Steve Schmidt, a leader of the anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project, announced his resignation from the organization’s board Friday night amid the fallout of a sexual harassment scandal involving a co-founder of the group, John Weaver.
“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,” Mr. Schmidt said in a statement. “I am enormously proud of the Lincoln Project and what we have accomplished to-date. I believe we built the most successful and politically lethal SuperPAC in history. We built a movement with millions of people, and we played a decisive role in Donald Trump’s defeat.”
Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Weaver, former advisers to the late Sen. John McCain, were part of a group of Republicans who founded the Lincoln Project to oppose Mr. Trump’s policies. Along with partners such as George Conway, they raised tens of millions to run anti-Trump campaign ads in the 2020 election.
Several accounts have been published in recent weeks describing Mr. Weaver sending unsolicited sexual messages to young men and one 14-year-old boy, many of whom were seeking jobs with the Lincoln Project.
Mr. Schmidt, who also served as a top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney, said that during the years he worked for Mr. McCain, “I never heard a single person ever whisper that John Weaver was a predator.”
But he said the allegations about Mr. Weaver re-awakened his own “anger, shame and degression” at having been touched inappropriately by a Boy Scout leader when he was age 13.
“This is my truth. John Weaver has put me back into that faraway cabin with Ray, my Boy Scout leader. I am incandescently angry about it,” Mr. Schmidt said. “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 said he was stepping down from the board of directors “to make room for the appointment of a female board member as the first step to reform and professionalize the Lincoln Project.”
Mr. Schmidt also accepted blame for the Lincoln Project posting on its Twitter account this week screenshots of private messages between former group member Jennifer Horn and Amanda Becker, a reporter for The 19th News. The screenshots were later deleted.
“That direct message should never have been made public. It is my job as the senior leader to accept responsibility for the tremendous misjudgment to release it,” Mr. Schmidt said. “I apologize on behalf of the organization and Amanda Becker.”
Mr. Weaver apologized last month for sending “inappropriate” sexual messages to young men and apologized. The Lincoln Project announced this week it was hiring an outside investigator to review the matter.