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The Lincoln Project’s launch in late 2019 was designed to make a splash. 

“We are Republicans, and we want Trump defeated,” four of its co-founders wrote in The New York Times. The organization would go on to raise nearly $90 million for its stated mission of defeating Donald Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box in 2020.

They created attention-grabbing ads that provoked responses from the former president. High-profile liberals such as DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen wrote them six-figure checks. Hundreds of small-dollar donations poured in. Leaders and staff decamped to a preelection headquarters in the ski haven of Park City, Utah, where their effort was chronicled by Hollywood filmmakers. Their plans after the election included leveraging the massive following they gained to build a media empire. They recently launched the platform LPTV. 

The Lincoln Project began in late 2019 with eight co-founders. By late February 2020, six remained with the group: Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson, Jennifer Horn, Reed Galen, Mike Madrid and Ron Steslow. As of last week, there were three.

But as of last week, just three of the Lincoln Project’s eight co-founders remained – Rick Wilson, Reed Galen and Steve Schmidt. Schmidt resigned from the organization’s board late Friday, though he remains affiliated with the organization.

The organization faces a rapidly escalating controversy over allegations that another of its co-founders, John Weaver, sexually harassed more than a dozen young men, including some working for the project, and over what other members of senior management knew about the claims and when they knew it.

In reporting a story over the past several weeks about the Lincoln Project’s management, culture, finances and handling of the Weaver allegations, The 19th interviewed nearly two dozen people currently or formerly associated with the group or familiar with its operations.

The interviews depict an organization that grew quickly, with little planning at its inception, then began to spiral out of control as its founders quarreled over the organization’s direction, finances, tactics and even who would own the donor data that the project eventually would amass. Some of the co-founders had an informal management agreement that excluded the others, without their knowledge. Several had private firms to which the Lincoln Project channeled tens of millions of dollars that were then not subject to disclosure, while others were paid relatively modest amounts directly or nothing at all. There were clashes over ego and resentments over podcasts and television contracts. 

Lincoln Project co-founders (left to right) Ron Steslow, Mike Madrid, Jennifer Horn, Reed Galen, Rick Wilson, and Steve Schmidt on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in Park City, Utah.

The Lincoln Project’s founders were some of the highest-profile players in Republican politics before they rejected Trump and became apostates within their own party. There was George Conway, a high-profile conservative lawyer who is married to Kellyanne Conway, who was a top adviser to Trump. Weaver worked on Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaigns, as did Galen and Schmidt. Mike Madrid is a strategist specializing in Latino voting trends. Jennifer Horn is a former GOP chair in New Hampshire. Wilson worked on Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral and Senate campaigns. Ron Steslow started his own consulting firm after working at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Group’s super PAC status makes tracking spending difficult

On Dec. 21, the Lincoln Project paid Madrid’s firm, Grassroots Lab, two round-sum payments of $1.1 million and $300,000. On the same date, it paid Steslow’s firm, TUSK Digital, $900,000. All of the payments were described as for “political strategy consulting” on campaign finance filings.

The Lincoln Project was organized as a super PAC, meaning it could raise and spend unlimited sums of money but had to disclose only basic details about where the money was going. The firms that some of the co-founders brought with them to the Lincoln Project’s work became a source of internal frustration as more than half of the nearly $90 million raised by the project flowed to firms controlled by its various founders. Once it was there, there was usually no way to track how they spent or kept it. 

As of late January, Galen’s firm, Summit Strategic Communications, had received roughly $27.5 million from the Lincoln Project, with the bulk of that going to “independent expenditures” such as television or internet advertisements and nearly $7 million to consulting. Steslow’s firm, TUSK, received $22.4 million, with $7.1 million for consulting. 

Schmidt’s firm, SES Strategies, received $1.5 million for consulting, but he told the Chicago Tribune he returned it. Madrid’s Grassroots Lab received nearly $2.2 million for consulting services. The Lincoln Project paid Horn directly in amounts of $5,000 or $10,000 a month, campaign finance filings show. In the fall, she began receiving additional payments from LPTV, but in all, her annual compensation was about $150,000, sources familiar with the situation said. 

There is no way to determine what portion of the consulting fees went directly to the co-founders as their compensation for Lincoln Project work or whether they paid one another, according to campaign finance experts. Super PACs are structured that way by design.

Super PACs are widely used by both political parties, but the percentage of the Lincoln Project’s money that went to vendors and firms connected to its co-founders raised eyebrows given the group’s criticism of Trump-affiliated political groups that similarly directed money to the organizations of allies as a “criminal enterprise.” 

Another point of internal financial contention was the donor information that Lincoln Project amassed with ads that spread across social media. The specifics over who or which entity would own the data was not negotiated in advance, sources said, and the data’s market value grew as more people gave.

A frequent quip from Schmidt overheard by multiple people was that the Lincoln Project was his vehicle to achieve “generational wealth.”

Sexist, homophobic language cited in a toxic workplace

As senior management squabbled over how to divide the pieces of the project’s financial pie, dissatisfaction was growing within the organization’s more junior ranks, which were made up of largely young and liberal staffers who said they had different standards from some of the group’s leaders, citing Schmidt and Wilson specifically. There was language used in both the Lincoln Project’s ads and within its workplace about gender and sexuality that made many of them uncomfortable, the dozens of interviews revealed. 

Young men were “wizards” while young women were “girls.” Political rivals were referred to using crude sexual and homophobic slurs. By the time the staff convened in Park City, the situation had become so “toxic,” according to more than a dozen accounts, that at least two co-founders, neither of whom remain at the project, had tried to intervene to improve working conditions.

Staff had also complained that some of the project’s ads, specifically some related to Ivanka Trump, were sexist.

There was dissatisfaction among the ranks when Ben Howe, billed as the wunderkind behind some of the Lincoln Project’s earliest ads, was brought back by Wilson. Howe had been fired after The 19th reported that in a series of tweets, he had used offensive slang for female anatomy to insult political rivals. 

Lincoln Project women were treated differently from men

There were few women in Lincoln Project’s leadership, and those who were there were treated differently from the men, multiple people said. Horn was left out of meetings and not consulted about key decisions or public statements. At points, others within the organization had to persuade her not to quit. 

On Thursday night, the Lincoln Project tweeted out private direct messages on the social media platform between Horn, who left the organization the previous week, and this reporter. 

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Jennifer Horn, a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, says one of the reasons she broke ties with the group was the way it handled sexual harassment allegations against John Weaver and how she was treated when she raised the issue.

Horn had just provided a lengthy statement to The New York Times on the specifics of her departure, citing the remaining co-founders’ handling of the allegations against Weaver and saying that when she raised her concerns, she was “yelled at, demeaned and lied to.”

The Lincoln Project had the week before released a statement about Horn’s departure – it had not done so for Madrid or Steslow – that said the organization had parted ways with Horn over a compensation dispute after she asked for a “signing bonus” of $250,000 to remain with the group for its post-election work, along with a $40,000-a-month consulting contract. 

Horn, who was in the middle of negotiating a post-election employment contract, has not denied the specifics. She said her departure was not about compensation but a request to address sexual harassment that was “rejected outright.”

Some of Horn’s allies with ties to the Lincoln Project reached out to The 19th at that time, wanting to discuss the group’s treatment of her specifically and women generally. 

The screenshots shared Thursday night by the Lincoln Project, one of which was reshared by Wilson from his personal account, were of Horn’s inbox on the social media platform. She said she had neither provided the images to the Lincoln Project nor had she given anyone permission to access her account. The tweets were deleted after Conway said publicly that the move “looks on its face to be a violation of federal law” and urged their removal. 

The Lincoln Project’s sharing of Horn’s private messages came shortly after The 19th had reached out to the group’s spokesperson, Kurt Bardella, as well as Wilson, Schmidt and Galen, with a list of more than 20 specifics about the group’s management, finances and handling of the Weaver allegations, drawn from publicly available government records and the interviews it intended to publish in a forthcoming story.

Bardella said Friday that he was no longer with the Lincoln Project, effective immediately. Wilson, Schmidt and Galen did not directly respond to any of the points laid out by The 19th. 

Spotlight shines on allegations of Weaver harassing young men

New attention has been drawn to the Lincoln Project in the wake of allegations about Weaver.

Sources familiar with internal communications said that in June, multiple members of the Lincoln Project’s senior leadership team were told in conversations and in writing about allegations that Weaver had sexually harassed young men, including some who were working for the organization.

By August, nearly all of the co-founders still with the project were aware and a media plan was being crafted after the group’s employees and contractors were contacted by a news outlet working on a story about the allegations. By the time staff gathered in Park City for the buildup to the election, the accusations were an open secret even among junior staff, sources said.

Lincoln Project co-founder John Weaver is accused of sexually harassing at least 10 young men, including two of the group's employees.

The first allegations were published in January, first in the American Conservative and later in other publications, including The New York Times. Schmidt told The Times that senior management was not aware until that month. Schmidt’s timeline conflicts with that offered by more than a dozen sources who worked within and as contractors for the group at various times.

In the past few days, multiple news outlets have published articles laying out more extensive accusations against Weaver, as well as allegations that they were known earlier than previously reported. Schmidt has run point on responding to the reporting.

He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that no Lincoln Project employee, intern or contractor ever made an allegation so serious it would have triggered an investigation by an independent investigator. He provided the same statement to New York Magazine on Thursday. By Thursday night, the Lincoln Project announced it would hire a “best-in-class outside professional” to investigate the matter. 

Calls to release staffers from nondisclosure agreements

Who knew how much and when, and who can say what, is now dominating the back-and-forth between those who remain at the Lincoln Project and those who have left.

When Ryan Girdusky first wrote about the allegations for the American Conservative magazine, he told The 19th it was a “constant problem of finding someone willing to come out and make allegations, go on the record, and within 48 hours, out of fear for their future, would drop out of the story. It happened for months on end.”

Conway and Horn, who said she was not aware of severity of the allegations against Weaver until The New York Times published its story in January, have called for the Lincoln Project’s current and former staff to be released from their nondisclosure agreements. 

The group’s remaining leaders said Thursday night that anyone who wants to be released from their nondisclosure agreements to discuss allegations against Weaver should reach out to them directly. Six individuals told The New York Times that they did not feel comfortable doing so, citing Horn’s treatment and Schmidt’s statements about when he first learned of the allegations. 

Steslow’s lawyer sent the Lincoln Project a letter late Thursday asking that he be released from the nondisclosure agreement he signed at the time of his departure, a spokesperson said. 

“Any time there is an imbalance of power in a relationship, the weaker person becomes vulnerable to abuse. The stronger, more influential person has an obligation to conduct themselves with honor and integrity in order to preserve the dignity and autonomy of all involved,” Horn said in the statement.

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Biden administration

Trump bashes Biden for rejoining WHO, Paris Climate Accord

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Former President Donald Trump slammed President Joe Biden Sunday for rejoining the World Health Organization and Paris Climate accord — and overpaying to do so.

“It is so sad,” Trump said about the US rejoining both organizations during remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference — after he pulled out during his term in the White House.

“They really are puppets for China,” he said of the WHO as the crowd booed.

“They called and they wanted us to stay in,” Trump said. “I said, ‘How much are we paying?’ ‘Approximately $500 million.’ ‘How much is China paying — a much larger, in terms of population, country?’ ‘Sir, they’re paying $39 million.’”

“I say ‘Why are we paying $500 million and they’re paying $39?’” Trump said. “I can tell you why. Because the people that made the deal are stupid.”

Trump also chided Biden for rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, calling the pact “very unfair and costly” to the US — and “without negotiating a better deal.”

“They wanted us back so badly,” he said. “I’ll tell you they wanted us. I was getting called from all of the countries. ‘You must come back into the Paris Accord.’ I said, ‘Tell me why? Give me one good reason?”

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The former president went on to highlight the double standard for America and developing countries in the deal, blasting Biden for not negotiating fairer terms upon rejoining.

“First of all, China doesn’t click in for 10 years,” Trump said. “Russia goes by an old standard which was not a clean standard.”

“But we get hit right from the beginning where is costs us hundreds of thousands and millions of jobs, it was a disaster, but they go back in. I could have made an unbelievable deal but I didn’t want to do that, surrendering millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to all of these other countries, almost all of them that were in the deal.

Trump continued, “what good does it do when we’re clean but China’s not, and Russia’s not, and India’s not.”

“They have favorable treatment,” he added “We don’t have favorable treatment.”

“[Biden] could have made a great deal– if they were going to go back in that’s fine– but they could have made a great deal. Instead they say, ‘we’re back in.’”

(NYP)

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump hints at run for US president in 2024, repeats election lies

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Former US President Donald Trump hinted at a possible presidential run in 2024, attacked President Joe Biden and repeated his fraudulent claims he won the 2020 election in his first major appearance since leaving the White House nearly six weeks ago.

Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Trump vowed to help Republicans try to regain majorities – lost during his presidency – in the US House of Representatives and Senate in 2022 congressional elections and dangled himself as a possibility for president in 2024.

“With your help, we will take back the House, we will win the Senate and then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. I wonder who will that be?” he said, smiling. “Who, who, who will that be, I wonder.”

Trump’s weeks away from Washington do not appear to have dimmed his anger at Republicans who voted to impeach or convict in a failed congressional effort to hold him responsible for inciting a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

He singled out several such Republicans by name, like Senators Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey and House lawmakers Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and suggested he would support candidates who opposed them in Republican primaries.

“Get rid of ‘em all,” he thundered.

Trump repeated lies he has told about his November 3 presidential election loss to Biden, and offered a withering critique of his Democratic successor’s first weeks in office.

“They just lost the White House,” the Republican former president said after criticizing Biden’s handling of border security. “But who knows, who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”

Trump and his allies spent two months denying his election defeat, and claiming without evidence it was the result of widespread voter fraud, before his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 seeking to disrupt congressional certification of Biden’s win.

A civil war has erupted within the Republican Party, with establishment figures such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell eager to put Trump in the rearview mirror, and others, like Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham, believing the party’s future depends on the energy of the pro-Trump base.

Trump declared the Republican Party united behind him, with opposition coming only from “a handful of Washington, D.C., political hacks.” When he mentioned McConnell’s name, the crowd booed.

He said he had no plans to try to launch a third party, an idea he has discussed with advisers in the past couple of months.

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“We’re not starting new parties. We have the Republican Party. It’s going to be united and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party,” he said.

In a straw poll, 55% of CPAC conference participants said they would vote for Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential nominating race. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came in second at 21%.

Without Trump, DeSantis led the field with 43%, and other potential Republican candidates had single digits.

But not everyone supported Trump. A separate question on the poll asked whether Trump should run again in 2024, with 68% saying he should and 32% opposed or having no opinion.

Still, Trump fervor at the four-day CPAC event was so strong that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., declared it “T-PAC” and participants rolled out a golden statue of the former president.

Trump’s flirtation with another run could freeze the Republican field for 2024 as other potential candidates try to decide whether they will have to compete against him. Many of those 2024 possible candidates spoke during the CPAC event.

The Biden White House dismissed Trump’s speech.

“While the GOP casts about for a path forward, President Biden is going to remain laser-focused on crushing the virus, re-opening schools, and getting Americans back to work,” White House spokesman Michael Gwin said after the speech.

An hour into his 90-minute speech, Trump dove deeply into his unfounded claims of election fraud, going against the advice of confidants who believe he needs to look to the future.

“We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process that has to be fixed immediately. This election was rigged,” Trump said. “And the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it.”

“You won! You won!” the crowd shouted. Trump’s campaign and his supporters brought dozens of failed lawsuits trying to overturn the results of the election, which Biden won by more than 7 million votes. The fraud claims were repeatedly rejected by state and federal officials.

In the short term, Trump is making plans to set up a super PAC political organization to support candidates who mirror his policies, an adviser said.
(Indiatoday)

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CPAC

Trump aides have a list of topics they hope the ‘all over the place’ ex-president will keep to himself in CPAC speech

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According to Politico Playbook’s Tara Palmeri, aides to former Donald Trump have been working with him on his CPAC speech all week — to be delivered Sunday afternoon — and left one meeting wondering what will come out of his mouth once he gets going before an adoring crowd.

With an eye on keeping his hints of another presidential run in 2024 from being bogged down by more controversy and grievance-mongering over his belief that the 2020 election was stolen from him due to voter fraud, aides hope that he will stick to a script that preaches Republican Party unity.

According to the Politico report, Trump has been discussing the speech that will be his return to the public square since he lost re-election and, since he no longer has access to Twitter, aides fear that the pent-up Twitter commentary that used to keep him in the headlines will come pouring out.

As Palmeri writes, there is a list of topics advisers are hoping will not rise to the surface if the president goes off-script — which is highly likely.

Outside of complaining that he feels he was robbed of a second term due to voter fraud, the report states that his aides hope he won’t “Gripe about how he thinks he was unfairly blamed for Jan. 6,” with the NYT’s Maggie Haberman reporting, Trump has been “cautioned by advisers not to say anything that might make him a larger target for the various prosecutors considering or pursuing investigations related to him.”

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Additionally, his advisers are okay with him taking shots at Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), but want him to draw the line at publically criticizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), with Palmeri reporting, “A Trump adviser said they got Trump to take a McConnell dig out of the script, but who knows what he’ll say.”

She added, “Sources tell me that there was a lot of nodding and agreement at a strategy meeting on Thursday between Trump and his closest aides on how to wield his power via endorsements and messaging. But some left the room feeling like their hair was on fire because, according to one of the aides, Trump was ‘all over the place.'”
(Raw Story)

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