Report: Lincoln Project co-founders knew about allegations against Weaver months earlier

Last week the Lincoln Project published private messages between a former member named Jennifer Horn and a reporter for a site called The 19th on Twitter. Those private messages were quickly pulled down after another former member of the group, George Conway, suggested their publication looked to him like a crime.

Today, the story that The 19th had been working on was co-published by USA Today. The site spoke to nearly two dozen current and former employees and put together a picture of an organization rife with infighting and self-dealing. The group, which started with 8 co-founders, began to fall apart last August.

Conway was the first to leave in August, citing family obligations. Weaver took medical leave around the same time.

A three-person board – Galen, Madrid and Steslow – was created without input from some of the other co-founders. Eventually, disputes over that board, and its scope, led to bitter infighting that involved individual co-founders lawyering up and threatening one another with “oppo” research, Washington-speak for the type of negative information amassed by a political campaign or organization to use against a rival.

In late 2020, Conway stepped in to help mediate what was quickly becoming a civil war within the organization. Madrid and Steslow departed in December after signing nondisclosure agreements and receiving separation packages that those familiar with the negotiations describe as lucrative.

Last week, co-founder Steve Schmidt resigned from the group’s board and apologized for publishing Horn’s private messages. But according to Schmidt, he didn’t know anything about allegations of sexual harassment against co-founder John Weaver until they were published two months after the election. But the 19th reports that members of the group’s leadership had been told about Weaver’s predatory behavior seven months earlier and that prior to the election it was an open secret:

Sources familiar with internal communications said that in June, multiple members of the Lincoln Project’s senior leadership team were told in conversations and in writing about allegations that Weaver had sexually harassed young men, including some who were working for the organization.

By August, nearly all of the co-founders still with the project were aware and a media plan was being crafted after the group’s employees and contractors were contacted by a news outlet working on a story about the allegations. By the time staff gathered in Park City for the buildup to the election, the accusations were an open secret even among junior staff, sources said.

The first allegations were published in January, first in the American Conservative and later in other publications, including The New York Times. Schmidt told The Times that senior management was not aware until that month. Schmidt’s timeline conflicts with that offered by more than a dozen sources who worked within and as contractors for the group at various times.

Compare that to the flat denial that Schmidt issued last week to the Associated Press:

Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt insisted that he and the rest of the group’s leadership were not aware of any internal allegations of wrongdoing involving Weaver.

“No Lincoln Project employee, intern, or contractors ever made an allegation of inappropriate communication about John Weaver that would have triggered an investigation by HR or by an outside employment counsel,” Schmidt said in a Wednesday interview. “In other words, no human being ever made an allegation about any inappropriate sexualized communications about John Weaver ever.”

Obviously one of these two things isn’t true. Just to pick one example, the group could not be putting together a media plan for how to handle the allegations against Weaver if no one knew the allegations had been made.

At the moment, the former staffers who might be able to shed some light on this can’t because of the NDAs they had to sign when leaving the group. In addition, everyone The 19th spoke to for the story said they were afraid of repercussions for speaking on the record. So the fear of legal and personal destruction is keeping people from going on the record, at least for now.

There’s a lot more to the story published today, including infighting over the money raised by the group and the valuable donor list they amassed. The report says that Schmidt in particular talked about getting rich:

A frequent quip from Schmidt overheard by multiple people was that the Lincoln Project was his vehicle to achieve “generational wealth.”

I’m sure Schmidt has done well off the Lincoln Project but the NY Post reports today that the group’s fundraising page has been inactive since Saturday. I guess we’ll see if the outside investigator Schmidt announced last week is able to revive the group’s credibility.