February 9, 2021 at 10:14 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Lincoln Project’s avowed ignorance of Weaver texts undercut by leaked communications
From left, Lincoln Project’s co-founders Steve Schmidt, Mike Madrid and John Weaver. (Screen captures via CSPAN)

The Lincoln Project’s leaders, amid the unfolding scandal of co-founder John Weaver soliciting sexual favors from young men, have asserted they were unaware of his indiscretions until last month, but electronic communications obtained by the Washington Blade call that claim into question and suggest some Lincoln Project executives knew about the texts as early as last summer, but took no substantive action in response.

The communications with Lincoln Project officials undermine the assertion that “there was no awareness or insinuations of any type of inappropriate behavior when we became aware of the chatter at the time,” as co-founder Steve Schmidt told The New York Times last month. These electronic messages, which date back to August 2020 and include Lincoln Project co-founder Mike Madrid, showed that leadership was made aware of allegations about Weaver from reporters who were investigating it, and had begun discussions of how to respond to any fallout.

The initial alerts came to the attention of the Lincoln Project in early August in the form of inquiries about Weaver from the New York Post. The inquiries, three sources familiar with the New York Post story say, were part of an investigation into Weaver’s inappropriate messages to male youths, and brought to the attention of Madrid.

On Aug. 6, the Lincoln Project announced Weaver would go on medical leave after a cardiac emergency, but no further action was announced.

“So instead of looking into the allegations, they swept it under the rug,” one source familiar with the situation told the Blade.

One source close to the Weaver family and not affiliated with the Lincoln Project said the announcement of medical leave wasn’t a ruse and Weaver had, in fact, suffered a heart attack at the time word of the planned story spread to the anti-Trump group. Weaver has a history of health issues and had missed appearances at Lincoln Project events due to stent procedures before COVID prevented further gatherings. The New York Post never published its article.

Weeks later in August, another reporter made inquiries regarding Weaver, which Madrid discussed in internal communications. Keith Edwards, who was working at the time with the Lincoln Project as communications director, was named in the discussion as playing a role in the strategy for the response to the potential story.

No further action was taken, one source familiar with the internal communications said. It’s not clear what the exact nature of the story was other than Weaver in the aftermath of him taking medical leave.

The Blade is not publishing the messages in order to protect the confidentiality of sources. The electronic messages the Blade reviewed were between Madrid and one of the young men Weaver was texting. That source said the exchanges with Weaver were consensual. The Blade has not seen any evidence that Madrid alerted any other Lincoln Project leaders other than then-communications director Edwards to media inquiries into Weaver.

Madrid didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article submitted to his associate at Grassroots Labs LLC, the public relations firm where Madrid works. He also did not respond to a question about whether he signed an NDA with the Lincoln Project.

Edwards, who has since departed the Lincoln Project to become senior digital adviser for Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), declined to comment on the internal correspondence.

“I cannot comment on an email you refuse to show me about a story that was not written by the New York Post,” Edwards said. “Period.”

In December, Ron Steslow a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, left the organization and launched the “Politicology” podcast. Steslow didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment for this article and whether he signed an NDA barring him from talking about the Lincoln Project’s internal matters.

The New York Post, which endorsed Trump for re-election in 2020, does not have a reputation for supporting the LGBTQ community.

Recent op-eds in the New York Post warn about President Biden’s commitment to transgender rights and transgender kids playing in school sports.

Nonetheless, the existence of those earlier alerts, regardless of the source, were about sexually aggressive messaging in which gay men were survivors and contradict the Lincoln Project’s assertion that its leaders were only made aware of Weaver’s indiscretions in the last month as the story gained traction. Other than Weaver taking medical leave as a result of a cardiac emergency as word of the New York Post article reached the Lincoln Project, no action was announced against him in the middle of a campaign season.

The New York Post didn’t respond Tuesday morning to the Blade’s request for comment on why it didn’t run its article on Weaver.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Project, as part of its campaign against Trump, ran in July an ad highlighting his ties to alleged child trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell. Condemning Trump for saying in a White House briefing, “I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years,” the ad shows images of Trump with Maxwell, highlighting their friendship.

“Had enough?” the ad concludes. “On November 3, it’s time to restore honor and dignity to the White House.”

Denunciation of Weaver would have to wait until last week in the form of a Lincoln Project statement calling him “a predator, a liar and an abuser” upon publication of a New York Times article citing 21 men who accused Weaver of sexual predation online. None of the men have accused Weaver of criminal conduct.

Steve Schmidt, in a phone interview last week with the Blade, denied the Lincoln Project had “any knowledge of any misconduct by John Weaver” until January.

Schmidt also said no media outlet had submitted to the Lincoln Project a formal request for an on-the-record comment on the Weaver texts.

“This story never published,” Schmidt said, referring to the New York Post article. “And there was never an interrogatory put on the record, to my knowledge, to the organization by the New York Post.”

Schmidt downplayed Madrid’s role in the organization, saying he was “not part of the map” with Lincoln Project, even though Madrid identifies as a co-founder.

“Mike isn’t the spokesperson,” Schmidt said. “Mike isn’t the communications person, Mike isn’t the leader. Mike’s not making decisions.”

Asked about the electronic communications related to media inquiries about Weaver that included Madrid, Schmidt said Madrid never ran anything “up the chain of command.”

If Madrid wasn’t considered a leader at the Lincoln Project, he certainly was paid like he was. According to Federal Election Commission reports, Madrid made at least $1.5 million from the Lincoln Project in the form of payments to Grassroots Labs LLC.

The New York Times reported last month 21 men are accusing Weaver of sexual harassment in private messages to them. In the article, Lincoln Project leaders are quoted as saying they were only made aware of Weaver’s sexual solicitations in January as a result of news articles, which appeared in The American Conservative and Forensic News.

Republican insiders who spoke to the Blade bolstered the Times reporting with stories about Weaver’s reputation for inappropriate messages, and indicated Weaver’s behavior was well known in recent years. One Republican insider not affiliated with the Lincoln Project said he received a text in 2016 warning Weaver had a history of sending “creepy” texts to younger gay men.

One strategist who said he received sexual solicitations from Weaver said he knew him at first in a professional capacity. At that time, the strategist said Weaver did nothing to suggest he had an interest in men, let alone an interest in the strategist in particular. But several years after they met, the strategist said he received Twitter messages from Weaver and he made comments that were “unwanted, but strange.”

“He never offered me like a quid pro quo, or a job,” the strategist said. “That was never even part of a conversation. It was just very weird.”

The insider said the DMs consisted of messages similar to others that have been reported, including calling the strategist “my boy.”

“I know a lot of people have said [that] was demeaning,” the strategist said. “I felt it was more sort of fatherly like. I mean, there’s more than 25 years apart. But that’s also because I knew him, but I could understand how that would be very disconcerting.”

Asked if anything sexually explicit came up, the strategist said Weaver “had a lot of questions about my sex life.” The strategist said he “danced around the conversation, of course, because, well, for professional purposes.”

The story is consistent with The New York Times report on interviews with 21 young men accusing Weaver of impropriety over the last five years, characterizing Weaver’s behavior in many cases as aggressive and unwanted.

One individual who went on the record with The New York Times, Cole Trickle Miele, said he was 14 when Weaver first sent him a message. At the time, he is quoted as saying he didn’t think anything was amiss, but that changed when he turned 18. Weaver reportedly wrote to him, “I want to come to Vegas and take you to dinner and drinks and spoil you!!,” and in a follow-up message wrote: “Hey my boy! resend me your stats! or I can guess! if that is easier or more fun!”

The New York Times quoted Kyle Allen, age 23, as saying Weaver asked about his height, weight, what he was wearing and whether he was circumcised. Weaver also reportedly pushed to come to University of Ottawa, where Allen was studying, using sexually explicit language. In at least two other cases, Weaver reportedly offered young men work with the Lincoln Project while sending suggestive messages.

Schmidt, speaking with the Blade, said the Lincoln Project uncovered chatter over the summer in pro-Trump 4chan and 8chan message boards suggesting that Weaver is gay, despite having a wife and two children, although nothing suggested he was sending inappropriate texts. Schmidt said he had a phone call with Weaver in July to ask him about it.

“What I said specifically to him is there anything you need to tell us, right?” Schmidt recalled. “He said, ‘Absolutely not. It’s all bullshit. Full stop on that. Period.”

Schmidt said “there has always been a ‘Weaver is gay’ rumor,” fueled by a rumored feud between him and GOP strategist Karl Rove, but ultimately he didn’t think it was worth investigating.

“Is there any public information that’s out there that’s evidence-based that there’s an allegation that Weaver engaged in any predatory conduct, any misconduct? There is not,” Schmidt said. “Do I have some duty to inform if John Weaver had said to us in our conversation: “I’m a closeted gay man”? He’s 62, years old, right? Do I have any duty to inform anybody? And the answer to that question is emphatically I do not.”

Last week, the Lincoln Project took a different tone, repudiating Weaver for sexual harassment of younger males and accusing him of having “led a secret life that was built on a foundation of deception at every level.”

“He is a predator, a liar, and an abuser,” the Lincoln Project statement says. “We extend our deepest sympathies to those who were targeted by his deplorable and predatory behavior. We are disgusted and outraged that someone in a position of power and trust would use it for these means.”

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Daily Caller as an outlet investigating the Weaver story. The Blade regrets the error.)

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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