Rick Wilson, cofounder of the Lincoln Project, has spent enough time around politicians and lawyers to be well-versed in the art of the straw man deflection, the non-denial denial, and the carefully worded bluster of righteous indignation.
Wilson skillfully deployed all of these familiar tactics Tuesday evening in what was teasingly billed as an "exclusive response" to the allegations of predatory sexual behavior against Lincoln Project cofounder John Weaver, who is no longer affiliated with the Democratic-aligned Super PAC. In the words of Lincoln Project TV host Tara Setmayer: "It's going to be 🔥🔥. Don't miss it!"
Wilson's "exclusive" denunciation of Weaver's actions came in response to a New York Times story published on Sunday that centered on the specific allegation that Weaver had engaged in contact with a 14-year-old boy. "I will never ever be able to replicate the pain we felt learning this on Sunday when that article hit," Wilson said.
The Times story was published more than two weeks after numerous credible allegations against Weaver were aired on Twitter and printed in fringe outlets unlikely to be read by Lincoln Project donors. Dozens of young (adult) men came forward, accusing Weaver of grooming behavior, offering jobs in exchange for sex, and sending them photos of his penis without their consent.
The Lincoln Project refused to comment or express any outrage until the Times picked up the story. Even after Weaver admitted, in a statement to Axios on January 15, to engaging in "inappropriate" sexual interactions with young men, the Lincoln Project's only public response to the matter was a spokesman's comment that "John's statement speaks for itself."
Wilson went on to issue an impassioned denial that members of the Lincoln Project had any knowledge of Weaver's predatory behavior, specifically his reported dalliance with a minor. "I wish we could have peered into that vortex of secrets that defined [Weaver's] life, and known he was engaged in contact with a 14-year-old boy," Wilson said. "At no point was any member of the Lincoln Project informed about this underage child."
Wilson proceeded to mow down a number of straw man critiques of the Lincoln Project's involvement in the Weaver scandal while seemingly threatening the group's critics with legal action. "The accusation that we knew about a minor child being stalked and harassed by John Weaver," he said, was not only "categorically false" but "actionably false."
"The folks who are accusing us of awareness of this are sick. They are, in fact, putting themselves in jeopardy. I'll just say that as bluntly as I can," Wilson fumed. "There will be a moment soon when the jeopardy you put yourself in by making those accusations is meaningful and tangible."
It was not entirely clear to whom Wilson was referring. Sober-minded critics, such as journalist Ryan Girdusky, who first wrote about the Weaver allegations in the American Conservative, have argued that, generally speaking, the Lincoln Project "absolutely knew about [Weaver's] predatory behavior." Girdusky and others have cited conversations with individuals, including Weaver's alleged victims, who said they contacted the group to express concern but were rebuffed.
At the same time, no serious person has alleged that Weaver's behavior was, in Wilson's words, a "universal constant in our organization." Nevertheless, Wilson persisted in advising this particular straw man to "go fuck yourself."
The closest Wilson came to addressing charges that the Lincoln Project must have had a general knowledge of Weaver's behavior was his acknowledgment that it was "apparently an open secret on gay Twitter," which he doesn't check "every day" because he's a "57-year-old white dude who lives in Florida." At no point, he said, did the allegations "come to our attention in a way that said, 'Hey, wow, this is a problem at scale.'" In other words, it wasn't the first time they'd heard of it, either.
The real tragedy of the situation, Wilson argued, was "the gift that John Weaver gave" to critics of the Lincoln Project, who are "gleeful" and "delighted" by the controversy, while "diminishing the actual impact of real predators."
After Wilson concluded his "exclusive response" to the Weaver scandal, Setmayer applauded his "very powerful" and "emotional" words. Minutes later, they were laughing hysterically about the "batshit" antics of freshman congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.