Lincoln Project launches external probe after sexual harassment claims against co-founder

Oliver O’ConnellFri, 12 February 2021, 6:38 pm

<p></p> (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Lincoln Project will launch an external investigation into the tenure of one of its co-founders after further allegations of sexual harassment were revealed in an open letter.

Formed by Republicans opposed to Donald Trump, the political action committee is one of the best-known and best-funded groups trying to reclaim the party from the former president.

In the letter, six anonymous former employees of the group demand to be released from nondisclosure agreements without preconditions so that they could talk about their experiences with John Weaver, a co-founder who allegedly harassed young men online.

Subsequent phone calls to the leadership of the group allege a total of at least 10 specific allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Weaver, including two involving Lincoln Project employees.

When allegations against Mr Weaver surfaced earlier this year, officials at the group said in a statement that they were “shocked” at the revelations. This account is now disputed by some at the group, though no confirmed evidence has been provided.

In a statement released on Thursday evening, the organisation said its board will retain “a best-in-class outside professional” to review Mr Weaver’s tenure “to establish both accountability and best practices going forward for The Lincoln Project”.

The group also encouraged anyone bound by a nondisclosure agreement to contact them “for a release” from any nondisclosure agreement.

However, the former employees who signed the letter say they “do not feel safe directly engaging the remaining leadership of The Lincoln Project or anyone at the organisation”, singling out co-founder Steve Schmidt’s reaction to the situation. They would like a blanket release from such agreements.

“Expecting victims and those close to victims to contact and engage the people and organisation accused of protecting the very predator at issue is absurd, unreasonable, and insensitive,” the letter states.

It cites that Mr Schmidt “attacked” former Lincoln Project partner and co-founder Jennifer Horn on Twitter, and has repeatedly denied knowledge of Mr Weaver’s actions.

Ms Horn, who left the organisation last week, said in a statement that after the revelations about Mr Weaver were published in The New York Times, she had been contacted by some of Mr Weaver’s victims and learned that other leaders of the organisation had ignored warnings about his behaviour.

“When I spoke to one of the founders to raise my objections and concerns, I was yelled at, demeaned and lied to,” she said.

At one point on Thursday, the official Twitter account of the Lincoln Project published a series of screenshots of direct messages between Ms Horn and a journalist. These have since been taken down due to the dubious legality of publishing such content online.

Reporting by the Associated Press and New York magazine alleges that Lincoln Project leadership knew about Mr Weaver’s conduct as early as the summer of 2020. He took medical leave in August and announced in January he would not be returning. Mr Weaver was previously held in high regard as a prominent adviser to Republican presidential campaigns, most notably John McCain’s 2008 White House run.

Mr Schmidt insists that he and the rest of the group’s leadership were not aware of any internal allegations of wrongdoing involving Mr Weaver, nor of the other allegations before the story broke in January.

“The Lincoln Project believes the members of our movement and the victims of John Weaver’s despicable and deceptive behavior are owed the facts, and you will have them,” the group said in a written statement on Thursday. “John Weaver betrayed all of us and you deserve the facts presented independently through a transparent process.”

Late last month in a statement to Axios, Mr Weaver acknowledged his misconduct and apologised.

“To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry,” he wrote. “They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you.”

The scandal threatens the standing of the Lincoln Project and the wider movement of traditional conservatives who want the party to cut ties with Mr Trump. The group rose to prominence during the 2020 election campaign through its use of viral online ads that mocked the president and those close to him.

Since the election, the organisation has seen the departures of several leading figures including George Conway, Ron Steslow, and Mike Madrid.

With reporting from The Associated Press