Lincoln Project Co-Founder Steve Schmidt Resigns Over Handling of Harassment Allegations

Leading political strategist confesses to being victim of sexual abuse as a child as lifelong trauma

Last Updated: February 12, 2021 @ 7:58 PM

Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt resigned from its board Friday to suppress the growing rumble about the organization’s mishandling of harassment claims against another founder, John Weaver.

Schmidt will take a temporary leave of absence, then step down from its board but remain with the organization in an executive capacity. In a lengthy statement, Schmidt shared personal details of being sexually assaulted as a teenager and attempted to explain his response to the accusations against Weaver, which were broadly criticized.

“I am incandescently angry about it,” Schmidt said of accusations that Weaver made unwanted sexual advances to several young men. “I am angry because I know the damage that he caused to me, and I know the journey that lies ahead for every young man that trusted, feared and was abused by John Weaver.”

Schmidt and Weaver are two of the co-founders of The Lincoln Project, a group of former and current Republicans who banded together in 2019, who have spoken out at great length about Donald Trump and the far-right turn the party has taken since his election. The allegations leveled by numerous young men against Weaver triggered Schmidt in a very personal way.

“It was just a touch — a light one — and it lasted for only a moment,” Schmidt detailed. “I was a 13-year-old boy at the Rock Hill Boy Scout Camp. His name was Ray, and he was the camp medic. The older scouts called him ‘Gay Ray,’ and taunted and teased us about our inevitable encounter with him when the itch of the mosquito bites became too much to bear. It happened almost precisely like the older kids said it would. Covered in bites, I went to the Medical Cabin. He told me to take my clothes off. I complied. He looked at my body and examined the bites, just like they said he would. He began applying an ointment just like they said he would. I remember being paralyzed as his hands moved up my body and brushed over my penis. I remember all of this with perfect clarity up to the moment I was touched.”

Schmidt goes on to describe the laughing from the other boys at the camp and how his parents handled the situation news when he told them. The decision was to keep it within the family, not to report Ray to the police because it “would be traumatic for all of the boys involved.” But trauma had already set in with at least one other boy at the camp that day — an extraverted boy died, Schmidt remembered.

“I have no memory of ever feeling anger. After that day — and despite the passage of so many years — the anger has never left. It’s always there; below the surface. It has risen up many times over the years,” he said.

“A touch on a table at age 13 that lasted seconds has been a defining event in my life. It never went away,” Schmidt wrote. “That moment bequeathed me the three companions of my life that are always close and often present: anger, shame and depression.”

“John Weaver has put me back into that faraway cabin with Ray, my Boy Scout leader,” Schmidt wrote. “I am incandescently angry about it. I am angry because I know the damage that he caused to me, and I know the journey that lies ahead for every young man that trusted, feared and was abused by John Weaver.”

He continued: “I know the shame, the guilt, the doubt, the depression and anger that lies ahead. I know John Weaver will be a life-long companion for them in the way that Ray has been for me. I detest John Weaver in a way I can’t articulate. My heart breaks that young men felt unseen and unheard in an organization that I started. I am ashamed of it. I promise that we will release the full findings of what we discover through an independent investigation.”

Schmidt and Weaver met in 2006 at a fundraiser for Arnold Schwarzenegger, where John McCain was the headliner. During that time, he said he never heard once that Weaver was a predator, adding that they didn’t have a professional relationship until December 2019 and that he has gone on the record that it wasn’t until January 2021 that he learned of Weaver’s misconduct. Although Schmidt said he hadn’t been made aware of Weaver’s behavior until last month, a former Lincoln Project employee told The New York Times that she remembers him talking about it in October 2020.

“I wish John Weaver was not a cofounder of the Lincoln Project, but as hard as I wish for that to be, I can’t change that he was. I am enormously proud of the Lincoln Project and what we have accomplished to-date. I believe we built the most successful and politically.”

Since the November election, the Lincoln Project has steadily faced the exit of many employees and leaders on all levels. Another co-founder, Jennifer Horn resigned in a blistering statement, George Conway stepped away and board members Ron Steslow and Mike Madrid also left.

Although Schmidt said he hadn’t been made aware of Weaver’s behavior until last month, a former Lincoln Project employee remembers him talking about it in October 2020. In addition, six others released a joint statement calling on “the remaining leadership of the Lincoln Project to release is and all others from all Non Disclosure Agreements (or other contracts).”

You can read Steve Schmidt’s statement in full by clicking here: Steve Schmidt statement.