Harvey Weinstein’s most prominent accuser faced a grueling cross-examination on Tuesday, as Weinstein’s defense attorney hammered her on details, casting doubt on her memory and demanding clarification on the most graphic details of the alleged rape.
It was the second day of testimony from Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary film-maker and the wife of California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, and the most high profile woman so far to take the stand against the Hollywood producer.
On Tuesday, she faced a tough cross examination from Weinstein’s defense team. More than an hour in, as defense attorney Mark Werksman was asking her to define the word “acquiesce”, Siebel Newsom compared the relentless questioning to her interaction with Weinstein himself.
“What you’re doing today is exactly what he did to me,” she told Weinstein’s lawyer.
Weinstein’s defense team focused on differences in how Siebel Newsom described the alleged assault over interviews with prosecutors in 2020 and in grand jury testimony in 2021, including asking her why she had not immediately told prosecutors that she had touched Weinstein’s penis during the assault.
Siebel Newsom said she did not recall what parts of her experience she had described at different times. “I had everything in a box, and I’ve been slowly sharing a little bit at a time, because this is so painful,” she said.
When she initially met with a detective and a prosecutor in LA in 2020, Siebel Newsom testified, “I didn’t think I would be considered a victim because I thought I was out of the time period.”
She teared up as she said, “I offered to talk to detectives initially to support other women, not to be up here on the witness stand.”
Weinstein’s defense attorneys spent hours going through nearly 70 emails Siebel Newsom exchanged with Weinstein in the months and years after the alleged attack. They contrasted her bright tone and multiple requests for in-person business meetings with Weinstein in New York and at film festivals in Toronto and Cannes with her testimony that she had felt fear in her subsequent interactions with Weinstein, and that she had not interacted with him much after the assault.
He also highlighted multiple emails she sent out to groups of people, including Weinstein, asking for campaign contributions for Gavin Newsom, her now-husband, during his tenure as mayor of San Francisco.
Werksman noted her signatures on different emails Weinstein received, including “warm regards” and “xx,” and flagged that she had once responded within eight minutes to an email from Weinstein about finding a time to meet in New York.
Siebel Newsom said she simply did not remember sending most of the emails. “I sent hundreds of thousands of emails to people,” she testified.
“He ruined my life, I put it in a box, and I was not going to not pursue my entertainment career because of what happened,” she said.
Continuing to email Weinstein for normal business meetings to network and promote her films was a way “to take control back from someone who had harmed me and violated me”, she said. “I was trying not to feel like a victim and be able to live my life.”
The emails she sent him were not flirtatious, Siebel Newsom said. The text of several of her emails to him suggested setting up meetings with him and a third person, including friends of hers and his wife.
Siebel Newsom, who had delivered graphic and tearful testimony Monday about her alleged rape at a Los Angeles hotel in 2005, was visibly tired on Tuesday, often asking for the last question to be repeated and a few times sighing deeply into the microphone. But she also contested some lines of questioning, saying her words were being taken out of context.
Weinstein’s attorney was interrupted by objections that his questioning was too argumentative or not relevant, which Judge Lisa Lench often sustained. In a pointed moment, Werksman asked Siebel Newsom to clarify the nature of sexual “noises” she made during the alleged assault, which she said were intended to get Weinstein to end the attack.
When Werksman continued to press her about what the noises sounded like, Siebel Newsom pushed back, saying she would not.
“This is not When Harry Met Sally, I’m not doing that,” she said.
Before ending his cross-examination, Werksman took a moment to consult quietly with Weinstein himself, who sat silently in the courtroom, before saying he had no further questions. Siebel Newsom did not look in Weinstein’s direction during her testimony.
Late in the afternoon, when a prosecutor asked Siebel Newsom to once again confirm whether she had consented during different stages of the alleged assault, Siebel Newsom broke down, saying, “No, no, no, no,” to each question and sobbing.
She was still sobbing as the judge dismissed her and she strode quickly from the room.
Elizabeth Fegan, an attorney for Siebel Newsom, said in a statement after the testimony that Weinstein’s defense team had “ruthlessly tried to discredit her” but that her client “stood firm”.
Siebel Newsom “knew that it might have been easier to keep the memory of her 2005 assault buried” but “she felt an obligation to herself, her family, and most importantly, to the woman who came forward as well as the women unable to speak out publicly”, Fegan said.
Her testimony came as the judge overseeing the Los Angeles trial dropped four of the 11 sexual assault charges against Harvey Weinstein after prosecutors said they would not proceed with the counts involving one of his accusers.
Superior court Judge Lisa Lench dismissed two counts of forcible rape and two counts of forcible oral copulation against the 70-year-old Weinstein.
The move had appeared likely since the trial’s opening statements three weeks ago, when prosecutors only mentioned four women Weinstein was charged with assaulting, leaving out the accuser identified in an indictment as Jane Doe 5.
The prosecutors at first kept the charges in place and left open the possibility that the woman would testify, while Weinstein’s defense had sought a definitive decision on the issue.
The Los Angeles county district attorney’s office has not provided an explanation for why they opted to leave the woman out of the trial.
The remaining charges against Weinstein, who is serving a 23-year sentence for a conviction in New York, are two counts of rape and five other sexual assault counts. He has pleaded not guilty.
The Associated Press contributed reporting