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Lincoln Project Co-Founder Steve Schmidt Steps Down Amid Scandal

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 2/12/2021 Allison Quinn
Steve Schmidt wearing a suit and tie: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty © Provided by The Daily Beast Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt stepped down from the anti-Trump group on Friday—releasing an explosive statement in which he disclosed he was sexually abused as a teen, raged against a fellow co-founder who stands accused of harassment, and apologized to yet another co-founder for tweeting out her private correspondence with a reporter.

It’s the latest development in a cascade of scandal to rock the organization created by Republican operatives to help stop then-President Trump from being re-elected. (Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson is a Daily Beast columnist and podcast host.)

Schmidt’s resignation comes after a number of figures have already cut ties with the group; after several reports that Lincoln Project leaders knew of allegations against co-founder John Weaver months before they became public in January; and after Schmidt was name-checked in an open letter from ex-employees who said they want to speak out but fear retaliation.

Schmidt opened his statement by revealing that he suffered sexual abuse as a 13-year-old child while attending Boy Scout camp and then offering that experience as the reason he is leaving.

“John Weaver has put me back in that faraway cabin,” he wrote.

As he has done previously, Schmidt again insisted he only learned in January of the allegations against Weaver—a married father of two who has been accused of sending sexually aggressive messages to younger men and one minor, offering to trade sex for professional favors.

“I wish John Weaver was not a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, but as hard as I wish for that to be true, I can’t change that he was,” Schmidt wrote.

“I am incandescently angry about it,” he said of the claims about Weaver. “I am angry because I know the damage that he caused me, and I know the journey that lies ahead for every young man that trusted, feared, and was abused by John Weaver.”

Schmidt also portrayed his stepping-aside as a magnanimous gesture to diversify the organization.

“Presently, the Lincoln Project board is made up of four middle-aged white men. That composition doesn’t reflect our nation, nor our movement. I am resigning my seat on the Lincoln Project board to make room for the appointment of a female board member as the first step to reform and professionalize the Lincoln Project,” he said.

At the same time, Schmidt admitted he had been the one to publicly disseminate a private-message conversation between the project’s female co-founder Jennifer Horn, and a reporter from the news site The 19th, which was working on a story about the Weaver scandal.

That story, published on Friday, said the Weaver allegations were an open secret in group’s Park City office even among junior staff by the November election and were known to senior leadership even earlier. Staff also told the outlet that the founders created a toxic workplace rife with sexist and homophobic language.

Horn stepped down last week over what she described as Weaver’s “grotesque and inappropriate behavior” and “longstanding deceptions.” After her comments, Horn was publicly accused by the group of angling for a $250,000 signing bonus among other perks.

The Lincoln Project’s Twitter account posted a tweet that contained screenshots of a purported Twitter conversation between Horn and 19th reporter Amanda Becker. The tweet—which was later deleted—accused Becker of “preparing to publish a smear job” with Horn as a source.

Schmidt took responsibility for the tweet on Friday: “That direct message should never have been made public. It is my job as the senior leader to accept responsibility for the tremendous misjudgment to release it.”

He also apologized directly to Horn and Becker.

“I let my anger turn a business dispute into a public war that has distracted from the fight against American fascism,” he said, adding that Horn “deserved better from me.”

The tweet of the Horn-Becker messages backfired miserably. A few hours after it was posted, former employees alleged in an open letter, published by The New York Times, that they “do not feel safe” interacting directly with Lincoln Project leadership—particularly because of Schmidt’s “public Twitter smear” against Horn. They also asked to be released from non-disclosure agreements so they could speak freely about their time with the organization.

Earlier on Thursday, after reports by the Associated Press, New York magazine, and The New York Times raised new questions about how much the group’s leadership knew about Weaver and when, it announced that it had hired a “best-in-class outside professional” to review the abuse claims of abuse and the handling of them. The group also said that any employee bound by a non-disclosure agreement to withhold information about Weaver could request a release from such a contract.

Weaver has been accused of sending unsolicited sexual messages to more than 20 men. He has since resigned from the group and acknowledged that he engaged in “inappropriate” behavior but that he believed the interactions were consensual.

As the crisis over his behavior deepened, Lincoln Project senior adviser Kurt Bardella and conservative commentator Tom Nichols, who served as an unpaid adviser, announced their exits from the group on Friday. Senior adviser Tara Setmayer said in a brief statement that she was “dismayed & disappointed” by what’s been happening with the group and hinted that an announcement of some kind could be coming. “What’s taken place is unacceptable & a departure from the principles I espouse & the core mission of the organization. It cannot be tolerated. More to say soon…,” Setmayer tweeted late Friday.

CNBC also reported that several donors to the group are considering stopping all financial contributions pending the outcome of an outside investigation.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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