The crisis that gripped the Lincoln Project’s anti-Trump group intensified on Friday when Steve Schmidt, a co-founder, abruptly resigned from the board and former employees again demanded that they be fired from nondisclosure agreements to get more information about to get the organization handling harassment allegations against another co-founder, John Weaver.
After his temporary vacation, Mr. Schmidt will remain in a managerial position at the organization. He resigned from the board to quell the growing excitement over the Lincoln project, but had not joined the board until after the November election.
In an extraordinary statement on Friday evening, Mr Schmidt described the sexual assault he was made as a teenager and recalled his own experiences trying to explain his widely criticized response to the allegations against Mr Weaver.
“I am furious about it,” he said of Mr. Weaver’s actions, which included unsolicited sexual messages to numerous young men. “I am angry because I know the harm he has done to me, and I know the journey that lies ahead of any young man who trusts, fears and abuses John Weaver.”
While Mr Schmidt reiterated his claim that he did not know about Mr Weaver’s behavior until last month, a former Lincoln Project employee told the New York Times that Mr Schmidt knew by October 2020 at the latest. The former employee described being in the room when Mr. Schmidt spoke about it.
Mr. Schmidt made the statement Friday night after an attorney for a third co-founder, Jennifer Horn, sent the Lincoln Project a notice instructing her to hold documents in anticipation of a lawsuit, according to a person familiar with the notice.
The turmoil is a severe blow to the Lincoln Project, which emerged last year as a leading group of Republicans against the presidency of Donald J. Trump. The group impaled Mr. Trump with derisive advertisements and drew a large following on the left.
But since the election his core group has been broken. Two board members, Ron Steslow and Mike Madrid, resigned in December. George T. Conway III, another key figure, has also left. Another co-founder, Jennifer Horn, recently stepped down and made a damning statement just so the group could tweet their private Twitter messages with a reporter.
On Friday, more former employees joined an open letter asking for their nondisclosure agreements to be released and saying they wanted to release additional information. The moderator of a program in the group’s media section resigned in less than a week. And a leading international affairs expert, prominent anti-Trump Conservative Tom Nichols, said he would step down as an unpaid advisor to the group.
The backlash against the Lincoln Project began with the revelation last month that Mr. Weaver had repeatedly molested young men and at least one minor. It was intensified on Thursday with reports released that those responsible had known and failed to act about the harassment over the past year, requests for former workers to be fired from their NDAs and the unauthorized posting of Ms. Horn’s Twitter messages.
Senior Lincoln Project officials said Thursday night that they would hire an outside investigator to review Mr. Weaver’s tenure, promise transparency and say that Mr. Weaver’s behavior “is to be expected”.
In his statement, Mr. Schmidt repeated several times what he had said: He was only aware of the online harassment of young men by Mr. Weaver in the last month. However, a former Lincoln Project employee told the New York Times that Mr. Schmidt knew of Mr. Weaver’s behavior no later than October 2020. The former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to a nondisclosure agreement, described being in the room when Mr. Schmidt spoke about it.
Several other people who have worked for the group have said that the group leaders knew about it earlier than last summer.
Ms. Horn, who resigned from the Lincoln Project last week, said in a statement Thursday that she recently learned that other group leaders had ignored warnings about Mr. Weaver’s behavior.
The young men she spoke to were “hurt that their experience had been denied, angry that they had been used and lied to, and feared that they would be attacked again,” she wrote. “When I spoke to one of the founders to voice my concerns and concerns, I was yelled at, humiliated, and lied to.”
Further information could be imminent. Eight former employees and employees – six on Thursday evening and two more on Friday – have now signed the letter asking for their NDAs to be released. They wanted to disclose information “that would help the press, the public, and our donors answer questions relevant to the public interest. “The signatories have not yet spoken publicly, but they provided a copy of the letter to the New York Times.
They said they were uncomfortable contacting the organization directly to get fired from their NDAs, as the Lincoln Project leaders suggested in a statement.
“It is absurd, unreasonable and insensitive to expect victims and nearby victims to contact and involve the people and organizations accused of protecting the predator in question,” they wrote. Although they did not sign their names, their identities are known to the Times.
Further controversy erupted late Thursday night when the Lincoln Project posted screenshots of Ms. Horn’s Twitter account, revealed her direct messages with a reporter, and then quickly shut her down. Unauthorized access to a social media account can be illegal depending on the circumstances.
In his statement on Friday, Mr. Schmidt apologized to Ms. Horn and called her “an important and valuable member of our team”.
These posts were the final straw for Mr. Nichols, an international affairs expert at U.S. Naval War College, who announced on Friday that he would end his ties with the organization.
“I’ve been thinking for a while whether to continue my association,” said Nichols in an email to The Times. “I was upset by John Weaver’s despicable behavior and concerned about the ongoing public conflict between the directors, but I made my final decision yesterday when Jennifer Horn’s personal messages were released. I am glad they are bringing in an outside consultant to help them sort it all out and I hope that responsibility for what happened to Weaver is there. “
Mr Nichols said that as a volunteer, he had no insight into the group’s internal governance.
Mr Weaver, 61, is a longtime Republican presidential campaign advisor who gained prominence during John McCain’s runs in 2000 and 2008, and also worked for John Kasich in 2016. The Times reported last month through interviews with 21 young men that Mr. Weaver had sent unsolicited and sexually provocative messages online for years.
The youngest person to interview The Times was 14 years old when Mr. Weaver first contacted him. The news got overtly sexual after he turned 18.
On Thursday, The Associated Press and New York Magazine reported, citing unidentified former employees, that the leaders of the Lincoln Project knew about Mr Weaver’s behavior last summer, which Mr Schmidt continues to deny. Mr Weaver took a medical leave from the group in August and announced last month he would not be returning.
In a statement on Thursday, the Lincoln Project said Mr. Weaver had “betrayed us all” and that he was bringing in “a first-rate outside professional” to “establish both accountability and good practice for the future.”
At the same time, the group’s leaders have repeatedly dismissed coverage upon learning of Mr. Weaver’s behavior and Ms. Horn’s resignation as hit jobs by supporters of former President Donald J. Trump.
The eight former employees and employees expressed their anger about this in their open letter. To suggest that their efforts were a right-wing attack, they wrote, “They are inconsistent with the values we are committed to upholding and are similar to the tactics and behaviors we joined in defeat the Lincoln Project.”
While a number of people involved in the Lincoln Project were considered to be co-founders, the four policy advisors who initially took center stage were Mr. Schmidt, Mr. Weaver, Reed Galen, and Rick Wilson. They formed a three-person board consisting of Mr. Galen, Mr. Madrid and Mr. Steslow, who ran a prime contractor, TUSK Digital. Ms. Horn also joined the process early, Sarah Lenti was named executive director, and Matthew Sanderson was hired as general counsel.
The group wasn’t initially intended to be a major moneymaker, but soon, as anti-Trump sentiment rose, millions in donations poured in. After the elections, cracks appeared over money and control and there was a move to add new board members, creating tension within the organization.
The Lincoln Project attributed Ms. Horn’s departure to a dispute over money. She recently requested immediate payment of the $ 250,000 signing bonus and $ 40,000 per month consulting contract and in December “requested” a seat on the Lincoln Project Board of Directors, a television show, a podcast hosting contract and staff who manage this effort. “
Ms. Horn called the claims that her departure was financially motivated “obviously wrong”.