The Lincoln Project, a supergroup of “Never Trump” Republican campaign veterans, imploded Friday following Intelligencer’s report that the Lincoln Project was accused of protecting co-founder and sexual predator John Weaver.
Steve Schmidt, the most visible face of the Lincoln Project, resigned from the organization he helped found on Friday evening. Earlier that day, the company’s chief spokesperson, Kurt Bardella, also stepped down. The night before, the Lincoln Project descended into civil war: Schmidt tweeted from the Lincoln Project’s account’s private messages from a recently departed co-founder, accusing her and a reporter of preparing a “hit job” on the political action committee. George Conway, another co-founder, called on the Lincoln Project to launch an independent investigation after Intelligencer’s “disturbing and appalling” report. Through it all, multiple former employees and associates demanded the Lincoln Project release them from nondisclosure agreements so they may speak openly about the company and Weaver.
On Thursday, Intelligencer reported that the Lincoln Project was warned last June by an employee that Weaver — a co-founder and two-time campaign aide to John McCain — had preyed on a man inside the company and may be using his position to groom new victims by dangling job opportunities to young men he sent sexually explicit messages to without their consent. (The Associated Press was the first to report on the complaint.) Two men told Intelligencer they were offered jobs by Weaver following the warning to the company, including one who said Weaver continued to prey on him after he started as an intern last summer.
Though the Lincoln Project and its co-founders deny any knowledge of the accusations against Weaver until this year, the warning in June was sent to co-founder Ron Steslow, who shared it with co-founder Reed Galen and the company’s corporate counsel. Weaver went on “medical leave” in August, but reappeared inside the company in October — and appeared on a 60 Minutes segment about the group. By that time, former employees told Intelligencer, the accusations against Weaver were an open secret inside the Lincoln Project; co-founders Rick Wilson and Schmidt were quoted at a staff party disparaging Weaver and saying it’s “being taken care of.”
In a lengthy statement shared with Intelligencer on Friday following his resignation, Schmidt maintained he had no knowledge prior to this January of allegations against Weaver. Schmidt did not address that the company was warned, but instead said he was deceived by the “skilled liar” Weaver. Schmidt also revealed for the first time an account of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his Boy Scout leader in a cabin at age 13. As a result, he became “incandescently angry” once he heard about Weaver’s predatory behavior — including, according to the New York Times, that Weaver groomed a 14-year-old boy whom he sent sexual messages to as an adult.
The Lincoln Project’s future is unclear, with most of the co-founders having left over the past two months. The super PAC’s wealthiest backers said they are considering cutting off contributions until they see the results of an independent investigation Schmidt said he has authorized. During the 2020 election, the Lincoln Project made its leaders wealthy: It raised approximately $90 million during the campaign, sending half of it to companies controlled by several co-founders, and sums of unknown size to other co-founders such as Schmidt.