More than 20 young men have accused Republican strategist John Weaver, a co-founder of the popular anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project, of a years-long pattern of predatory sexual misconduct.
They say he harassed them with explicit or suggestive messages and, in some instances, offered his support in exchange for sex.
The Lincoln Project said Thursday it was launching an outside investigation into the accounts, described in various media outlets in recent weeks, according to the Associated Press.
The AP previously reported how the group's officials were made aware of nearly a dozen allegations of harassment, though its leaders have insisted the young men who came forward "shocked" them and they were "betrayed" by Weaver.
This week The Lincoln Project said it would also release anyone who had signed a non-disclosure agreement, if they requested one.
Weaver, who did not respond to a call for comment on Friday, has not been accused of a crime.
In a pair of statements in January — to Axios and The New York Times — he linked his behavior to his life as a closeted gay man and apologized for causing pain and discomfort. (He is reportedly married with two children.)
"I am so disheartened and sad that I may have brought discomfort to anyone in what I thought at the time were mutually consensual discussions. In living a deeply closeted life, I allowed my pain to cause pain for others," Weaver told the Times. "For that I am truly sorry to these men and everyone and for letting so many people down."
The unfolding scandal includes stories from more than 20 young men, some of whom interned for The Lincoln Project.
Their collective accounts have upended the community of high-profile political operatives, raising questions about how long Weaver's behavior went unchallenged or unknown.
The young men's stories have also seriously stained the reputation of The Lincoln Project, which had raised tens of millions of dollars and built a national profile with a series of viral attack ads against former President Donald Trump.
The Super PAC was founded by a group of eight conservative operatives including consultants Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson and Weaver, 61, who previously worked on John McCain's 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns.
Its messaging — which included merciless attack ads aimed not just at Trump but at his family members and Republican allies — grew so popular that the group employed 35 paid staffers as of October, according to a New Yorker profile.
The endeavor has been a major money-maker, too: According to Federal Election Commission records, The Lincoln Project brought in $87.4 million in the 2020 election cycle. It spent nearly $82 million that same cycle, with millions paid to firms owned by some of the group's founders.
Beginning in January with The American Conservative and other outlets, however, accounts of how Weaver sought out young men painted a grimmer portrait behind the scenes. He was accused of harassing or being inappropriately sexual with the men via phone, text and direct-message on social media, even dangling help landing jobs in politics.
The young men describing Weaver's come-ons included a teenage high school student. Another was a college student.
Twenty-one young men made accusations about Weaver to the Times; the AP described the 10 allegations of sexual harassment against him; and New York magazine reported that at least three of those accusing Weaver of making unsolicited sexual comments were interns with The Lincoln Project.
Weaver "has for years sent unsolicited and sexually provocative messages online to young men, often while suggesting he could help them get work in politics," the Times reported.
He solicited at least 10 of them and had a consensual encounter with one of them, according to the paper.
One of the young men who described Weaver's pattern of behavior was a 14-year-old who said Weaver first messaged him on Twitter in 2015, the Times reported.
Later, when he was 18, the teen told the paper that Weaver messaged him: "I want to come to Vegas and take you to dinner and drinks and spoil you!!" — adding — "Hey my boy! resend me your stats! or I can guess! if that is easier or more fun!"
To one man, according to the Times, Weaver offered to "help you other times. Give advice, counsel, help with bills. You help me … sensually."
Multiple young men described a common nickname Weaver gave them: "my boy." As in — "oh my boy, I'm sure certain parts of you are well above average."
Some of the messages, as reported to the various news outlets, seemed innocuous at first "Would like to put you in touch with some of our folks," Weaver wrote to Alex Johnson, then a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, according to New York.
Others were blatantly sexual, with Johnson — who interned remotely for the group — telling the magazine that Weaver asked him during one phone call, "When's the last time you jacked off?"
In another message, according to Johnson, Weaver wrote: "On [your] walk, think about worshipping a big c— and having yours worshipped and you rimmed till you beg!"
Johnson told the magazine he would "play along," both in an attempt to be polite and in an effort not to anger someone in a position of professional power over him. "Because I knew, I mean, he's important," he said. "Like he has the strings."
Yet another young man, a 19-year-old college student, told New York that Weaver direct-messaged him at one point "You are a f—— stud!"
And, when the teen demurred, he added: "Take it! Hell, you may very well be ;)."
Weaver came out as gay in a statement sent to Axios following some of the allegations.
"To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you," he said in January. "The truth is that I'm gay. And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place."
Weaver took a medical leave from The Lincoln Project in August and announced he had officially left in January. But New York reported that Weaver was still involved in some of the group's operations — on calls and on emails — in the fall even as the group said they "declined" to work with him again.
The Lincoln Project's leaders adamantly deny they were aware any of this. Co-founder Schmidt told New York that beyond being vaguely aware Weaver might be secretly gay, "There were zero allegations, complaints, media interrogatories directed to the Lincoln Project with any specificity, at any time about, any misconduct, towards any person."
Schmidt echoed that to the Times: "There was no awareness or insinuations of any type of inappropriate behavior when we became aware of the chatter [about Weaver's sexuality] at the time."
In the statement Thursday announcing the outside investigation, the group also criticized "inaccuracies" and "incorrect information" in the news stories but was not more specific.
Nonetheless they denounced Weaver's "appalling conduct."
At least one former staffer disputes what officials really knew. Co-founder Jennifer Horn left last week and issued a statement claiming that "when I spoke to one of the founders to raise my objections and concerns, I was yelled at, demeaned and lied to."
Horn told the Times in a statement that she had been told by some of Weaver's accusers that the interactions "started nearly a year ago and, according to these young men, were communicated to others in the Lincoln Project."
In a letter sent to the group on Thursday, six former workers demand to be released from their nondisclosure agreements in order to talk about their experience.
That letter, provided to the Times, stated that the staffers had information "that would aid the press, public and our donors in answering questions relevant to the public interest."
In a Thursday tweet, attorney George Conway — a co-founder who left the anti-Trump group last August — called the New York report "disturbing and appalling," adding that The Lincoln Project "should hire an independent counsel to investigate these circumstances thoroughly and provide a full accounting of the facts to everyone who worked at the organization, as well as all those who contributed to it."
Later that same day, the group sparked more controversy after it posted (and then swiftly deleted) screenshots of direct messages sent from Horn's Twitter account to a reporter, accusing the reporter of "editorializing."
By Thursday night, The Lincoln Project announced it would begin the outside investigation into the allegations.
"The Lincoln Project believes the members of our movement and the victims of John Weaver's despicable and deceptive behavior are owed the facts, and you will have them," their statement read. "John Weaver betrayed all of us and you deserve the facts presented independently through a transparent process."
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