The Lincoln Project was plunged into even deeper turmoil Thursday, with the anti-Trump group tapping an outsider to investigate its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a co-founder, and former employees demanding to be released from non-disclosure agreements.
On Friday, several more key advisers left the group in the wake of the previous day’s scandalous reports.
The organization fanned the flames by tweeting out what appeared to be private messages between a co-founder who left in a rancorous split and a journalist who was hoping to interview her. The Lincoln Project later deleted the tweet—which was cited by the ex-staffers as an example of retaliation.
The controversy boiled over hours after reports that leaders of the Lincoln Project knew about sexual harassment allegations against co-founder John Weaver last summer, before they became public in January. (Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson is a Daily Beast columnist and co-hosts the podcast The New Abnormal.)
More than 20 men have accused Weaver of sending unsolicited sexual messages, with some saying he tried to barter his connections for sex; one was underage when Weaver began communicating. Weaver, who is married with two children, admitted his behavior was “inappropriate” but said he thought all the interactions were consensual.
Weaver resigned, but the accusations did not end there. Last weekend, co-founder Jennifer Horn stepped down, citing what she said were Weaver’s “grotesque and inappropriate behavior” and “longstanding deceptions.” The group responded by claiming she left after making financial demands including a $250,000 signing bonus.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that leaders of the Lincoln Project learned about allegations against Weaver in the summer after a payroll employee emailed co-founder Ron Steslow—who then reportedly shared it with corporate counsel Matthew Sanderson and other key figures and advocated for Weaver to be removed from the organization.
Hours later, the group announced that it had hired a “best-in-class outside professional” to review claims of Weaver’s abuse and what Lincoln Project leaders knew and when they knew it.
The group said in a statement that stories about it were “filled with inaccuracies and incorrect information” but conceded in the same breath: “There is a central truth in all of them that must be reckoned with and that is John Weaver’s appalling conduct and the abuse he inflicted on people.”
It ended the statement saying that any employee bound by a non-disclosure agreement to withhold information about Weaver could request a release from such a contract.
Subsequently, according to The New York Times, several former employees went public to demand that the group’s leadership free them from non-disclosure agreements so they could speak out about “harassment perpetrated by John Weaver that we experienced or witnessed” or to provide any other information “specific to the John Weaver harassment situation that would aid the press, public, and our donors…. ”
The anonymous former employees called it “absurd, unreasonable and insensitive” for the group to suggest those seeking release from their NDAs simply contact “the organization accused of protecting the very predator at issue” to request it.
“Additionally, given the Associated Press and New York Magazine reports on Feb. 11, we lack any confidence in the organization’s remaining leadership to properly handle our allegations of (or knowledge of) sexual harassment and sexual assault by John Weaver,” the letter said.
Perhaps most damning, the former staffers said it was the “recent public behavior” of co-founder Steve Schmidt that had forced them to go public because they “do not feel safe” engaging with the group’s leadership privately.
They were referring to the tweet from the Lincoln Project that contained screenshots of a purported Twitter direct-message conversation between Horn, one of the organization’s founding members, and Amanda Becker, a reporter for the political news site The 19th.
After accusing Becker of “preparing to publish a smear job” with Horn’s help, the group deleted the tweets (although they remain available via the Internet Archive.)
The 19th’s co-founder and CEO Emily Radshaw said the outlet had sent the Lincoln Project a list of questions for Becker’s story just before the group tweeted the screenshots. Radshaw wrote, “We’re not going to be bullied or intimidated out of pursuing critical journalism.”
On Friday afternoon, Lincoln Project senior adviser Kurt Bardella left the group following the prior day’s reporting by the AP, New York magazine, and The New York Times. Conservative commentator Tom Nichols, who served as an unpaid adviser to the group, also announced his departure “as [Lincoln Project leaders] sort this out and decide their future direction and organization.”