Former Lincoln Project Staff Ask to Be Released From Nondisclosure Agreements

Leaders of the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump media venture, came under fire on Thursday night from six former workers demanding to be released from nondisclosure agreements in order to talk about John Weaver, a co-founder who harassed young men online. The leaders were also criticized by journalists and others after the group, without authorization, posted screenshots of another co-founder’s private Twitter messages with a reporter.

For their part, the Lincoln Project’s top officials, who have been on the defensive for days over Mr. Weaver, said on Thursday night that they were hiring an outside investigator to review his tenure with the organization.

Lincoln Project leaders have said they were unaware of Mr. Weaver’s behavior until recently. Some people who worked for the group have disputed that, but have not provided documentation at this point.

The six former employees and associates called on the Lincoln Project to waive nondisclosure agreements, writing in an open letter — which was provided to The New York Times — that they wanted to be allowed to disclose information “that would aid the press, public and our donors in answering questions relevant to the public interest.”

While the Lincoln Project leaders said Thursday night that current and former employees should contact them directly for a release from nondisclosure agreements, the six signatories to the letter said they were not comfortable doing so. They cited comments that Steve Schmidt, another co-founder, had made about Jennifer Horn, a former partner and co-founder, and Mr. Schmidt’s repeated denials that he had any knowledge of Mr. Weaver’s actions before last month.

“Expecting victims and those close to victims to contact and engage the people and organization accused of protecting the very predator at issue is absurd, unreasonable and insensitive,” the former employees wrote in the letter. While they did not sign their names to the letter, their identities are known to The Times.

Ms. Horn, who resigned from the Lincoln Project last week, said in a statement Thursday night that she had recently learned that other leaders of the group had ignored warnings about Mr. Weaver’s conduct. “When I spoke to one of the founders to raise my objections and concerns, I was yelled at, demeaned and lied to,” she wrote.

Further controversy erupted late Thursday night when the Lincoln Project posted screenshots from Ms. Horn’s Twitter account, revealing her direct messages with a reporter, and then quickly took them down. Unauthorized access of a social media account can be illegal, depending on the circumstances. Neither side had an immediate comment.

Mr. Weaver, 61, is a longtime Republican presidential campaign adviser who gained prominence during John McCain’s run in 2008 and also worked for John Kasich in 2016. The Times reported last month, based on interviews with 21 young men, that Mr. Weaver had for years sent unsolicited and sexually provocative messages online. The youngest person The Times interviewed was 14 when Mr. Weaver first contacted him; the messages became overtly sexual after he turned 18.

On Thursday, The Associated Press and New York magazine, citing unidentified former employees, reported that Lincoln Project leaders knew about Mr. Weaver’s behavior last summer, which Mr. Schmidt has continued to deny. Mr. Weaver took a medical leave from the group in August and announced last month that he would not return.

In its statement on Thursday night, the Lincoln Project said that Mr. Weaver had “betrayed all of us” and called accounts of his harassment of young men “heartbreaking.” It said that Mr. Weaver’s conduct “must be reckoned with,” and said it was bringing in “a best-in-class outside professional” to “establish both accountability and best practices going forward for The Lincoln Project.”

The former employees, in their letter, expressed anger that Lincoln Project leaders had characterized reports about the group’s handling of Mr. Weaver’s behavior as hit jobs from supporters of former President Donald J. Trump.

Insinuating that their efforts constituted a right-wing attack, they wrote, “is not in keeping with the values we signed up to uphold, and resembles the tactics and behavior we joined the Lincoln Project to defeat.”

Over the last year, the Lincoln Project established itself as the leading Republican group opposed to Mr. Trump, skewering him with mocking ads and drawing a large following on the left. But since the election, the group has been splintering. Two former board members, Ron Steslow and Mike Madrid, left in December. George T. Conway III, another key figure in the organization, has also departed.

Ms. Horn said in her statement, “When The New York Times report on Weaver came out recently, I started getting phone calls from some victims who shared very disturbing stories about their interactions with him — interactions that apparently started nearly a year ago and, according to these young men, were communicated to others in the Lincoln Project.”

She added, “I was not aware of these communications or the allegations contained within them.”

She said the young men “spoke of feeling ignored” and “hurt that their experiences were being denied, angry that they had been used and lied to, and fearful that they would be targeted again. It was heartbreaking to hear.”

The Lincoln Project has attributed Ms. Horn’s departure to a dispute over money, saying that she had recently requested “an immediate ‘signing bonus’ payment of $250,000 and a $40,000-per-month consulting contract,” and that in December, she had “demanded a board seat on the Lincoln Project, a television show, a podcast hosting assignment and a staff to manage these endeavors.”

Ms. Horn called the claims that her departure was financially motivated “patently false.”

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