Rep. Madison Cawthron (R-N.C.) broke from his party’s support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and told supporters the embattled leader is a “thug,” newly released footage of the remarks shows.
“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug,” Cawthorn, 26, says in the clip obtained by North Carolina TV station WRAL on Thursday. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
Cawthorn, who is running for reelection in November’s election, made the comments while speaking with supporters in Asheville over the weekend, according to commentary in The Wall Street Journal by Karl Rove, who served as former President George W. Bush’s deputy chief of staff.
The extremist lawmaker said on Twitter after the video of his comments surfaced that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions are disgusting. Still, he took another dig at the Ukrainian president, saying he “should NOT push misinformation on America.”
In a later tweet, Cawthorn suggested Ukraine was pushing out false narratives about the conflict.
“Propaganda is being used to entice America into another war,” he wrote without supporting his claim. “I do not want Americans dying because emotions pushed us into a conflict.”
Though both parties have expressed strong support for Ukraine and Zelenskyy as he fends off an invasion by Putin, former President Donald Trump complicated the GOP’s position last month when he called Putin “smart” and “savvy” for his aggression and fawned over the Russian leader. In a rare break from Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other top Republicans disavowed the pro-Putin comments.
A spokesperson for Democratic Party rejected Cawthorn’s assertions, but said they aren’t shocking.
“Let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of [Republicans] sided with Trump when he tried to withhold military aid from Ukraine and we shouldn’t be surprised this type of anti-Ukraine sentiment has found a place in the Republican Party,” Democratic National Committee spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
The video’s release and Cawthorn’s tweets come the same day as news he’s been charged for driving with a revoked license for the second time since 2017. He now has three court dates scheduled — one for the license matter and two for separate speeding citations.