When allegations surfaced last month against John Weaver, the co-founder of the conservative anti-Trump super PAC, The Lincoln Project, the organization’s leadership said it was “shocked.” According to allegations from former staff, Weaver had sexually harassed at least 21 young men. But an Associated Press report published Thursday revealed leadership at the organization was well aware of Weaver’s behavior since at least June 2020. The group now says it will hire an outside investigator to evaluate Weaver’s conduct.
The allegations first came to light in January when The New York Times reported that 21 men had accused Weaver of sending them unsolicited sexually explicit messages and photos online. The 61-year-old longtime GOP strategist, who worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and John Kasich, sent messages to boys as young as 14 years old, asking one teen questions about his body while he was still in high school, according to the report.
In some exchanges, Weaver allegedly offered to help young men find work in politics in exchange for sex. One message reported by the Times shows Weaver telling one young man, he would “spoil you when we see each other,” and adding, “Help you other times. Give advice, counsel, help with bills. You help me … sensually.”
Despite their public reactions, when these allegations came out, leadership at the Lincoln Project knew about them for months. In June 2020, members of the organization learned in writing and by phone of at least 10 allegations of sexual harassment against Weaver, including two that involved Lincoln Project staffers, AP reported. Neither of those two employees (one was an intern who was finishing law school, the other was a communications staffer) made any allegations of inappropriate physical contact.
The group said Thursday it would hire an outside investigator, and encouraged anyone tied to a nondisclosure agreement “to contact the Lincoln Project for a release.” However, six former staffers are demanding to be released from their nondisclosure agreements so they could openly speak about Weaver’s abuses. The former employees wrote in a letter published by The New York Times that they wanted to be allowed to disclose information “that would aid the press, public and our donors in answering questions relevant to the public interest.”
They stated that they did not feel comfortable being asked to contact the Lincoln Project directly, citing comments made by leaders of the organization, including co-founder Steve Schmidt, who allegedly denied having any knowledge of Weaver’s harassment.
Further, late on Thursday, the Lincoln Project tweeted and later deleted, a private conversation between journalist Amanda Becker at The 19th and Lincoln Project co-founder Jennifer Horn, who left the group following accusations against Weaver, The Washington Post reports. The group appeared to be using the private messages to discredit Becker's reporting on the group by accusing her of "editorializing" and conducting a "hit-job" against the group. Emily Ramshaw, co-founder and CEO of the 19th defended her reporter, writing on Twitter, "We’re not going to be bullied or intimidated out of pursuing critical journalism."
After the sexual harassment allegations first came to light last month, Weaver confirmed he had sent the inappropriate messages and apologized for his behavior. “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” he said in a statement to Axios. “The truth is that I'm gay. And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place. ”
When reached for comment, Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt doubled down, again, and told the AP that none of the group’s leadership were aware of the internal allegations made against Weaver, and thus HR had not investigated them. “In other words, no human being ever made an allegation about any inappropriate sexualized communications about John Weaver ever,” said Schmidt.
The organization’s founders, including Schmidt and Reed Galen, conservative attorney George Conway; former New Hampshire GOP chair Jennifer Horn; Florida-based veteran political ad maker Rick Wilson; and Weaver, are all prominent Republican strategists. Despite positioning themselves as heroically fighting for "the middle" and taking down Donald Trump, the super PAC continues to peddle dangerous conservative ideologies — like sweeping sexual abuse allegations under the rug.