
WNC Candidates Successful in 2021
Meadows resigned his seat in 2019 to become Trump’s chief of staff. When Cawthorn won election to succeed him, he continued the process and maintained the same board.
Devereaux said the 2021 process was highly successful as applicants from western North Carolina won appointments to all the academies.
But after a scandal-plagued term in office, a foiled attempt to run for re-election in a district closer to Charlotte, and a loss to Edwards in the GOP primary this year, Cawthorn’s interest in continuing the nonpartisan selection process apparently has died, Devereaux said.
High school students seeking admission to any of the academies are advised to begin the process by August, which includes demonstrations of their communication skills, their standardized test results, medical records, and recommendation letters from teachers (typically one attesting to writing skills and another to math skills). They also must be able to pass a health and fitness test.
Devereaux said several students have contacted him and other board members in recent months seeking assurance that their applications for Cawthorn’s nomination are on track, assurances Devereaux said he is unable to give. He said the board’s practice has been to complete its evaluation of each applicant by the end of October, although the academies don’t require submissions until mid-January.
“Everything Is In Disarray”
Repeated efforts to get permission from Cawthorn’s district staff director, Brianna McMinn, to schedule face-to-face interviews with the top applicants before the board’s Oct. 31 deadline failed, Devereaux said.
He said he was able to reach McMinn on Nov. 15 by calling her personal cell phone. She explained, he said, that she and the rest of the staff had closed the Hendersonville office, the only one remaining in the district, and that she no longer had access to office phones or the congressional computer network.
“She told me that nothing could happen after Nov. 11 [because] jobs are changing; everything is in disarray,” Devereaux said.
Callers trying to reach the congressman’s offices hear a recorded message saying Cawthorn is “proudly representing North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.” The machine then asks the caller to leave a message and await a return call. Messages left by Asheville Watchdog earlier this month have not yet been acknowledged.
When Devereaux asked McMinn how the current applications will be screened, he said she replied: “ ‘The decision has been made that the staff will handle it this year and it is out of my hands. I can’t talk about it.’ “
The Watchdog attempted to contact McMinn and Cawthorn on their mobile phones and left text messages seeking comment. None has been forthcoming.
With Cawthorn’s regional and Capitol offices closed, and constituent services halted, Devereaux said he speculates that Cawthorn will personally nominate candidates without seeking an expert, independent review. This, he said, opens the way for Cawthorn to nominate the sons and daughters of political supporters in an “opaque” manner — a legal, though disfavored, practice.
Ethics Committee Investigations
Although Cawthorn appears to be done with Congress, Congress is not yet done with him. His campaign remains deeply in debt to vendors and donors. The House Committee on Ethics is investigating whether Cawthorn may have improperly promoted a cryptocurrency in which he may have had an undisclosed financial interest, and whether he engaged in an improper relationship with an individual employed on his congressional staff.
What will become of the current group of service academy applicants is the question on Devereaux’s mind, he said. Even when the review board was in place, he said, an occasional and misinformed applicant would try to win favor by touting political or ideological ties to the congressman or to the Republican Party.
“One young woman told us that she had been raised by her parents to believe that all Democrats were liberals and socialists, and therefore anti-American,” Devereaux said. “She said that she wanted to go into the military so she could protect the country against these Democrats.”
She didn’t make the list, Devereaux said.
[Disclosures: Rick Devereaux is a major financial supporter of Asheville Watchdog. It is our policy to inform readers when someone mentioned in a story is a donor. Watchdog reporter Tom Fiedler is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and a Vietnam veteran.]
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Tom Fiedler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter and former executive editor of The Miami Herald. Email email@example.com.
This time of year, we’re reminded that there are turkeys, and then there are turkeys… I guess my repeated calls to Cawthorn’s office demanding that he leave office finally worked!
It’s really sad that qualified candidates for the service academies are left twisting in the wind because of the malicious incompetence of our Congressman.
Why can Cawthorn continue to be paid when he’s quit everything and moving to Florida?
If any Dist. 11 voter is unhappy with the representation Madison Cawthorn has provided, be sure to let the local GOP headquarters know (828-693-6040). This is what you get when a Party and its deletant supporters focus more on “sticking it to the libs” than actually electing people–despite their differences–who have the constituents’ and the county’s best interests at heart. Will that be Chuck Edwards? Or will he jerk around with Hunter’s laptop for two years. Time will tell.
i believe since dems (and most media) denied the authenticity of this laptop for 2 years, but now admit is a true story, chuck and co. can look at it for 2 years. what are you afraid of finding out?
This is a great article. Thank you.
Meadows was bad; then WNC went to worse with Cawthorn. Edwards…no comment. WNC sure knows how to pick ’em.
Well, not all of us attempted to pick him unfortunately old white Republicans out of Henderson county and parts of BUNCOMBE did this to us and I hope they can find a way to apologize to us for disgracing democracy in the 11th district
no one owes you or anyone else an apology for how they vote. the fact of the matter is Asheville and buncombe Dems are the MINORITY in this large district. get over it!!
Is there any recourse for Cawthorn’s constituents to have his congressional pay stopped? He is committing dereliction of duty!
Cawthorn has revealed a total lack of character from day one. He was the perfect patsy to carry out the maga/qanon agenda and is another one who clearly belongs in prison. His college classmates of one semester warned us.
I find it ironic that General Devereaux decries the possible politicization of the nominating process while engaging in a highly politicized rant! Pot, meet kettle!
Congressmen have an unfettered right to nominate whomever they please. The Academies will reject candidates who are not deemed qualified in every respect. General Devereaux should leave politics to the politicians and find another way to contribute to society.
Furthermore, the circumstances of Congressmen’s own application to the Naval Academy are apropos of nothing relevant in the article. Did this author really win a Pulitzer?? Should this considered an opinion piece or actual journalism?
Please, gentlemen: raise your standards.
Cawthorn is just the latest sorry excuse of a taxpayer suck just as his hero, DJT is. Who’s going to dock his pay for his premature “retirement”?
Cawthorn is just one more loser that managed to get the uninformed voters of the 11th Congressional District to believe he was the best thing since locally made moonshine! Cawthorn’s current behavior, when examined in the light of his past behavior, can only be defined as continuing as “immature, ignorant, uncaring, and dangerous.” These young persons who applied, in good faith, to this loser’s office looking for a reference to a service academy, may see their faith in their government and in those who represent that government destroyed. Cawthorn belongs in prison, not only for his theft of the taxpayers’ money when he’s done nothing to earn it but for his overall incompetence as an elected representative.
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