How a leading anti-Trump group ignored a crisis in its ranks

Full Screen
1 / 2

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Jan. 20, 2016 file photo, John Weaver is shown on a campaign bus in Bow, N.H. The Lincoln Project was launched in November 2019 as a super PAC that allowed its leaders to raise and spend unlimited sums of money. In June 2020, members of the organizations leadership were informed in writing and in subsequent phone calls of at least 10 specific allegations of harassment against co-founder John Weaver, including two involving Lincoln Project employees, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

WASHINGTON – Last June, the Lincoln Project was on a high.

Led by several prominent former Republican consultants, its slickly produced ads attacking President Donald Trump made it perhaps the best known of the so-called Never Trump organizations. The group tried to claim a higher moral ground in an effort to purge Trump from the GOP. Money flowed in by the tens of millions of dollars from donors eager to help.

But within the organization, a crisis was brewing.

In June 2020, members of the organization’s leadership were informed in writing and in subsequent phone calls of at least 10 specific allegations of harassment against co-founder John Weaver, including two involving Lincoln Project employees, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation. The email and phone calls raise questions about the Lincoln Project's statement last month that it was “shocked" when accusations surfaced publicly this year. It's also the first known suggestion that Weaver targeted a Lincoln Project staffer.

The organization announced Thursday evening, after the new details were reported by The Associated Press, that its board had decided to “retain a best-in-class outside professional” to review Weaver's tenure “to establish both accountability and best practices going forward for The Lincoln Project.”

The group also encouraged anyone bound by a nondisclosure agreement "to contact the Lincoln Project for a release.”

Despite the initial warning in June, the group took no action against Weaver and pressed forward with its high-profile work. For the collection of GOP consultants and former officials, being anti-Trump was becoming very good for business. Of the $90 million Lincoln Project has raised, more than $50 million has gone to firms controlled by the group's leaders.

There is no evidence that the Lincoln Project buried the allegations against Weaver for business reasons. But taken together, the harassment allegations and new revelations about spending practices raise significant questions about the management of one of the highest-profile antagonists of Trump. The revelations threaten the stature of not just the Lincoln Project but also the broader coalition of establishment-oriented Republican groups working to excise Trump from the party.