Disgraced Lincoln Project members reemerge as liberal media forgets group's scandals

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Less than three months after the liberal Lincoln Project publicly imploded over multiple scandals, the disgraced group is getting mainstream media love again.

Co-founder Rick Wilson appeared on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” for a friendly interview on Friday, and senior adviser Tara Setmayer scored appearances Sunday on CNN and Monday on MSNBC, with liberal anchors Jim Acosta and Ari Melber, respectively.

Ex-adviser Kurt Bardella, who confessed to tweeting out hacked messages between co-founder Jennifer Horn and a reporter, continues to be a frequent MSNBC guest.

Their appearances mainly featured blistering criticism of the Republican Party and its continued association with former President Donald Trump, who has continued to stoke false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Last week, Bardella suggested that the GOP has become so “radicalized” that it has become a threat to the nation equivalent to “Al Qaeda, Usama bin Laden,” and “the Taliban” as House lawmakers prepare to remove Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from leadership. 

While Acosta’s show noted Setmayer’s association with the Lincoln Project, Melber’s program made no mention of it, referring to her as an ex-GOP staffer and resident scholar at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Steve Schmidt, who resigned from the board in February partly over his own stated concern that too many “White men” were involved in Lincoln Project leadership, has also re-emerged, speaking at a widely mocked “town hall fundraiser” for the group last week alongside Wilson, Stuart Stevens, and Reed Gallen. They are all White men.

The group’s scandals were not brought up in any of the various media appearances. 

The Lincoln Project was enormously popular on liberal cable channels last year as the group’s ads trolled then-President Trump and took a purported principled Republican stance against Trumpism. MSNBC’s Brian Williams and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” even marked the one-year anniversary of its founding in December. 

But then came reports in January that co-founder John Weaver had sexually harassed dozens of young, gay men online, with sources telling Fox News the conduct had been an “open secret” for years. Among those harassed was Cole Trickle Miele, who was 14 when Weaver first contacted him. By the time he was 18, he was one of at least 20 men receiving sexually suggestive messages from the former John McCain campaign aide, who is married with two children.

Schmidt and other co-founders reportedly knew about allegations of Weaver’s misconduct months before they let on. Weaver left the organization in January, and Wilson, Schmidt and others bitterly denounced him as a liar and a predator.

Stories then followed about shady finances and self-dealing by the group after it raised $90 million from liberal donors and had reported goals of becoming a multi-billion-dollar media empire, reporters of toxic language and harassment within its headquarters, the stormy departure of Horn, and the subsequent decision by the Lincoln Project to hack her Twitter account and send out her private messages with a reporter investigating the group.

When the dust settled, even co-founder George Conway and Bardella called for the group to shut down. Miele told Fox News he also believes the group should dissolve. The Senate Majority PAC that supports Senate Democratic candidates cut ties with the group, as did Israeli prime ministerial hopeful Gideon Sa’ar.

It hasn’t ceased operations, however, continuing to insist it plays a valuable role in the political landscape.

Lincoln Project leaders have repeatedly referred to themselves as one of the most important political action committees in history, but studies showed their effect on steering swing voters to support President Biden’s election was practically nil.

After journalist Ryan Girdusky first reported on Weaver’s conduct in January, Fox News, the Associated Press, New York Magazine, The 19th, the New York Times and others broke news about scandals at the anti-Trump group and former media darling.

Co-founder Reed Galen’s firm, Summit Strategic Communications, received roughly $27.5 million from The Lincoln Project as of January, “with the bulk of that going to ‘independent expenditures’ such as television or Internet advertisements and nearly $7 million to consulting.” 

One report from The 19th revealed several Lincoln Project higher-ups, including Schmidt, were aware of sexual harassment allegations against Weaver as early as last March. Schmidt has denied those claims.

Schmidt and Wilson were frequent guests on MSNBC in the 2020 cycle and appear to not be going anywhere, in spite of the Lincoln Project’s reported cover-ups of Weaver’s behavior. One of its former staffers told Fox News that the group has also failed to adequately account for its financial discrepancies.

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“These are not nice men,” the staffer told Fox News.

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.

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