Report: Lincoln Project Execs Knew of Weaver Allegations in March, Before Big Donors Ponied Up

'Just shut it down already,' says former adviser

February 16, 2021

The Lincoln Project was widely criticized last week for publicly harassing a reporter who was investigating its response to the scandal surrounding disgraced cofounder John Weaver. The group's behavior looks even more pathetic now that the targeted journalist has published a damning story that casts doubt on senior members' repeated assertions that they only recently became aware of Weaver's predatory behavior.

"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," wrote Amanda Becker of the 19th News.

Becker reported that Sarah Lenti, a managing partner at the Lincoln Project who previously served as executive director, knew of the Weaver allegations in May 2020 and confirmed that several of the group's cofounders, including Steve Schmidt and Reed Galen, were aware of the allegations as early as March 2020.

Upon announcing his resignation from the Lincoln Project's board last week, Schmidt reiterated his claim that he was not aware of Weaver's behavior until last month, when the disgraced cofounder admitted to having "inappropriate" sexual interactions with dozens of young men.

Lenti is the first Lincoln Project employee to publicly challenge Schmidt's assertions regarding his knowledge of Weaver's behavior. She is unlikely to be the last. Six former employees and associates are demanding that the Lincoln Project release them from confidentiality agreements in order to speak freely about the Weaver scandal. Thus far, the Lincoln Project has refused to satisfy these demands.

Kurt Bardella, who recently resigned from his role as senior adviser to the Lincoln Project, offered a brutal assessment in response to Becker's story. "Just shut it down already," he said. "It's over." George Conway, a Lincoln Project cofounder who resigned in August, concurred. So did Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, the group's foremost public fangirl.

The question of when senior members of the Lincoln Project knew of Weaver's behavior is significant for a number of reasons. Many of the group's largest donors, for example, did not start writing big checks until the summer and fall of 2020, well after the Weaver situation was reportedly known within the organization.

According to federal election records, the Lincoln Project did not receive a single donation in excess of $100,000 until June 2020 and raked in the majority of its six-figure donations in October. Investors Stephen Mandel and Gordon Getty, the largest individual donors to the group, wrote $1 million checks in June and September, respectively.

The Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC, which announced last week that it would no longer support the Lincoln Project, made three donations in October 2020 totaling $1.9 million. Democratic megadonor David Geffen contributed $500,000 between June and October. Another Democratic megadonor and Hollywood oligarch, Jeffrey Katzenberg, donated $100,000 in August.

Amy George, the wife of QVC president and CEO Mike George, donated $100,000 in September. A number of senior executives at Bain Capital—Joshua Berkenstein, Jonathan Lavine, and John Connaughton—contributed $100,000 apiece between June and October.

The Lincoln Project has retained the law firm Paul Hastings to conduct a "comprehensive review" of the organization's "operations and culture," a move seen by many as a last-ditch effort to placate wary donors and media outlets whose coverage of the group prior to the Weaver scandal was excessively fawning. Reports that several Paul Hastings partners are also Lincoln Project donors could undermine public confidence in the outcome of the review.

The Weaver scandal is far from the only area of concern for Lincoln Project leaders. The group has also faced criticism for using the super PAC as a vehicle for personal enrichment: A majority of the nearly $90 million it raised in the 2020 election cycle was funneled to consulting firms owned by the group's founders.

The relatively small sum the Lincoln Project did spend—for example, on advertising intended to defeat GOP senators—failed to achieve meaningful results. The group spent nearly $12 million against Republican incumbents in seven key Senate races. All seven GOP candidates were reelected, many of them by double-digit margins.

Published under: Lincoln Project