The Lincoln Project looks an awful lot like the Trump administration these days. The controversial Super PAC, ostensibly dedicated to restoring decency in American politics, is struggling to contain the fallout of a disturbing sex scandal as a growing number of founding members seek to distance themselves from the group.
After refusing for weeks to acknowledge credible allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct against cofounder John Weaver, senior Lincoln Project officials finally weighed in on the scandal over the weekend in response to a New York Times report on Weaver's predatory behavior. The report detailed efforts to solicit boys as young as 14 and Weaver's explicit offers of "advice, counsel, [and] help with bills" in exchange for sex.
The Lincoln Project's first substantive response to the allegations, issued two weeks after Weaver admitted to having "inappropriate" sexual conversations with young men, utilized some of Donald Trump's favorite tactics for weathering scandals, such as throwing a former ally under the bus, playing the victim, and denying everything with maximum indignation.
"[John Weaver] is a predator, a liar, and an abuser," the Lincoln Project said in a statement. "Like so many, we have been betrayed and deceived by John Weaver. We are grateful beyond words that at no time was John Weaver in the physical presence of any member of the Lincoln Project."
Lincoln Project senior adviser Jeff Timmer promoted the group's statement on Twitter, while adding some commentary of his own. "All you trolls: Read this. Then fuck off," he wrote.
Steve Schmidt, the Lincoln Project cofounder whose signature political achievement was convincing John McCain to choose Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008, told the Times that he and his colleagues had heard "chatter" regarding Weaver's relationships with young men but denied any knowledge of "inappropriate behavior."
Informed observers were quick to call BS on the Lincoln Project's assertion of ignorance. Journalist Ryan Girdusky, who published one of the first detailed accounts of the allegations against Weaver, insisted that Lincoln Project officials "absolutely knew" about Weaver's "predatory behavior."
"EVERYONE knew for years what John was about," wrote journalist Yashar Ali. "The challenge was the young men wouldn’t talk to reporters even on background (which I understand, they feared retaliation). But this was no secret. Everyone talked about it."
Allegations that Weaver, who has a wife and children, has behaved inappropriately around young men date back decades. A New Republic profile of Republican strategist Karl Rove published in 2009 mentions that Rove "spread a rumor" in the 1980s about Weaver's behavior in an apparent effort to take down a rival GOP operative.
The extent to which senior Lincoln Project officials became aware of the serious allegations against Weaver remains unclear, but recent revelations about the exodus of two founding members raises a number of unsettling questions.
Less than 24 hours after the Times story was published, Axios reported that Lincoln Project cofounders Mike Madrid and Ron Steslow had resigned from the group in December. The resignations were not publicly reported until now. Another cofounder, George Conway, announced in late August that he was "withdrawing" from the Lincoln Project "to devote more time to family matters."
Conway, the husband of former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where he doubled down on the Lincoln Project's efforts to distance itself from Weaver. "It's terrible and awful," Conway said of the allegations. "I didn't know John very well. I frankly only spoke to him a couple times on the phone early on in the Lincoln Project."
It was the first time in almost 20 MSNBC appearances since the allegations were first reported that a Lincoln Project cofounder was asked to discuss the Weaver scandal. Lincoln Project members and other Trump opponents frequently criticized the former president for using sympathetic journalists as a crutch in times of crisis.