NY Times: Lincoln Project leaders knew about Weaver's behavior as early as Feb. 2020

Last month the site called The 19th published their investigation into the Lincoln Project. The 19th found, among other things, that John Weaver’s behavior toward young men was known inside the company since at least August of 2020. That timeline was at odds with denials from Lincoln Project founder Steve Schmidt who told the Associated Press, “no human being ever made an allegation about any inappropriate sexualized communications about John Weaver ever.”

Today, the NY Times published the results of its own ongoing investigation into the group. The Times reports that Lincoln Project leadership learned about Weaver’s behavior back in January of 2020 when an email about it was sent to Ron Steslow. This led Steslow to try to push Weaver out as long ago as February 2020 [emphasis added]:

Fresh reporting by The Times found that Mr. Weaver’s inappropriate behavior was brought to the organization’s attention multiple times last year, beginning in January 2020, according to four people with direct knowledge of the complaints, though none of the warnings involved a minor…

Mr. Steslow pressed unsuccessfully for some time to have Mr. Weaver pushed out, five people with knowledge of the matter said. While he informed other Lincoln Project officials as early as February 2020 of his concerns, three of the people said, there are conflicting accounts of who learned about Mr. Weaver, what they learned and when.

If a high-level contractor was trying to push out one of the co-founders of the group, who do you think he was talking to about that? Clearly the only people who could force Weaver out would be his fellow co-founders. So this confusion about who knew what when seems pretty dubious to me. Even if some of the principles didn’t hear about it in February, they must have learned about it by June when a second warning about Weaver’s behavior was sent to the Lincoln Project.

In the midst of the Lincoln Project’s overnight success last summer, a troubling email arrived.

“I’m writing regarding a pattern of concerning behavior by Weaver that has been brought to my attention by multiple people,” it began. “In addition to being morally and potentially legally wrong, I believe what I’m going to outline poses an immediate threat to the reputation of the organization, and is potentially fatal to our public image.”

The email was sent to Mr. Steslow, the Lincoln Project contractor and board member, by an employee at his company, Tusk, which handled the project’s digital advertising. It described a wide array of allegations dating from 2014 to 2020, including what it called a “bait-and-switch situation” around 2015 in which Mr. Weaver offered to discuss a political job with a young man, then tried to bring him to his hotel room instead. It also said that Mr. Weaver had continued to harass people after the Lincoln Project was founded in late 2019, and that he had “mixed suggestive commentary with official T.L.P. marketing work.”

After the second email there was an internal investigation but it sounds like it was much of one. Two recipients of Weaver’s attention were contacted but Weaver himself wasn’t even interviewed. Still, in a company that only had 60 employees, an internal investigation of one of the co-founders couldn’t have escaped the notice of the other co-founders.

There’s lots more in the latest Times piece, including the description of a power struggle within the group to gain control of its possible future as a media company:

Not long after the election, with relationships fraying over the group’s finances, Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Wilson sought to formalize their control of the project by pushing to join the board of directors, multiple people with knowledge of the effort said. Mr. Steslow and Mr. Madrid were sent a resolution to sign that would add Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Wilson to the board. Mr. Steslow and Mr. Madrid instead requested a meeting to discuss the proposal. They were rebuffed.

A bitter standoff began. With Mr. Steslow and Mr. Madrid still in control of the board, Mr. Galen, aligned with Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Wilson, set up a new entity of their own called Lincoln Project 2024. In December, they moved millions of dollars from the existing Lincoln Project into companies they controlled, which would have left behind a hollowed-out shell, several people with knowledge of the dispute said.

Eventually, the money was transferred back and Schmidt and Wilson both joined the board. Steslow left the group in December. Schmidt then resigned from the board last month.

Incredibly, despite all of the bad press and the fact that much of the money the group raised seems to have gone into the pockets of the founders, the Lincoln Project lives on. I guess we’ll see how long it lasts without President Trump as its nemesis.