As quickly as it rose to its perch as a media darling, the Lincoln Project (LP) is crashing down swiftly to its fitting end. And it has no one to blame but itself.
The beginning of the end came a few weeks ago. Co-founder John Weaver has been accused by nearly two dozen young men and boys of sexually inappropriate harassment via direct messages and texts. Weaver's LP co-founders said nothing when Axios broke the first story on an allegations against Weaver, apparently hoping that left-leaning media outlets would simply let the story die. And said media certainly did its best to do just that: In 17 TV appearances after the Axios story, the allegations against Weaver never came up once in interviews with other co-founders, including Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson and George ConwayGeorge ConwayGeorge Conway: DeSantis plans for new police force to monitor elections 'just pathetic' George Conway: GOP blocking Jan. 6 commission 'more appalling' than both Trump acquittals Press: Get orange jumpsuit ready: extra large MORE.
But earlier this month, The New York Times reported that 21 others had come forward to share their allegations against Weaver, which included receipts of the creepy conversations of the 61-year-old offering teenage boys jobs for sex. Only then did the Lincoln Project respond with perhaps the most laughable defense you'll ever hear this side of Jussie Smollett.
"It's terrible and awful," Conway told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" when gently asked about the Weaver allegations following the bombshell from The New York Times. Conway — who wouldn't see a microphone extended within 500 yards of him if not for his wife, former Trump senior counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayPennsylvania Republican David McCormick launches Senate campaign McCormick drawing support from Trump alumni ahead of Pennsylvania Senate bid Christie says Trump, Meadows should have warned him of positive COVID-19 test MORE — then added, "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."
Hold the phone. You didn’t know him very well? You co-founded the Lincoln Project with Weaver while raising more than $80 million with him last year going into the presidential election. Oh, by the way, there's also an op-ed in The New York Times that you co-wrote with that guy you don't really know.
Co-founder Rick Wilson, who appeared on "60 Minutes" with Weaver shortly before the 2020 election, had the audacity to publicly call on other Weaver accusers to come forward. Yep — those are just the people I would trust if I were an alleged victim of Weaver: the very people who couldn't be bothered to comment on the first allegation weeks ago or speak up about it when first notified of Weaver's behavior in June.
NOW Rick Wilson and the Lincoln Project leadership want to hear from those who were preyed on and manipulated by John Weaver.— Cameron Cawthorne (@Cam_Cawthorne) February 3, 2021
Don’t fall for this gaslighting. They knew and did nothing. pic.twitter.com/Z6fX7WMs9Q
Per the Associated Press, "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 Washington Blade reported similar findings in a Feb. 9 story.
"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," it reported.
Wilson, in another ridiculous defense, blamed "Trump world" for a report by that MAGA-loving news organization called The Associated Press.
"Another day, another hit story from Trump world," Wilson claimed before the pivot to end all pivots. "I know y'all would like to ignore the mounting evidence of Trump ordering a murderous mob to attack the Capitol, but you can't."
But the death knell may have come from the same Associated Press story that speaks of what matters to the people who run this organization most: money, via tens of millions of dollars in donations that are surely drying up as you read this.
"Of the $90 million Lincoln Project has raised, more than $50 million has gone to firms controlled by the group’s leaders," reported the AP. "Since its creation, the Lincoln Project has raised $90 million. But only about a third of the money, roughly $27 million, directly paid for advertisements that aired on broadcast and cable, or appeared online, during the 2020 campaign, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosures and data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG."
So where exactly did the other $63 million go? The group doesn't have a huge central office (40 employees total) and no million-dollar expenses to speak of, given that it was founded shortly before the pandemic hit. And thanks to countless interviews on CNN, MSNBC and huge platforms such as "60 Minutes" on CBS, along with free social media, there's no need to spend money on brand recognition or soliciting donations. Even if $20 million is allocated for operating expenses during a pandemic, that still leaves $40 million or so that went somewhere that donors would want to hear more about.
The biggest question, however, is if those running political media outlets — TV or online — are going to continue giving the Lincoln Project big stages and free advertising given what appears to be a real coverup and a real misuse of donations based on the reporting we're seeing from the AP, Axios and The New York Times.
MSNBC, which employs three Lincoln Project co-founders as contributors, says nothing will change moving forward.
“We’ll continue to book guests who are associated with the Lincoln Project as news warrants," a source at the network told journalist Yashar Ali.
Given all the investigations and potential violations of federal law, I asked MSNBC if they planned on booking anyone associated with Lincoln Project on their shows.— Yashar Ali (@yashar) February 13, 2021
Per a source:
“We’ll continue to book guests who are associated with the Lincoln Project as news warrants.”
CNN also is showing little interest in holding LP co-founders accountable. George Conway appeared on the network on Thursday night but was not asked about the Weaver allegations or the organization's questionable business practices — because that's not Conway's role, which is to bash Trump.
The wheels have completely fallen off now, with Schmidt resigning from the Project on Lincoln's actual birthday. There's also this devastating report from 19thNews.org that details how toxic the culture at the Lincoln Project is, with revelations of "infighting, sexist language and disparate treatment." Fitting for an organization whose members present themselves as being on the same moral plane as Washington and Jefferson.
Inside the Lincoln Project’s ‘toxic’ workplace: Interviews with nearly two dozen people with knowledge of the group’s workings reveal a culture of infighting, sexist language and disparate treatment. https://t.co/yAz7kgTCDB via @19thnews— Amanda Becker (@AmandaBecker) February 12, 2021
R.I.P., the Lincoln Project.
But while the organization will likely be no more, its members will live on thanks to powerful friends in the media thirsting for that next provocative sound bite.
Because that's what our divided country needs right now: professional grifters using the Michael Avenatti rhetorical playbook while posing as principled conservatives on their television screens on a regular basis.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.