March 7, 2021

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Some Lincoln Project founders knew of sexual harassment allegations as early as March 2020

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This story was published in partnership with The 19th, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy. 

Some of the leaders of the embattled Lincoln Project knew about sexual harassment allegations against co-founder John Weaver as early as March, multiple sources, including the group’s former executive director, told The 19th late Monday.

The Lincoln Project on Monday evening announced it had hired the law firm Paul Hastings to conduct a “comprehensive review of our operations and culture” and released current and former workers from nondisclosure agreements to discuss their “workplace environment.” Weaver has been accused of sexually harassing more than a dozen men, including some connected to the Lincoln Project. 

Domestic and international associates are cutting ties with the Lincoln Project after learning when leaders knew about sexual harassment allegations against John Weaver, one of the project's founders.

“We are committed to creating a positive, diverse, and inclusive workplace environment at The Lincoln Project and inappropriate behavior by anyone associated with the organization will not be tolerated under any circumstances. We have already taken decisive action to address internal concerns,” co-founder Reed Galen told The 19th in a statement early Tuesday. 

The Lincoln Project was launched in late 2019 by a group of high-profile Republicans with the mission to defeat Donald Trump. It went on to raise nearly $90 million for the effort, more than half of which flowed to firms controlled by its various founders.

Inside the Lincoln Project: ‘Toxic’ workplace: Accusations of sexual harassment and a culture of infighting

The group’s decision to hire Paul Hastings, and to release its current and former employees, contractors and vendors on Monday from their service agreements, came as fundraising issues mounted, potentially endangering plans by the Lincoln Project’s remaining leaders to expand into media and international political consulting.

Anedot, which processed the group’s donations, has stopped working with them and fundraising links have been dead since Friday, giving the Lincoln Project no way to bring in small-dollar donations. 

The Senate Majority PAC — the Democratic fundraising arm for Senate candidates — said on Friday it would no longer work with the group due to the controversy after donating nearly $2 million in 2020 to help the Lincoln Project defeat Republican senators. 

Then, the Jerusalem Post reported early Tuesday that Israeli prime ministerial hopeful Gideon Sa’ar, who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in next month’s election there, would also cut ties.

Sa’ar’s campaign had just last month hired Galen, Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson and Stuart Stevens, the Lincoln Project’s remaining top consultants, in a bid to apply their anti-Trump playbook to Netanyahu. Their work in Israel was part of a broader expansion into international politics, with one entity related to this effort being registered just last week. 

Separately, Wilson’s relationship with The New Abnormal, a podcast produced by the Daily Beast that he co-hosts, has been paused as of Tuesday, producers said. 

Multiple individuals began coming forward late Monday to discuss the allegations related to Weaver, and the timeline on which other senior management knew about them, after the group confirmed that a nondisclosure release applied to its current and former contractors, vendors and employees. Much of the group’s work was done by independent contractors and those working for private firms owned by its founders. 

Their accounts contradict a timeline provided by Schmidt as recently as late last week.  Schmidt had previously said that he did not know about the allegations against Weaver until January. They also show that co-founders knew months earlier than June, as had been previously reported by The 19th and other media outlets.

Steve Schmidt is a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans.

Schmidt resigned from the Lincoln Project’s board on Friday after taking responsibility for the publication on Twitter of private messages on the social media platform between co-founder Jennifer Horn, who had recently resigned over the Weaver revelations, and this reporter. As of Friday, he remained with the group in a management capacity.

Some of the individuals came forward with new details on Monday after they were released from their nondisclosure agreements. Several said Sarah Lenti, a managing partner with the group who was previously its executive director, knew about the allegations against Weaver as early as May 2020. Lenti confirmed that some of the group’s co-founders knew about the allegations as early as March 2020. Schmidt and Galen were among those who knew, multiple sources said. 

Only three of the Lincoln Project’s eight co-founders — Schmidt, Galen and Wilson — remain after months of infighting about the group’s management, finances and the allegations faced by Weaver. Stevens, a former strategist for Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, joined the group in May 2020. 

Co-founder George Conway, a conservative lawyer married to former Trump White House aide Kellyanne Conway, was the first to leave in August, citing family reasons. He had called for the Lincoln Project’s nondisclosure agreement release. 

Co-founders Mike Madrid and Ron Steslow left in December, with settlements and after signing nondisclosure agreements. Madrid was not aware of the allegations against Weaver until much later; Steslow had attempted to have Weaver removed, sources said. 

Horn, the only woman among the co-founders, left earlier this month after learning from the media the full extent of the allegations facing Weaver. She had likewise called on the Lincoln Project to release its workers from their nondisclosure agreements. 

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